He left his native Germany as a young man because he thought he was gravely ill and preferred to die in the mild climate of the Mediterranean region. He recovered and did considerable work there, including Abbildungen (illustrated monographs). Then he was invited to Chile by his brother Bernhard Eunom Philippi who worked for the government there. He moved to Santiago, Chile in 1851. There, he became a professor of botany and zoology and the director of the natural-history museum, and was a regular collaborator with Christian Ludwig Landbeck. Philippi described three new species of South American lizards. A species of snake, Tropidodipsas philippii, is named in his honor.