8 Most Famous Italian Philosophers You Should Know

Who are the most famous Italian philosophers?

From the arts and literature to automotive and fashion design, Italy has produced many great citizens that have created a huge impact on the world. The list extends to the world’s most influential thinkers – from Machiavelli to St. Thomas Aquinas, whose quotes we borrow every now and then.

If you’re looking for the most famous Italian philosophers, we’ve got you covered. The following list is the perfect resource for you.

Most Famous Italian Philosophers

Most Famous Italian Philosophers

Here are 8 of the most famous Italian philosophers you should know.

1. Niccolò Machiavelli

Most Famous Italian Philosophers
Portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli, Doria Pamphili Gallery (Rome), between 1552 and 1568

Often called the father of modern political philosophy and political science, Niccolò Machiavelli was one of the great Italian thinkers who have created such an impact on the world’s society.

Machiavelli wrote the famous political treatise called The Prince (Italian: Il Principe) in c. 1513 and published in 1532, which gained him a reputation as an atheist and an immoral cynic. He also penned poems, carnival songs, and comedies. He had worked in diplomatic and military affairs for many years as well.

Niccolò Machiavelli is best known for the saying, “The end justifies the means.” He argued that people in power should use whatever means necessary – from deception to force and manipulation – to achieve their purposes.

Born in 1469 in Florence, Italy, Machiavelli died in the same city at the age of 58.

2. Giordano Bruno

Most Famous Italian Philosophers
Statue of Giordano Bruno, Campo de’ Fiori (Rome)
© Berthold Werner | Wikimedia Commons

Giordano Bruno was extremely controversial during the Italian Renaissance. Dubbed by some as a heretic and pantheist by others, Bruno suggested that the universe may be infinite and inhabited with many worlds. He also proposed that all religions should peacefully coexist and struggled to defend Copernicus’ heliocentric theory.

Born Filippo Bruno in 1548 in Nola, Naples, Bruno changed his name to Giordano and became an ordained Dominican priest at age 24. However, he later embraced Calvinism and taught about reincarnation, which eventually led to his being charged of heresy by the Roman Inquisition. He was found guilty and burned at the stake in Campo de’ Fiori in Rome in 1600.

Centuries after his death, Giordano Bruno came to be regarded as a martyr of free thought and modern scientific advancement.

3. Antonio Gramsci

Most Famous Italian Philosophers
Antonio Gramsci, c. 1920

Antonio Gramsci, an Italian philosopher from Ales, Sardinia, was one of the most prominent Marxist thinkers of the 20th century.

He believed that hegemony is an invisible mechanism and concepts of the ruling class pervade the whole of society. These concepts, he argued, are unchallenged and that through constant exposure, they become normalized.

Gramsci, whose ideas had a strong influence on Italian communism, was a founding member of the Italian Communist Party.

A vocal critic of fascism and Benito Mussolini, Gramsci was detained in 1926 in Regina Coeli prison in Rome, where he wrote some 3,000 pages of history and analysis in what came to be known as his “Prison Notebooks.” He remained incarcerated until his death in 1937 at the age of 46.

4. Cesare Beccaria

Most Famous Italian Philosophers
Statue of Cesare Beccaria, Milan
© Vincenzo Paolella | Wikimedia Commons

Considered the father of modern criminal law as well as the criminal justice, Cesare Beccaria is widely recognized as one of the greatest thinkers of the Age of Enlightenment.

Best remembered for emphasizing individual dignity within the criminal justice system, his treatise On Crimes and Punishment which condemned torture and capital punishment became a founding work in the Classical School of criminology and the field of penology.

Born the Marquis of Gualdrasco and Villareggio in 1738 Cesare Beccaria was an Italian philosopher, jurist, criminologist, economist, and politician. His works had a profound influence on the Founding Fathers of the United States.

Beccaria died in 1594 in Milan, which was also his city of birth, leaving a legacy that has continued to play a great role in recent times. His principles have influenced some of the current policies such as the truth in sentencing, swift punishment, and the abolishment of the death penalty in some countries and American states.

5. Giambattista Vico

Most Famous Italian Philosophers
Portrait of Giambattista Vico, Palazzo Braschi (Rome), 1804

Born in 1668 in Naples, Giambattista Vico is one of the greatest philosophers from Italy, best-known for coining the Latin saying “Verum esse ipsum factum” (“Truth is itself something made”). This principle claims that truth is verified through creation or invention and – as opposed to Descartes’ claim – not through observation.

Vico is considered one of the first Counter-Enlightenment figures in history and often cited as the inventor of the philosophy of history. He was the first to take seriously the possibility that people had different framework of thought in different historical eras.

Vico’s most notable work is the 1725 book Scienza Nuova (New Science), which is influential in the philosophy of history, sociology, and anthropology.

Giambattista Vico died in 1774 at the age of 75.

6. St. Thomas Aquinas

Most Famous Italian Philosophers
Portrait of St. Thomas Aquinas, National Gallery (London), 1476

Regarded as “the most influential thinker of the medieval period” and “the greatest of the Scholastic philosophers,” Thomas Aquinas was a 13th-century Dominican friar and priest Thomas Aquinas is the father of Thomism, a school of thought that encompasses both theology and philosophy.

One of Thomas Aquinas’ arguments is that God can be identified with the truth as such, asserting that God embodies truth to the highest possible degree and that He is the root of all truth. God possesses all the perfections of His creations.

His most notable works include Summa Theologica (“Summary of Theology”), written from 1225 to 1274, and the four-book treatises written between 1259 and 1265 – Summa contra Gentiles (“Book on the truth of the Catholic faith against the errors of the unbelievers”).

His name in Italian is Tommaso d’Aquino, which means “Thomas of Aquino,” identifying his ancestral origins and his place of birth – Aquino in present-day Lazio, Italy. He was deemed by many to be the most eminent philosophical theologian ever to have lived.

St. Thomas Aquinas was ordained in 1250. He died in 1274 in Fossanova Abbey, Italy, and was canonized in 1323.

7. Marsilio Ficino

Most Famous Italian Philosophers
Bust medallion of Marsilio Ficino, Palazzo Venturi Ginori (Florence)

Regarded as the most important advocate of Platonism in the Renaissance and one of the most influential humanist philosophers from Italy, Marsilio Ficino’s philosophical writings and translations are thought to have made a significant contribution to the development of early modern philosophies.

Ficino’s philosophical masterpiece, Theologia platonica de immortalitate animorum (The Platonic Theology), written between 1469 and 1474 and published in 1482, is his most original and systematic treatise. It consists of 18 books whose main concern is to offer a rational argument for the immortality of the human soul. He was also the first to translate Plato’s complete extant works into Latin.

Marsilio Ficino was born in 1433 in Figline Valdarno, Florence. Apart from being one of the great Italian thinkers of the Renaissance, Ficino was also a Catholic priest and astrologer.

8. Benedetto Croce

Most Famous Italian Philosophers
Benedetto Croce, c. 1930

Believing that art is more important than science or metaphysics, idealist philosopher Benedetto Croce argued that only art edifies humans and that everything we know can be reduced to “imaginative knowledge,” where art springs from. He claimed that “all history is contemporary history.”

Benedetto Croce was born in 1866 in Pescasseroli, in the Italian region of Abruzzo, and became the best-known Italian philosopher of the 20th century, gaining an international reputation in various fields such as aesthetics, literary criticism, cultural history, and historical methodology. He had been a politician as well, serving from 1910 until his death in 1952.

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