on 5 April 2009
No review yet? Well here goes. Don't be frightened by the title. Anybody with a modicum of intelligence and an enquiring mind will be the better for reading this or something very much like it. Philosophy isn't the prerogative of the bulging brain boxes of this world, but speaks to all of us about how we think and what we are. It is a subject that everybody has a stake in and we all practice every day. Philosophy isn't about life itself, it is about how to cope with it. My school failed to teach me any of it and as a result I've missed out on the best subject there is.
The book covers the early Greeks through to Augustine. Its divided into sections on the philosophers themselves, arranged roughly chronologically, and then the main subjects, metaphysics, epistemology and so forth. This is a good way to divide the subject and means you can read one section at a time and digest it before moving on. These fellows laid the foundation for just about all western philosophy that came after, much of which was just trying to cope with what the Greeks had started. I kept noticing how modern and fresh so many of the ideas were, only to remember that we are essentially the same animals and wherever you find yourself, look down and you'll find footprints (all right apart from absolute geniuses such as Newton, but you know what I mean).
Very roughly the writing starts extremely well but runs off a little at the end, but not much. Some subjects could have been cut down a little for my taste, to leave more room for the others - the section on logic for example. It's all clearly the result of much research, reading, teaching and knowledge by the author. We are dipping into a huge body of work here and what gets left out or highlighted is never going to please everybody. I get the feeling some of the subjects are covered in more detail than others because of their importance in the later history of philosophy, whilst some interesting diversions are left unexplored. It could also set the starting bar a little lower in places, just a paragraph or two at the start of sections to bring us novices up to speed. This is not the book for the casual reader and will require a bit of effort. I found I couldn't read it if I was tired, I needed to be on top form. I also found I had to stop frequently and stare into space in wonder, although that might just be me.
Criticisms? Well it isn't always as consistent as it could be, getting rather bogged down and technical in places without adequate exposition (for many I suspect). The tone of the writing can't quite make up its mind at times, swaying a little between the more informal to the more measured and scholarly. I suspect it took quite a while to write and this is understandable. It could do with a touch more warmth. These guys had heated debates, rivalries and a sense of humour too, adding more of these human attributes would help bring these characters alive. I can understand why the author has no interest in getting `fluffy' but it is a tad cold in places. I read for fun and do not except a test at the end of it.
What it does definitely lack is any kind of ending. It just stops and the end of the chapter on god (the small `g' is mine). Here I was expecting a piece on where philosophy had reached, where it was going and why these works are still so important today. It would have been nice just to recap and prepare you for the next volume or further reading.
All these points are but minor quibbles though. This is a very good book.
I think everybody should read something on those clever Greeks. I don't see how you can fail to be a better person afterwards! This might not be the first book to read on the subject (something a little lighter and less daunting perhaps), but you could do a lot worse than make this the second. Then you'll be ready for the original texts (well, the shorter, pithier ones anyway). Then you can annoy your friends by destroying their rhetorical arguments using two thousand-year-old retorts or summing-up modern life using Plato. Nothing new indeed. More seriously though: read some proper philosophy and leave the pop-psychology stuff alone. Go to the well first.
on 1 May 2010
Anyone who wants to get to grips with the philosophical movements of today needs to have an understanding of the movements of yesterday. This book will help towards that end. It is well written, does not use technical language without good explanation and will not drown the complete beginner. The author in the first section relates the history of philosophy up to Augustine, drawing out the general themes of thought from each of the main philosophers and their schools, highlighting their emphases and distinctive features. In part two he describes in more detail their approach to the "big" subjects such as epistemology, metaphysics, God, and ethics. There is a useful intermediate section on Logic. This is the first volume of a four volume series where each volume takes the same approach; applying it to succeeding generations of philosophers and schools right up to the 20th century. As such this series will form an inexpensive concise encyclopaedia of the history and development of philosophy.
The book itself is made of good quality paper, printing and binding.
on 14 September 2008
At the time of writing, this series of books had no reviews. I bought the first three in paperback (the fourth wasn't available) after hearing an interview with Anthony Kelly on Philosophy Bites. He said he aimed to be a better read than Father Copleston and more accurate than Bertrand Russell, and admitted that, perhaps, that wasn't aiming too highly. Maybe better to have been more accurate than Copleston and more entertaining than Russell. Whatever. This is a good read. I'm only 50 pages into the first book but it's already a winner. The book's divided into two tracks - historical and philosophical. You could go for either or (as I expect most readers will do) both tracks. The intro says it's aimed at second and third year undergraduates but anyone with a brain will enjoy it. In fact, from what I've read so far, it won't be out of reach of any thinking person, whatever age.