5 Surprisingly Motivating Philosophers

Great philosophers ponder many things. They are known for their brilliant insights. Some philosophers’ insights may help with your motivation to achieve life goals in surprising ways.


The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle (384 to 322 BC), who studied under Plato, proposed the concept that having a purpose causes a person to take action. This motivation is what we now call having a purposeful life.

Regarding motivation, Aristotle said, “Pleasure in the work puts perfection in the job.” and “Well begun is half done.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson was born on May 25, 1803. He led the transcendentalism movement in America and published its journal, The Dial. The movement refused to accept any authority other than themselves. He wrote the book called, Self-Reliance. He believed that each person must make their own decisions about religion, humanity, and the world.

Emerson said, regarding motivation, “The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be. Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.”

Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau, born on July 12, 1817, was an American author and philosopher. He promoted transcendentalism, which considers people to be inherently good. He lived in a shack next to a pond on a piece of land owned by Ralph Waldo Emerson. He wrote the book “Walden.” The book is about his deep connection with nature and the benefits of having a simple life.

He also wrote an essay, “Civil Disobedience,” which explains his belief in disobeying the rules of an unjust government. He was against slavery and went to jail for not paying his taxes. Luckily, his relatives bailed him out and paid his back taxes.

Thoreau recommended living simply in a natural setting. He said, “What you get from achieving your goals is not as important as what you become from achieving your goals. If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours.”


Confucius was a philosopher from China who lived around 550 B.C. He is known for his many wise sayings. His wisdom spread worldwide and is the source of many popular expressions in America, even when people do not realize that he said it, such as “Choose a job you love, and you will never work a day in your life.” Confucius also said, “You are what you think.”

In terms of using motivation to achieve life goals, Confucius said, “When it becomes obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.”

Edwin A. Locke

Edwin A Locke was born on May 15, 1938. In the 1960s, he built a goal-setting theory of motivation based on Aristotle’s premise that motivation creates action. Dr. Locke’s philosophy was that setting goals and receiving feedback leads to better performance.

To achieve life goals, a person must first set them. In Dr. Locke’s research, he found that few people bother to set any goals at all. Dr. Locke worked for many years with Dr. Gary Latham to determine the five elements that are needed to achieve life goals, which are:

  1. Clarity: Goals need to be clearly understood.
  2. Challenge: Goals need to be difficult to achieve.
  3. Commitment: There is significant willpower required to work toward a goal.
  4. Feedback: Analyze progress and accomplishments to look for ways to improve.
  5. Task complexity: Allow plenty of time to achieve complex goals.