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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History of philosophy at its best
Kenny is one of the best living English philosophers. This is the last in a four-volume series on his history of Western philosophy. It's his own idiosyncratic take on developments since the 19th century, effortlessly spanning the divide between analytic and continental philosophy since Bentham.
Published 21 months ago by Dr. Mark W. Tebbit

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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Nice for beginners
Kenny is some of the leading historians of philosophy in English speaking world and very good at some fields. So if you want read some good general introduction in history of philosophy you should read this book. But this book is nothing more than this - general introduction. If you want some more you should look somewhere else.
Published 17 months ago by milos milojevic


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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Nice for beginners, 4 Jun 2013
This review is from: Philosophy in the Modern World: A New History of Western Philosophy, Volume 4 (Paperback)
Kenny is some of the leading historians of philosophy in English speaking world and very good at some fields. So if you want read some good general introduction in history of philosophy you should read this book. But this book is nothing more than this - general introduction. If you want some more you should look somewhere else.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History of philosophy at its best, 5 Feb 2013
By 
Dr. Mark W. Tebbit (Reading, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Philosophy in the Modern World: A New History of Western Philosophy, Volume 4 (Paperback)
Kenny is one of the best living English philosophers. This is the last in a four-volume series on his history of Western philosophy. It's his own idiosyncratic take on developments since the 19th century, effortlessly spanning the divide between analytic and continental philosophy since Bentham.
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3 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Messy, 9 Feb 2010
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This review is from: Philosophy in the Modern World: A New History of Western Philosophy, Volume 4 (Paperback)
I was really looking forward to this, but the presentation is so dense and messy that I gave up about 25% though. Though it might be more light-hearted I am eagerly awaiting Gottliebs followup for the Dream of Reason instead.
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3 of 23 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Bene cucurristis, sed extra viam, 10 Dec 2011
By 
trini "HWS" (Hertfordshire, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Philosophy in the Modern World: A New History of Western Philosophy, Volume 4 (Paperback)
Review of Anthony Kenny's Philosophy in the Modern World, which is Vol. 4 of his A New History of Western Philosophy.

I sum up the impression left on me by the majority of the philosophers who appear in this book, with a quote from St Augustine:

"Bene cucurristis sed extra viam",
which I translate/interpret as
"you (plural) have run well and had a lot of fun, but the only trouble is, you weren't doing your running on the racetrack in the stadium at all".

In other words, the overwhelming impression is one of misdirected effort, demolishing or ignoring or simply being unaware of the existence of the `real' philosophy of the previous centuries up to the sixteenth century, and re-inventing, especially in the 19th and 20th centuries, a study which was still called philosophy, but now wrongly so, for in fact it was emptied of the most meaningful emphases of `real' immemorial philosophy.

Kenny says of his 4-volume series: "The first two volumes [up to the Renaissance] began the thematic section with a chapter on logic and language, but there was no such chapter in volume III because logic went into hibernation at the Renaissance. In the period covered by the present [4th] volume formal logic and the philosophy of language occupied such a central position that each topic deserves a chapter to itself" (p. xiii). Although I read through the whole of Kenny's 4th volume, what sticks in my mind especially is the influence of the two `English' philosophers of the period, Ludwig Wittgenstein and A J Ayer (both depending on Bertrand Russell?), for whom philosophy largely degenerated into the elimination of `metaphysics' and the playing of `language-games' - not useless games in the eyes of these philosophers, but useless nonsense as far as the common man is concerned. As I comment in my review of Fergus Kerr's book, Theology after Wittgenstein, "philosophy has abandoned concern with ultimate reality, and concentrates on linguistic games".

I take the liberty of introducing Stephen Hawking into this discussion of modern philosophy for the same reason that Kenny introduces Darwin into his book, as being essential to understand modern `philosophy', which is now so coloured by the science-religion debate. My reference to Hawking is based on his 2010 book (with Leonard Mlodinow) The Grand Design. Hawking tells us that his book will give `new answers to the ultimate questions of life'. One would have expected a treatment of whence and who and what and why we are. Hawking fails calamitously to give us any light whatsoever on these surely-central philosophical topics. He eliminates from serious consideration what must be the central feature of any Grand Design: explaining the self-conscious, rational, scientific, logical, philosophizing, theologizing, artistic, musical, literary, remembering, planning, loving, hating, altruistic, selfish, moral, immoral, peak-of-creation human being. With a wave of the hand, he dismisses any possibility that mankind is "More than Matter" (to use the title of a 2010 book by Keith Ward). On page 181, in the last paragraph of the book, Hawking says: "We human beings ... are ourselves mere collections of fundamental particles of nature." This is a totally unfounded declaration of faith in materialism which, like `self-creation out of nothing' which he advocates, Hawking cannot support by any proof. On this point, Hawking is simply totally dismissive. For him, `we' (I must assume that he means humankind) are of no real importance. What matters for him are multiverses and quarks, not human beings.

Hawking says (p. 5, his first page of text) that people have always asked "How can we understand the world in which we find ourselves? How does the universe behave? What is the nature of reality? Where did all this come from? Did the universe need a creator?" He goes on immediately: "Traditionally these are questions for philosophy, BUT PHILOSOPHY IS DEAD (my emphasis). Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics". But on the contrary, Keith Ward says: "People really want to know if the natural sciences are the only ways of finding out the truth, and if there is any way of reasonably resolving the ethical dilemmas that modern medicine puts before us" (p. 188).

For Wittgenstein and Ayer, the shooting stars of Kenny's volume 4, what matters is not human nature, nor even multiverses or quarks, but logic and language-games.

I emphasize that the seminal book of Wittgenstein (1889-1951), the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, was published in 1921, when Wittgenstein was 32, but had been thought out much earlier; and the equally influential Language, Truth and Logic of Ayer (1910-1989) appeared in 1936. These are immature, limited, self-centred and self-sourced thoughts of young men, not developments from standing on the shoulders of great predecessors.

Why should I listen to Wittgenstein or A J Ayer?

On Wittgenstein, I quote Kenny: "Philosophy can do very little for us. What it can do, however, had been done once for all by the Tractatus - or so Wittgenstein believed. With perfect consistency, having published the book he gave up philosophy and took up a number of more humdrum jobs" (Philosophy in the Modern World (Vol. 4, p. 58). Again, "After his return to philosophy Wittgenstein abandoned many of the theses of the Tractatus..... In the Tractatus, Wittgenstein came to believe, he had grossly oversimplified the relation between language and the world... This, he now thought, was a great mistake ... he coined the expression `language-game'" (ibid., pp. 60f). In his chapter on Metaphysics, when discussing Wittgenstein, Kenny seems to concentrate again mostly on language. Kenny says: "These dense pages [on objects and facts and states of affairs] of the Tractatus are difficult to understand ... Commentators have offered widely varying interpretations: for some, objects are sense-data, for others, they are universals" (p. 183f). "The Tractatus is one of the most metaphysical works ever written: its likeness to Spinoza's Ethics is no coincidence. Yet it was taken as a bible by one of the most anti-metaphysical groups of philosophers, the Vienna Circle ... they ... employed the verification principle as a weapon that enabled them to dismiss all metaphysical statements as meaningless" (p. 187)

I must ask: are `all metaphysical statements meaningless', or: are all of Wittgenstein's statements meaningless? Also, in my review (q.v.) of Fergus Kerr's book, Theology after Wittgenstein, I examine at length the claims made for the importance of religion in Wittgenstein's works, and find these claims totally dismissible. On this point, see Kenny, p. 316: "The logical positivists shared the view [of the followers of Wittgenstein] that religious language was nonsense; but they felt for it none of the paradoxical respect accorded it by Wittgenstein".

On A J Ayer, I quote Lord Quinton, from a Review of A J Ayer on a 2010 website (see google).
"In the massive range of his publications between 1933 and his death in 1989 there is nothing whatever about ancient philosophy or an ancient philosopher, not even a book review. His mind seems to have been fully fixed and matured by his early twenties. His initial and, to a large extent, lasting preoccupation with the theory of knowledge never led him to reflect seriously on Plato's Theaetetus or Protagoras.
......
"There was a certain narrowness to Ayer's mind which focused it sharply and contributed to its force. His lack of interest in ancient philosophy, which has just been mentioned, was part of a general indifference to the history of the subject. In practice he treated it as a contemporary phenomenon, or, at any rate, as a twentieth-century one. Hume and Mill he took seriously. ... For the most part the philosophers whose work commanded his attention were active when he was: Russell, Moore, Wittgenstein, Ramsey, Price, Carnap, C. I. Lewis, Quine, Goodman. Opponents, to the marginal extent in which he took explicit notice of them, were also contemporary: Broad, Ewing, Austin.
....
"His interests were restricted in space as well as in time, being mainly confined to the English-speaking world and to the Vienna of the 1930s. ...
.....
"A further limitation, a little less conspicuous, was in the range of philosophical fields or topics on which he worked. Theory of knowledge was first and foremost, and, within it, the philosophy of perception in particular, but also our knowledge of the past and of other minds. Beside that he addressed himself at length to philosophical logic (the nature of necessity at first and later to reference, identity, truth, existence, negation, and the nature of individuals), the philosophy of mind (personal identity, the ownership of experiences), probability and induction, ethics (in a very generalised and schematic fashion), and the issue of the freedom of the will. He was not a practitioner of formal logic or, to any marked extent, of the philosophy of science, apart from essays on laws of nature and the direction of causation.

"He had very little to say about the more concrete or human parts of philosophy: nothing on the philosophy of history, or of law, or of art, or of education. His only contribution to political philosophy until his very late book on Thomas Paine was a lecture on philosophy and politics which he delivered in 1965.
...

"He was a philosopher of religion only in the sense that a dynamiter is an architect.

"These limitations are by no means peculiar to Ayer among philosophers of this century. There are, indeed, more extreme cases, although G. E. Moore is perhaps the only example of comparable eminence. Ayer is very different in this respect from his hero and model, the gloriously omnicompetent Bertrand Russell. Nevertheless, the fields he cultivated were the most philosophically fertile of his epoch, in part, no doubt because of his work in them, and the philosophers to whom he gave his attention were those who pre-eminently deserved it."

I have been puzzled as to how to rate this book of Kenny's. I have a problem with books surveying religion and philosophy. If they accurately reflect the views of the scholars who are being reviewed, then a high rating seems to be called for. But if these surveys do not strongly enough comment on the value of the views being surveyed, then I mark down my rating, because such books do not deserve to be read, if they might lead the non-discerning reader to think that the views being surveyed are worthy of being accepted. For this reason I heavily mark down Kenny's book, to 2-star only. He seems to be in some kind of agreement with much of the nonsense of the philosophers he reviews.

I hope that I will be forgiven for not commenting on one after another of Kenny's philosophers. I can only say that I found very little to interest me, or which I could live by, in most of the others. See the index, for Anscombe, Bentham, Descartes, Engels, Feuerbach, Frege, Freud, Hegel, Heidegger, Hume, Husserl, William James, Kant, Kierkegaard, Marx, Mill, Newman, Nietzsche, Pierce, Quine, Russell, Sartre, Schopenhauer,

I look to learn from philosophy `whence and who and what and why we are'. To those who help me here, I say `thank you'.

But I will end with a delicious poem which I saw quoted only two days ago, in the obituary of the respected though controversial English poet Christopher Logue (1926-2011). He wrote it in the 1980s as a contribution to `poems from the common man' which the London Underground was publishing on the Tube trains:
"Last night in London Airport
I saw a wooden bin
Labelled UNWANTED
LITERATURE
IS TO BE PLACED HEREIN
So I wrote a poem
And popped it in."

It would not have been a misfortune for the world of philosophy, if that had been the fate of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and of Language, Truth and Logic.

Just AFTER writing this I came across another commentator on Language, Truth and Logic who said that logical positivism has now so far fallen out of favour among philosophers that "it should now be consigned to the dustbin of history".

<<<<< Added on 15th Jan. 2012 >>>>>>
Let A J Ayer have the last word himself. He says, in an article ['The Existence of the Soul'] published posthumously in an anthology in 1998 ['Great thinkers on Great Questions'], 62 years after the publishing of 'Language, Truth and Logic':

"Logical positivism died a long time ago. I don't think much of 'Language, Truth and Logic' is true. I think it is full of mistakes. I think it was an important book in its time because it had a kind of cathartic effect. ... But when you get down to detail, I think it's full of mistakes which I spent the last fifty years correcting or trying to correct."

This is quoted as it appears on pages xiv,xv in the book 'There is a God' [2007] by Antony Flew . The first three sentences are again quoted [on page 58] in Edgar Andrews's book 'Who Made God?; Searching for a Theory of Everything' [EP Books, UK and USA, 2009, much reprinted].

'Bene cucurrit A J Ayer, sed extra viam' - A J Ayer ran well, and had a lot of fun, but he conceded that he talked mostly nonsense in his seminal book, and thereby led astray generation after generation of other wasted philosophical lives. `Cathartic' to what purpose?
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