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A History of Western Philosophy (1945)

by Bertrand Russell

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: A History of Western Philosophy (Russell)

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5,890511,334 (4.16)63
First published in 1946, History of Western Philosophy went on to become the best-selling philosophy book of the twentieth century. A dazzlingly ambitious project, it remains unchallenged to this day as the ultimate introduction to Western philosophy. Providing a sophisticated overview of the ideas that have perplexed people from time immemorial,nbsp;it is 'long on wit, intelligence and curmudgeonly scepticism', as the New York Times noted, and it is this, coupled with the sheer brilliance of its scholarship, that has made Russell's History of Western Philosophy one of the most important philosophical works of all time.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 40 (next | show all)
This book is valuable, not only for introduction it provides into philosophy, but for the compassion and integrity with which it is presented.

Bertrand Russell writes,

"When an intelligent man expresses a view which seems to us obviously absurd, we should not attempt to prove that it is somehow true, but we should try to understand how it ever came to seem true. This exercise of historical and psychological imagination at once enlarges the scope of our thinking and helps us to realize how foolish many of our own cherished prejudices will seem to an age which has a different temper of mind." (p. 39)

No truer words were ever spoken. (I often wish that other people would attempt to understand my point of view, as - I hope - I attempt to understand theirs, rather than just assuming I'm uninformed or misguided.) We like to think that we are superior to our predecessors, that we are the inheritors of an enlightened age - but perhaps it would be more accurate to simply say that we are inheritors. ( )
1 vote Sunyidean | Sep 7, 2021 |
Grad school piqued my interest in philosophy, and once I had free time to read what I wanted (i.e. once I graduated), my first foray into the daunting ocean of philosophy was Will Durant's admirable book The Story of Philosophy: The Lives and Opinions of the World's Greatest Philosophers. It was refreshing to gain some context to many hitherto familiar names, to begin going beyond a purely nominal understanding of western philosophy. I thought of working through Copleston's 11-volume history thereafter but opted for the arguably more ambitious step of absorbing original sources. I read (slowly) through what I considered the major works of Plato (The Republic), Aristotle (Ethics, Politics, Poetics), Spinoza (Ethics, Theologico-Political Treatise), Descartes (Discourse, Method), Bacon (Essays), Hume (An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding), Kant (Critique of Pure Reason, Prolegomena), Hegel (Phenomenology of Spirit), Schopenhauer (The World As Will and Presentation), and Nietzsche (Human, All Too Human). Seven years later, I found myself in need not only of a reinforcement of all that I'd ingested but also some means of putting it all together. As it turns out, Russell's inimitable book was just what I needed to add some cohesion to the story.

Read full review here: http://www.chrisviabookreviews.com/2017/09/14/the-history-of-western-philosophy-...
  chrisvia | Apr 30, 2021 |
NA
  pszolovits | Feb 3, 2021 |
I made a big mistake in this book. Not in selecting it but in consuming it as an audio book. Thus I feel like I cannot write a fair review of the book itself. Still, I will try to describe it.

Some background: The book was written during World War 2. This doesn't matter much in general but should be understood as the author's environment when describing the merits of certain philosophies.

The book is walking the reader (listener) through ages, starting with Socrates, and ending with Dewie (spelling?) who was contemporary with Russell. We get a description of the life and ideas, and reasoning behind the ideas for dozens of important philosophers and I don't think anyone I had known about beforehand were not mentioned.

In time we jump from Socratic Athen to early Catholicism, to mid Christianity (1200s) to the renaissance and end up in the industrial era with Marx and Nietzsche. There seems to be huge gaps where no major discoveries/changes were made. I don't think that is true, but is probably the joke history plays on us by preserving some documents but not others.

I could consider reading this book again, but then as a proper book where I can jump around and stop and think. I will give it 4 stars for the potential, not for what it gave me. ( )
  bratell | Dec 25, 2020 |
An extraordinary book. Very much a personal perspective, we get the author's view on the value and the rights and wrongs of almost every philosopher he mentions. To the non-philosopher (like me!) the issues with which philosophers have grappled through most of history now seem of little interest and less importance. In later centuries, the thinkers seem to immerse themselves in perspectives that seem wilfully incoherent - for example, the metaphysical idea that there is no 'real world', that what we perceive as 'real things' such as a shovel, are only 'real' to the extent that we perceive them. Whether there's value in such debate is very hard to grasp. Its as though the philosopher is inventing concepts in order to explore them. On completing the book I started looking for an explanation of philosophy as studied 'today'.
Wikipedia's entry on metaphysics suggests that little progress is ever made:
"The strong, classical view assumes that the objects studied by metaphysics exist independently of any observer, so that the subject is the most fundamental of all sciences. The weak, modern view assumes that the objects studied by metaphysics exist inside the mind of an observer, so the subject becomes a form of introspection and conceptual analysis."
Clearly, there is a difference (sometime subtle, sometimes deep and significant) between an object itself (a dining table for example) and the object as perceived by a particular individual at a particular time. My kitchen table is sometimes simply utilitarian - I eat my breakfast and read the paper without giving the table much if any thought. If we have guests for an informal meal, the table has more significance - is it clean? Is it cluttered? Is it big enough?
If there's some real(!) value in employing university departments to study - over decades and centuries - the subtleties of what is real and what is unreal in my relationship with the kitchen table, I've not yet comprehended the nature of that value.
1 vote NaggedMan | Oct 28, 2020 |
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» Add other authors (71 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Russell, BertrandAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
A. C. GraylingIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hollo, J. A.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The conceptions of life and the world which we call "philosophical" are a product of two factors: one, inherited religious and ethical conceptions; the other, the sort of investigation which may be called "scientific," using this word in its broadest sense. (Introductory)
In all history, nothing is so surprising or so difficult to account for as the sudden rise of civilization in Greece.
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First published in 1946, History of Western Philosophy went on to become the best-selling philosophy book of the twentieth century. A dazzlingly ambitious project, it remains unchallenged to this day as the ultimate introduction to Western philosophy. Providing a sophisticated overview of the ideas that have perplexed people from time immemorial,nbsp;it is 'long on wit, intelligence and curmudgeonly scepticism', as the New York Times noted, and it is this, coupled with the sheer brilliance of its scholarship, that has made Russell's History of Western Philosophy one of the most important philosophical works of all time.

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