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Wednesday, March 18, 2015


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Dr. Vallicella, I've found (Bishop) William Turner's History of Philosophy very helpful for a one-league sensible shoes overview, though it stops at the turn of the twentieth century:


I am a philosopher - for now, independent - specializing in the history and phil of science, currently working on translations and notes on the work of Christopher Clavius. I greatly enjoy your discussions here. Tim McGrew my mentor speaks highly of you.


Christopher 'Kirk' Speaks

Two resources come to mind. Anthony Kenny's multivolume work has been very useful to me. I highly recommend it since he is very fair and informative. Another resource that is on an ongoing basis is Peter Adamson's History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps (http://www.historyofphilosophy.net/). His podcast episodes are short, insightful, and entertaining (he has a mild humor that does not detract from the main topic). The 'without any gaps' is an ambitious project. I don't know how long he has been doing the podcast, but he's only in the medieval period now.

I've found "The Great Conversation" by Norman Melchert to be a solid history. He wrestles well with ideas that are woven through the history of thinkers, footnoting back to the original discussions for a fuller understanding. He also includes some primary source material, but varies in how he uses it; e.g., he quotes Aquinas in blocks, and has basically a running commentary going with him, but he includes all six of Descartes' Meditations, with a sort of study guide to help the reader ("Read Meditation IV," and then some probing questions and comments).

I just finished the first two volumes of Copleston's History, and am steadily working may way forward. I highly recommend it. Copleston's History reads more like a philosophical commentary than a book on philosophical content. If you want more of the gritty content, I'd go for Kenny's History. I think following Copleston up with Kenny would make for a very strong study.

Mr. Speaks,

Thanks for your suggestion. I was going to recommend that one read some old histories to get a balanced view of the history of our great subject. So thanks for mentioning Turner's 1903 work.

Give my best to Tim next time you see him.

I just pulled Wilhelm Windelband's two-volumed history off the shelf. Interesting to see who from the 19th century he mentions and who he doesn't. Fechner, von Hartmann, Sir Wm Hamilton and others no one reads any more, but not Kierkegaard.

I recommend Peter Kreeft's audio book Ethics: A History of Moral Thought. It emphasizes ethics, but covers epistemology and metaphysics too.

Kreeft approaches the topic as historical conversation between philosophers. He thoroughly summarizes and analyzes the theories. It's a nice combination of idea synopsis and idea evaluation.

Dr. Vallicella,

I keep my recommendation simple. The collected works of E. Vögelin are hardy available in Europe. I understand that in the US, he is more available in libraries.

Of course, Vögelin was a philosopher of history, while the gentle reader was asking for a history of philosophy. That does not exclude Vögelin - he has insights about e.g. Hegel or Russell, that one rarely finds expressed elsewhere. (Excepting the maverick philosopher). His thoroughness is also present in your work.

P. Van Coppenolle

I have to say, Russell's history is one of my favorite books in all philosophy. I think the section on Islamic philosophy is among the weakest in the whole book, though it can be added that few in the West had much appreciation for the Muslim thinkers at the time Russell wrote. Russell's criticisms of the philosophers he deals with tend to be highly interesting, even if one disagrees with them. The awareness of Einstein and quantum physics and certain political developments gives the work a feeling of relevance, even if it's over 70 years old now. The book is underrated in terms of its engagement with primary texts as well; though not so meticulously documented, very often it is clear that Russell is covering a philosopher by working through some primary text or other, or so it seems to me. The historical coverage comes with immense sweep that reaches far outside the limits of philosophy; the book also is filled with novel topics that don't tend to come up in most histories, such as the influence of Orphism on ancient philosophy. Some of my favorite lines, obviously controversial, include:

On Plato: "I wish to understand him, but to treat him with as little reverence as if he were a contemporary English or American advocate of totalitarianism."

"There is little of the true philosophic spirit in Aquinas." (This line is the subject of several academic papers, for and against.)

On Aristotle's Physics and On the Heavens: "The historian of philosophy, accordingly, must study them, in spite of the fact that hardly a sentence in either can be accepted in the light of modern science."

On Aquinas' sexual ethics: "Matrimony should be indissoluble, because the father is needed in the education of children, both as more rational than the mother, and as having more physical strength when punishment is required...Against brother-sister incest there is a very curious argument: that if the love of husband and wife were combined with that of brother and sister, mutual attraction would be so strong as to cause unduly frequent intercourse." (Russell often includes, without comment, self-evidently ludicrous remarks of the great philosophers, which there haven't been a few of. I enjoy being reminded that there is more to every great philosopher than the ideas of his we have come to consider definitive and characteristic.)

On Nietzsche: "It does not occur to Nietzsche as possible that a man should genuinely feel universal love, obviously because he himself feels only universal hatred and fear, which he would fain disguise as lordly indifference. His 'noble' man -- who is himself in day-dreams -- is a being wholly devoid of sympathy, ruthless, cunning, cruel, concerned only with his own power. King Lear, on the verge of madness, says: 'I will do such things -- what they are yet I know not -- but they shall be the terror of the earth.' This is Nietzsche's philosophy in a nutshell."

"At the present time, Hitler is an outcome of Rousseau; Roosevelt and Churchill, of Locke." (I delight in all of Russell's World War Two references.)

The book is funny as well, after a British fashion, an element the lack of which makes Kenny's history tiresome to me, though that too covers much minutiae left out of many more superficial histories, and is worthwhile in that regard. W.T. Jones' five-volume series I found quite comprehensive and clear, and it is loaded with lengthy primary text citations. I thought The Story of Philosophy by Bryan Magee et al very good as an initial introduction.

I used W.T. Jones' A History of Western Philosophy - 4 volumes - way way back and profited from it somewhat.

Before I took any Philosophy at all, I read Etienne Gilson's The Unity of Philosophical Experience, which made an impression that has stayed with me for the whole ride. http://www.amazon.com/Unity-Philosophical-Experience-Etienne-Gilson/dp/089870748X/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

Copleston has been my mainstay as far as HOP; I've gone to it frequently over the past 10 years or so.


I second the Gilson rec. There is also *Being and Some Philosophers* by him with good coverage of Avicenna, Thomas, Scotus, et al.

Peter Adamson's podcast, "History of philosophy without any gaps" is an excellent and growing resource. Engaging and accessible without too much dumbing down. Adamson takes care to not fall into two related mistakes (both all too usual in histories of western philosophy): skipping over nearly all of the medieval era (with little more than a quick and dismissive nod to Thomas' Five Ways) and ignoring Jewish and Islamic philosophers of that period altogether.

Thank you all for the variety of recommendations and advice. I will consider each on their own before deciding. I'm hoping to work through a history over Summer, in addition to some other research I have going on.

Finally, thank you, Bill, posting my question.

You are welcome, my good man. And thanks to the rest of you for your suggestions.

Well, someone mentioned Gilson - I do not know whether his "L’Être et l'Essence" has been done into English. It is very informative as a history of metaphysics, and shows a traditional philosopher coming to grips with phenomenology. Copleston is good but it has its weaknesses - which I would characterise as a tendency to over-schematise and try to fit into boxes. Then there is Scruton's survey of modern philosophy - I cannot remember the exact title.

Hello, I greatly enjoy your blog. Please keep up the good work. This may be an odd question: can anyone say which of these recommendations, if any, would be appropriate for an intellectually gifted 10-year old lad? Reading comprehension is 12-grade level, and he is uncannily perceptive about moral nuances. (Not yet ready for age-inappropriate topics related to reproductive issues/sexuality.) Something not unnecessarily abstruse, politicized or dumbed-down, a straightforward philosophy introduction for a budding intellect? Yes that's a tall order. Educated in parochial schools thus far, we may be transitioning to public schools in the near future. I'd like to introduce him to philosophy and logic to sharpen his critical thinking skills before the left-wing brainwashing begins. I looked at this series http://classicalacademicpress.com/logic/ but was dismayed to find a discussion about abortion. I hope to wait a few more years for that topic, I think he would find it distressing. Thanks for any advice.

Lucky Mom,

I suspect none of the above recommendations, with the possible exception of Kreeft, would be suitable for your purposes. But I'll bet Lydia McGrew will have some helpful suggestions. Here: http://www.lydiamcgrew.com/

Lucky Mom,

I think I should add that there is material on this site that would not be appropriate reading for your son.

Dave B,

You will also like E. Gilson, *Reason and Revelation in the Middle Ages.*

I hadn't planned to let him read this site, but thanks for the concern. I am still the primary internet filter at this point and I thoroughly preview whatever he peruses in the virtual jungle.

Perhaps I should keep it simple and start with Mortimer Adler's Great Ideas, we could read it together. I will check out your other recommendations.

Lucky Mom, another good appropriate Adler book is Ten Philosophical Mistakes.

Kreeft's early dialogue-format *The Unaborted Socrates* was an early inspiration to pursue dialogue and polite debate in the search for truth, as well as a good synopsis of arguments against abortion. (It hold up better than his more general follow-up dialogue The Good Things in Life)


If you're willing to consider something that is less than a complete history of Western philosophy, you might consider Robert Pasnau's Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671, though it's by no means an introductory text. Otherwise, I second Coppleston. Anthony Kenny's new History of Western Philosophy looks good, though I haven't read it.

A very good introduction is "Invitation to Philosophy, Issues and Options", which is more of a conceptual 'map' than a history as such; for orienting students to the many facets of Philosophy without bogging them down overly much, I recommend it. It's up to its 10th edition, but I have the second ed. and it can be found for a few dollars.

Roger Scruton's "Short History of Modern Philosophy" is excellent for the period from Descartes on. In a different key, Bryan Magee's "The Great Philosophers" is highly enjoyable:


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