The Story of Philosophy: A History of Western Thought Paperback – 4 Jul 2013
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'An invaluable introduction to the topic ... offers clarity, insight and the occasional dash of wit' Scotland on Sunday. (Scotland on Sunday)
About the Author
James Garvey has a PhD from University College London and is secretary of the Royal Institute of Philosophy, editor of The Philosophers' Magazine and the author and editor of several books, including The Ethics of Climate Change and The Twenty Greatest Philosophy Books.
Jeremy Stangroom has a PhD from the London School of Economics. He co-founded The Philosophers' Magazine with Julian Baggini in 1997. He is the author and editor of numerous books, most recently Why Truth Matters and Does God Hate Women?
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The authors have started their journey into Western philosophy with the writings of Homer and Hesiod, then moved to the Milesian and Presocratic philosophers – Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes, Pythagoras, Xenophanes, Heraclitus, Parmenides, Anaxagoras, Empedocles, Zeno, Leucippus and Democritus. This takes us right up to the Atomists in about 370 BCE.
This is followed by chapters on Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Then the Cynics, Stoics, Sceptics and Epicureans (with a touch more of the Atomists). By now, I’ve decided that I rather like the philosophy of Epicurus, where he believed that the main aim of philosophy is to lead people into a state of ataraxia, or tranquillity.
The impact of Christianity on philosophy as practised by the Greeks and Romans was rather devastating, and while it didn’t set back philosophy as such, it did change the focus – philosophical questions became more focused on the religious aspects of life and how God may fit into that philosophical framework. This was much more of a focus of the medieval philosophers such as Anselm, Aquinas and William of Ockham among others.
The world changed again in the fourteenth century with the advent of Renaissance humanism, and the rediscovery of the early and classical writers and thinkers.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Perhaps your last philosophy course was in the 1960s (as was my case). Or you avoided that elective in college. Or you just want to crudely understand the big picture of philosophy today without the guidance of a philosophy professor who can really help you understand in depth. This is a very readable survey.
As a biologist facing the onslaught of relativistic constructionists in education and animal rightists and anti-researchers in science, this review was not an option. And a lot has happened in philosophical thought since my 1960s courses in ethics, logic and medieval Christian philosophy.
Of course you have to go back and start with the foundation laid down by the Greeks and Romans. (For Eastern philosophy, see “A Short History of Chinese Philosophy by Fung Yu-Lan edited by Derk Bodde, and other Bodde publications.] It is not unexpected that time to think philosophically comes at points in history where there are breaks in war. These authors use modern concepts to translate up Plato and Socrates and Aristotle, the Cynics, Stoics, Sceptics, Atomists and Epicureans.
If you are looking to become a philosophy major, then you need to immerse yourself in the context of those ages, but here the implications of each school of thought is placed in the modern era and that is where a common reader will have to settle—a very partial understanding.
The authors deal with faith and reason, and the scholastics from the Middle Ages. Approaching modern times, the arguments become more focused as the field of philosophy has to address a more complex society: the nature of knowledge, the Renaissance and Enlightenment, the nature of reason and experience. This is made readable by background on some of the personalities and the context in which they responded to the prevailing arguments around them.
“Modern Matters” includes more thought into idealism and the concepts of right and wrong. The final chapters on Nihilism and Existentialism, Continental Philosophy, Analysis and Mind and Matter include Gottlob Frege, Bertrand Russell, the Vienna Circle, and Ludwig Wittgenstein. Descartes old mind-body problem is dealt with in modern context, as is logical positivism and physicalists.
In the last section on the Future, only philosophers would begin this discussion by describing the futility of such a discussion. Yet philosophy will move on, as they note, probably driven by either new big personalities or by events such as computers and robotics. Without a teacher to guide a reader, the level of discussion that is possible in philosophy is semantically-limited and for the most part, this book knows to stop without going further into the difference between being-in-itself or being-for-itself, and other difficult concepts that require eye-to-eye teaching.
The authors make no predictions of whom among the current group of philosophers—Singer, Searle, others?—will become the next generation of minds to be added to a 2050 edition of an introductory philosophy book, but this is a good start before reading further into contemporary philosophers.