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The story of philosophy;: The lives and…

The story of philosophy;: The lives and opinions of the greater… (original 1926; edition 1965)

by Will Durant

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Title:The story of philosophy;: The lives and opinions of the greater philosophers, (Washington Square Press classics, W586)
Authors:Will Durant
Collections:Your library
Tags:box 35, W-916

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The Story of Philosophy by Will Durant (1926)

1920s (91)
  1. 10
    The Age of Faith by Will Durant (gmknowles)
    gmknowles: Will Durant has many books on history. Well written and absorbing, while allowing the reader or student to gain a good historical grasp.

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An excellent book. A must read for everyone who is interested to know the evolution of thoughts over last two thousands years. Highly recommended. ( )
  Awdhesh | Oct 8, 2014 |
Really had to work to finish this one. I guess having been a failed student of philosophy (that is, I gave it up rather early on), I can't criticize this with too much precision, but this piece of work really felt like it was misnamed. If anything, it should have been "here are some philosophers, some you should know about and others you can quickly forget." Not really, but.... The gaps felt like bigger pieces of the story than the story itself, in many cases. Of course, I know this was first published in 1926, so the perspective on the overall picture was a fair bit different. Nonetheless, I can't say that I'd recommend this to anyone. ( )
  tlockney | Sep 7, 2014 |
Philosophy, a word that so often spring out in conversations. But what does it mean? Where does it come from? Who were the people who made it so important for us? What were their main ideas?

If you like this subject and you, like me, feel utterly lost amidst the vast world (or should I say worlds?) of this field of knowledge, and you're serious into grasping its profound insights and scope, this is the book where you should start.

One of its striking features is the way that Will Durant, the author of this story, guides you through the main characters that made philosophy what it is today, with a passion and insight that are only available to those that truly love this subject.

The book is slightest dated towards the more recent authors (namely the 1st half 20th century philosophers), but this is just a small detail that doesn't make the book less valuable – it's still a priceless resource to provide the reader with a good view of the history of philosophy as a whole. ( )
  henrique.maia | Aug 3, 2014 |
American historian and philosopher Will Durant traces the development of Western philosophical thought from Plato to James Dewey in The Story of Philosophy, a highly engaging and accessible work detailing the lives and ideas of select major philosophers. Durant gives a brief biographical introduction to begin each section, followed by elucidations on the defining thoughts of each philosopher, and an insightful criticism at the end of each chapter. It is a fantastically written work functioning as both a historical account of and introduction to philosophy.

This review assumes a general knowledge of the philosophers Durant writes about, and so does not enter into an analysis of their work. Rather, this review concentrates on Durant's process of investigation and is about what he has to say regarding his subjects.

"There is a pleasure in philosophy, and a lure even in the mirages of metaphysics, which every student feels until the coarse necessities of physical existence drag him from the heights of thought into the mart of economic strife and gain."

Durant begins with a short introduction, which includes a brief explanation of the uses of philosophy and its divisions, and a distinction between science and philosophy ("Science gives us knowledge, but only philosophy can give us wisdom.").

"So much of our lives is meaningless, a self-canceling vacillation and futility; we strive with the chaos about us and within; but we would believe all the while that there is something vital and significant in us, could we but decipher our own souls."


Chapter one focuses on Plato, and begins with a geographical, political, and military contextualization of ancient Greece, and how these conditions influenced the beginning of Western philosophy. Durant then discusses the life of Socrates and the role he played in Plato's philosophical development. The reader is then given a summary of Plato's preparation, the effect the death of Socrates had on him, and how his teacher's death led to Plato's philosophic pursuit of political reformation, his subsequent travels and the shaping of his dialogic method. The remainder of the chapter is devoted to an overview of Plato's Republic, with sectioned explorations of its ideas on ethics, politics, psychology, and education, followed by Durant's critical analysis.

Durant points out the criticisms from other philosophers, responds to those, then offers his own criticisms addressing the role of art, family, and ways to apply Plato's utopian ideals to modern conditions. He reminds the reader that Plato was aware that he was describing an ideal, a guide more than a realistic situation. To end this chapter, Durant offers a brilliant and beautiful account of the end of Plato's life.

"All Athens followed him to the grave."


From Plato we move directly to his pupil, Aristotle. Durant first puts Aristotle's life and philosophy in social and political context, then examines the wide breadth of material making up his works: logic, science, aesthetics, philosophy, commenting on the philosopher's expressive style and influential terminology. The reader is then provided a demonstration of how Aristotle laid the foundation of logic, including his method of assigning definitions and classifications, and his treatment of universals. Durant observes Aristotle's organization of science, beginning with a summary of Greek science before Aristotle, then moving on to his foundation of biology, pointing out the classic errors of his ideas (women have fewer teeth than men; the male element in reproduction merely stimulates and quickens, etc.), and the influence his observations had on the advancement of biology (similarity in structure between birds and reptiles, diet determines mode of life etc.)

"Surely, despite the errors that mar these biological works, they form the greatest monument ever raised to the science by any one man. When we consider that before Aristotle there had been, so far as we know, no biology beyond scattered observations, we perceive that this achievement alone might have sufficed for one lifetime, and would have given immortality. But Aristotle had only begun." (56)

Durant's exploration of the Aristotelian philosophy progresses from logic and science, to metaphysics and God, psychology and art, ethics and happiness, and finally to politics, where we consider Aristotle's views on marriage and education, and his preference for aristocracy over democracy.

"It is difficult to be enthusiastic about Aristotle, because it was difficult for him to be enthusiastic about anything..." (71)

Durant directs his criticism first to the philosopher's insistence on logic:

"He thinks the syllogism a description of man's way of reasoning, whereas it merely describes man's way of dressing up his reasoning for the persuasion of another mind; he supposes that thought begins with premisses and seeks conclusions, when actually thought begins with hypothetical conclusions and seeks their justifying premisses, - and seeks them best by the observation of particular events under the controlled and isolated conditions of experiment." (71)

He then points out a defect of Aristotle's intellectual process that was a defect of Greek thought in general: "...it was not disciplined; it lacked limiting and steadying traditions; it moved freely in a uncharted field, and ran too readily to theories and conclusions." (71) Aristotle's specialty was collection and classification of information, but his Platonic inclination towards metaphysics disrupted his scientific observations.

Durant concludes his critical analysis by questioning Aristotle's ethical formula of "immoderate moderation" (Durant's term). "He realized too completely the Delphic command to avoid excess: he is so anxious to pare away extremes that a last nothing is left. He is so fearful of disorder that he forgets to be fearful of slavery; he is so timid of uncertain change that he prefers a certain changelessness that near resembles death." (72).

Yet Durant refers to these as "inessential criticisms", and says of Aristotle's philosophy that it is "...the most marvelous and influential system of thought ever put together by any single mind." (72).

The chapter ends with a summary of Aristotle's later life, including his exile and death, the subsequent fall of Greece and Rome, and initiation of the dark ages.

"No other mind had for so long a time ruled the intellect of mankind." (73).

Francis Bacon

The chapter on Francis Bacon begins with an account of development from Aristotle to the Renaissance, followed by a historical and philosophical contextualization of Bacon's life and works. Durant has included a useful "Table of Philosophic Affiliations" to aid the reader in tracing the lineage of philosophy through time.

The initial focus is on Bacon's political career, proceeding afterwards to an examination of his essays and a further exploration of his primary ideas. Durant investigates Bacon's intention to reconstruct philosophy and to advance the process of leaning towards a utopia of science.

"Here, for the first time, are the voice and tone of modern science." (93)

The critical examination concentrates on the originality and application of Bacon's inductive scientific method, and his apparent lack of acquaintance with contemporary science.

"...the greatness and the weakness of Bacon lay precisely in his passion for unity, his desire to spread the wings of his coordinating genius over a hundred sciences...He broke down under the weight of the tasks he had laid upon himself; he failed forgivably because he undertook so much. He could not enter the promised land of science, but...he could at least stand upon its border and point out its fair features in the distance." (109)

Durant then remarks on the far-reaching influence of Bacon's achievements:

"The whole tenor and career of British thought have followed the philosophy of Bacon. His tendency to conceive the world in Democritean mechanical terms gave to his secretary, Hobbes, the starting-point for a thorough-going materialism; his inductive method gave to Locke the idea of an empirical psychology, bound by observation and freed from theology and metaphysics; and his emphasis on commodities and fruits found formulation in Bentham's identification of the useful and the good." (109)

The "Epilogue" details Bacon's brief imprisonment for corruption and death from contracting pneumonia while in the process of experimenting on a dead fowl to see if flesh could be preserved from decay by being frozen.


Durant gives a brief history of the Jewish odyssey before providing a biography of Spinoza, including his educational development, excommunication, retirement, and death. Spinoza's treatise on religion and the state is explored, followed by an examination of his ideas on improving the intellect.

"Spinoza sees [self-preservation] in all human and even infra-human activity, just as Schopenhauer and Nietzsche were to see the will to live or the will to power everywhere. Philosophers seldom disagree." (136)

Durant then investigates Spinoza's ethics, with concentrations on nature and God, matter and mind, intelligence and morals (a synthesis of seemingly opposed moral philosophies, which Durant refers to as "a system of morals which is the supreme achievement of modern thought" (137)), and religion and immortality.

Regarding Spinoza's Ethics, Durant states: "Its metaphysic may be faulty, its psychology imperfect, its theology unsatisfactory and obscure; but of the soul of the book, its spirit and essence, no man who has read it will speak otherwise than reverently." (144)

A look at Spinoza's treatise on politics concludes the analytic component of the chapter, which ends with an account of Spinoza's wide-ranging influence, including the ways in which his thoughts influenced the ideas of Lessing, Goethe, Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Bergson, Wordsworth, and Shelley.


"What is left to us is too much the flesh of Voltaire, too little the divine fire of his spirit. And yet, darkly as we see him through the glass of time, what a spirit!..." (153)

Voltaire and the French Enlightenment is the focus of chapter five, which begins with an account of 18th century Paris. Durant gives the reader a character sketch and biography of Voltaire, including his exile from Paris and arrival in London, his time in Cirey, a summary of Voltaire's Romances, his return to France, and his experiences at Prince Frederick's Court at Potsdam.

"Never was philosophy phrased so clearly, and with such life; Voltaire writes so well that one does not realize that he is writing philosophy." (180)

His essay on morals receives an analytical investigation, before Durant explores Voltaire's time in Ferney, his "Candide", his philosophical dictionary and encyclopedic work, his intellectual battles with the church, and his philosophical differences with Rousseau, a classic confrontation between reason and instinct.

This highly engaging and inspired chapter ends with an account of Voltaire's celebrity status and eventual death.

"He knew that he was exhausted now; that he had used to the full that wild and marvelous energy which nature had given to him perhaps more than to any man before him. He struggled as felt life being torn from him; but death could defeat even Voltaire. The end came on May 30, 1778." (191)

Immanuel Kant and German Idealism

Chapter 6 begins with a summary of the philosophical paths that led to Kant, particularly how Kant transformed Voltaire's irreligious theoretical rationalism into non-rational endorsement of faith and morality, how Kant synthesized the contrasting ideas of British empiricism, idealism, and skepticism, and how Rousseau's sentiments influenced Kant's religious and moral philosophy. This is followed by a biography of Kant and an overview of the development of his philosophical ideas. From here Durant proceeds to analytic accounts of Kant's work, focusing on his critiques of pure and practical reason, reconciliations of religion and reason, and his political views.

Durant provides critical responses to Kant's idea of space and time as mere forms of sensibility ("The truth is that Kant was too anxious to prove the subjectivity of space, as a refuge from materialism; he feared the argument that if space is objective and universal, God must exist in space, and be therefore spatial and material" (217)), and questions his categories of concepts ("That unity of the mind which Kant thinks native...is acquired - and not by all; and can be lost as well as won - in amnesia, or altering personality, or insanity. Concepts are an achievement, not a gift." (218)) and moral absolutism ("Morals are not absolute; they are a code of conduct more or less haphazardly developed for group survival and varying with the nature and circumstances of the group...No action is good in itself, as Kant supposes." (218)), before giving an account of the extraordinary influence Kant's work has had on philosophy.

"Philosophy will never again be so naive as in her earlier and simpler days; she must always be different hereafter, and profounder, because Kant lived." (220)

The chapter concludes with a short section on Hegel, which includes a brief biography and summary of his philosophical development and contributions.


Where next to go from here but to Arthur Schopenhauer? Durant begins the chapter with an overview of the political and philosophical spirit of the age and how these conditions led to a general pessimistic worldview. We then are provided a biography of Schopenhauer, including an account of the early formation of his ideas from a variety of impressionable experiences, his educational development, dissertation on the principle of sufficient reason, his philosophical works, his bitter struggle with the lack of recognition from the contemporary philosophical community, his late fame, and his quiet death.

The philosophical analysis begins with Schopenhauer's major work, The World as Will and Idea, referred to by Durant as a "great anthology of woe". He explores Schopenhauer's theory of the world as will, and investigates his views on the will to reproduce and the evil constitution of the world. Durant then provides an account of Schopenhauer's wisdom of life, including the role of philosophy, genius, art, and religion, followed by the solemn doctrine of his wisdom of death.

Durant cannot share Schopenhauer's gloomy view of existence in this world. He thinks the reclusive Schopenhauer was perpetually unhappy because he had no one with whom to share happiness. He blames much of Schopenhauer's pessimism on his bitter relationship with his mother: "...a man who has not known a mother's love - and worse, has known a mother's hatred - has no cause to be infatuated with the world." (230). He also finds the romantic worldview inherently conducive to a pessimistic outlook. (260).

Durant says of Schopenhauer "Everywhere he saw strife; he could not see, behind the strife, the friendly aid of neighbors, the rollicking joy of children and young men, the dances of vivacious girls, the willing sacrifices of parents and lovers, the patient bounty of the soil, and the renaissance of spring." (261). However, one might respond to this by suggesting that Schopenhauer indeed saw these things, but saw them as illusions that trick people into thinking the world is good and pleasurable, and therefore rejected them in the true philosophical spirit of allegiance to truth above all.

There are other concerns presented by Durant in the form of technical questions:

"How can suicide ever occur in a world where the only real force is the will to live?" But Schopenhauer never claimed the will to live to be the "only real force". It is the most powerful force, but certainly not the only real force. Suicide is evidence of this, as it is an act of pure rationality sourced in the very real force of intellect. Suicide is an extraordinary event of intellect overcoming will in the most severe manner.

"How can the intellect, begotten and brought up as servant of the will, ever achieve independence and objectivity?" Schopenhauer demonstrates that this is indeed a rare and in many cases impossible achievement. Geniuses, rare freaks of nature within whom a greater degree of intellect is present, are able to achieve this, but even so, only in particular moments. Saints and ascetics have attained a certain level of transcendent enlightenment leading to suppression of the will. The will is a blind and dumb force, and in rare instances it can be overcome by intellectual illumination.

"Does genius lie in knowledge divorced from will, or does it contain, as its driving force, an immense power of will, even a large alloy of personal ambition and conceit?" Geniuses are not gods. Their greater degree of intellect allows for rare moments of objectivity, yet these moments are contrasted by episodes of sheer emotional violence and outrageous egoism. Just as their higher intellectual capacities manage to suppress or even overcome will for certain periods of time, their inordinate degree of will manages to suppress and overcome the power of their genius intellect in those moments when objectivity is lost.

"Is madness connected with genius in general, or rather with only the "romantic" type of genius; and is not the "classic" and profounder type of genius exceptionally sound?" There are exceptions to every rule, even in nature's domain. Madness assumes many guises. Quiet madness is madness all the same. To the average person, even Socrates, Spinoza, and Voltaire seem mad in their own way.

"What if the proper function of intellect and philosophy is not the denial of the will but the coordination of desires into a united and harmonious will?" Schopenhauer never definitively claims what the ultimate purpose of intellect and philosophy is in itself, only what he thinks it should be. If one properly understands Schopenhauer's conception of Will, one must admit that there can be no such coordination of desires and harmonious will. All that philosophy can do is provide illumination into the conditions of life and the world. In order to coordinate desires and achieve harmony of will, philosophy itself must be coordinated and harmonized. Alas, philosophy is written by single individual men, and as much as they agree across the ages, they remain worlds unto themselves, just like all men and women.

"What if the "will" itself, except as the unified product of such coordination, is a mythical abstraction, as shadowy as "force"?" It very well may be, though Schopenhauer certainly did not appear to think so. Even if it is a mythical abstraction, we must keep in mind that philosophies are, when reduced to their fundamental concepts, simply ways of looking at the world and examining the conditions of life. At bottom, philosophies are like governments or religious systems or symphonies; particular visions and conceptions of the universe and life, each with their own methods of observations and experiential inspirations.

Durant must receive credit, however, for identifying where Schopenhauer's philosophy seems to contradict general experience. For instance, while Durant acknowledges Schopenhauer's belief that increase of knowledge leads to an increase of sorrow, he points out that "...it is also true that the growth of knowledge increases joy as well as sorrow, and that the subtlest delights, as well as the keenest pains, are reserved for the developed soul." (261). And Durant questions, rather directly and with natural conviction, Schopenhauer's view of pleasure as purely negative in quality: "Only a sorely wounded soul, drawing itself in from contact with the world, could have uttered so fundamental a blasphemy against life. What is pleasure but the harmonious operation of our instincts? - and how can pleasure be negative except where the instinct at work makes for retreat rather than for approval?" (262). Durant accepts the pleasures of solitude and submission as negative because they arise from negative instincts. But the pleasures of friendship, love, and play, can hardly be thought of as negative, as they arise from positive instincts. Indeed, can one rightfully claim as negative the pleasure afforded by a magnificent symphony, or from watching squirrels chase each other on fresh spring ground? No doubt Schopenhauer's own experiences offered contradictions to his own view of pleasure, yet his incredible sensitivity to pain consistently outweighed his awareness of pleasure.

Durant concludes by remarking on the value of Schopenhauer's philosophy: "It was well that Schopenhauer should force philosophy to face the raw reality of evil, and should point the nose of thought to the human tasks of alleviation. It has been harder, since his say, for philosophy to live in the unreal atmosphere of a logic-chopping metaphysics; thinkers begin to realize that thought without action is a disease." (263). He also credits the Schopenhaurian philosophy with the ultimate demise of pure rationalism: "Intellectualism...fell sick with Rousseau, took to its bed with Kant, and died with Schopenhauer....We owe it to Schopenhauer that he revealed our secret hearts to us, showed us that our desires are the axioms of our philosophies, and cleared the way to an understanding of thought as no mere abstract calculation of impersonal events, but as a flexible instrument of action and desire." (263). His final acclaim is reserved for Schopenhauer's emphasis on the importance of genius and art: "He saw that the ultimate good is in beauty, and that the ultimate joy lies in the creation or cherishing of the beautiful. He joined with Goethe and Carlyle in protest against the attempt of Hegel and Marx and Buckle to eliminate genius as a fundamental factor in human history; in an age when all the great seemed dead he preached once more the ennobling worship of heroes. And with all his faults he succeeded in adding another name to theirs." (264)

Herbert Spencer

Durant's chapter on Herbert Spencer begins with a summary of Comte's positivism and Darwin's evolution, followed by an explanation of how these theories contributed to the development of Spencer's life and philosophy. The reader is granted some insight into Spencer's entirely un-romantic character: "He was so busy analyzing and describing life that he had no time to live it....He suffered no crises, felt no romance; he had some intimacies, but he writes of them almost mathematically; he plots the curves of his tepid friendships without any uplifting touch of passion....In a romantic century he stands like a sculptured lesson in dignity and reserve." (271)

Durant then explores Spencer's work, starting with the first principles of the unknowable and evolution, then on to biology (evolution of life), psychology (evolution of mind), sociology (evolution of society), and ethics (evolution of morals). He finds in Spencer "...an almost Schopenhauerian sense of the futility of human effort....He had the philosopher's disease of seeing so far ahead that al the little pleasant shapes and colors of existence passed under his nose unseen." (279). He criticizes Spencer's theory of the unknowable, logically pointing out that "the assertion that anything is unknowable already implies some knowledge of the thing.", and identifying the limitations of his thought in correspondence with the his age: "Spencer, living in a world of machines, took mechanism for granted; just as Darwin, living in an age of ruthless individual competition, saw only the struggle for existence." (295), and "Spencer was too quick to assume that what was earlier in time was simpler in structure; he underrated the complexity of protoplasm, and the intelligence of primitive man." (296), concluding that Spencer's method relied too much on deduction and a priori ideas.

As for Spencer's work on biology and psychology, Durant says "The reader is so fatigued with formula and definitions and questionable reductions of psychological facts to neural structures that he may fail to observe that the origin of mind and consciousness is left quite unexplained." (297). And as for his work on sociology and ethics, Durant points out that "It is not quite evident that the industrial state is either more pacific or more moral than the "militant" feudalism that preceded it." (297). Durant remarks that Spencer's politics "were more Darwinian than his biology." (299).

In conclusion, Durant gives an account of Spencer's quickly arrived yet brief fame, then provides some insight into Spencer's self-reflection: "Looking back over his arduous career, he thought himself foolish for having sought literary fame instead of the simpler pleasures of life. When he died, in 1903, he had come to think that his work had been done in vain." (300). Durant finalizes this section by remarking on the effect of Spencer's work "He gave to philosophy a new contact with things, and brought to it a realism which made German philosophy seem, beside it, weakly pale and timidly abstract", and says of the value of his contributions "he accomplished so masterly a coordination of so vast an area of knowledge that criticism is almost shamed into silence by his achievement." (300).

Friedrich Nietzsche

Durant traces the lineage of Nietzsche from Darwinian evolution to Bismarckian blood and iron, then provides an overview of his youth, including his inspirational discovery of Schopenhauer's philosophy, his brief military service, his doctoral position in philology, and his friendship with Richard Wagner. This acquaintance with the composer forms the subject of the following section, which gives a summary of Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy and his eventual fall out with Wagner. The rest of the chapter's analytical component focuses on themes from Nietzsche's masterwork Thus Spoke Zarathustra, including his ideas of hero-morality, the superman, decadence, and aristocracy.

"Never was a man so much alone." (312)

About the Nietzschean philosophy, Durant remarks "There is a time when we tire of sentimentality and delusion, and relish the sting of doubt and denial; and the Nietzsche comes to us as a tonic, like open spaces and fresh winds after a long ceremony in a crowded church." (329). And about his literary style, Durant offers a wonderful description:

"...the language is supple, vigorous, nervous, - the style of a fencer, too quick and brilliant for the normal eye. But on rereading him we perceive that something of this brilliance is due to exaggeration, to an interesting but at last neurotic egotism, to an over-facile inversion of every accepted notion, the ridicule of every virtue, the praise of every vice; he takes, we discover, a sophomore's delight in shocking; we conclude that it is easy to be interesting when one has no prejudices in favor of morality. These dogmatic assertions, these unmodified generalizations, these prophetic repetitions, these contradictions - of others not more than of himself - reveal a mind that has lost its balance, and hovers on the edge of madness....Nevertheless is it a powerful style; we are overwhelmed with the passion and iteration of it; Nietzsche does not prove, he announces and reveals; he wins us with his imagination rather than with his logic; he offers us not a philosophy merely, nor yet only a poem, but a new faith, a new hope, a new religion." (329).

Nietzsche venerated the Greeks, yet Durant observes "With all his philology, Nietzsche never quite penetrated to the spirit of the Greeks; never learned the lesson that moderation and self-knowledge...must bank, without extinguishing, the fires of passion and desire." (331).

Concerning Nietzsche's ethics, Durant states "...there is no great call to complain that morality is a weapon used by the weak to limit the strong; the strong are not too deeply impressed by it, and make rather clever use of it in turn: most moral codes are imposed from above rather than from below; and the crowd praises and blames by prestige imitation." (331).

About his fierce independence and solitude, Durant says "Foiled in his search for love, he turned upon woman with a bitterness unworthy of a philosopher, and unnatural in a man; missing parentage and losing friendship, he never knew that the finest moments of life come through mutuality and comradeship, rather than from domination and war." (332).

Durant concludes his critical analysis by pointing out that "Nietzsche has been refuted by every aspirant to respectability; and yet he stands as a milestone in modern thought, and a mountain-peak in German prose." (333), and "The air of European philosophy is clearer and fresher now because Nietzsche wrote." (334).

The final section deals with Nietzsche's lapse into insanity and slow decline towards death.

"Seldom has a man paid so great a price for genius."

Contemporary European Philosophers: Bergson, Croce and Bertrand Russell

Chapter 10 focuses on three philosophers who were contemporary to the time of this books publication: Henri Bergson, Beneditto Croce, and Bertrand Russell.

Durant gives a short biographical account of Bergson's life, then explores his intellectual revolt against materialism, his theory on the relation between mind and brain, and his idea of creative evolution. Concerning Bergson's criticism of the intellect in favor of intuition, Durant responds "Introspective intuition is as fallible as external sense; each must be tested and corrected by matter-of-fact experience; and each can be trusted only so far as its findings illumine and advance our action." (347). "Man exists by instinct, but he progresses by intelligence." (348). As for his attack on materialism, Durant finds that Bergson "thinks of the world and the spirit, of body and soul, of matter and life, as hostile to each other; but matter and body and the "world" are merely the materials that wait to be formed by intelligence and will. And who knows that these things too are not forms of life, and auguries of mind?" (348). About Bergson's attack on intellectualism, Durant observes in his method a Schopenhaurian search "in the objective as well as in the subjective world, [for] energizing principle...which might make more intelligible the miracles and subtleties of life. Never was vitalism so forcefully argued, or so attractively dressed." (349).

The section on Croce begins with an account of his life and character, his philosophy of the spirit, and his investigation into the nature of beauty. "He refused to admit materialism as a philosophy for adults or even as a method for science; mind was to him the primary and ultimate reality." (352). And as for the question of beauty's essence, "Croce answers that beauty is the mental formation of an image that catches the essence of the thing perceived. The beauty belongs...rather to the inward image than to the outward form in which it is embodied." (355). But Durant asks "How do we know what the inward image was, in the artist's mind, or whether the work that we admire realizes or misses his idea?" (356).

Durant concludes this chapter with an overview of Bertrand Russell, his early allegiance to logic, and his later reformist endeavors. Durant has this to say about Russell's thought: "Russell has poured into his social philosophy the mysticism and the sentiment which he had so resolutely repressed in his attitude towards metaphysics and religion." But he finds Russell's ideas a little too optimistic: "It is delightful...to contemplate a society in which art shall be better respected than wealth; but as long as nations rise and fall, in the flux of natural group-selection, according to their economic rather than their artistic power, it is economic and nor artistic power which, having the greater survival value, will win the greater plaudits and the large rewards. Art can only be the flower that grows out of wealth; it cannot be wealth's substitute." (363). And about the man himself, Durant finds him "All in all, a very loveable man: capable of the profoundest metaphysics and the subtlest mathematics, and yet speaking always simply, with the clarity which comes only to those who are sincere; a man addicted to fields of thought that usually dry up the springs of feeling, and yet warmed and illumined with pity, full of an almost mystic tenderness for mankind." (364).

Contemporary American Philosophers: Santayana, James and Dewey

The final chapter summarizes three American philosophers who were contemporary to the time of the book's publication: George Santayana, William James, and John Dewey.

Durant begins the chapter by making a distinction between European-style American philosophy and American-style American philosophy, and rooting these distinctions in the values that shaped certain cultural characteristics of particular parts of America. He identifies Santayana as the last of the European-style American philosophers.

"Hardly since Plato had philosophy phrased itself so beautifully; here were words full of a novel tang, phrases of delicate texture, perfumed with subtlety and barbed with satiric wit; the poet spoke in these luxuriant metaphors, the artist in these chiseled paragraphs. It was good to find a man who could feel at once the lure of beauty and the call of truth." (367)

He offers a brief biographical sketch before providing an overview of Santayana's skepticism, theory of animal faith, and his ideas pertaining to the role of reason in science, religion, and society. In his commentary, Durant finds Santayana's philosophical goal of living as much as possible in the eternal, absorbed in truth, as taking philosophy "more seriously than even philosophy deserves to be taken; and a philosophy which withdraws one from life is as much awry as any celestial superstition in which the eye, rapt in some vision of another world, loses the meat and wine of this one." (379). Even so, he admires the "veracious and fearless self-expression" of this "mature and subtle, though too sombre, soul", pointing out that "though we may not like its minor key, its undertone of sweet regret for a vanished world, we see in [Santayana's philosophy] the finished expression of this dying and nascent age, in which men cannot be altogether wise and free, because they have abandoned their old ideas and have not yet found the new ones that shall lure them nearer to perfection." (381).

Durant then moves on to William James, offering a brief account of his personal life, then his pragmatic and pluralistic philosophy. He finds in James "young America's defense-reaction against European metaphysics and European science." (388). "What James meant to do...was to dispel the cobwebs that had entangled philosophy; he wished to reiterate in a new and startling way the old English attitude towards theory and ideology. He was but carrying on the work of Bacon in turning the face of philosophy once more towards the inescapable world of things. He will be remembered for this empirical emphasis, this new realism, rather than for his theory of truth; and he will be honored perhaps more as a psychologist than as a philosopher. He knew that he had found no solution for the old questions; he frankly admitted that he had expressed only another guess, another faith." (389).

The section on John Dewey provides an account of his educational experience and theories on educational reform, science, and politics.

Concerning the state of American philosophy, Durant concludes: "We have drawn to us from Europe, and selected for survival and imitation among ourselves, rather the initiative individualist and the acquisitive pioneer than the meditative and artistic souls; we have had to spend our energies in clearing our great forests and tapping the wealth of our soil; we have had no time yet to bring forth a native literature and a mature philosophy....We are like youths disturbed and unbalanced, for a time, by the sudden growth and experiences of puberty. But soon our maturity will come; our minds will catch up with our bodies, our culture with our possessions. Perhaps there are greater souls than Shakespeare's, and greater minds than Plato, waiting to be born. When we have learned to reverence liberty as well as wealth, we too shall have our Renaissance." (396, 397).

Nearly a century after Durant wrote these words, America is still waiting for its Renaissance.
  AMD3075 | Feb 23, 2014 |
I would have given it a five, had it included eastern philosophies too. ( )
  Nandakishore_Varma | Sep 28, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
To sum up, then, Dr. Durant's book deserves a wide reading, but it lacks the continuity, the historical scope that a history of philosophy must have. As an appetizer, The Story of Philosophy should be unstintingly recommended, but twenty-five hundred years of thought cannot be popularized in such small compass; and the danger is that the majority of readers will think that they have now traversed the vast field of speculative thought since antiquity.
added by eromsted | editThe Philosophical Review, A. A. Roback (pay site) (Mar 1, 1927)
Not being intended as a contribution to original scholarship, but rather as a work of art, the book deserves something better than a meticulous picking of flaws which are half the time mere differences of interpretation and emphasis. Dr. Durant reaches real eloquence in the chapters of Spinoza, Bacon, Voltaire, Spencer, and Nietzsche, men for whom he feels a real enthusiasm and of whom he writes with evident gusto. If we mistake not, many readers will admire the book for these chapters alone.
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To my wife; Grow strong, my comrade...that you may stand / Unshaken when I fall; that I may know / The shattered fragments of my song will come / At last to finer melody in you; / That I may tell my heart that you begin / Where passing I leave off, and fathom more.
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There is a pleasure in philosophy, and a lure even in the mirages of metaphysics, which every student feels until the coarse necessities of physical existence drag him from the heights of thought into the mart of economic strife and gain.
The author would like to record here a debt which he can never repay, to Alden Freeman, who gave him education, travel, and the inspiration of a noble and enlightened life. May this best of friends find in these pages--incidental and imperfect though they are--something not quite unworthy of his generosity and his faith.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0671739166, Mass Market Paperback)

Easily the most engaging writer of Western intellectual history in the English language, Will Durant breathes life into philosophers and their ideas. He is colorful, witty, and above all, informative. Beginning with Socrates and ending with American philosopher John Dewey, Durant summarizes the lives and influence of philosophy's greatest thinkers, painting them with humanity and adding a few of his own wise platitudes. Seventy-some years after its first printing, The Story of Philosophy still stands as one of the best of its kind.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:40:40 -0400)

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Chronicles the ideas of the great thinkers, the economic and intellectual environments which influenced them, and the personal traits and adventures out of which each philosophy grew.

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