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Plato: The Great Philosophers (The Great Philosophers Series) 0th Edition

4.2 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0415923958
ISBN-10: 0415923956
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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Once in a while, a publication comes along that on first sight seems oddly out of place but on second viewing is admirably suited to its purpose. This little series of biographical summaries of the thoughts of 24 Western philosophers from Democritus to Derrida is admirable not only for its reasonable price but even more for the intelligence and clarity of the writing. Each volume has been prepared by an expert in the subject, and the result is a series of well-drawn and exceptionally useful pocket-size (4.5 x 7 inches) sketches of major figures in the history of Western thought. The level is such that no special background in philosophy is required to understand the concepts discussed. Each volume also contains a short bibliography, some of which refer to electronic journals or web sites. Most of the individuals chosen for the series come as no surprise, e.g., Descartes, Hegel, Kant, Nietzsche, Locke, Hume, Plato, and Socrates. But there are a few unexpected choices, like Alan Turing and Karl PopperAalthough on further consideration, they make more sense. Turing's influence on mathematics and on the development of computers has long been recognized, but his 1936 paper "On Compatible Numbers," which appeared in the Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society in 1936-37, influenced studies in the philosophy of mind. Popper's development of the concept of "historicism" in such works as The Open Society and Its Enemies and The Poverty of Historicism significantly influenced 20th-century political thought. Ultimately, this set should be in every academic and public library as well as many school libraries.ATerry C. Skeats, Bishop's Univ. Lib., Lennoxville, Quebec
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Series: The Great Philosophers Series (Book 16)
  • Paperback: 57 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge (July 29, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0415923956
  • ISBN-13: 978-0415923958
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 4.3 x 0.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,791,802 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This book comes in at a little under 50 pages (45), and like Anthony Gottlieb with "Socrates," Bernard Williams is able to cover quite a lot of ground in that short space. Because of the limits imposed by its brevity, there is not much focus on Plato's personal life, or the context within which his ideas were born. Instead there is an excellent exploration of Plato's writings that weaves through his texts and gives the reader an idea for how to approach his works. It is not meant to be a complete and thorough analysis, but as an introduction or accompaniment to Plato's dialogues, it is a valuable book(let).
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Format: Paperback
Plato dominates western philosophy. This minuscule introduction's first sentence says it all: "Plato invented the subject of philosophy as we know it." Though this heady and socially unacceptable field (just say "I'm a philosopher" to someone at a party) has morphed and developed in numerous ways since the days of Pericles, Plato still stands at its helm. That so many of his works survive - many of his predecessor's remain in fragments - and that the content of these works gave rise to a superstar, Socrates, likely accounts for his historic stature. And as this excellent little book points out, his works were mainly meant for reflection, not dogmatic entrenchment. They also take the form of dialogues, avoiding the turgid prose of philosophy's later years. As such, Plato remains one of antiquity's most accessible sages. Some passages are hilarious even today. But accessibility does not imply simplicity. Many of Plato's works contain mind-numbing reflections on ethics, epistemology, politics, metaphysics, and ontology. That's where this 46-page almost-a-pamphlet comes to the rescue. Bernard Williams' lucid text provides a solid foundation for some of Plato's basic and most famous ideas.

The book begins with an overview of Plato. He was no professor, though the word "Academia" derives from his "Academy." He apparently had a mistrust for writing and preferred discourse, "dialectic," or just plain conversation. Writing cannot develop whereas talking can give rise to ideas in real time. His dialogues, though written, manifest this preference, using the infamous "corrupter of youth" Socrates as their centerpiece (with a few exceptions, such as "The Laws" where Socrates does not appear).
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Format: Paperback
Alfred North Whitehead, if he is remembered for nothing else, will always be remembered for his oft-quoted statement that the history of Western philosophy consists of nothing more than "a series of footnotes to Plato." In this small book (it has only fifty-seven pages of text, including footnotes and bibliography), Bernard Williams provides a succinct and useful introduction to Plato's thought and philosophical method.
Plato is the earliest Western philosopher for whom we have a complete set of texts. Plato is also, perhaps, the earliest philosopher to examine the full range of philosophical questions. Using the dialogic method, Plato explored questions of truth, beauty, immortality, ethics, and love. He contemplated the "mind-body" problem and, in his master work, "The Republic", sought to establish a sound foundation for the Greek polis. However, while Plato's range was extensive, his dialogic method created open texts, sometimes internally contradictory and always subject to interpretation. Plato adumbrated, in other words, a set of philosophic questions and a method which provided a fertile beginning for Western metaphysics.
Professor Williams effectively uses snippets of Plato's dialogues to illustrate Plato's philosophical method, as well as the uncertain conclusions, the "openness", of Plato's texts. Rather than approaching Plato as a systematic philosopher with fixed views, Williams quite accurately notes that "Plato seems to have thought that the final significance of philosophy for one's life does not lie in anything that could be embodied in its findings, but emerges, rather, from its activities." Adhering to that notion, this little book provides a wonderful way, particularly for the initiate to Plato (I think, here, particularly of the high school student exploring Philosophy for the first time), to begin grappling with timeless questions.
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Format: Paperback
Rather than provide a quick, closed-door set of answers to what Plato said and "meant," Williams gives a text that manages to open the issues of Plato's texts in a lively manner. Williams' text is a clearly written, engaging and interesting read. In the space of under 50 pages, he gives a fantastic overview of Platonic philosophy (indeed touching on many of the most well known themes), all the while providing subtle observations and close commentary. He examines Plato's thought in works from all 3 periods, with very insightful commentary on the works that come after the Republic.

His work highlights the tensions and questions within the dialogues. Most importantly, perhaps, he interrogates the received wisdom of the "theory of the forms" to show how Plato was at work throughout his career in questioning these issues, never fully resting on a dogmatic theory. ("The dialogues are never closed or final." - Williams, 43)

Williams explores tensions between Plato's thinking of the two worlds alongside his inclinations to locate the good and meaning in this world and life, and that what is more important might very well be the activity of philosophy itself rather than some full fledged doctrinal system.

This is an introduction which really draws the reader in and opens Platonic thought in a lively manner. This is a valuable short text for both beginners and seasoned readers of Plato, which is a rare feat.
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