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The Dream of Reason: A History of Western Philosophy from the Greeks to the Renaissance Paperback – Illustrated, August 30, 2016
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"Gottlieb is as enjoyable as he is intellectually stimulating."
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"[Gottlieb] writes with fluency and lucidity, with a gift for making even difficult matters seem comprehensible."
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"A delight. It is written with both wit and scholarship, providing a wonderful overall picture of Western philosophy up to the Renaissance."
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About the Author
- Publisher : W. W. Norton & Company; 2nd edition (August 30, 2016)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 512 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0393352986
- ISBN-13 : 978-0393352986
- Item Weight : 14.4 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.5 x 1.3 x 8.3 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #244,085 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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This volume covers a diverse cast of characters from the fifth and sixth centuries BC (the Milesians, the Pythagoreans, Heraclitus, Parmenides, Zeno, Empedocles, Anaxagoras, Democritus, the Sophists) through the Giants of Philosophy (Socrates, Plato, Aristotle) and their near contemporaries in the 5th century BC to the early middle ages of the pre-Renaissance (Epicureans, Stoics, Sceptics). With the exception of Plato and Aristotle, who found teaching jobs and started Academies that lasted centuries, most of the early philosophers come across as cantankerous elderly vagrants of an argumentative disposition who congregated in public places. Almost all we know of Socrates’ thought is what Plato has him say in various dialogues—he apparently was a master at leading his opponents into contradicting themselves. Plato and Aristotle, on the other hand, were prolific writers and doers who wrote widely on everything (Logic, Ethics, etc. and Science in the case of Aristotle), started the academies that made Athens famous and dominated philosophy until Galileo, Newton and the enlightenment 2000 years later. The importance of these early thinkers was not so much their systems of thought as their struggle to understand their world by reasoning. According to Aristotle the aim of human life is Eudaimonia, which translates as successful, admirable living and all round good fortune leading to a contented state of mind. The age of Aristotle, Plato and Socrates was followed by various competing sects—Epicureans, Stoics and Sceptics being the better known, and finally by the stifling rise of the Christian Church.
There was a two-way exchange between philosophy, on the one hand, and the development of science, economics, psychology, mathematics, sociology, etc., on the other hand, over the 2000 years following the Age of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle; an age which saw the collapse of the Roman Empire, the rise of the Christian church and the general collapse of thought as the dark ages swept over Europe. Fortunately, the learning of ancient Europe was preserved and extended in the Arab world until it was rediscovered during the Renaissance in the 14th and 15th centuries
In 1543 Nicholas Copernicus (1473-1543) published his account of the earth rotating about the sun, refuting both Aristotle and the doctrine of the Catholic Church. Shortly afterwards, Giordano Bruno, a Catholic friar, was burned at the stake for holding this view. Galileo (1564-1642) agreed with Copernicus about the earth rotating about the sun, disagreed with Aristotle and the Church about heavenly and earthly bodies being subject to different forces and built telescopes to view the heavenly bodies and confirm his theories. Galileo also agreed with Democritus and the Epicureans about the atomistic theory of matter, which was recognized to be in conflict with the Church doctrine which held that when bread and wine were consecrated by a priest that they became transubstantiated into the body and blood of Christ, for which beliefs he was condemned by the Church. God was brought into the atomic theory to placate the Church and allow the development of a mechanical science of nature by Gallileo, Kepler, Descartes and Hobbes to go forward. The best thinkers of the 17th century were struggling with questions of how is mental activity to be described in terms of Democritus’ particles of matter, what is the place of man in a mechanistic universe and what is the place of God, laying the groundwork for Newton.
The main benefit of reading this book is that it’s chronological and starts with the earliest Greek philosophers. In the process of reading, one clearly understands how each thinker was reacting the ideas of the schools that came before, and how dialectical relationships developed.
For instance, I knew that Epicurus was influenced by Democritus’ atomism, but I had no idea that Democritus had been reacting to Parmenides’ early physics. These threads of philosophy become easy to discern when one reads this book. One also begins to make a more or less clear profile of some of the great philosophers, their personalities and central themes. In the case of Aristotle, because he wrote so much and his intellectual legacy was so varied and complex, I felt that the introduction was somewhat superficial, but this is to be expected. Aristotle deserves an entire book.
I was initially annoyed that Sceptics, Epicureans, and Stoics were all included in one single chapter that dealt with the three therapeutic philosophies of the Hellenistic era, but there are several introductions out there on Epicureanism, and what this chapter did for me was to accentuate the good in each one of the three Hellenistic schools and contrast where they differ, for perspective.
The book only goes up to the Renaissance. When one arrives at the Middle Ages, it’s truly sad how the intellectual development of the entire continent of Europe was held hostage by the church, which restricted all thought and whose supernatural claims become intrusive points of reference in all of philosophy. European philosophy during the Dark Ages is compared to the Sleeping Beauty.
Overall, this book is great for those seeking to cover the basics of how philosophical thought evolved.
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Reviewed in the United Kingdom on March 25, 2021
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