52 of 54 people found the following review helpful
A great read and a good introduction,
This review is from: History of Western Philosophy (Paperback)
The book conveys a brilliant sense of the development of philosophy from ancient Greek cults to modern logical analysis. Ancient philosophers are treated with the respect that they deserve for getting philosophy out of the starting gates and for their unashamed delight in anything that they could debate about. Russell celebrates Democritus' atomic theory and Aristarchus' heliocentric hypothesis and rarely uses the word crude when discussing ancient philosophies. And the benefits of logical analysis are displayed by identifying techniques as they emerge in the work of particular philosophers as well as by Russell's own discussions. Philosophy really is shown as closely related to community life- dispelling the image of the philosopher hidden away from the world in an ivory tower.
The above merits make the book a good introduction and a real insight for those who know philosophy but lack knowledge of its history. However, I cannot recommend it as a reference book. Russell fails to treat some very important philosophers (e.g. Kierkegaard, Husserl and Heidegger) and gives disproportionate space to lesser figures (Bergson, Dewey and Byron). The strengths of Kantian philosophy are almost completely missed. The least developed elements in Nietzsche's philosophy are emphasized to the exclusion of the more developed ones. The out of date elements of Aristotle's ethics are criticized and Aristotle's attempt to put ethics on a purely factual basis is ignored. Also, Russell's discussions often fail to acknowledge the approaches G E Moore and others have taken to the 'is-ought gap' (Russell just states his relativism and leaves it) as well as important elements in Wittgenstein (I suspect partly because Wittgenstein's philosophy makes a strong attack upon Russell's epistemology). But these faults are at least mainly isolated to the section on modern philosophy.
Despite these shortcomings, the book is still well worth reading. It is often insightful and at points Russell's illustrations can be ingenious. But I would recommend that the student looking for a reference book should either buy a compilation of essays by different authors (and thus avoid the prejudices and gaps in knowledge of a single author) or also buy a seperate book on modern philosophy.