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A History of Greek Philosophy: Earlier Presocratics and the Pythagoreans Vol 1 Paperback – 22 Feb 2010

5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 556 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; Revised edition (22 Feb. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521294207
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521294201
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 3.1 x 22.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 993,939 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Book Description

All volumes of Professor Guthrie's great history of Greek philosophy have won their due acclaim. The most striking merits of Guthrie's work are his mastery of a tremendous range of ancient literature and modern scholarship, his fairness and balance of judgement and the lucidity and precision of his English prose. He has achieved clarity and comprehensiveness.


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Purely practical considerations ordain that we should not pursue our subject too far into its embryonic stage, or at least not to a time before its conception. Read the first page
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Format: Paperback
W. K. C. Guthrie's incredible series "A History of Greek Philosophy" begins here with Volume I: "The Earlier Presocratics and the Pythagoreans". Originally published in 1962, this volume, and the series continues to be reprinted today, and for good reason. Professor Guthrie manages to make the entire subject very readable and very informative. He provides tremendous notes as well as insights into his reasoning as to why he considers the information he provides to be correct. This is very important to the subject overall, but especially when covering the early philosophers, most of whom are only known through the words of others.

At first glance this book appears to be a very weighty 500 pages, but once one starts reading it they realize that Professor Guthrie is able to discuss the subject matter in a fairly easy to understand way. That is not to say that there aren't areas which are more difficult to follow due to the contrary information which different sources provide, but Professor Guthrie manages to navigate these areas with skill and without leaving the reader behind.

The volume opens with a couple of introductory chapters and then proceeds to take on the earliest philosophers, The Milesians. This chapter looks at Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes and though the information is scant, Guthrie collects the small fragments from many sources to put together a picture of these three very early philosophers.

It is the following chapter ("Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans") which is the real meat of this volume. At 200 pages it is a very detailed look at what is known, and not known about the philosophy/religion, its founder, and those who came a bit later.
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By A Customer on 7 May 1999
Format: Paperback
This six-volume history of Greek philosophy, which Guthrie unfortunately left unfinished, is a monument of scholarship. His knowledge of Greek is staggering, his treatments are thorough, and he is generally careful to let you know where the facts leave off and interpretations begin. My one reservation is that he sometimes betrays more interest in historical minutiae than in philosophy; for instance, his treatment of Plato (vols. 4-5) attaches far too much importance to the order in which the dialogues were written (as if we could be really sure of that!). And there's no question that these books are expensive and meant only for the serious student. But if Greek philosophy is your passion, you can't overlook these volumes.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x9f2f4da4) out of 5 stars 5 reviews
32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9f16caa4) out of 5 stars To the Roots of Knowledge and Culture 9 Sept. 2005
By cvairag - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
One of the truly remarkable intellectual achievements of our time, Guthrie's magisterial six volume History of Greek Philosophy, is, within the compass of my reading, the most comprehensive rendering of the golden epoch of Western Philosophy available. The sheer magnitude of the research collected, sorted, and weighed here is enough to recommend, but this work offers much more than a survey of leading interpretations. Many a major commentary, ancient and modern, receives a fair hearing for each argument analyzed both in the text and in extensive notes. One only wishes Guthrie were eternal that he might have been able to include all that has and will come in the way of analysis since publication of these texts in the 1960's with the same judicious acumen.
On immersing oneself in these many pages, over and again, one is struck by the centrality and the exhaustive nature of the venture. While such a scope of endeavor is bound to be open to controversy on any number of particulars, and Guthrie is not without critics, the distance traversed is staggering, and the work, in its point-by-point detailed coverage, assumes an authority on the achievement of such breadth alone. But it is the analytic depth of Guthrie's treatment of the arguments that for me holds the greater value. For the many treasures on display in these pages shine ever more brightly due to the loving care with which they are presented in view of their developmental contexts.
Among the finer features of Guthrie is the headliner on each page, providing focus for the narrative, in the style of the annotated Jowett Plato. Organization of the chapters under topical rubrics contributes to the superior organization of the work itself and, along with the extensive Indexes, makes reference within this dense field blessedly user-friendly.
If you love Archaic (Pre-Socratic) Greek Philosophy like I do, I feel that there is no better practice than to regularly inter yourself in the first two volumes of Guthrie. I've been asked which is the best investment for a book on early Greek Philosophy. The best-known one-volume histories all have their virtues. Of these, Barnes is probably most useful, very good on the Eleatics and Xenophanes, not so comprehending of Herakleitos, the Milesians, and others. The writing tends to be nuanced in a very Anglo-analytic, somewhat technical, orientation. Kirk and Raven don't thrill me much either as writers or analysts, and make what a number of commentators feel are erroneous judgments. Not nearly as thorough as Guthrie, their book on balance is - sufficient. The old Burnet is quite good at times, but now has been antiquated on many points by later, more accurate readings (discussed in Guthrie). Nietzsche's study, translated as "Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks" is definitely worth a read (what did Nietzsche ever write that wasn't?), but was not intended as comprehensive scholarship. All considered, the first two volumes of Guthrie easily outpace the field, and for pure enjoyment of uniformly superb scholarship, copious citations, and solid, accessible writing, are more than worth the expensive price tag. Splurge! You're buying the best.
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9f168e7c) out of 5 stars Outstanding 7 May 1999
By gromme1@ibm.net - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This six-volume history of Greek philosophy, which Guthrie unfortunately left unfinished, is a monument of scholarship. His knowledge of Greek is staggering, his treatments are thorough, and he is generally careful to let you know where the facts leave off and interpretations begin. My one reservation is that he sometimes betrays more interest in historical minutiae than in philosophy; for instance, his treatment of Plato (vols. 4-5) attaches far too much importance to the order in which the dialogues were written (as if we could be really sure of that!). And there's no question that these books are expensive and meant only for the serious student. But if Greek philosophy is your passion, you can't overlook these volumes.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9f168444) out of 5 stars A word on the Pre- Socratics 12 Jan. 2005
By Shalom Freedman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
My review relates to the one volume of it I have read on the pre- Socratics. It is a clearly written and richly informative work. It was also when I read it as an undergraduate many years ago inspiring. I remember the description of philosophy's beginning in the ' wonder of anything that it is '. i.e. the wonder of how there is anything , and everything at all. I too remember the Heraclitus - Parmenides division and how they anticipate the Platonean synthesis. I am not an expert in the field and can say nothing about the work's scholarship, but as an ordinary reader I can say it is a work that interests and enhances interest in the subject it covers.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9f17306c) out of 5 stars The Achievement of a Lifetime's Work 17 April 2004
By C. Gardner - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This five-volume set is the most comprehensive treatment of the spectrum of Greek philosophy ever written; this is a man's life-work, a distillation of decades of scholarship. Necessarily, it's written in a rather academic style, and Professor Guthrie expected the reader to already be versed in the basics. But that is not an insurmountable obstacle. The section on the Pythagoreans in this first volume is a self-contained book unto itself and a terrific source of information on the minor adherents to Pythagoreanism, which I haven't been able to find anywhere else. Guthrie also thoroughly works over the competing interpretations of the oracular pronouncements of Heraclitus, and delves in depth into the ontologies of the Milesians. Although most of the footnotes contain information on dusty battles between (mostly German) scholars about etymological and ascriptive concerns, they are rewarding.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9f17321c) out of 5 stars The Beginning of Western Philosophy 13 Sept. 2010
By Dave_42 - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
W. K. C. Guthrie's incredible series "A History of Greek Philosophy" begins here with Volume I: "The Earlier Presocratics and the Pythagoreans". Originally published in 1962, this volume, and the series continues to be reprinted today, and for good reason. Professor Guthrie manages to make the entire subject very readable and very informative. He provides tremendous notes as well as insights into his reasoning as to why he considers the information he provides to be correct. This is very important to the subject overall, but especially when covering the early philosophers, most of whom are only known through the words of others.

At first glance this book appears to be a very weighty 500 pages, but once one starts reading it they realize that Professor Guthrie is able to discuss the subject matter in a fairly easy to understand way. That is not to say that there aren't areas which are more difficult to follow due to the contrary information which different sources provide, but Professor Guthrie manages to navigate these areas with skill and without leaving the reader behind.

The volume opens with a couple of introductory chapters and then proceeds to take on the earliest philosophers, The Milesians. This chapter looks at Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes and though the information is scant, Guthrie collects the small fragments from many sources to put together a picture of these three very early philosophers.

It is the following chapter ("Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans") which is the real meat of this volume. At 200 pages it is a very detailed look at what is known, and not known about the philosophy/religion, its founder, and those who came a bit later. The chapter on The Milesians is easy to follow, partly because so little is known that there aren't contradicting sources for the most part, but with the Pythagoreans Guthrie has to fight against the biases of the sources in order to reach his conclusions, and he supports those conclusions very well.

After the Pythagoreans, the chapters on Alcmaeon (whom Guthrie separates from the Pythagoreans for good reason) and Xenophane, the poet/philosopher are fairly easy going, quite informative, and even entertaining to a certain degree. The volume then closes with a chapter on Heraclitus, which offers a very strong discussion on the differences of opinion on that philosopher, similar, though certainly not as complex as the chapter on the Pythagoreans.

This is a six volume series, which unfortunately ended with the passing of Professor Guthrie in 1981 and so it ends a bit prematurely but that doesn't change the value of the volumes which were published. Volume II picks up where this volume leaves off and finishes Guthrie's discussion of the Presocratics, but this volume can also stand on its own as a tremendous achievement.
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