- Paperback: 895 pages
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster/Touchstone (October 30, 1967)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0671201581
- ISBN-13: 978-0671201586
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.6 x 8.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 263 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #12,785 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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A History of Western Philosophy Paperback – October 30, 1967
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'Remains unchallenged as the perfect introduction to its subject ... exactly the kind of philosophy that most people would like to read, but which only Russell could possibly have written.' - Ray Monk, University of Southampton, UK
'Beautiful and luminous prose, not merely classically clear but scrupulously honest.' - Isaiah Berlin
'It is a witty bird's-eye view of the main figures in Western thought enlivened by references to the personalities and quirks of the thinkers themselves.' - The Week
'A great philosopher's lucid and magisterial look at the history of his own subject, wonderfully readable and enlightening.' - The Observer--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell, Viscount Amberley, born in Wales, May 18, 1872. Educated at home and at Trinity College, Cambridge. During World War I, served four months in prison as a pacifist, where he wrote Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy. In 1910, published first volume of Principia Mathematica with Alfred Whitehead. Visited Russia and lectured on philosophy at the University of Peking in 1920. Returned to England and, with his wife, ran a progressive school for young children in Sussex from 1927-1932. Came to the United States, where he taught philosophy successively at the University of Chicago, University of California at Los Angeles, Harvard, and City College of New York. Awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950. Has been active in disarmament and anti-nuclear-testing movements while continuing to add to his large number of published books which include Philosophical Essays (1910); The ABC of Relativity (1925) Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits (1948); Why I Am Not a Christian (1957); and The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell (1967). For a chronological list of Russell's principal works see The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell (Simon and Schuster).
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Top customer reviews
Summarizing "The History of Western Philosophy" is not possible in a book review and I won't attempt it. One important topic in this book is that it is as much "history" as "Philosophy" Thus at the times where there was less important contributions to the field of philosophy, the author still summarizes the history that happened and how that influenced later philosophers. In fact, how the history influenced philosophy and how philosophy influenced history is a key theme throughout the book. Russell shows has they are intertwined and caused each other.
The book has three large parts (each about 300 pages). They are 1) Ancient (mostly Greek) Philosophy, 2) Catholic Philosophy, and 3) Modern Philosophy. The book is chronological with sometimes forward references and a lot of backward references. Of all the philosophies, most of the time is spend on the Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle philosophies as their influence is so huge. Even though Bertrand Russell is quite critical of them and considers them overvalued... I guess he contributes to that by focusing on it much again :) That said, it is also a central theme that Bertrand Russell is not shy whatsoever to give his own opinion about the philosophies, changing his book partly to the philosophies of Bertrand Russell. That also means that if you are looking for a neutral summary of philosophers, then this book is not it. The opinions of the author did probably made the book more readable and accessible as it is at times as if he joins the philosophical discussion... except that the other philosophers are not able to argue back to Bertrand Russell. Unfair...
I thoroughly enjoyed the History of Western Philosophy. It was thorough in breath though sometimes shallow in depth. That caused me to learn a huge amount about history and the role of philosophy. For anyone interested in that and not bothered by the lack of neutrality, this book is highly recommended. For people looking for a practical book, this is not it.
This book is well worth buying either in text or audio. It is good to remember this was written when Britain was under attack by Hitler.
History of Western Philosophy, however, is different: even non-experts can read this introductory book! How amazing is that? On top of that, Russell has a delicious whimsical side to him, which transpires in this book just enough for the occasional comic relief. Although an atheist himself, he does show the necessary formal reverence to religious matters as avoid offending anyone (in fact, he even uses the appropriate jargon regarding heathens, heretics and the such, although I believe most of it is tongue in cheek).
Apart from all that (which was the critical part for me), the book is obviously well respected, and it's remarkably thorough (which means you shouldn't be concerned with the content's verity or its coverage of the topic). Speaking of thoroughness, I'm quite happy that I happened upon it in digital format, because I later realized how thick the paper version must be, and that I would most likely have been intimidated by it to the point of not buying the book in the first place.
The Kindle version does have a few OCR problems (typically spaces missing between words), but they're few and far apart enough not to become any meaningful hindrance to fluid reading.
UPDATE: I finally finished reading the book, and I wanted to add a few things specifically for novices like myself. If you're a newcomer to philosophy AND you're just a casual reader, expect that you won't be able to understand everything, and that you will remember much less than what you understand. This is important in two ways. On one hand, knowing this, you shouldn't get discouraged when you don't understand something as well as you'd want to: you'd probably forget it anyway, so just keep on reading -- the important thing is to get an overall idea, not to remember every little detail (which is anyway impossible). On the other hand, the fact that you'll unavoidably forget a lot of stuff is quite unfortunate, because after you finish with the Antics, the cross-references become increasingly more important and relevant. So I suggest that, if your reading habits allow it, you might want to jot down a few words about each philosopher IMMEDIATELY after finishing each chapter; you probably wouldn't need more that two or three phrases with what you found most distinctive about that person, so you can later remember more about each of them at a glance.
Having said all that, expect that in the end you'll leave with maybe 10% of what you've been reading -- and that's if you're lucky. But that's ok: what matters is that you leave with an understanding of what philosophy is really all about, and that you will definitely get. Plus, you'll certainly be able to place almost any Western philosopher in roughly the right period, you'll develop likes and dislikes, and you'll end up with a much better understanding of what and why it is that Western philosophers have been doing what they've been doing for the past few thousand years. And let's be honest: what more can you hope for?