Western Philosophers

General Purpose

This pathfinder has been created to aid those seeking information about notable western philosophers. Western philosophy spans a large time period and a tremendous amount of different ideas. The attempt to follow and discover the people who have created these ideas can be a long, arduous task. This document contains print and Internet resources recommended as starting points for research and by no means should be considered all inclusive. Western philosophy can be divided into three sections: ancient, medieval, and modern. When researching philosophers one can use this as a guide to ideas and movements associated with philosophers.

Print Resources | Internet Resources

Print Resources

The following information is provided to help you locate print materials when searching at a library. Most academic libraries utilize the Library of Congress Subject Headings while public libraries tend to use the Dewey Decimal Classification. Both classifications systems have been provided to aid your search.

Call Numbers

  • LCSH (Library of Congress Subject Headings):Philosophers (Used for Philosophy — Biography)
    B 108-708 Philosophers, Ancient
    B 720-765 Philosophers, MedievalB 770-5739 Philosophy, Modern

    • B 801 17th century
    • B 802 18th century (Narrower Term – Enlightenment)
    • B 803 19th century
    • B 804 20th century (Narrower Term – Postmodernism)


  • DDC (Dewey Decimal System):190 Philosophers
    921 Biographies

Recommended Texts

The Concise Encyclopedia of Western Philosophy and Philosophers
edited by J. O. Urmson. New York: Hawthorn Books, 1960.
Updated edition edited by Ree, Jonathan. London; Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1989.

The 1960 edition is considered an authoritative, comprehensive work for western philosophy. However, Jonathan Ree has updated this classic in the 1989 edition by removing 1/10th of the material and adding 80 new articles. This was done in lieu of new philosophical thoughts and role players as well as adding new ideas to older issues.

Great Thinkers of the Western World: The Major Ideas and Classic Works of More Than 100 Outstanding Western Philosophers, Physical and Social Scientists, Psychologists, Religious Writers, and Theologians
New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 1992.

This book introduces 116 philosophers in chronological order. It lists biographical data, major works of the philosopher, a summary of their ideas, and a bibliography for further information.

Biographical Dictionary of 20th Century Philosophers
edited by Stuart Brown, Diane Collinson, and Robert Wilkinson. London; New York: Routledge, 1996.

This text provides biographical information on over 1,000 philosophers of the 20th Century. Inclusion into this text was based on several criteria: major reference works, volume and range of secondary literature, substantial publication, and the advice of consultants. The book provides information on the philosopher’s nationality, date of birth and death, higher education, their ideas, lists of works and appointments. The book also includes several indexes to items such as nationality, influences, interests, etc. There is also a guide to schools and movements.

Fifty Major Philosophers: a Reference Guide
by Diane Collinson. Routledge, 1988.

This text covers deceased philosophers who have impacted western thought. It is organized with a short entry for each philosopher that describes the main ideas of his philosophy. Also included in each entry is biographical data, concise interpretations of their ideas, and connections to other philosophers. Information to proceed with further research is provided after each entry. This includes a list of further reading, a list of related philosophers, major works created by the philosopher, and notes used in the short summary. Also a glossary of philosophical terms is appended to the text.

Internet Resources

IPL Reference Resources

The following sites related to philosophy have been evaluated by the IPL staff. They have been deemed worthy for entry into the IPL Reference section. These sites should provide nice starting points for research and link you to more specific information.

  • A Dictionary of Philosophical Terms and Names
    This is a guide to personal names and terms associated with philosophy. Many of the entries provide links to other on-line resources for more detailed information as well as electronic texts.
  • Philosophy Resources on the Internet
    This site links to many philosophy sites including topic-specific sites as well as audio and video sites.

Useful Websites

The following web sites tend to cover broad areas of philosophy. However, specific information on individual philosophers is easily accessible once you click on the link to philosophers.

  • Guide to Philosophy on the Internet
    The Guide to Philosophy on the Internet provides links to information on individual philosopher and who the site is from. There is also a plethora of other kinds of information including bibliographies, mailing lists, associations, e-texts, journals, etc. This site is full of information organized in a clear manner.
  • Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
    This site touts itself as the first dynamic encyclopedia, meaning that every entry is maintained by a qualified expert(s) to be kept up to date. It is hoped that this type of format will create a document that can keep up with modern research. Searches can be done via a search box or alphabetically, you can access what has been added recently in chronological order, as well as peruse the older “editions” of this document.

Listservs and Associations

  • Philosophy Listservs & Newsgroups
    Useful site for locating philosophy-related newsgroups and mailing lists.
  • American Philosophical Association
    This is the website for the American Philosophical Association which provides information on the profession, membership, publications and online resources and opportunities for philosophers. Contact them at APA, University of Delaware, Newark, DE 19716 Phone: (302) 831-1112

This pathfinder was created by Aimee Strittmatter