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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 30 August 1999
For those students of philosophy who find themselves swamped by the sheer scope and breadth of the subject, here is a superb distillation of all the major proponents of the subject - from Descartes to Wittgenstein. Professor Scruton manages the immensely difficult task of being both comprehensive and deep at the same time - this book is not just a superficial summary of philosophical ideas, it also manages to address the lasting controversies bequeathed by these great thinkers. Taken with his survey of modern philosophy (published by mandarin) students need buy no other introduction to the subject. Read it and learn....
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
A good overview of a wide range of modern philosophers. It helps that Scruton is knowledgable, clear thinking and has a clear and confident writing style. This sort of book needs clarity, not tentative views. Scruton has his biases, but they are so well known and therefore apparent and mostly harmless. By presenting this as a history Scruton is able to contrast and compare a range of philosophers and explain the development of (European) philosophy.

In detail, I particularly liked the parts on Kant, Frege and Wittgenstein. These give a taste of very complex thinking in a relatively straightforward and understandable way (though take the word "relatively" in this sentence seriously!). I was less enamoured of the parts covering Hegel and Phenomenology, as they were less insightful for me, but then perhaps this may be because they are quite inpenetrable without lots more work. Sections on the British Empiricists were good - although if this is your interest Priests "The British Empiricists" is better.

A word of caution though - this is not a book for the complete philosophy novice, even if it is called an introduction. It does assume a certain level of familiarity with some, albeit basic, philosophical terminology and concepts.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 23 April 2012
I partly agree with the other reviewers that it is perhaps not for the layman. Having said that, it wasn't THAT difficult at all even though I had very little background in philosophy when I first read it.
I didn't detect much bias at all, and despite already knowing about Scrutons conservative views, he devoted plenty of time to Marx and Nietzsche etc. I was very impressed with his chapter on Hume, and although I am a huge fan of Kant I don't see why he had to devote two chapters to Kant.
I was more impressed with this than I was with Russell's "history of western philosophy" which I thought was far too biased.
I would recommend this book over Russell's any day.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This is not a good introduction to modern philosophy.

Specifically, it's not an introduction at all. It's couched in a language and a style that will be opaque to anyone who is not already well-versed in the historiography of modern philosophy and its core concepts. It will be, almost literally, unreadable to a beginner or anyone who does not have a qualification in philosophy.

It's not simply the obfuscatory language (which to be fair is jargon-free but delivered in a meandering, orotund, Jamesian-style), the actual arrangement of the content itself is very poorly ordered and presented. Just one example, Dr. Scruton begins by saying that he will consider the lessons of modern philosophy through the lens of 'analytical philosophy' rather than that of the other prevailing modern schools of contemporary philosophy, linguistic and mathematico-logical. So far so good. However, he then launches into the book, having nowhere said or defined what 'analytical philosophy' is. If you do not already know what 'analytical philosophy' is, the observations Dr. Scruton makes and the conclusions he draws throughout the book will seem random and, in some cases, nonsensical.

An editor was badly needed to attack this book with machete; to cut out the florid and archaic turns of phrase and to chop the book's content into some kind of comprehensible order.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 22 June 2011
After struggling about half way through this book I am about to throw it in the bin. Anyone interested in a beginners first entry look at philosophy should NOT buy this book. Despite being labeled for beginners it is at times almost impenetrably complex to the layman, with cursory explanations of difficult philosophical terms, very high in technical jargon, very little examples and no explaining what any of the technical jargon means. It leads one to being frustrated and feeling like an idiot. If this book was indeed earnestly written for people with no prior knowledge of philosophy then it misses the mark completely - and would be far more suited to people already trained in philosophy to nod their heads and say "ah yes, Scruton has really summed up what I already know quite well" or currently used as an accommanying work to help you with a university level philosophy degree.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 24 April 2010
Initial objection: that cover. What are we buying here? Is this a book about something called a 'Scruton'? And are these Scrutons something to do with sewing? Oh no, wait, beneath that huge type there's a little note that tells us that this is, after all, about philosophy. Scruton, it turns out, is the author, Roger to his friends. And the cotton reels? Threads perhaps. Get it? Very clever. Or perhaps not. But never mind, once we get past the feeling that what we are buying here is 'Scruton' the brand, things get better. Scruton can write and he knows his stuff. In this book he sums up clearly the ideas of around a dozen of the great philosophers of the 17th to 20th centuries.
This is a relatively brief book at 300 pages, so obviously there's a lot from this period that he doesn't tell us about, but this is a useful guide to the major philosophers, in particular Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Hume, Kant, Hegel and Wittgenstein. There is also a chapter devoted to Marx, reminding us that he was a significant philosopher as well as a social revolutionary.
Scruton is good at linking the threads of ideas as they pass from one great mind to the next, but one minor criticism I have concerns the author's habit of using obscure words when a simple one would do the job, such as this: 'the properties of thought are pellucid to us'. 'Pellucid' means 'clear', so why not write clear? And what about 'irenic' or 'lacuna'? Scruton assumes his readers are going to be well educated, but surely a book such as this should be accessible to people who want to learn more? Still, this is an interesting summary of the subject and well worth reading. Pity about the cover.
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22 of 31 people found the following review helpful
Scruton does undoubtedly have an impressive knowledge of his subject and gives a lucid and interesting account of modern philosophy. However, this does seem to be a particularly personal perspective, reflected in such comments as (of Marx); '...intellectually dead.' and a '...cataclysmic effect on the events, and the language, of modern politics'.
Whatever the politics of the reader, they should be aware that this introduction is expressed in idiosyncratic (occasionally polemic) terms. One may wonder if such a style is appropriate to a general introduction, and whether Mr Scruton is motivated by a desire to introduce the reader to the ideas of modern philosophers or to introduce them to his own (often unqualified) opinions? There are better books on the market.
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13 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on 17 October 2006
I have to agree with the previous reviewer. Whilst this is a fantastic overview of modern philosophy, erudite and lucid, it is severely limited by Scruton's well documented conservative political inclinations. His dismissal of Marx and complete omission of other, left wing, significant twentieth century thinkers limits this otherwise superb effort. It could, i suppose, be argued persuasively that this is simply a right leaning introduction and a welcome contribution to a field dominated by leftist readers and introductions. It could be argued that this re-balances an otherwise heavily bias area. All this could be convincingly argued, but not by me; I like Marx and am still fascinated by Foucault. Buy with reservations.
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0 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 5 July 2013
Readers of what follows may think that I do not give enough attention to reviewing Scruton's book, rather than proposing my own assessment of the philosophers who are discussed by Scruton. I make no apology for this. Scruton does an excellent job outlining the views of his philosophers; but the value of his book must lie essentially in his verdict on the validity of their views. In my view, he is not sufficiently condemnatory. Therefore, not 5 stars, but 3.

The subtitle of Scruton's book [I add the dates] is, `From Descartes [1596-1650] to Wittgenstein [1889-1951]'. It therefore covers the same ground as Volumes 3 and 4 of Anthony Kenny's 4-volume New History of Western Philosophy. Kenny entitles his volume 3 `The Rise of Modern Philosophy' [Descartes to Hegel] and Volume 4, `Philosophy in the Modern World' [from the early 19th century, to the present day]. I read Scruton's book in May/June 2013. Not surprisingly, my two earlier Kenny reviews [which please consult] already say everything that applies to the Scruton book.

I repeat my summary view of the philosophy and the philosophers of this period by the two quotes from St Augustine which I have already used in my Kenny reviews: (1) "Bene cucurristis sed extra viam - you have run well, and had a lot of fun, but you were not running in the [philosophical] stadium at all" - this applies especially to the language-fixation philosophers; and (2), "Securus judicat orbis terrarum - the universal judgment of the common man correctly judges that you are talking mostly nonsense". Kenny (vol. 3, p. 88) admirably writes: "The whole of recent philosophy, Reid [1710-1796] maintains, shows how even the most intelligent people can go wrong if they start from a false first principle".

Both of these assessments are supported and compellingly established by Edward Feser in his book "The Last Superstition - A Refutation of the New Atheism " - an absolute must-read. Surprisingly, the title and subtitle of Feser's book are very uninformative, because it not only demolishes the `New Atheists' (Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens), but equally provides the ammunition to demolish the philosophy and philosophers (for the most part) from Descartes to Wittgenstein.

On page 51 of his book, Feser states in italics: "Abandoning Aristotelianism, as the founders of modern philosophy did, was the single greatest mistake ever made in the entire history of Western thought'. Feser makes the case, throughout his book, for a return to Aristotle's four causes (and to St Thomas Aquinas's overlapping Five Ways for establishing the existence of God, worked out in the 13th century).

Feser reinforces his thesis by a remarkable quote (on pages 225,6) from a 1948 article by W.T. Stace, which I copy in part: "The real turning point between the medieval age of faith and the modern age of unfaith came when the scientists of the seventeenth century turned their backs upon what used to be called `final causes' ... [belief in which] was not the invention of Christianity [but] was basic to the whole of Western civilization ... The conception of purpose in the world was ignored and frowned upon. This, though silent and almost unnoticed, was the greatest revolution in human history, far outweighing in importance any of the political revolutions whose thunder has reverberated through the world ... The world, according to this new picture, is purposeless, senseless, meaningless. Nature is nothing but matter in motion. The motions of matter are governed, not by any purpose, but by blind forces and laws ... {But] if the scheme of things is purposeless and meaningless, then the life of man is purposeless and meaningless too ... If our moral rules do not proceed from something outside us in the nature of the universe - whether we say it is God or simply the universe itself - then they must be our own inventions ... [but] What pleases one man, people or culture, displeases another. Therefore morals are wholly relative".

My overall verdict is that by abandoning Aristotle and Aquinas, Descartes-to-Wittgenstein ceased to deal with real things and real people as they existed in everyday life in the world around us; and, especially from Frege through Russell to Wittgenstein and AJ Ayer, they reduced philosophy to mere word-games. As I keep repeating in my reviews, the highest and essential subject-matter of philosophy must be God, rational mankind, the immortality of the soul, morality, free will, and society. These topics are often ignored, and replaced by an enquiry into the nature and use of language, which is a tool towards all of that, but hardly the supreme `philosophical' end in itself. Even when the true ends of philosophy are not ignored, they are dealt with in such mistaken fashion that each succeeding philosopher of our period spends his efforts demolishing the views of his predecessor(s), only to be demolished in turn by his successor(s).

I must make the point that not one of the philosophers of our period could live a proper human and societal life if he practised what he preached. As I say in the title to my review of a short book called `Truth - A Guide for the Perplexed', by Simon Blackburn, "The Sceptic Cannot Live by His Philosophical Beliefs". Neither Kant personally nor society could live by his `Categorical Imperative'. And as Antony Flew deliciously puts it on page 58 in his book `There is a God': "Hume's scepticism about cause and effect and his agnosticism about the external world are of course jettisoned the moment he leaves his study". The obvious reality of the rocks out there, which caused pain to Dr Johnson when he kicked one, demolishes Berkeley. And so on, ad infinitum.

I invite the reader of Scruton's (and Kenny's) books to read them with continuous scepticism. Scruton and Kenny may give excellent analyses of the views of the philosophers they discuss, but invariably their analyses include devastating criticisms of these views, either by Kenny and Scruton themselves, or by the fellow-philosophers being discussed in their books.

So, Scruton's book is a very good read. But I invite the reader to mark with a highlighter pen every occasion when Scruton - or one of the philosophers he is discussing - delivers a negative verdict about the philosophical validity of the view being discussed. The result will be a very highly coloured book.

But this leads me to the necessary judgment, however, that bad philosophy does not necessarily mean un-influential philosophy. If one abandons the idea of human nature, and an objective moral code, and free will, one ends up not only with Hegel for Nazism and Marx for communism, but with the all-pervading destructive mentality which governs much of Western society today.

Here is an example of what happens. The book "The Future of Atheism", edited by Alister McGrath, includes a debate between the 'new atheist' Daniel Dennett and the Christian scientist/theologian Alister McGrath. As I read through the book, the awfulness of Dennett's case [which he laid out in the early part of the book] emerged ever more clearly. Replying to McGrath who had asked him `What is the essence of religion?', Dennett says (page 35): "What Darwin showed is that essentialism is a mistake. Don't ever ask for the essence of something, because essence is something that's just pre-Darwinian thinking". This is appalling. Dennett thinks that `essentialism is a mistake'. I take that to mean that in his opinion there is no such thing as a defining `nature', that there is no such thing as human nature. This is precisely the core error of `modern philosophy' and the New Atheism, as Feser identifies and tears to pieces in his book. So does Robert Spitzer in his book `New Proofs for the Existence of God'.
An immediate proof of the absurdity and harmfulness of Dennett's denial of `essence' appears on page 56 in this very same book `The Future of Atheism'. Keith M Parsons, clashing with McAlister, quotes a 1986 essay by Roger Scruton in which Scruton claims that it is the new atheists who "have been most influential in creating a new image of man as an accident of nature, to whom nothing is either forbidden or permitted by any power beyond himself. God [on this `new-atheist' view] is an illusion; so too is the divine spark in man". Parsons approves of this view which Scruton is rejecting. [I equate here the `divine spark' to the `essence' which Dennett also rejects ]. Parsons says: "But respect for other persons does not arise from detection of some `divine spark', whatever that might be, but from the experience of shared humanity".

I disagree totally with this opinion of Parsons and Dennett. It reduces human life and human society to WHATEVER THE LEGISLATURE IN ANY COUNTRY AT ANY GIVEN MOMENT considers to be `shared humanity'. I quote against them that since Roe versus Wade in 1973 in the USA the number of legal killings of unborn human beings in whom the medical profession does not recognize [or at any rate, value] a `divine spark' or a `shared humanity' or an `essence' is now approaching 60 million. In the United Kingdom there are about two hundred thousand abortion killings every year. And every abortion involves the complicity of the mother and usually other relatives, plus doctors and nursing staff. So we are talking, worldwide, about hundreds of millions of involved people. The very mothers of the unborn infants, and the caring professions, now think nothing of killing unborn human beings. Yet up to thirty or forty years ago every country in the world, and the medical profession overwhelmingly, would have considered abortion to be murder. And same-sex 'marriage'? And euthanasia?
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