European Philosophers

“What must change – and has already done so in Europe – is the self-image of nation-states, which must learn to see themselves not so much as independent players but as members of a larger community” 

Jürgen Habermas

Western philosophy, born in modest Greek cities on the shores of the Mediterranean, evolved over centuries to shape how we think and live today. From Portugal to Poland, religious devotees to Enlightenment humanists, togas to berets, European thinkers have shaped the world, sharing ideas, concepts and paradigms that underpin how we appreciate society, politics, science and art. Amongst this diversity, the one thing those weighty tomes all have one thing in common: they are virtually unreadable. So for those of you who like to keep it short, we present a philosophical speed-dating session: where one philosopher from each European country summarises his oeuvre alongside a snappy selfie. Better than Tinder, faster than OKCupid – whatever it is you are searching for, it’s time to swipe right on some of Europe’s greatest thinkers.


Damião de Góis

I am one of the most important Portuguese humanist. I was born in Portugal, but spent part of my life in Flanders, Italy and France. I became a close friend of the Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus, who guided me in my studies as well as in my writings. As an open-minded humanist, I studied at the Universities of Padua and Leuven, where I wrote on various topics, like the condition of the Sami people, and translated some classical works into Portuguese. My historical work gave offense to noble families, and in 1571 I faced the Inquisition and was subjected to a series of hearings lasting nearly two years.



They all call me Seneca the Younger! This could be quite ironical as I was born in Cordoba 4 century BC. It’s actually not because of my age, but because of my father who was named Seneca the Older. If I would have to describe me in few words, I would say I am quite a stoic person. I think that the universe is governed for the best by a rational providence and that we should face and accept life’s problems and learn from them. And I strongly believe we should all confront our own mortality. But I am neither gothic, nor emo! My student, Emperor Nero, understood it maybe too literally, as this little idiot set Rome on fire!



Why everybody says I am guilty? Ok, Victor Hugo made his famous character Gavroche sing: “I fell on the ground, It was Voltaire’s fault!” This is so unfair for the talented philosopher I was! ‘Cause I was one of the few to attack the established Catholic Church, to advocate freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and the separation of church and state. I was a precursor as well: long before online pseudonyms, I was among the firsts to use one: “Voltaire”, an anagram of “AROVET LI,” the Latinized spelling of my surname, Arouet, and the initial letters of “le jeune“. And long before Erasmus, I was traveling around the continent, living in France, Great-Britain, Prussia and Geneva.


George Berkeley

Let’s be honest: objects such as tables and chairs don’t really exist. They are only ideas in the minds of perceivers, and as a result cannot exist without being perceived. As I say, esse is percipi, (to be is to be perceived). I am a philosopher of “immaterialism”. In my Essay towards a New Theory of Vision, I discussed the limitations of human vision and advanced the theory that the proper objects of sight are not material objects, but light and color. Do you think I am crazy? Believe me or not, my arguments were actually precursor to the views of Einstein and the development of mathematics and physics.

United Kingdom

John Locke

Some consider me as the Father of Classical Liberalism, because my philosophy greatly affected the development of political philosophy and is reflected in the United States Declaration of Independence. I believe that human nature is characterised by reason and tolerance. I strongly think that, at birth, the mind is a blank slate and that the self continuously unfold this conscious mind. The self is sensible, or conscious of pleasure and pain, capable of happiness or misery and thus extends consciousness. I also think that of all men are, good or evil by education.


Ludvig Holberg

My goal in life is to enlighten people to improve our society. I believe in people’s inner divine light of reason ; that the first goal of education is to teach students to use their senses and intellect, instead of uselessly memorising school books. I say, children must be made into men, before they can become Christians. It’s true, I’ve been giving voice to anti-Catholic views on several occasions during my whole life. I also wonder why there are so much evil in the world, especially when one could let reason lead the way… This is maybe why I enjoy larger cities with deep culture rather than small and boring cities or even nature.


Emanuel Swedenborg

Some say I am crazy. Others not. In 1741, at age 53, I entered into a spiritual phase in which I began to experience dreams and visions. Ok, it happened when I was traveling to the Netherlands, and lots of people nowadays experience the same kind of visions there. But believe me or not, I received a revelation from God that I was then appointed to write The Heavenly Doctrine to reform Christianity. Thanks to God, I could freely visit heaven and hell and talk with angels, demons and other spirits. But kids, pay attention: it is very dangerous to talk with spirits, unless you are in true faith and led by the Lord!


Anders Chydenius

I am a Priest, and I am one of the first comprehensive philosophers of Liberalism as well. I am an early pioneer and proponent of economic liberalism, freedom of religion, freedom of speech and migration. A decade before the publication of The Wealth of Nations, I published theories closely corresponding to Adam Smith’s invisible hand. I am very outspoken about universal rights and the abolition of privilege, and I want to give the poor the same freedom as for everyone else. I also promoted democracy and called for an oversight of the way the state funds were spent. In modern language we would say that I advocated openness and good governance, but as early as from 1778!


Søren Kierkegaard

Contrary to most of the jerks here, I believe in individuals and concrete human reality over abstract thinking. Personal choices and commitment are key to my philosophy of Existentialism. That being said, I also strongly believe in God and try to showcase how God comes to each individual mysteriously. In my magnum opus Either/Or I examine faith, and how an individual would believe in God or how a person would act in love. When I started to publish my first works, I choose to write under various pseudonyms which I used to present distinctive viewpoints and interact with each other in complex dialogues. What? Schizophren?


Erasmus of Rotterdam

I am Erasmus of Rotterdam, but you can modestly call me “Prince of the Humanists”. Long before the famous European student exchange program, I lived and worked in Paris, Leuven, England, and Basel! I became famous for my little hobby: drafting new Latin and Greek editions of the New Testament. You should try it, it’s delightful! By the 1530s, my writings accounted for 10 to 20 percent of all book sales in Europe. This is quite huge, even Harry Potter didn’t do better! I strongly believe in free will, which angered scholars from both camps. In my In Praise of Folly, I attacked superstitions and other traditions of European society in general.


Justus Lipsius

It is sometimes confusing to think that a building in Brussels where some Heads of States meet regularly is actually more famous than my writings. This is because the Brussels’ headquarters were constructed on a street named after me. I became famous for drafting a series of works designed to revive ancient Stoicism in a form that would be compatible with Christianity and which influenced a number of contemporary thinkers. I believe that the ideal citizen is a man that acts according to reason, is answerable to himself, is in control of his emotions, and… is ready to fight!


Immanuel Kant

Some consider that I have a compulsive personality, but this is actually because I constantly pursue intellectually well-founded principles in every manner. I believe that humans all share certain essential structural features, such as time and space. I assert that all knowledge does not come necessarly through experience; reason and innate ideas are actually prior. This is what I explain in my masterworks Critique of Practical ReasonMetaphysics of Morals, and the Critique of Judgment. My ideas influenced many thinkers in the world, contributing to move philosophy beyond the debate between the rationalists and empiricists.


Edmund Husserl

As a philosopher, I broke with the positivist orientation of science and philosophy. I believe that experience is the source of all knowledge, that’s why I worked on a method of ‘phenomenological reduction’ by which a subject may come to know directly an essence. If you want to study the structure of consciousness, you would have to distinguish between the act of consciousness and the phenomena at which it is directed. From Logical Investigations to Experience and Judgment, I proposed a radical new phenomenological way of looking at objects by examining how we, in our many ways of being intentionally directed toward them, actually “constitute” them.


Jean-Jacques Rousseau 

My fellow friend Voltaire is maybe complaining about Hugo’s song, but the refrain continues with “The nose in the stream, Blame it on Rousseau” (Le nez dans le ruisseau, c’est la faute à Rousseau). Those French people! They should instead thank me for how I inspired their Revolution! My Discourse on the Origin of Inequality and my Social Contract are now the cornerstones in modern political and social thinking. I must confess, I am quite proud of my achievements. And I believe that I have strong education principles! My novel Émile, or On Education was actually a treatise on the education of the whole person for citizenship. Well, my fellow citizens mocked me because I wrote on education and abandoned five children to the Hôpital des Enfants-Trouvés in Paris. But who has never been tired of those little brats?


Niccolò Machiavelli

Who likes bad guys? As you know, I am mostly famous for a short political treatise, The Prince, written in 1513 but not published until 1532, five years after my death. “Machiavellianism” derives from it to characterize unscrupulous politicians of the sort I described. I am the only political thinker whose name has come into common use for designating a kind of politics, which exists and will continue to exist independently of his influence – a politics which uses all means, fair or foul, iron or poison, for achieving its ends. I also explain repeatedly that religion is man-made… 


Jan Patočka

You get to know my tutor above, Edmund Husserl – now you have one of his most important pupil and main contributor to Czech philosophical phenomenology. Some consider me as one of the most influential central European philosophers of the 20th century. I formulated an original theory around the concept of the “three movements of human existence”, which are “receiving, reproduction, transcendence”. During wartime, when the Czech universities were closed, I gave lectures at the so-called “Underground University”, which was an informal institution that tried to offer a free, uncensored cultural education.


Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk

Some say that I am the Slovak George Washington, as I am the principal founding father of Czechoslovakia, and a symbol of democracy. As a philosopher, I was an outspoken rationalist and humanist. I emphasised practical ethics, reflecting the influence of Anglo-Saxon philosophers, French philosophy, and especially the work of 18th Century German philosopher, Johann Gottfried Herder. My life motto was: Nebát se a nekrást (Do not fear and do not steal). Nowadays, there is a state decoration in Slovakia under my name which is awarded to individuals for their contributions to humanity, democracy and human rights.


Stanisław Staszic

I am a bit of everything: a Catholic priest, philosopher, geologist, writer, poet, translator and statesman. I was in particular a strong partisan of reforms and an ardent advocate for the interests of the lower classes. I am particularly remembered for my political writings during the “Great (Four-Year) Sejm” (1788–92) and for my support to the Constitution of 3 May 1791. I advocated the abolition of the serfdom and improvements of the peasants’ fate. I was remembered as well as a loner and not a person who was quick to make friends. Some described me as somewhat miserly, always wearing old clothes…


Emmanuel Levinas

Born in Lithuania, I spent most of my time and career in France, where my work related to Jewish philosophy, existentialism, ethics, and ontology became famous. According to me, philosophy should be the “wisdom of love” and not the love of wisdom, which is actually the literal Greek meaning of the word “philosophy”. The irreducible relation of the face-to-face, the encounter with another, is a privileged phenomenon in which the other person’s proximity and distance are both strongly felt. Am I not the kind of philosopher you would love to have a brunch with?


Isaiah Berlin

I am a Russo-British Jewish social and political theorist, born in Latvia where I spent most of my childhood. I am popularly known for my essay “Two Concepts of Liberty” which developed the two concepts of ‘negative freedom’, or freedom from interference, and ‘positive freedom’, or freedom as self-mastery, which questions not what we are free from, but what we are free to do. I pointed out that these two different conceptions of liberty can clash with each other. I also underlined that the nature of mankind is such that certain values will hold true across cultures, and this is what I meant by ‘objective pluralism’.


Jaan Kaplinski

I am maybe the only buddhist philosopher of this list! And maybe also the youngest… I am known for my independent mind, my focus on global issues and support for left-wing thinking. My essays deal with environmental problems, philosophy of language, classical Chinese poems, philosophy, buddhism, and Estonian nationalism. I was one of the authors and initiators of the so-called Letter of 40 intellectuals (Neljakümne kiri) action. A letter signed by well-known Estonian intellectuals protesting against the behavior of the authorities in Soviet-annexed Estonia was sent to the main newspapers of the time.


Salomon Maimon

I seized upon the fundamental incompatibility of a consciousness which can apprehend, and yet is separated from, the thing-in-itself. The form of things is admittedly subjective; the mind endeavours to explain the material of the given in the same terms, an attempt which is not only impossible but involves a denial of the elementary laws of thought. Knowledge of the given is, therefore, essentially incomplete. Complete or perfect knowledge is confined to the domain of pure thought, to logic and mathematics. Thus the problem of the thing-in-itself is dismissed from the inquiry, and philosophy is limited to the sphere of pure thought.


Gregory Skovoroda

During my lifetime, I was Moscow-based Orthodox Church’s worst nightmare! I said that our kingdom is within us and to know God, you have to know yourself first. I defended the right of the individual in each person, but translated this into concrete political language of my time. This meant a strong democratic trend that was associated with sympathy for enslaved peasant masses, with sharp hostility to the Muscovite oppressors. Some of my contemporary fellows said I was very gentle. But what I managed best was my own death: I dug my own grave during three days at a friend’s place and died in his living room on the third day after dinner.


Ion Heliade Rădulescu 

In 1828, I published an “almost philosophical” (my own words) Romanian Grammar, influenced by Condillac, which I got to discover from my Greek teachers. After the turmoil of the 1848 Revolution, I came up with a philosophical system, inspired from kabala and the socialism of Proudhon and Fourier. I was also influenced by Hegel. My two most important works are The Universal Critical History and Equilibrium between Antitheses. I had a major role in shaping the modern Romanian language. During the 1830s, I reacted against misogyny, arguing in favor of women’s rights, and against Antisemitic blood libel accusations.


György Lukács

I am a Hungarian Marxist philosopher, aesthetician, literary historian, and critic. I was one of the founders of Western Marxism, an interpretive tradition that departed from the Marxist ideological orthodoxy of the USSR. I became famous for having developed the theory of reification, and contributed to Marxist theory with developments of Karl Marx’s theory of class consciousness. According to me, “ideology” is a projection of the class consciousness of the bourgeoisie, which functions to prevent the proletariat from attaining consciousness of its revolutionary position.


Franz Samuel Karpe

I was born in Kranj which is nowadays in Slovenia, to a townsman’s family. As my parents died early, Count Lichteberg’s family assumed responsibility for my upbringing and education. I am an ardent admirer of Leibniz and Wolff, but a strong critic of Kant. I became famous for advocating deism and empiricism following Locke. I have been one of the few philosophers of the era, who was allowed to be published by the censors of the Vienna court’s study commission! I am told to be one of the most influential slovene enlightening philosophers.


Franjo Marković

As Croatia’s greatest philosopher, I defended the identity of philosophy as a metaphysical discipline, as opposed to scholasticism on one side, and positivism and materialism on the other side. My magnum opus was Razvoj i sustav obćenite estetike (“The development and the system of general aesthetics”), which heavily influenced the development of Croatian philosophical thought due to my extensive overview of the history of aesthetics in Croatian language, and the introduction of new philosophic terms. For me, beauty resides in unity-in-plurality, in the ‘final harmonic reconciliation which resolves temporary historical dissonances’. Well said, isn’t it ?


Dositej Obradović

I am a philosopher, linguist, traveler, polyglot and the first minister of education of Serbia. During my lifetime, I was an influential protagonist of the Serbian national and cultural renaissance, advocating Enlightenment and rationalist ideas while remaining a Serbian patriot and an adherent of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Philosophers now say that I was permeated by enlightened common sense and sane patriotism, sincerity and integrity, keen intellectual curiosity and wide erudition. My influence on the development of Serbian literature has proved both far-reaching and constructive. I am considered the chief representative of the Serbian Age of Enlightenment.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Nijaz Ibrulj

He wrote extensively on various topics of analytic philosophy, philosophical logic, and philosophy of language, cognitive science and social ontology. In his book Philosophy of Logic, he introduced a theory named the Principle of the Logical, defined as an ideal matrix of the logical principles or laws of thought. Ibrulj investigated the concepts of relation between identity and knowledge in an ambient of intelligent space, which is designed by modern communicational technology, nanoscience and nanotechnology, and the processes of globalisation. He made a distinction between two theories of identity: a strong theory of identity (“anchored identity”) and a weak theory of identity (“mobile identity” or “identity in action”).


Zef Jubani

My political philosophy is largely influenced by classical liberalism. Indeed, I believe that reforms should be based on an industrial economic policy, the center of which would be an Albanian bourgeoisie, whose commerce with Europe would be encouraged and it would pay lower taxes, while that social class would heavily support the industrial development of Albania. In the 1870s, I often accused the Catholic and Muslim clergy of inciting and encouraging religious segregation. I also criticized the Italian missionaries for teaching only in Italian, while in previous years Albanian had been used too. I was eventually denounced by the Jesuit missionaries of Shkodër to the Holy See as an anti-clerical propagandist.


Ivan Seliminski

I am the founder of the materialistic tradition in Bulgarian philosophical thought. I was an eminent thinker, educator and political figure, particularly influenced by the French materialistic thought, ancient Greek philosophy and the German 19th century natural science. My philosophical views can be characterized as anthropological materialism. According to me, the only foundation for the existing world is matter and its inner inherent property, movement. The whole material world, including organic matter and human society, submit to the basic law of nature, the law of a gradual ascending development.



My teacher was the founder of Western philosophy, Socrates, and my student Aristotle was one of the most important philosophers of all time. The three of us simply layed the foundations of Western philosophy! Some say that “the safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato”. I often discussed the father-son relationship and the question of whether a father’s interest in his sons has much to do with how well his sons turn out. I conceived also the ideal city as an image to illuminate the state of one’s soul, or the will, reason, and desires combined in the human body. My philosophical views had many societal implications, especially on the idea of an ideal state or government.



Through my commentaries and treatises, I became well known among medieval Muslim intellectuals as “The Second Teacher”, that is, the successor to Aristotle, “The First Teacher”. My school of philosophy breaks with the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle and moves from metaphysics to methodology, a move that anticipates modernity. At the level of philosophy, I united theory and practice and in the sphere of the political I liberated practice from theory. I also wrote a commentary on Aristotle’s work, and one of my most notable works is Al-Madina al-Fadila where I theorized an ideal state as in Plato’s Republic.

If you liked this article, you may also like: