Philosophical movements and schools of thought: Truths, principles of being, knowledge, and conduct. This information is cited almost verbatim from The New York Public Library Desk Reference.

Without the rational investigation of truth, knowledge is meaningless. ~ Jakob Lucerne

analytical philosophy

Analytical philosophy is a 20th century movement that emphasizes restating philosophical problems in highly structured terms based on modern logic.


Anthroposophy holds that cultivating human spiritual development is humanity's most important task. Founded by the Austrian-born philosopher Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925).


Aristotelianism is a system of thought originating with the teachings of Aristotle (4th century BCE). He held that knowledge originates with experience and observation, from which comes and understanding of the universal.

British empiricism

British empiricism (17th & 18th centuries) emphasized that knowledge of the world derives from experience or sensation rather than reason. Opposed to rationalism.

British idealism (neo-Hegelianism)

British idealism (neo-Hegelianism) was a mid-19th century school of thought that followed the teachings of Georg Hegel. The proponents held the belief that the mind and spirit were primary, in opposition to empiricism and utilitarianism.

Cambridge Platonists

Cambridge Platonists were a group of 17th century English philosophers and theologians that attempted to provide Christian theology with philosophical defenses based on Platonic and Neoplatonic theories.


Cartesianism was the 17th century interpretations of the views of René Descartes by rationalistic, dualistic, and theistic philosophers. They held that the search for knowledge and certainty can be based on logical analysis and mathematical principles.


The Cynics were from a school of Greek philosophers founded in 4th century BCE by Diogenes. They held that virtue was the only good and that happiness was to be attained only by living in a simple state of nature with as few desires and needs as possible. They advocated moderation, self-discipline, and training of the mind as well as the body.


Cyrenaics was a Greek philosophical school of the 4th century BCE founded by Cyrene, a disciple of Socrates. They believed that only momentary feelings of pleasure or pain could be known, and that the good life maximizes pleasures derived from satisfying one's bodily desires. Compare to hedonism.


Deism is the belief that God created the universe and its laws, but then He removed Himself from ongoing interaction with the material world. Originated in England 17th and 18th century and France in the 18th century.

dialectical materialism

Dialectical materialism is the philosophy of Karl Marx and many of his followers. It holds that matter is the primary reality and that it obeys the dynamic laws of change. The most fundamental of these laws is that progress occurs through conflict and struggle between opposing forces (thesis and antithesis) and this extends to societies (class struggle). It is essentially deterministic and maintains that individuals have no influence over the course of history.


Eleatics, a pre-Socratic school of philosophers (5th century BCE), originated in Elea, in southern Italy. They held that reality is an undifferentiated and unchanging "being" and that what is known to the senses should be denied. Famous members include Zeno of Elea and Parmenides.


The Encyclopedists were a group of 18th century French writers who united to produce an encyclopedia of philosophy, art, and science (1751-1765). Edited by Denis Diderot and Jean d'Alembert.

Enlightenment (Age of Reason)

The Enlightenment (Age of Reason) was predominately an 18th century European philosophical movement which attempted to make reason the ruler of human life. They believed that all people could gain knowledge and liberation. They sought the perfection of society through applied reason, rejecting conventional religious and secular authority. Major figures include: Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, David Hume, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, and Johann Gottfried von Herder. See also philosophes.


Epicureanism is an ethical doctrine established in Greece (3rd century BCE), based on the teachings of Epicurus. It maintains that pleasure is the highest good and that this pleasure can only be obtained by conducting a virtuous life, putting mental pleasures over bodily ones.


Existentialism is a philosophy originating in the 19th century that presumes that due to the lack of universal laws, a person's essence is not predetermined but is based on free will. They also conclude that there is no objective truth. Major proponents include: Søren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean-Paul Sartre, Martin Heidegger, Karl Jaspers, Martin Buber, and Gabriel Marcel.


Hedonism is an ethical doctrine that holds pleasure as the highest good in life, and that a person should thusly strive for pleasure and avoid pain. Aspects of this ideology are found in various schools emphasizing different pleasures: the seeking of physical sensations by the Cyrenaics, the simple living and virtuous conduct of the Epicureans, and the consequences of moral goodness of the Utilitarians.

Hegelianism (neo-Hegelianism)

Hegelianism (neo-Hegelianism) is a school of thought associated with Georg Hegel, primarily in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It emphasized the importance of spirit and the belief that ideas and moral ideals are fundamental.


Intuitionism is any philosophy that holds intuition as the basis of knowledge or of philosophy. It particularly refers to the British school of thought that advocates all ethical knowledge rests upon moral intuition.

linguistic philosophy (linguistic analysis)

Linguistic philosophy (linguistic analysis) is a 20th century school of thought whose key tenet is that philosophical problems are best approached by asking questions about the use of words and by analyzing how language works in social contexts.

logical positivism

Logical positivism is a 20th century school founded in the 1920s in Europe what was extremely influential for American and English philosophers. It attempted to introduce mathematical and scientific methodology into philosophy. It rejected metaphysical speculation in favor of a vigorous analysis of experience and language, without which understanding is not possible. It advocated the principle of verifiability, according to which all statements that could not be validated empirically were meaningless. See also Vienna Circle.


Manichaeanism is a religious-philosophical doctrine that originated in Persia in the 3rd century C.E. It holds that the entire universe, especially human life, is a struggle between the opposing forces of good and evil (light and darkness).


Marxism is the political, economic, and philosophical theories developed by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in the second half of the 19th century. The philosophical side is also known as dialectical materialism. It emphasizes economic determinism. See also dialectical materialism.

Miletian School

The Miletian School was a group of pre-Socratics from Miletus in Greece. Thales and his two best known pupils, Anaximander and Anaximenes.


Neoplatonism is a school of philosophy that flourished from the 2nd to the 5th century C.E. It was founded by Plotinus and was influential for the next thousand years.


Nihilism is an extremist movement from 19th-century Russia. Ethical nihilism is the theory that morality cannot be justified in any way and that all moral values are, therefore, meaningless and irrational. Political nihilism is the social philosophy that society and its social, political, and economic popularized institutions are so corrupt that their complete destruction is desirable. Nihilist often advocate violence and terrorism to overthrow "corrupt social orders".

Ordinary Language Philosophy

Ordinary Language Philosophy is the 20th century school advocating that we can best understand and resolve philosophic problems by analyzing how people other than philosophers ordinarily use language and the presuppositions underlying such use. The school holds that everyday language is adequate for philosophy.


The term personalism applies to any philosophy that makes personality (whether of people, God, or spirit) the supreme value or source of reality. As a movement, personalism flourished in England and America in the 19th and 20th centuries. Personalists are usually idealists.


Phenomenology was founded by Edmund Husserl in the 20th century. It is an important influence on existentialism. This school developed its own philosophical "method" of using intuition for describing consciousness and experience. Phenomenologists claim that this method can be used to study the inherent qualities of phenomena as they appear to the mind. They attempt to classify and describe all phenomena without resorting to universal concepts or preconceived notions of reality. The focus is on the phenomena, not on how it is perceived.


The philosophes were 18th-century French Enlightenment thinkers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Denis Diderot, and Voltaire.


Platonism is the thoughts and writings developed in the 4th century BCE in Athens by Plato, the greatest student of Socrates. Platonism's chief tenet is that the ultimate reality consists of unchanging, absolute, eternal entities called Ideas or Forms; all earthly physical objects are not truly real but merely partake in the Forms.


Pragmatism is an American philosophy developed in the 19th century by Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914) and William James. It was elaborated on in the 20th century by John Dewey. Its central precepts are that thinking is primarily a guide to action and that the truth of a concept or idea could be determined only by testing it against experimental results and practical consequences.


The Pre-Socratics were all Greek "theorists of nature" who lived before Socrates. Some of the major pre-Socratics were: Anaximander, Pythagoras, and Thales.


Pythagoreans are followers of Pythagoras. As a group they flourish until about 400 BCE and were influential in philosophy, religion, mathematics, and science. They strongly influenced the thinking of Plato and Neoplatonists.


Scholasticism is a movement mainly residing between the 9th and 17th centuries. It was especially prevalent at medieval universities and attempted to reconcile Christian dogma with the empiricism of Aristotle. Its adherents used highly analytical logical and linguistic methods of argumentation, especially with respect to the problem of universals. Aquinas, the movement's greatest thinker, demonstrated that faith and reason were separate but compatible ideas; his teachings were accepted by the Catholic church.

17th-century rationalists

17th-century rationalists is a broad term referring to the rationalism shared by René Descartes, Gottfried Leibniz, and Benedict Spinoza. It held that reason and deduction could provide knowledge of the world independent of experience.


Sophists were wandering teachers in the 4th and 5th centuries BCE in ancient Greece who taught any subjects that their paying students wished to learn, from grammar to public speaking. They were strongly ridiculed by Plato, who held that they were less interested in truth than in pleasing their students for a fee.


Stoicism is a Greek school of thought founded by Zeno in the 3rd century BCE. Stoics hold that people should submit to natural law and that a person's chief duty is to conform to his destiny. They also believed the soul to be another form of matter, and thus not immortal. Stoics rejected material comfort and advocated freedom from earthly passions and desires. They viewed reality as materialistic and defined the organizing principle of the universe as force, or God.


Thomism is the philosophical and theological system developed by St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century. Specifically, it refers to Aquinas's synthesis of philosophy and theology, in which reason seeks knowledge through experiment and observation, while faith seeks understanding through divine revelation. The two are thus never in conflict; rather, both come from God. Thomism is accepted as a vital doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church.


Transcendentalism is a movement developed in New England in the 19th century and was expounded by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) and Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862). It maintains that beyond our material world of experience is an ideal spiritual reality that can be grasped intuitively. It advocates a reliance on personal conscience, based on perception and experience, over the dictates of external authority or moral conventions.


Utilitarianism is a theory of morality formulated in the 19th century and holding that all actions should be judged for rightness or wrongness in terms of their consequences; thus, the amount of pleasure people derive from those consequences becomes the measure of moral goodness. Jeremy Bentham believed that happiness was the sole consequence by which actions should be judged. John Stuart Mill equated morality with the attainment of the maximum good for the greatest number of people.

Vienna Circle

The Vienna Circle was a major school of logical positivism founded by Moritz Schlick (1882-1936) in the 1920s. It was known for its hostility to metaphysics and theology and for its belief that physics is the model for all knowledge of the world. Other leading members of the school were Rudolph Carnap (1891-1970) and Otto Neurath (1882-1945).

Young Hegelians

The Young Hegelians were a group of thinkers in Germany in the first half of the 19th century whose views strongly influenced Karl Marx. They were followers of Georg Hegel who believed that the political conditions under which they lived were irrational. They held that the goal of philosophy should be to promote a revolution of ideas and critical thinking about the world. Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872) was the most important member of this group.


source: New York Public Library Desk Reference. Fourth edition. Hyperion, Stonesong Press: New York, New York. 2002. Ellen Scordato, editor.

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