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From early times, philosophers have used argument and reason to try to understand the world and our place in it. They question the meaning of ideas such as reality, right and wrong, and art.

THALES (624-550 BC) Is born in Miletus, Greece. He is interested in astronomy and politics, as well as philosophy. He became known as the first Western philosopher.
PYTHAGORAS (C.580-500 BC) Greek philosopher, explores the importance of numbers. He discovers the mathematical relationship between sound pitch and the length of a string or pipe.


SOCRATES (407-399 BC) Greek philosopher, and Plato's teacher, uses a question and answer method of enquiry. His main concern is morality (right and wrong). He is accused by the state of corrupting young people and is sentenced to death by drinking hemlock, a poison.

PLATO (C. 428 - 347 BC) of Athens, Greece, founds the Academy (a university) in Athens and teaches Aristotle there. He outlines his ideal city-state in 'The Republic'.

ARISTOTLE (384-322 BC) is the last and most influential of the Greek philosophers. He stresses the importance of logic, or reasoning, in Philosophy. He tutored Alexander the Great (356-323 BC).

ST AUGUSTINE (AD 354-430) North African philosopher, uses Plato's philosophy to express Christian ideas

ST THOMAS AQUINAS (1225 - 74) Italian friar, aims to make Christian teaching consistent with Aristotle's philosophy.

THOMAS HOBBES (1588 - 1679), English political philosopher, says that giving all power to the state is the only way to avoid chaos and endless war. He writes the 'Leviathan' in 1651.

RENE DESCARTES (1596 - 1650), French dualist, rationalist philosopher, and mathematician, is considered the first modern philosopher. He bases all knowledge on one truth: that we cannot doubt the existence of our own thoughts.

JOHN LOCKE (1632 - 1704), English philosopher and political writer, founds classical British empiricism. His political writings form the foundations of modern democracy. He wrote 'Two Treatises of Government' in 1690.

GEORGE BERKELEY (1685 - 1753), Irish bishop and idealist philosopher, believes that objects, such as tables and chairs, are collections of ideas, and exist only if a person perceives (is aware of) them.

DAVID HUME (1711 - 76), Scottish empiricist and sceptic, states that all knowledge is taken from ideas and experience, but denies that this knowledge can ever be proved.

JEAN-JACQUES ROUSSEAU (1712 - 78), French political philosopher, is against the limitations of civilized society and advises a return to nature.

IMMANUEL KANT (1724 - 1804), German thinker, says that we gain knowledge through both experience and understanding.

JEREMY BENTHAM (1748 - 1832), English utilitarian, judges an action to be right by the extent to which it promotes happiness or minimizes pain.

G W F HEGEL (1770 - 1831), German idealist, says that the history of events and thoughts is a process of conflict, which will lead to an inevitable conclusion.

ARTHUR SCHOPENHAUER (1788 - 1860), German idealist, saw art as the only escape from a world without reason.

JOHN STUART MILL (1806 - 73), English utilitarian, emphasizes that some pleasures are worthier than others. He writes 'Our Liberty' in 1859.

SOREN KIERKEGAARD (1813 - 55), Danish founder of existentialism and religious writer, claims that the only real thing is individual existence.

KARL MARX (1818 - 83), Germany revolutionary thinker, founds Communism, adapting ideas from Hegel's philosophy. He writes 'Das Kapital' in 1867.

WILLIAM JAMES (1942 - 1910), American psychologist and pragmatist, sees the truthfulness of any idea in terms of the usefulness of its results.

FRIEDRICH WILHELM NIETZSCHE (1844 - 1900), German philosopher, argues that people are driven in life by the 'will to power', and that society will evolve into a race of 'supermen'. He rejects Christianity, and influences the Nazi party.

EDMUND HUSSERL (1859 - 1938), German philosopher, develops the basic ideas of phenomenology (descriptions of human experience).

BERTRAND RUSSELL (1872 - 1970), English thinker and political activist, tries to provide firm foundations in philosophy for mathematics.

MARTIN HEIDEGGER (1889 - 1976), German existentialist, writes 'Being and Time' in 1927.

LUDWIG WITTGENSTEIN (1889 - 1951), Austrian analytic philosopher, explores the relationship between language and the world. He argues that everything can be thought can also be said.

JEAN-PAUL SARTRE (1905 - 1980), French existentialist, says there is no fixed human nature or destiny, and that people are free to choose their actions without following society's rules.

SIMONE DE BEAUVOIR (1908 - 1986), French existentialist and founder of modern feminist philosophy.

WILLARD VAN ORMAN QUINE (1908 - 2000), American pragmatist, points out inconsistencies in early analytic philosophy.

MICHEL FOUCAULT (1926 - 1984), French philosopher, looks at ways in which the individual is controlled by society's rules.

JACQUES DERRIDA (1930 - 2004), French founder of deconstructionism, which rejects the idea of any fixed truths in language and philosophy.

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