- Hardcover: 1120 pages
- Publisher: Belknap Press (August 30, 1998)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0674816471
- ISBN-13: 978-0674816473
- Product Dimensions: 7 x 2.2 x 9.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 3.7 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 17 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,353,699 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Sociology of Philosophies: A Global Theory of Intellectual Change
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In just under 900 pages (with another 100 or so pages of notes and bibliography), sociologist Randall Collins elaborates upon his proposed model for how intellectuals--"people who produce decontextualized ideas"--work among one another. Borrowing Erving Goffman's concept of the "interaction ritual," Collins discusses how "intellectuals gather, focus their attention for a time on one of their members, who delivers a sustained discourse. The discourse itself builds on elements from the past, affirming and continuing or negating." Or, to put it more simply, intellectuals attend a lot of lectures and have discussions afterwards.
General readers may be put off by a hefty tome with chapters given such titles as "The Post-revolutionary Condition: Boundaries and Philosophical Puzzles" (which includes the subsection "The Vienna Circle as a Nexus of Struggles"), but those with a dedicated interest in the history of philosophy will find much to enjoy in the multicultural examples Collins draws upon. Ancient China, classical Greece, medieval Islam, and the French existentialists are just the tip of the iceberg illustrating his theory that intellectual progress is made through the personal interaction of philosophers and other thinkers. "Great intellectual work," Collins writes, "is that which creates a large space on which followers can work," and The Sociology of Philosophies certainly qualifies. --Ron Hogan
From Library Journal
This astonishing book testifies to decades of research through the greater part of philosophyAEast and West. Collins, a University of Pennsylvania sociologist who has written many basic theoretical works (Sociological Insight, Oxford Univ., 1992) attacks myths of the origin and spread of ideas about knowledge and the world. He demolishes at least two. One is that ideas flow ready-made from the heads of a few great men. The other is that ideas are created by "cultures." Collins shows again and again that small groups are the source of innovation. They are often stimulated by a single figure who tends to move from group to group, but several people make a contribution. Small factual errors inevitably turn up in such a book, but overall the research is deep and sound, and years of debate should lead to refinements. Right now, this is a mine of valuable informationAmeant for academic libraries but really fostering the oldest aims of the public library. Written without pretense or jargon, it reaches out to the ordinary reader, who could acquire a rich education in the humanities just by following it through.ALeslie Armour, Dominican Coll. of Philosophy & Theology, Ottawa
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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For me, this was an interesting and useful book for a couple of reasons:
1. It discusses philosophers in the context of social networks, where the thinkers are linked by relationships such as: was the student of, reacted against, was married to the sister of, etc.
Often, philosophy is taught (or studied) by looking only at the works of philosophers, in isolation from the philosophers' relationships with others around them. Placing a philosopher in the context of a network of relationships helps considerably in understanding what the philosopher is trying to do, and why. In short, it can help you better to understand any particular philosopher that you are studying.
2. I found the author's notion of an "attention space" very interesting. The notion of an "attention space" in the history of philosophy seems to me similar to Thomas Kuhn's notion of a "paradigm" in the history of science. Philosophers' roles in the history of philosophy are described as moving the attention space, or elaborating within the attention space, and so on, where moving the attention space is comparable to Kuhn's "paradigm shift" and elaborating within the attention space is comparable to Kuhn's "normal science". This approach to the history of philosophy is, I think helpful. It gives you genuine insight into the history of philosophy.
I recommend this book. You may not wish to read it all -- I didn't -- but if you dip into it here and there, at spots that look interesting to you, you will encounter ideas and concepts that are useful, stimulating and thought-provoking.
First, each section on a particular philosophical tradition (e.g. ancient Greece, Indian, Medieval Islamic, Chinese, Modern) is an interesting high-level history of tradition in its own rights. This alone makes the price tag worthwhile.
More importantly, Collins included very interesting insights about individual period that is not covered by other general histories:
1) How some schools of thoughts become popular not because they are correct but because they are extreme
2) Parallelisms that occur in different periods of the same tradition (e.g. Post-Shankara positions in India has its parallel during the hey-day of Buddhist philosophy)
3) Parallelisms that occur across traditions (e.g. compelling coverage of how medieval Christian & Islamic philospophy shares a similar structure)
With these characteristics, I think this book clearly satisfies the need us interested in global history of philosophy, for which Collins is clearly very passionate about.
On the sociology theoretical piece, I think the theory is fine: it articulates a lot of aspects of which most students of philosophy has a vague sense. The theory is almost 'common sense'-- just that it doesn't seem to have been clearly articulated that way in academic circles. As such, the theory piece is less interesting, but it is not intruding and it provides a sound umbrella thesis for Collins' insights on individual traditions.
Lastly, one point about the 'data' that Collins use-- the 'maps' that link the different philosophers in networks. I think it is interesting to read (because it includes a lot of interesting names-- familiar or otherwise), but they don't really provide the 'data' on which the sociological theory can be based. I think Collins himself recognized this-- and thus his appendix about the important 'isolates' like Ibn Sina.