Philosophy Schools

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To offer a comprehensive overview of different strains in the field of philosophy, here is a list of major philosophical schools of thought.

Note: it is important to be aware that an author may belong to several schools (eg Sartre is a phenomenologist, a Marxist, and an existentialist).

Here is a list of the major schools of philosophy:


General schools of thought:



– Empiricism: a doctrine which stipulates that all knowledge comes from experience.

See the philosophy of Hume or Locke

– Rationalism: a theory which states that the human mind has principles or a priori knowledge, independent of experience.

See the philosophy of Descartes or Leibniz

– Idealism: a philosophical doctrine that denies the existence of the outside world, and reduces it to representations of subjectivity.

See the philosophy of Plato, Kant, Hegel, Fichte

– Positivism: the principle of positivism is to refute any metaphysical sense to man’s existence, focusing  instead on science and objective and seeking human laws.

See the philosophy of Auguste Comte

– Stoicism: Stoicism is both a theory of the universe and of morality. Stoic wisdom is defined as knowledge of the Cosmos.

See the philosophy of Cicero, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Sextus Empiricus, Zeno

– Structuralism: for structuralists, the existence of underlying structures can explain all social activities. To uncover these, structuralism aims to go beyond empirical facts.

See the philosophy of Levi-Strauss

– Phenomenology: a current that focuses on providing a descriptive study of a set of phenomena. Phenomenology proceeds from a critique of traditional metaphysics (both empiricism and idealism), in a movement to bring philosophy back to concrete phenomena. Phenomenology is defined as a rigorous science of essences.

See the philosophy of Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, Sartre, Heidegger

Materialism: this theory stands as a materialist ontological doctrine that holds that there is no other substance than matter. It generally rejects the existence of God, the soul, and the afterlife. Consciousness, in the materialist credo, is merely a secondary phenomenon, an attempt to attach itself to and explain the material world.

See the philosophy of Epicurus and Marx

– Existentialism: Existentialism is basically betting on man (rather than on a philosophy of ideas). It is a philosophy of existence that rejects the priority of the essence. Existentialism considers man as a self-guided production, alone in a universe without God. Existential philosophy seeks to uncover the metaphysical meaning of man.

See the philosophy of Pascal, Kierkegaard, Sartre, Camus, Heidegger.

– Scepticism: Scepticism is a position of denial. A refusal to rule on the existence of objects. It holds that all judgement is suspended the permanent shadow.

See the philosophy of Diogenes Laertius, Hume and Berkeley

– Cynicism: Cynicism is primarily a moral doctrine, which consists in rejecting the commonly accepted social and moral conventions. The cynical life must therefore be based on a very ascetic virtue.

See the philosophy of Diogenes

– Romanticism: epitomized by the exaltation of nature, the romantic nostalgia seeks to describe the attitude of authentic human consciousness. In romanticism, nature is seen as a mediator between man and divinity and the nation as a source of access to religion. It also constitutes a move to rehabilitate the feelings of freedom, as exemplified in the romantic works of art and literature.

See the philosophy of Hegel, Schelling and Fichte.

Political schools of thought:


Communism: a social doctrine advocating the sharing of all goods and the abolition of private property for the liberation of man and the end of the system (i.e. withering away of the state)

See the philosophy of Plato, Marx and Engels, Fourier

Socialism: in Marx, socialism is understood as the intermediate state (between capitalism and communism), a stage characterised by the dictatorship of the proletariat. Socialism realizes the interest of individuals with a common interest.

See philosophy of Proudhon

Liberalism: the economic side of liberalism asserts that the state must give way in favor of the market, while the political side defends the view that the principle of freedom is at the core of society, and therefore that the state must protect individual liberty.

See the philosophy of Rawls, Locke, Montesquieu

Libertarianismthe doctrine of radical liberals advocates the demise of the state as a system based on coercion, for the benefit of cooperation between free individuals.

See the philosophy of Nozick

Contractualism: a political theory that stipulates that individuals must leave the state of nature, give up their natural rights, to join in freedom and equality (as illustrated in the works of Rousseau on democracy, Locke, Kant, or Hobbes minus the absolutist ideal)

See the philosophy of Rousseau, Kant, Hobbes, Spinoza, Locke

Anarchism: Anarchism is characterised by the refusal of any power or authority, the only value is the individual’s own, self-determined values.

See the philosophy of Bakunin or Nietzsche

Humanism: Humanism holds that man is the only source of values

See Sartre’s philosophy

Feminism: Feminism is a philosophical movement that seeks the total emancipation of women, both political and social

See the philosophy of De Beauvoir

Utilitarianism: a doctrine that regards as useful all that can bring pleasure. Human life must be based on a calculation of pleasures versus pain – the ideal being to maximize the former and minimize the latter.

See the philosophy of Bentham, Stuart Mill or More


Article about philosophy on the Guardian