Major Ethical Philosophers

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In History
  • 551 BCE


    Chinese teacher, writer, and philosopher Confucius viewed himself as a channel for the theological ideas and values of the imperial dynasties that came before him. He developed a belief system focused on both personal and governmental morality through qualities such as justice, sincerity, and positive relationships with others.
  • 470 BCE


    A necessary inclusion by virtue of his role as, essentially, the founder of Western Philosophy, Socrates is nonetheless unique among entrants on this list for having produced no written works reflecting his key ideas or principles. He believed misdeeds were a consequence of ignorance, that those who engaged in nonvirtuous behavior did so because they didn’t know any better.
  • 384 BCE


    Aristotle is among the most important and influential thinkers and teachers in human history, often considered — alongside his mentor, Plato — to be a father of Western Philosophy.” He defined metaphysics as “the knowledge of immaterial being,” and used this framework to examine the relationship between substance (a combination of matter and form) and essence, from which he devises that man is comprised from a unity of the two.
  • 1274

    Saint Thomas Aquinas

    Saint Thomas Aquinas
    Thomas Aquinas was a 13th century Dominican friar, theologian and Doctor of the Church, born in what is known today as the Lazio region of Italy. His most important contribution to Western thought is the concept of natural theology (sometimes referred to as Thomism in tribute to his influence). This belief system holds that the existence of God is verified through reason and rational explanation, as opposed to through scripture or religious experience.
  • René Descartes

    René Descartes
    Father of analytical geometry, a French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist, Descartes was born in France but spent 20 years of his life in the Dutch Republic. He discards belief in all things that are not absolutely certain, emphasizing the understanding of that which can be known for sure.
  • David Hume

    David Hume
    A Scottish-born historian, economist, and philosopher. He articulated the “problem of induction,” suggesting we cannot rationally justify our belief in causality, that our perception only allows us to experience events that are typically conjoined, and that causality cannot be empirically asserted as the connecting force in that relationship
  • Immanuel Kant

    Immanuel Kant
    He is considered among the most essential figures in modern philosophy, an advocate of reason as the source for morality, and a thinker whose ideas continue to permeate ethical, epistemological, and political debate. He defined the “Categorical imperative,” the idea that there are intrinsically good and moral ideas to which we all have a duty, and that rational individuals will inherently find reason in adhering to moral obligation.
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson

    Ralph Waldo Emerson
    A Boston-born writer, philosopher, and poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson is the father of the transcendentalist movement. He wrote on the importance of subjects such as self-reliance, experiential living, and the preeminence of the soul
  • Karl Marx

    Karl Marx
    A German-born economist, political theorist, and philosopher, Karl Marx wrote some of the most revolutionary philosophical content ever produced. He advocated a view called historical materialism, arguing for the demystification of thought and idealism in favor of closer acknowledgement of the physical and material actions shaping the world
  • Michel Foucault

    Michel Foucault
    Historian, social theorist, and philosopher Michel Foucault, born in the riverfront city of Poiltiers, France, dedicated much of his teaching and writing to the examination of power and knowledge and their connection to social control. Believed oppressed humans are entitled to rights and they have a duty to rise up against the abuse of power to protect these rights and held the conviction that the study of philosophy must begin through a close and ongoing study of history.