A History of Western Philosophy

Author: Bertrand Russell

Price: $17.26

Paperback: 895 pages

Publisher: Simon & Schuster/Touchstone (October 30, 1967)

Language: English

Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.6 x 8.4 inches

1. Introduction

Hailed as “lucid and magisterial” by The Observer, this book is universally acclaimed as the outstanding one-volume work on the subject of Western philosophy.

Considered to be one of the most important philosophical works of all time, the History of Western Philosophy is a dazzlingly unique exploration of the ideologies of significant philosophers throughout the ages—from Plato and Aristotle through to Spinoza, Kant and the twentieth century. Written by a man who changed the history of philosophy himself, this is an account that has never been rivaled since its first publication over sixty years ago.

Since its first publication in 1945, Lord Russell’s A History of Western Philosophy is still unparalleled in its comprehensiveness, its clarity, its erudition, its grace, and its wit. In seventy-six chapters he traces philosophy from the rise of Greek civilization to the emergence of logical analysis in the twentieth century.

Among the philosophers considered are: Pythagoras, Heraclitus, Parmenides, Empedocles, Anaxagoras, the Atomists, Protagoras, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, the Cynics, the Sceptics, the Epicureans, the Stoics, Plotinus, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, Benedict, Gregory the Great, John the Scot, Aquinas, Duns Scotus, William of Occam, Machiavelli, Erasmus, More, Bacon, Hobbes, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, the Utilitarians, Marx, Bergson, James, Dewey, and lastly the philosophers with whom Lord Russell himself is most closely associated—Cantor, Frege, and Whitehead, coauthor with Russell of the monumental Principia Mathematica.

2. Comment

1) By David C. Moses on January 14, 2000

Format: Paperback

Russell's "History of Western Philosophy" is not the best introduction to western philosophy that I have read. That place goes to Antony Flew's "Introduction to Western Philosophy." But for many readers, Russell's is still the better book. Flew's book is purely about philosophy. Russell, on the other hand, strives to place thought in its social context, and he is so successful that the book doubles as an outline history of the western world, and a very interesting one. Also, Russell's deep understanding of the relationship between philosophy and science adds interest. Finally, Russell's clear explanations of difficult concepts should make those concepts clear even to the novice or near-novice; Flew's book, although it assumes no knowledge of philosophy, is more technical, and so is not suitable for all novices.

Despite this book's well-deserved status as a classic work, it has some major flaws that a reader should keep in mind, all stemming from Russell's intolerance of viewpoints different from his own. Russell, like other logical positivists, saw no place for metaphysics in philosophy. In his "History of Western Philosophy," he makes no effort to curb that bias, resulting in what might be considered unfair treatments of all thinkers who did not stick purely to science. Also, Russell has no tolerance for systems of thought that do not conform to his preferences for democracy, atheism, pacifism, and social liberalism. So Plato is described as just another proponent of totalitarianism, Rousseau is portrayed as a crackpot and Nietzsche is depicted as a warmonger, but the much less significant thinkers John Dewey and William James get personal kudos for being nice progressive guys full of human kindness.

2) By Curtis L. Wilbur on March 6, 2000

Format: Paperback

As a novice in the world of formal philosophy, I was entirely grateful for the existence of this book. Russell offers not only an expansive view of western philosophy within rigorous historical context, but manages to convey much of his own philosophy within his critiques. I came, over time, to look at this book as more an expression of Russell's philosophy in relation to the entire course of western thought. How could it be anything different? Russell's perspective is, however well-informed, quite one-sided. So much so that the individual philosophers he takes on have no hope of a fair trial. However much I agree with him about Nietzsche, Russell does not even attempt to be fair. Better to appreciate this book for what it is: a personal view. As such, it is quite expansive, and if you need to know more about western philosophy, you'll easily fill in the missing pieces if you start here. But don't run away hurt if your favorite philosopher gets short shrift - I also find myself disagreeing with Russell in many areas. Instead, as you read, try to keep what he accomplishes here separate from how he does it. This is truly a great work, and downplaying its importance because of skipping or riding some particular fellow would be like criticizing the Great Wall of China because they used sub-par mortar. Here is a journey through history through the eyes of one great man. Keep yours open and you may learn something.

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