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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best of genre.
Anthony Kenny's magnificent new history of philosophy is a remarkable achievement. The book is accessible yet sophisticated, concise yet comprehensive.
Its main weaknesses are Kenny's sometimes surprising and dramatic editorial decisions and his periodic idiosyncratic application of twentieth-century analytic philosophy. Also, Kenny provides no references for the...
Published on July 16, 1999 by Andrew N. Carpenter

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8 of 21 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Free Will
I think Mr. Lee's objecton to Kenny's statement about free will is quite reasonable. Kenny's statement is offensive and out of place in a work of this nature - even more so without supporting arguments. It cannot be excused by saying that we should learn to distinguish facts from value judgments, or that a certain amount of subjectivity is inevitable. Subjective...
Published on November 2, 2004 by J.E.S.


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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best of genre., July 16, 1999
Anthony Kenny's magnificent new history of philosophy is a remarkable achievement. The book is accessible yet sophisticated, concise yet comprehensive.
Its main weaknesses are Kenny's sometimes surprising and dramatic editorial decisions and his periodic idiosyncratic application of twentieth-century analytic philosophy. Also, Kenny provides no references for the quotations he uses. Happily, these flaws take away little from the stupendous success of Kenny's history.
The book consists of twenty-two chapters occupying 345 pages, followed by an afterword, suggestions for further reading, and a comprehensive index. The chapters, which range from "Philosophy in its Infancy" to "the Philosophy of Wittgenstein," include detailed discussions of nearly all canonical philosophers, brief discussions a few non-canonical philosophers (e.g., Hypatia, Bonaventure, Marsilius of Padua), and numerous extremely helpful discussions of the interaction between western philosophy and many non-philosophical figures and institutions. Philosophy students of all levels will benefit from this book, and their instructors will find much to admire and enjoy in it.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Kenny, Master Historian of Philosophy, November 30, 2007
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This review is from: An Illustrated Brief History of Western Philosophy (Paperback)
Anthony Kenny, who deserves the title of greatest historian of philosophy of the twentieth century, added a few choice pictures to his "Brief History of Western Philosophy." The text itself presents accurate and perceptive summaries of the greatest figures in philosophical history, and the pictures, some of them rare, make the text more enjoyable. This is an excellent, brief history of western philosophy. Highly recommended, for those who do not want to tackle either Copleston's 9 volumes, or Kenny's four. Superb.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Very Good Work, August 2, 1999
By A Customer
Anthony Kenny is, in my opinion, a first-rank philosopher. He is also a very good writer. He writes in a nice conversational way, yet has a remarkable skill at knowing, and sufficently explaining, those areas that will give the average reader a bit of difficulty. I bought this book yesterday and have made my way through quite a bit. Kenny's background gives him a particular competence at writing a history of philosophy (he first studied Aristotelian-scholastic philosophy at the Gregorianum in Rome, then analytical-linguistic philosopy at Oxford University). I already have a degree in philosophy (w/ honours), and I only wish it had been at the feet of a master like Kenny (btw, he is now Warden of Rhodes House, Oxford U., formerly Master of Balliol). We are in Dr. Kenny's debt for anything he writes, especially with this latest work.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Brilliant and Concise Introduction, October 27, 2004
This work is ideal for those interested in philosophy but who have been previously intimidated by the profuse professional jargon of material on this topic.

The most influential minds, from philosophy's earliest beginnings to Wittgenstein, are covered in a compact, readable, yet highly scholarly manner. Readers must remember that philosophy is an unbelievably vast area that is continually evolving, and that one's personal affiliations and beliefs influence one's perception of it. No single book can cover each and every philosophical concept, nor can a single volume please every reader in its space allocations. While certain subjects might have been covered more thoroughly, do not let inevitable restrictions prevent you from reading this work. It will broaden your horizons.

'A Brief History of Western Philosophy' lays the groundwork for any further explorations, providing both the novice and the professional with invaluable information - in short, it is an ideal and indispensable reference work.

Reading this work will give a thorough overview of philosophy, and, in my opinion, is one of the best written so far. Intrepid minds can gladly go on to do in-depth research on particular figures, something that this book will certainly inspire.

Perhaps I am especially partial to this book because of my personal interest in the thought of Kant and Wittgenstein, philosophers given particular attention here. In fact, the chapter on Kant is one worth reading for any student in the area - it presents the ideas very cohesively.

In response to Mr. Lee's review, no philosophical work can be so objective as to leave out the author's own opinion completely; if you had read the material properly, you might have understood that, in a way, objectivity is impossible.

Anyhow, those with the smallest particle of common sense will read every book they touch with suspicion and shouldn't fall into the trap of unquestioningly believing everything they read. Every book on the subject of philosophy has a flaw of its own - it must have, since no one is perfect and can provide all the answers. Differentiating between fact and opinion is something that we all learn at school. One sentence should certainly not stop possible readers from delving into this wonderfully comprehensive work.

Also, you state that you know of almost no significant chemists or biologists who found philosophy helpful; may I ask what they would do without the foundations of questioning existing beliefs and ever searching for the truth that philosophy has laid for them? Everyone is influenced by his or her philosophical and religious beliefs and stances - even scientists. Who can say what truly influenced those great minds?

If you want to begin your adventures in the world of philosophy; if you are interested in a particular figure or concept and wish a scholarly, concise summary; or if you are an academic mind seeking to refresh 'forgotten lore', then this book is for you.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very good history of philosophy, January 6, 2002
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I find this history of philosophy very fun and interesting to read. Without forgetting the importance of ideas Kenny also gives a background in the corresponding culture and society.
Jesus and Freud are unusual but very interesting choices and especially the part about Freud I find very good.
Given the importance of the ideas of Hume for twentieth century philosophy it is a little bit strange to give Hume 6.5 pages and Kant 21 pages. But Kant is an important but difficult philosopher and perhaps one should be grateful for every help one can get when it comes to understanding him.
As a student of theoretical philosophy in the analytical tradition four things makes me very happy:
1. Stoic logic is mentioned and explained.
2. Not just the Monadology of Leibniz are treated but also Leibniz as a great logic mind. Maybe one day Leibniz will be remembered more as a great logic mind that inspired Russell and others, than as the builder of the sometimes strange and weird feeling system of monads.
3. The logic and logical analysis of Frege and Russell are given one chapter.
4. Twentieth century philosophy is exemplified not with Sartre or Heidegger as with some Norwegian history's of philosophy, but with Wittgenstein.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars very good, January 10, 2004
Personally, I find the size of this book just about right. It is long enough to contain all the critical information but short enough to be appeal to general reader.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Short Introduction To Philosophy, April 13, 2011
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I am surprised that there are so many negative reviews of this excellent book; it seems most unfair and dishonest. This is probably the best short introduction to philosophy there is. It is not (just) an introduction to the famous names, as so many other such introductions tend to be, but it really does introduce philosophy itself as a subject. Maybe this is what people object to: a book that is not "practical", in the sense of telling you how to make a million dollars within three days of reading it - i.e.: modern scientism, or deception.

Anthony Kenny starts with the ancient Greek philosophers and shows how they set the stage for the reform of Athens, in the fourth and third centuries BC. Plato and Aristotle were not the high point and originators of philosophy for no reason, but they were part of a Greek culture that, in some ways, was more advanced than the world in which we live today - e.g.: the notion of participatory democracy was more real then than it is now; if, indeed, it even really still exists, other than very superficially. Kenny explains how Plato founded the Theory of Ideas, especially the Idea of the Good, and consequently, founded a theory of knowledge.

The chapter on Aristotle is one of the best in the book. Kenny shows how Aristotle founded logic, science and metaphysics (the science of the divine, or universal being), mainly as a development of (not contradiction to) Plato's philosophy. Kenny then develops the main themes of medieval philosophy, which are largely the developments of this Platonic-Aristotelian model. This model started to fail, or breakdown as it became more worldly-utopian and less transcendental - i.e.: trying to supersede the mystical relation of the many to the one. This is exemplified in the beginnings of sixteenth century "thought control" and the consequent first attempts to define "free will" (of Molina) as "liberty of indifference" (p. 182), the ability to act in various, or no ways.

From these origins, Kenny then shows how so-called "modern philosophy" started to fragment; e.g.: into empirical, rational and idealist components (that had been fully coherent and united under Aquinas). Under Descartes' model, we became a duality of a "thinking mind" within "extended motion". However, by analyzing the mind, Descartes showed how freedom must be more correctly seen as a "liberty of spontaneity" (p. 195), the more determinist theory of our ability to do what we want to do. Kenny then shows how the more empirical philosophers, such as Locke, tried to do away with the independent mind altogether and how, eventually, this resulted in an ambiguity in the very understanding of causation. These contradictions led on to the work of Kant, who denied both pure reason and the pure experience of the material world - but this led him to become trapped between "realism" (the denial of ideas alone) and "idealism" (the denial of knowledge of things-in-themselves); a.k.a.: transcendental idealism.

And this brings us to Wittgenstein, because Wittgenstein was able to affect a certain resolution of the problems between the analytical and the continental traditions. Wittgenstein showed how language could not be simply a private affair. Thus, the mystery of the world is not the relations between things, but the fact of its existence. Scientistic positivism had led to solipsism and so Wittgenstein developed philosophy as active therapy (language games). Language has a deep and complex relation with the world that depends upon context; thus, meaning is a relation between these two worlds of the physical and the mental taken together. Solipsism perverts reality because language is not "my" language - it is our language. Thus, both Descartes' artificial dualism is wrong and Hume's agnosticism about the external world (and other minds) is wrong, for the same reason - that there is a necessarily direct interaction between the multiple minds and the world.

However, Wittgenstein agreed with Kant that we are limited by experience; he agreed with Hume that our inquiries depend upon our simple human nature; and he agreed with Descartes that we must do our philosophy by ourselves, using our own will (p. 342). Indeed, this is what makes this particular book good, because it shows the necessary balance that is required - neither just behaviorism (the mind is action), nor just materialism (the mind is the brain), can ever be properly correct; but the link between our mind and worldly things is something both prior to experience (conceptual propositions) and contingent upon that experience (scientifically discoverable), as Plato and Aristotle taken together, taught us long ago.
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8 of 21 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Free Will, November 2, 2004
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J.E.S. "J.E.S." (New York, NY United States of America) - See all my reviews
I think Mr. Lee's objecton to Kenny's statement about free will is quite reasonable. Kenny's statement is offensive and out of place in a work of this nature - even more so without supporting arguments. It cannot be excused by saying that we should learn to distinguish facts from value judgments, or that a certain amount of subjectivity is inevitable. Subjective statements, if not extreme or too many, are excusable to the extent that they do not deal with serious matters. But the question of free will is a very serious matter indeed.
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4 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gift for my son, December 25, 2008
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This review is from: An Illustrated Brief History of Western Philosophy (Paperback)
I bought this as a gift for my 23 year old son. So far he loves it!!! He is not one to over rate things.
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13 of 33 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Mediocre, November 18, 2004
By 
Alex Dower "Alex Dower" (Canberra, NSW, Australia) - See all my reviews
Kenny begins the book by criticizing Russell. Yet all the supposed faults of Russell - bias, "notorious" unfair treatment of some philosophers, etc. - can be applied to Kenny himself in this book. His own Roman Catholic orthodoxy permeates throughout his comments. He idolizes Wittgenstein, even though Wittgenstein impresses nobody but the most gullible of academic philosophers. He trashes Hume - for obvious reasons. He defends free will, but provides no explanations. He considers that best history of philosophy by a single author is the one by Frederick Copleston, who happened to be a Jesuit priest. I found myself shaking my head no matter what I chanced to read in this book. There are many good histories of philosophy, but this book is not one of them. I advise readers to go back to Russell's masterpiece instead.
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An Illustrated Brief History of Western Philosophy
An Illustrated Brief History of Western Philosophy by Anthony Kenny (Paperback - August 28, 2006)
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