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A History of Western Philosophy Paperback – October 30, 1967
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‘A precious book….a work that is in the highest degree pedagogical which stands above the conflicts of parties and opinion’ – Albert Einstein
'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
Russell's layout is thus: he sets the stage for each section (ancient, scholastic, enlightenment, romantic, modern) by giving a brief historical chapter. Once done, he sets to work on a 10-20 page walk through of each prominent philosopher therein. While he is quite objective throughout (with the occasional biting remark for humor), he generally finishes each 'walk through' with a critique from his perspective of the philosopher in question. These are useful for both the lay person (who has fodder for thought) and the more experienced reader (who gets both the philosopher's and Russell's view).
Before I finish my review of this remarkably clear and interesting book, I must present a quote from the book that I feel is endemic of Russell and how he approaches all the multifarious philosophers that fill these pages. The quote intros his section on Greek philosopher Heraclitus:
"In studying a philosopher, the right attitude is neither reverence nor contempt, but first, a kind of hypothetical sympathy, until it is possible to know what it feels like to bleieve in his theories, and only then a revival of the critical attitude... Two things are to be remembered: that a man whose opinions and theories are worth studying may be presumed to have had some intellegence, but that no man is likely to have arrived at complete and final truth on any subject whatever." (Chapter IV, paragraph 4)
Yes, Russell has biases (as has been duly noted in these reviews); yes, he makes occasional biting comments and undoubtedly betrays misunderstandings (though none, I think, deliberate). All the while though, it is obvious that in these pages, Russell presents his subject as honestly, excitedly, and (yes!) fairly as he can. Even when he does express his opinion, it seems obvious to me that he lets you know when he is doing so, and never proposes (as do many philosophers) to have the last word on the subject or to make the readers' minds up for them.
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.