Top positive review
74 people found this helpful
Challenging but well worth the effort
on June 20, 2000
Clearly Antony Flew was on a mission when he wrote his "Introduction to Western Philosophy." It is very carefully crafted, providing an unparalleled introduction not only to Western philosophers and their ideas, but also to approaches to philosophical thought. Flew assumes that his readers are willing to try to think like philosophers, and he provides a great deal of guidance in terms of both basic information that one ought to know (such as some relevant history of science), and pitfalls that one should avoid (such as fallacies and philosophical "diversions").
In contrast to the chronological, philosopher-centered approach that some introductions to philosophy take, Flew's book is idea-centered, with each chapter focusing on a particular philosophical issue. Within a given chapter, the arguments of philosophers from different times are presented side-by-side. So, for example, Plato's objectivism can face off directly against Hume's subjectivism -- one does not have to read Plato's ideas and wait until many chapters later, when Plato has long been forgotten, for Hume's reply to them. This strategy produces the feeling of live debate as opposed to the rehashing of dead ideas. Flew takes his readers through the major debates on each issue, taking care to point out questions that remain unresolved. He provides long quotations from primary sources to show key arguments unfolding in their original contexts, and follows them up with clear explanations. The book is thick, but words are not wasted; I underline key points that I want to remember, and I set a personal underlining record reading this book. Finally, Flew is enjoyable to read -- professional and serious as the subject demands, but also personable and witty.
I should mention that Flew's book is not suitable for most novices; one might want to read something like Russell's "History of Western Philosophy," that introduces the major philosophers and places them in their social contexts, before attempting Flew's more challenging book. But to those readers already possessing a general idea of the major players and their ideas, Flew's book offers an excellent detailed introduction to each of the most important philosophical debates.