Philosophy is the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reason, mind, language and traditions. While the world has had some of the most knowledgeable philosophers and thinkers from various parts of the world, it would not be wrong to say that Germany holds the bulk of them all.
Every German philosopher made significant contribution to the aesthetics of philosophy and gave a world a new aspect to look from. Through their work in their chosen field of philosophy, German philosophers made revolutionary contribution to the world society. Till date, their beliefs play a central role in contemporary philosophy and are highly influential in setting up their fundamental concepts. Browse through this section to find a list of famous German philosophers, their life, their philosophies and their thinking.
Though it is tough to pick the most famous German philosophers, nonetheless, read along our list. Their impressionable work is sure to leave a lasting imprint on your mind as well!
“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”
1. Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 -1900)
He is a 19th century German philosopher, cultural critic, composer, poet, philologist, and Latin and Greek scholar, who influenced famous political leaders like Theodore Roosevelt, Adolf Hitler, and Richard Nixon by his writings and thoughts. Although his writings mostly remained controversial and were often criticized for their anti-Christian faith.
Nietzsche’s key ideas include perspectivism, the will to power, the Übermensch, life affirmation and eternal recurrence. He became the youngest ever to hold the Chair of Classical Philology at the University of Basel in 1869 at the age of 24.
- ’Thus Spoke Zarathustra’, one of Nietzsche’s most celebrated works, records the imaginary travels and speeches of Zarathustra, the founder of Zoroastrianis. The works throws light on the ideas like “eternal recurrence of the same”, “death of God”, and the “prophecy” of the Übermensch.
- ‘Twilight of the Idols’ is another of Nietzsche’s important works. In it, he not only criticized the German culture of that time as rather crude and nihilistic, but also the British, French and Italian personalities, who possessed similar views. Instead, he applauded Caesar, Napoleon, Goethe, Thucydides and the Sophists.
Friedrich-Nietzsche-Preis, a German literary award established in 1996, continue to carry his legacy. Nietzsche-Haus, where he spent his childhood in Naumburg, has now been turned into a museum.
“The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.” [These words are also inscribed upon his grave]
2. Karl Marx (1818-1883)
Karl Marx is a 19th century philosopher, political economist and revolutionary, who gave socialism a scientific foundation. Marx devoted himself to the study of philosophy and history from a very young age. He started participating in many political activities and addressed a wide variety of social concerns when he was a small child. His philosophy of ‘Marxisim’ influenced a lot of workers and on political leaders like Vladimir Lenin, Mao Zedong and Leon Trotsky.
- ‘The Communist Manifesto’, published in 1848 is the first of important work of Karl Marx It is recognized as one of the ‘world’s most influential political manuscripts’. The book was published in French and also had an English edition. It was also published as a ‘comic-book’ in four parts.
- ‘Das Kapital’ is considered as one of Marx’s greatest works, the book has been translated into Russian, English, French and German; the Russian version selling the highest—over 3,000 copies in one year.
Today, there are a number of communist schools that took birth from Marxism known as ‘Stalinism’, ‘Trotskyism’ and ‘Maoism’
“We are not rich by what we possess but by what we can do without.”
3. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)
Immanuel Kant is a famous 18th century Prussian philosopher. He was a professor of philosophy at Königsberg and spent his life in researching, lecturing and writing on philosophy. He tried to combine reason with experience to move beyond the failures of traditional philosophy and metaphysics through his works. His ideas and works influenced many German thinkers of his times.
- His important works include ‘The False Subtlety of the Four Syllogistic Figures’, ‘Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals’, ‘Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science’, ‘Critique of Practical Reason’ and ‘Critique of Judgment’.
- In 1749, he had his first book, ‘Thoughts on the True Estimation of Living Forces’ published. The book deals into the limits of human knowledge and to what extent it can wander.
- He made an important astronomical discovery about the nature of Earth’s rotation. In 1754, it earned him the Berlin Academy Prize.
His philosophy was amended and developed by future philosophers like Fichte, Schelling, Hegel and Schopenhauer.
“Those who do not move, do not notice their chains.”
4. Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919)
Rosa Luxemburg was a German Marxist theorist, philosopher, revolutionary socialist and economist. She became a naturalized German citizen. She was a member of the Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania, the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), and the Independent Social Democratic Party (USPD).
She started teaching Marxism and economics at the Social Democratic Party’s Berlin training center. Here Friedrich Ebert who also attended her lectures here went on to become SPD leader and first president of the Weimar Republic.
During the German Revolution, she founded the ‘Die Rote Fahne’ or ‘The Red Flag’, the Spartacus newspaper. When World War I broke out in 1914, she was heartbroken when the SDP and the French socialist agreed to a truce, promising to refrain from any strikes.
For her refusal to obey orders, she was jailed for “inciting disobedience against the authorities’ law and order” during an organized anti-war demonstrations in Frankfurt against military conscription by her.
- In 1916, while in prison, she wrote the article ‘The Russian Revolution’, criticizing the Bolsheviks and Lenin for using force to overthrow the Russian government. She called for a “dictatorship of the proletariat”
She was murdered in the jail in 1919 and her body was discarded into Berlin’s Landwehr Canal. In the same year, Bertolt Brecht, a German poet and Marxist, wrote a commemoration in recognition to her contributions. Kurt Weill, a German composer gave his music to it and is known as ‘The Berlin Requiem’.
“Nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion.”
5. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831)
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel is a famous German philosopher from 18th century. His interests were Metaphysics, Philosophy of History, Logic and Aesthetics and Political Philosophy. He was attracted towards the works of Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, Kant and Fichte.
He joined a Protestant seminary (a part of the University of Tubingen) at the age of 18 and made two lifelong friends – the poet, Friedrich Holderlin and the philosopher, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, who were also his roommates. They helped not only in personal life but also pushed him professionally.
- He completed in all 4 noteworthy works other then writing articles and revision of his own Encyclopaedia.
- ‘The Phenomenology of Spirit’, published in 1807, discusses evolution of consciousness from sense – perception to absolute knowledge.
- ‘Science of Logic’ is the core of his philosophy that got published in three volumes.
- ‘The Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Science’ is a summary of his philosophy, which was published in 1816 and later revised in 1827 and 1830 by himself.
- ‘The Elements of the Philosophy of Right’ is his political philosophy which was published in 1820.
At the time of his death, he was one of Germany’s most prominent philosophers. His views are highly regarded even today and are interpreted differently by his followers and researchers.
“Talent hits a target no one else can hit. Genius hits a target no one else can see.”
6. Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)
Arthur Schopenhauer was the greatest philosopher of his time, who wished to rise above the human existence and the humiliation of existence. According to him, the humans, the world and human relations are all the figment of one’s imagination. So, he chose a lonely life for him and immersed himself into reading Indian. He explored Buddhism and Indology and found solace in ‘Upanishadas’, the production of the highest human wisdom, according to him. Sanskrit literature for him was”the greatest gift of our century”.
During his study days in University of Gottingen in 1809, he was greatly influenced by the ideas of Plato and Immanuel Kant
- His single most important work ‘The World as Will and Representation’ remains his masterpiece. The book is a philosophical genius in every perception. He makes an attempt to illustrate non-rationality and universality as the supreme force behind the existence of both human beings and non-living objects.
- He published the essay ‘On the Freedom of the Will’ in which he tried to answer the academic question “Is it possible to demonstrate human free will from self-consciousness?” which was posed by the Royal Norwegian Society of Sciences in 1839
He who influenced many modern day philosophers chose to live alone, with his pet poodles to keep him company and died with his cat on his lap, while sitting on his couch.
So our lists end here. However, Germany has given the world a lot of worth-mentioning philosophers, and we will be cherishing all of them with the coming generations.