German philosopher, cultural critic, composer, and poet Friedrich Nietzsche has had a profound influence on modern intellectual history. He held the Chair of Classical Philology at the University of Basel. His work spanned philosophical polemics, poetry, cultural criticism, and fiction. He suffered from numerous health problems from a young age and died at the age of 55.
Immanuel Kant was a German philosopher whose works in fields like aesthetics and metaphysics have made him an important and influential personality in Western philosophy. His views continue to influence contemporary philosophy. Kant has had a major influence on prominent philosophers like Hegel, Schelling, Reinhold, and Fichte. Kant's work on mathematics is cited by Albert Einstein as an early influence.
Arthur Schopenhauer was a German philosopher. He was among the first Western philosophers to affirm important tenets of Indian philosophy, such as denial of the self and asceticism. Schopenhauer's work has had a tremendous posthumous impact on disciplines like science, literature, and philosophy. His work influenced personalities like Albert Einstein, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Sigmund Freud, George Bernard Shaw, and Leo Tolstoy.
Hannah Arendt was a political theorist. Widely regarded as one of the 20th century's most prominent political thinkers, Hannah Arendt's articles and books have had a significant influence on philosophy and political theory. Her life and work inspired the 2012 biographical drama film, Hannah Arendt. Her work has also inspired several biographies written by popular authors.
German philosopher and sociologist Jürgen Habermas is counted among the most influential philosophers across the world and is identified with the tradition of critical theory and pragmatism. He influenced many disciplines through his work which addresses communicative rationality and the public sphere, and includes topics starting from social-political theory to aesthetics, language to philosophy of religion, and epistemology.
Walter Benjamin was a German Jewish essayist, philosopher, and cultural critic. An eclectic thinker, Benjamin made significant contributions to literary criticism, aesthetic theory, and historical materialism. Although Benjamin's work did not earn much recognition during his lifetime, it continues to be revered by academics several years after his death.
One of the most prominent intellectuals of the 20th century, Theodor Adorno was a pioneer of the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory and despised the culture industry. Born to a singer mother, the German sociologist grew up amid music and could even play Beethoven on the piano by 12.
12 Karl Marx
Karl Marx, the philosopher, economist, political theorist and socialist revolutionary, is best-known for the 1848 pamphlet, The Communist Manifesto and the three-volume Das Kapital. His theories, called Marxism, maintained that class conflict leads to the development of human societies and that internal tension were inherent in capitalism, which would ultimately be replaced by the socialist mode of production.
Friedrich Schiller was a German poet, physician, philosopher, playwright, and historian. Schiller is best remembered for his friendship with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and the two discussed issues concerning aesthetics. Schiller's discussions with Goethe paved the way for a period, which came to be known as Weimar Classicism. Friedrich Schiller is also widely regarded as Germany's most prominent classical playwright.
14 Erich Fromm
Erich Fromm was a German social psychologist, psychoanalyst, sociologist, and socialist. A German Jew, he fled the Nazi regime and settled in the United States. He was a co-founder of The William Alanson White Institute and was associated with the Frankfurt School of critical theory. He is best remembered for authoring the book Escape from Freedom.
15 Max Stirner
Wilhelm Wundt was a German physiologist, professor, and philosopher. He is often counted among the founders of modern psychology and is widely considered the father of experimental psychology. He is also credited with founding the first laboratory for psychological research, which he founded at the University of Leipzig in 1879.
German philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder is best remembered as a significant figure of the Sturm und Drang literary movement. Born into poverty and largely self-educated till 17, he later became a disciple of Immanuel Kant and was associated with Enlightenment and Weimar Classicism. He was eventually ennobled.
19 Leo Strauss
The proponent of the Frankfurt School of critical theory, Herbert Marcuse largely influenced the leftist student revolts of the 1960s. Equipped with a PhD in German literature, he wrote Hegel’s Ontology and the Theory of Historicity, with Martin Heidegger. His Eros and Civilization spoke at length about capitalism.
21 Edith Stein
Edith Stein was a German Jewish philosopher who studied at the University of Freiburg and completed her dissertation on empathy. Always interested in Catholicism, she read the autobiography of the mystic Teresa of Ávila and converted to Christianity, and became a Discalced Carmelite nun. She was killed in the Auschwitz concentration camp and is canonized as a martyr.
German historian Oswald Spengler is best remembered for his iconic The Decline of the West, which had a huge influence on social theory. He believed that culture cannot be transferred and that it can only decline and decay like an organism. He lived his final years in isolation in Munich.
23 Paul Tillich
German-American theologian and philosopher Paul Tillich is remembered for his work in the field of Christian existentialism and for concepts such as the method of correlation. His notable works, such as The Courage to Be and the three-volume Systematic Theology, has inspired intellectual thinkers and commoners alike.
24 Carl Schmitt
Albertus Magnus was a friar, bishop, and philosopher. Regarded by some as the greatest German theologian and philosopher of the Middle Ages, Albertus' writings have inspired the iconography of the archivolts and tympanum of the 13th-century portal of Strasbourg Cathedral. Remembered for his contribution to academics, several education institutions have been named after Albertus Magnus.
Friedrich Engels was a German philosopher, political scientist, and revolutionary socialist. Along with Karl Marx, Engels helped develop Marxism, which has had a profound impact on fields like philosophy and anthropology. Engels is credited with helping Marx publish Das Kapital, a foundational theoretical work in politics, economics, and materialist philosophy. He also co-authored influential political documents like The Communist Manifesto.
32 Georg Simmel
Hildegard of Bingen was a German writer, composer, Christian mystic, visionary, philosopher, polymath, and Benedictine abbess of the High Middle Ages. Apart from being the most-recorded composers of sacred monophony in modern history, Hildegard of Bingen is also widely regarded as the founder of scientific natural history.
German-born American political scientist and historian Hans Morgenthau, a leading twentieth-century figure in the study of international relations, is noted for his contributions in international relations theory and the study of international law. His book Politics Among Nations introduced the concept of political realism that played an instrumental role in the foreign policy of the US.
37 Karl Jaspers
Twentieth-century Existentialist Karl Jaspers had initially followed in his father’s footsteps to study law, but had then switched to medicine. One of the pioneers of clinical psychiatry, he applied phenomenology to study mental illnesses and also developed psychopathological research. He was highly influenced by Immanuel Kant’s ideas.
Wilhelm Dilthey was a German psychologist, sociologist, historian, and hermeneutic philosopher. An ardent admirer of Friedrich Schleiermacher, Dilthey helped revive the former's works on hermeneutics. Wilhelm Dilthey is also credited with teaching future philosophers like Hans Lipps, Eduard Spranger, and Theodor Litt.
Poet and philosopher Friedrich Leopold, better known as Novalis, was a significant figure of German Romanticism. He narrated the loss of his 15-year-old fiancé to tuberculosis in his Hymns to the Night. He himself died of the disease a few years later. He was also well-versed in natural sciences.
42 Max Scheler
Gotthold Ephraim Lessing was a noted German dramatist, critic, and author, remembered especially for his contribution towards liberating German theatre from the influence of its classical and French counterpart. Known for such literary masterpieces like Miss Sara Sampson; Emilia Galotti; Minna von Barnhelm; Nathan the Wise; Laocoön; Hamburg Dramaturgy, he is now considered an outstanding representative of the Enlightenment era.
German lyric poet and dramatist Friedrich Hölderlin was a significant figure of German Romanticism. Initially pushed to join a Christian ministry by his mother, he later ditched the idea and was inspired by Greek mythology. He later suffered from schizophrenia and spent 36 years in a tower, later named the Hölderlinturm.
Eighteenth-century German physician Johann Friedrich Struensee was the official physician of King Christian VII of Denmark, who was mentally unstable. He later started dominating the court and also began an affair with Queen Caroline Matilda. In spite of introducing several reforms, he was eventually beheaded, following a coup.