The following is an original classification* to nine philosopher types, based on the questions each type is most concerned with. The nine types are the dialogic (concerned with interpersonal relationship, intimacy, love, responsibility and care for the other), experiential (interested in the human experience of love, hate, happiness, pain etc.), mystical (concerned with that which is beyond the senses and the mind), practical (whose attention is on action and change in the material world), moral (engaged with concepts such as conscience, morality, good and evil), existential (asking questions related to the “self”, the subject, the “I” that each of us is), purpose (concerned with the meaning of life and purpose in life), consciousness (interested in the ability to know and to know that we know) and sociopolitical (asking questions about equality, freedom, authority and justice) types.
It should be noted that, as with most classifications, the lines separating different philosopher types are quite blurry and there is considerable overlap between different types. Application of this classification to many of the great thinkers clearly demonstrates this – most of them “spread out” over several types. Very likely you are too.
* © 2016 Amir Freimann
The potential for a dialogic interpersonal relationship interests and attracts you and you explore it and experiment with it. Every encounter is an invitation for you to engage, relate, create intimacy and even dissolve boundaries. It’s important to you to be in relationships and to give others space and presence, to be able to meet them as equals and unjudgementally.
Questions such as – how shall I open my heart to the other? How do we create intimacy and closeness with another? To what degree can I “step into the shoes” of another person, understand them “from within”? How possible is it to accept people who are very different from me? What happens and what is made possible when the walls, separating us from each other, fall? To what extent can we be fully together, as one? – are the most significant questions of your life.
Thinkers commonly thought of as “dialogic” include Franz Rosenzweig, Martin Buber, Emmanuel Levinas, David Bohm, Paulo Freire and Hans-Georg Gadamer.
The human psychological and emotional experience fascinates you and you explore, contemplate and question it.
Questions related to the human experience, such as – what is happiness and how can I be happier? What is suffering and how can I suffer less? What is love? To what degree am I controlled by emotions? Is it possible to be unconditionally happy? How can I experience more love in life? How can I let go of past pain and trauma? – are the main questions that interest you.
Thinkers commonly thought of as “experiential” include Epicurus, Søren Kierkegaard, John Dewey, Walter Benjamin, Henry David Thoreau and Edmund Husserl.
The transcendent or mystical dimension, imperceivable by the senses but knowable by the heart, fascinates and preoccupies you. You intuit that “there is more to life than meets the eye” – that beyond the material, temporal and relative dimension there is another dimension, absolute and timeless, that is no less and maybe more real and significant. You are attracted to experiences of unitive consciousness, of timelessness, of higher intelligence and love, and want to experience them, be connected to them and live in awareness of them.
The questions that have always been of interest to mystics, theologists and spiritual seekers, about the existence of God, about soul and spirit, about mystical experiences and spiritual practice, are your questions.
Thinkers commonly thought of as “mystical” include Buddha, Jesus, Moses, Muhammad, Meister Eckhart, Teresa de Ávila, Thomas Aquinas, John of the Cross, Jakob Boehme, Emanuel Swedenborg, Franz Rosenzweig, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Carl Jung, Simone Weil and Jiddu Krishnamurti.
You live “with both feet on the ground” in the world of matter, time and space, a world which shapeable and moldable by your choices and actions, and the big questions of our practical life at work, in relationships, in society and in politics are the main questions that interest you.
You want to know what deeds are good and appropriate, which goals to aim for, what it means to be successful in life and what you need to do in order to be that, how you can contribute to the wellbeing of humanity and create a better world – and for you these are not abstract, theoretical questions; you want to know the answers to them so that you can implement that knowledge in your life.
Thinkers commonly thought of as “practical” include Aristotle, Niccolo Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, David Hume, Voltaire, Hannah Arendt, Jürgen Habermas and Slavoj Žižek.
You have a developed sense of justice and morality; it’s important for you to act in accordance with your conscience, and moral questions – of good and evil, fairness, justice, our responsibility for the other, our moral obligations – are the main questions of your life.
You want to understand the essence of morality and justice – what is their source? Are they absolute or culture-dependent? How do we distinguish between good and evil? Why is there evil in the world? – and you also want to understand yourself in relation to questions such as: to what degree do I care about others (other than my family and close friends)? What are the limits of my personal morality and conscience? Do I sometimes compromise my moral principles? These are real, and sometimes troubling questions for you.
Thinkers commonly thought of as “moral” include Socrates, Epictetus, Confucius, Immanuel Kant, John Stuart Mill, Adam Smith, William James, Alasdair MacIntyre and Martha Nussbaum.
The questions of “self”, of the “I”, the questions of our personal, individual existence, such as – who am I really, beyond any idea I have about who I am? Am I free in making the important choices of my life? Am I always (or sometimes) authentic? What motivates me in life and in my life’s turning points? Are my worldview, values and beliefs really mine? How do I know what I really want? – are your main questions and you examine them, explore them, experiment with them in your life.
Thinkers commonly thought of as “existential” include Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Simone de Beauvoir, Jacques Derrida, Martin Heidegger and Ayn Rand.
Philosopher of Purpose
It’s important for you to know that your life is meaningful, that it has meaning and purpose – otherwise, what’s the point of being alive?
Questions of purpose and meaning such as – does life have a purpose? Does my personal life have a purpose? What gives value to my daily life? Is my life purpose a given or do I determine it and create it? And since my life has an expiry date on it, what should I do with the time I’ve been given? What thing of value will I leave behind me? – are the main questions of your life and you examine them, contemplate them, explore them – and yourself and your life in relation to them.
Thinkers commonly thought of as “philosophers of purpose” include Zeno, Friedrich Nietzsche, Viktor Frankl, Hermann Hesse, Erich Fromm, Theodor Adorno and Susan Wolf.
Philosopher of Consciousness
Human consciousness, the ability not only to know but also to know that we know, to examine what we know and put it in question, the possibility of developing higher levels of consciousness, the potentials of collective, inter-subjective and trans-human consciousness, different states of consciousness – all these interest, fascinate and excite you.
The questions of consciousness – what do I really know and what do I believe? How do I know what I think I know? Is my consciousness part of some super-consciousness? How did consciousness develop – is it a product of matter or is matter a product of consciousness? What is the relationship between the world itself and how I perceive it? Is it possible to know reality in a direct and unmediated way? – are your main questions and you examine them, explore them, experiment with them.
Thinkers commonly thought of as “philosophers of consciousness” include René Descartes, John Locke, Baruch Spinoza, Friedrich Hegel, Arthur Schopenhauer, Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Henri Bergson, Julia Kristeva, Terence McKenna and David Chalmers.
Concepts like justice, equality, freedom, authority, nationalism and democracy deeply interest you and you ask questions such as: What are the right limits of state authority? Do people have the right to equal treatment in society? Should citizens have the right to choose whatever they wish to do? What makes a good leader? What is justice? You may be tending more toward questions concerning the ideal society, which makes you more of a Political Philosopher, or more toward the effect on the people of various social and political organizations, which makes you more of a Social Philosopher, but these two orientations are closely related. Thinkers commonly thought of as “sociopolitical philosophers” include Confucius, Plato, Aristotle, Ibn Khaldun, Niccolo Machiavelli, John Stuart Mill, Herbert Spencer, Francis Bacon, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Adam Smith, Max Weber, Mohandas Gandhi, Michel Foucault, Edward Said, Martin Luther King, Luce Irigaray, Noam Chomsky, Patricia Hill Collins and Slavoj Žižek.