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The Great Philosophers: An Introduction to Western Philosophy 2nd Edition

4.8 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0192893222
ISBN-10: 019289322X
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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Magee has taught philosophy at Oxford, and in each of these volumes he attempts to make philosophy understandable to the lay reader. The DK book devotes just a few pages to each of the major thinkers and is lavishly illustrated. It would be suitable for high school, college, and public libraries. Great Philosophers is a series of conversations with important contemporary philosophers about the major historical figures, originally produced for the BBC. Confessions is an autobiographical excursion through Western philosophy.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

About the Author

Bryan Magee is a Visiting Professor at King's College London and has published sixteen other books including Modern British Philosophy, and Creators of Contemporary Philosophy.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 2nd edition (January 18, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019289322X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192893222
  • Product Dimensions: 7.4 x 0.8 x 4.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #135,313 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Parker Benchley VINE VOICE on December 18, 2000
Format: Paperback
The basis of this wonderful book is a series of television programs first telecast by the BBC in 1987. However, while most would have stopped there and merely published the book as a transcript of the shows, Magee takes it one, two, and even three steps farther. As editor, he reworked the transcripts and even brought back his contributors for further revisions and improvements. The result is a delightful book that easily exceeds one's expectations, and mine were not so high given the fact the book is a series of conversations with academics about a particular philosopher or school of philosophy. In the wrong hands, this can be certain death by boredom. But in the right hands . . .
Can academics keep our interest while discussing philosophy? They can easily do so when: (1) they are allowed to rework and improve their material; and (2) when they are talking with Bryan Magee. Magee is no mere interviewer; he prods, interjects, disagrees, and yet allows his subject to shine when conversing about their subject. This is no mean feat; it takes a delicate skill to pull this off and still keep it entertaining. And this is exactly what Magee does. Whether he's asking Anthony Kenny his opinion on why so many great medieval philosophers come from The British Isles, asking Anthony Quinton to more exactly define Leibniz's Monad, debating Schopenhauer's philosophy with Frederick Copleston, or just sitting back and allowing Geoffrey Warnock to explain Kant's mataphysics, Magee keeps his readers not only entertained, but delightfully informed.
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Format: Paperback
For many years in Britain Bryan Magee has been a popularizer of philosophy-and unashamedly so. In his view philosophy is too important and relevant a subject to be left to academics. There are few who can elucidate and demystify as capably. Accordingly, when you have Magee interviewing famous philosphers about very famous philosophers you have the ingredients of an exciting recipe-and the product is not disappointing. There is Bernard Williams on Descartes, Geoffrey Warnock on Kant and J P Stern on Nietzche-all outstanding. Beyond this though there is Dreyfus on Heidigger- a remarkable insight into a difficult philosopher and John Searles cool exposition of Wittgenstein. However, the very best is Coppelston and Magee on Schopenhaeur. Here Magee departs from his role as lucid interrogator and engages with the expert, often disagreeing. This is (as he explains) because Schopenhauer has been the subject of one of his own books. All of this makes for a lively exchange which led this reader to research further. While he popularizes Magee never cheapens. You should not expect this to survey all the thoughts of any one writer, but rather to stimulate your interest to read some great minds yourself. If this does so for any thinker the the author will have served his purpose.
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Format: Paperback
I know of no better introduction to the history of philosophy than this volume, which is about as engaging as books on philosophy get. The conversations are easy to follow; no knowledge of arcane terminology is presupposed; and every attempt is made to bring out why these ideas are important and worthy of serious study today. Furthermore, the book's coverage is quite broad for its length of three hundred pages. It manages to cover philosophy from Plato to Wittgenstein, and I can't think of a single absolutely essential figure in the history of philosophy whose work isn't discussed here. Nevertheless, this book is less ambitious than many other shorter books on the history of philosophy in that it doesn't attempt to cover the entire history of philosophy. Instead, Magee and his interlocutors focus in on the most important figures in the history of philosophy and devote an entire chapter to each of them. Where historical trends in philosophy or other, less important figures are mentioned, they're mentioned in relation to the figures to whom the particular chapters are devoted. This strikes me as a significant strength of this book as a book for someone coming to philosophy for the first time. A beginner needs to know about Plato, Descartes, Hume, Kant, et al.; she doesn't need to know a little bit about every figure who has introduced an important idea or two. Finally, most of the interviews are with thinkers who are themselves good philosophers, and, in several cases (e.g., Bernard Williams on Descartes, Miles Burnyeat on Plato, Michael Ayers on Locke, and Hubert Dreyfus on Heidegger), the interviewee has done first-rate work on the very philosopher(s) he or she is discussing.Read more ›
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A wonderful intro to Western thought. How this is distinguished from Magee's "Story of Philosophy", I do not know. I encourage a reviewer of "Story" to encapsulate that book in such a way as to help readers from buying and reading a book that duplicates this one too much.

Specifically, "Great Philosophers" is a series of conversations with known experts on various philosophers, dialogues as opposed to only Magee's thoughts.

The philosophers covered are 1)Plato; 2)Aristotle; 3)Augustine; 4)Aquinas (only very brief mention of other medievals); 5)Decartes; 6)Spinoza; 7)Leibniz; 8)Locke; 9)Berkeley; 10)Hume; 11)Kant; 12)Hegel (little on Marx); 13)Schopenhauer; 14)Nietzsche; 15)Heidegger (little on Husserl and Satre); 16)Pierce; 17)James; 18)Dewey; 19)Frege; 20)Russell; and 21)Wittgenstein.

The writing style is lucid for the topics covered. Of the 347 pages in the book, 68 pages are pictures of philosophers, title pages, or blank pages. So, the book is very compact with 279 pages of actual text, either introduction by Magee or dialogue between Magee and the respective expert.

For the most part, Magee let's the expert dominate, unless the expert needs nudging. Magee's role is primarily to direct the flow of the dialogue, completing one topic and starting another.

As a non-philosophy student, I chose to read "Great Philosophers" in three distinct sections: Plato through Hume; then back to Decartes, jumping to Kant through Wiitgenstein; and finally reviewing Spinoza through Hume. I found this method allowed me to avoid mental exhaustion. The non-philosophy student may wish to take a similar approach.
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