A History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell

A History of Western Philosophy

Since its first publication in 1945 Lord Russell's A History of Western Philosophy has been universally acclaimed as the outstanding one-volume work on the subject—unparalleled in its comprehensiveness, its clarity, its erudition, its grace and wit. In seventy-six chapters he traces philosophy from the rise of Greek civilization to the emergence of logical analysis in the...

Title:A History of Western Philosophy
Author:
Rating:
Edition Language:English

A History of Western Philosophy Reviews

  • Trevor

    This is a remarkable book. Over the years I have found various reasons to look into it now and again, but have never read the whole thing. Mostly I’ve read the bits about particular philosophers: Heraclitus, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Marx for example. I hadn’t realised that ‘dipping’ in this way was missing much of the point of the book.

    This is not just a history of Western Philosophy, but also a bit of a ‘how do all of the main schools of Western Philosophy fit into their culture and times'.

    This is a remarkable book. Over the years I have found various reasons to look into it now and again, but have never read the whole thing. Mostly I’ve read the bits about particular philosophers: Heraclitus, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Marx for example. I hadn’t realised that ‘dipping’ in this way was missing much of the point of the book.

    This is not just a history of Western Philosophy, but also a bit of a ‘how do all of the main schools of Western Philosophy fit into their culture and times'. So, much time is spent giving thumb-nail sketches of the history of certain periods in a way that will help the student of philosophy understand where philosophers were coming from when they said such bizarre things as: nothing changes, everything changes, everything is fire, everything is water, matter does not exist, mind does not exist, and so on.

    He makes some truly fascinating points in this book – not least that there is no philosophy that is wholly logically consistent and that sometimes the danger is when a philosopher seeks to remain logically consistent rather than acknowledge the horrendous conclusions that the logical consistency of his ideas forces him toward. I use the male pronoun not simply because Russell also uses it throughout, but because all of the philosophers discussed sport a Y-chromosome.

    The book is divided into three parts: Ancient Philosophy, Catholic Philosophy and Modern Philosophy. It was written during the Second World War and I think this shows in part, particularly when Russell is discussing the merits of some philosophers – not least Nietzsche and Marx. I had thought that I would find the middle section on Catholics the least interesting – I believe that we ‘moderns’ feel we have much more in common with Ancients than we do with the Catholic scholastics of the dark and middle ages – but Russell is very kind to these philosophers, although in the main I found them to be little more than pedants adding Christian footnotes to Plato and Aristotle. Perhaps, in another life, I will have time to read one or two of them and see if my attitude changes.

    This is not a book that requires either an extensive knowledge of philosophy, nor an extensive knowledge of history to be understood. Russell is a remarkably clear writer (something that for a philosopher really is worth commenting on and something that deserves the highest praise). He also is occasionally quite amusing. Now, I know that people who follow either Marx, Kant, Hegel, Dewey, Nietzsche or even Aristotle might find quite a few things to say in disagreement with Mr Russell, but that in no way takes away from the value of this book. I’ve listened to a Teaching Company ‘Great Ideas In Philosophy’ course which covered all of the philosophers discussed here, and I think Russell does at least as good a job as was done there. Invaluable is a word that is grossly overused on this site – particularly by me – but I do think this book gives an invaluable helicopter view of the history of Western Philosophy that is both accessible and often profound.

    I once received my lowest mark in my degree for saying pretty much what Russell says here about his mate Dewey - I am rather proud of the fact that I've only discovered our shared view now - twenty years later. I’ve always found Instrumentalism (otherwise known as Pragmatism) a thoroughly unsatisfactory philosophical standpoint, despite both James and Dewey seeming to be nice enough people in themselves. My main problem with the total rejection of the possibility of any sense that there might be ‘truth’ (which Russell, as might be expected, confines to logical statements) has always had a bit of a smell about it. When I said this in a class paper at Uni I was nearly lynched by both the lecturer (a declared Instrumentalist) and the other students (who knew better than I which side their bread was buttered). I think Russell’s arguments in this section are similar to the ones I tried to make, but are made in a way that is infinitely clearer than I was capable of at the time - a time when I was keen to seem very 'philosophic' ie, totally unclear. Essentially, I've always thought that to move away from discussing the ‘truth’ of statements and to instead consider their ‘efficacy’ is a slippery slope and one that can all too easily bring us to splash down into logical and moral difficulties.

    His discussion of Bergson’s philosophy was enough to ensure I will never read anything by Bergson. I find irrationalism dull and, what is even worse, mind-numbingly ‘poetic’ in the very worst sense of that word. Sometimes one needs to be obscure because what you are trying to say does not allow you to be immediately clear. However, as Russell displays so beautifully in this book, that is rarely really necessary and the onus is on the writer to make it clear why being turgid or obscure to the point of impenetrability is in either the interests of the reader or the writer.

    What is best about this book is that it has inspired me to read some more Plato (I started his complete dialogues some time ago, but things got in the way.) Russell's discussion of Socrates and his relationship to Plato is worth reading the book on its own. Plato is a fascinating character, not least because it seems a case can be made that he became increasingly less convinced of his theory of forms as his dialogues went on. Given that this is the core of his system, this would seem somewhat of a problem.

    The book ends by saying that a consistent philosophy that takes into consideration Quantum Theory is still to be written - as little as I know of modern philosophy, I would imagine the intervening 60 years have done little to correct this want. Quantum Theory still remains an enigma and all too often leaves the door wide open for all types of very silly ideas.

    This is a book that repays the effort of reading it – it is not a short introduction by any means (being over 800 pages), but it is only a difficult read when he discusses philosophers like Hegel and Bergson who are notoriously difficult anyway. For what this book sets out to do – pretty much, give the average reader an overview of Western Philosophical thought and its place within Western Culture and History, it does a remarkable job. Although I still think it is very handy as a ready reference on a great many philosophers – it is much better, as I've found, to have read it all first.

  • Bram

    Not only is this an excellent primer on all the major Western philosophers and an impressive synthesis of the evolution of philosophic thought over a 2500-year span, it's also one of the wittier books I've ever read. I'd be quite interested to hear Bertrand Russell's thoughts on the past 65 years; I did stumble upon his remarkable final statement, written two days before his death at age 97, which shows him putting his formidable powers of rationality to work in succinctly and accurately assessi

    Not only is this an excellent primer on all the major Western philosophers and an impressive synthesis of the evolution of philosophic thought over a 2500-year span, it's also one of the wittier books I've ever read. I'd be quite interested to hear Bertrand Russell's thoughts on the past 65 years; I did stumble upon his remarkable final statement, written two days before his death at age 97, which shows him putting his formidable powers of rationality to work in succinctly and accurately assessing the nature of the Middle East conflict. Sadly, little has changed in the 40 years since the writing of this statement, as Israel continues to expand into Palestinian territory, to deny the rights of refugees, and "to discover how much more aggression the world will tolerate" (empirical answer: quite a lot):

    "The development of the crisis in the Middle East is both dangerous and instructive. For over 20 years Israel has expanded by force of arms. After every stage in this expansion Israel has appealed to “reason” and has suggested “negotiations”. This is the traditional role of the imperial power, because it wishes to consolidate with the least difficulty what it has already taken by violence. Every new conquest becomes the new basis of the proposed negotiation from strength, which ignores the injustice of the previous aggression. The aggression committed by Israel must be condemned, not only because no state has the right to annex foreign territory, but because every expansion is an experiment to discover how much more aggression the world will tolerate.

    The refugees who surround Palestine in their hundreds of thousands were described recently by the Washington journalist I.F. Stone as “the moral millstone around the neck of world Jewry.” Many of the refugees are now well into the third decade of their precarious existence in temporary settlements. The tragedy of the people of Palestine is that their country was “given” by a foreign Power to another people for the creation of a new State. The result was that many hundreds of thousands of innocent people were made permanently homeless. With every new conflict their number have increased. How much longer is the world willing to endure this spectacle of wanton cruelty? It is abundantly clear that the refugees have every right to the homeland from which they were driven, and the denial of this right is at the heart of the continuing conflict. No people anywhere in the world would accept being expelled en masse from their own country; how can anyone require the people of Palestine to accept a punishment which nobody else would tolerate? A permanent just settlement of the refugees in their homeland is an essential ingredient of any genuine settlement in the Middle East.

    We are frequently told that we must sympathize with Israel because of the suffering of the Jews in Europe at the hands of the Nazis. I see in this suggestion no reason to perpetuate any suffering. What Israel is doing today cannot be condoned, and to invoke the horrors of the past to justify those of the present is gross hypocrisy. Not only does Israel condemn a vast number of refugees to misery; not only are many Arabs under occupation condemned to military rule; but also Israel condemns the Arab nations only recently emerging from colonial status to continued impoverishment as military demands take precedence over national development.

    All who want to see an end to bloodshed in the Middle East must ensure that any settlement does not contain the seeds of future conflict. Justice requires that the first step towards a settlement must be an Israeli withdrawal from all the territories occupied in June, 1967. A new world campaign is needed to help bring justice to the long-suffering people of the Middle East."

  • Manny

    There's a throwaway remark in this book which has haunted me ever since I read it some time in the mid-70s. Russell is talking about Socrates, and he wonders if Socrates actually existed. Maybe Plato made him up.

    "I don't think many people would have been able to make up Socrates," muses Russell. "But Plato could have done it."

    It's hard not to continue this line of reasoning. If Socrates turns out to be fictional, who else is? And which fictional characters of today will later be accepted as hist

    There's a throwaway remark in this book which has haunted me ever since I read it some time in the mid-70s. Russell is talking about Socrates, and he wonders if Socrates actually existed. Maybe Plato made him up.

    "I don't think many people would have been able to make up Socrates," muses Russell. "But Plato could have done it."

    It's hard not to continue this line of reasoning. If Socrates turns out to be fictional, who else is? And which fictional characters of today will later be accepted as historical persons? The more you think about it, the more you start feeling that the world really is a Philip K. Dick novel.

  • Ian

    Bertrand Russell's History consists of 76 Chapters, almost all under 20 pages.

    Each Chapter contains a summary of one major philosopher's key arguments interlaced with criticism that reflects Russell's own priorities and perspectives.

    In a sense, it is one philosopher judging the work of another.

    We therefore need to exercise caution in relying on Russell's methodology, perspectives and conclusions.

    Apart from this reservation, I actually really enjoy his style. He is very clear and seems t

    Bertrand Russell's History consists of 76 Chapters, almost all under 20 pages.

    Each Chapter contains a summary of one major philosopher's key arguments interlaced with criticism that reflects Russell's own priorities and perspectives.

    In a sense, it is one philosopher judging the work of another.

    We therefore need to exercise caution in relying on Russell's methodology, perspectives and conclusions.

    Apart from this reservation, I actually really enjoy his style. He is very clear and seems to be quite worldly and amusing. I get the impression I might have enjoyed sitting next to him at a dinner party.

    As part of a broader reading project, I will read and review some individual Chapters in My Writings.

    I will post links to My Writings below.

    It's worth noting that he gives Kant more space than Hegel and almost twice as much space as Marx.

  • Dylan Popowicz

    At first it seems impressive that a single individual could accumulate such a vast understanding of Werstern Philosophy from Thales to Dewey. At first it seems that the work is well researched, objective, and only humorously judgemental at times. . . And for the first five-hundred pages these feelings seem to preside. Yet, when Russell reaches what, to me, is the important period of Philosophy, namely the modern period from the Rennaisance till the present, I find that Russell's analysis of each

    At first it seems impressive that a single individual could accumulate such a vast understanding of Werstern Philosophy from Thales to Dewey. At first it seems that the work is well researched, objective, and only humorously judgemental at times. . . And for the first five-hundred pages these feelings seem to preside. Yet, when Russell reaches what, to me, is the important period of Philosophy, namely the modern period from the Rennaisance till the present, I find that Russell's analysis of each philosopher begins to grow shallower, leading not to a decent caricature or snapshot of the work in question, but more to a wholly unfair criticism of all those Russell finds himself at odds with.

    Strangely enough, with the men of history that he finds himself in agreement with, he expresses a humility in regards to their work, clearly laying out his interpretation even though he dares not say that he truly understands m as fully as intended . . . this same humitlty, when faced with Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Kant, Hegel etc. is turned into a ridiculous (and hypocritical) demolition of their works on a shallow basis. It remains unclear whether Russell in-fact understands the depths of his opponent's work, although it doesn't matter to him.

    Sadly, even to an amateur as myself, his criticisms seem to miss the point entirely. In what I assume to be an attempt at avoiding obscurantism and reaching a simplicity for the layman, it seems that he has relegated subtlety for the blockish ideas of solid forms. No philosophy stands fairly against such disregard for language, intepretation etc.

    Overall the work may act as a decent introduction to philosophy as a whole, but I personally feel you would be better off delving into the faster read and likely more honest books out there . . . Philosophy for Dummies, Introducing Philosophy etc. I'm sure this book would be much to the liking of anyone with the same mindset as Russel himself, but have to say that objectivity is here greatly tarnished by shallow thought, misunderstanding, stupidity (yes), and an obsession with modern-day values and prejuidices with no apparent explanation for his own ethical standpoint.

  • Mark Lawrence

    I stole this off my father's shelves many years ago. The indications on the inside cover was that he read it in Finland in 1959 - I think he once missed a train there and the next one wasn't for a week.

    It's true that this is in many respects a heavy, dry, and testing read. On the other hand it's full of interesting anecdotes about the philosophers themselves, from the earliest of ancient Greeks to Russell's contemporaries in the 20th century. And Russell, a mathematician of the highest order as

    I stole this off my father's shelves many years ago. The indications on the inside cover was that he read it in Finland in 1959 - I think he once missed a train there and the next one wasn't for a week.

    It's true that this is in many respects a heavy, dry, and testing read. On the other hand it's full of interesting anecdotes about the philosophers themselves, from the earliest of ancient Greeks to Russell's contemporaries in the 20th century. And Russell, a mathematician of the highest order as well as a starred philosopher is a clear and concise writer, careful to present each person's work in the context of its time, and showing how to some extent such philosophy shaped and refined the period it came from. Moreover the author's wit shows through on most pages and he has a definite way with words.

    Just as we have authors today writing to make the most esoteric physics accessible to the layman through intelligent precis and analogy, Russell appears to have been a populist of his time. This is very definitely an introduction, a guide, a setting of the development of philosophy through a string of individuals and schools, rather than a thorough examination of any particular one of them. It is likely one of the most accessible of serious works on philosophy, but given the era that produced it (1940s) and the elevation of its author, it will place demands on the reader.

    It ends (if I remember correctly) with a summary of his own work in Principia Mathematica and a fascinating account of how Godel undermined Russell's masterwork twenty years later.

    Very well worth reading.

    ..

  • Ahmad Sharabiani

    A History of Western Philosophy And Its Connection with Political and Social Circumstances from the Earliest Times to the Present Day, Bertrand Russell

    A History of Western Philosophy is a 1945 book by philosopher Bertrand Russell. A survey of Western philosophy from the pre-Socratic philosophers to the early 20th century, it was criticised for Russell's over-generalization and omissions, particularly from the post-Cartesian period, but nevertheless became a popular and commercial success, and ha

    A History of Western Philosophy And Its Connection with Political and Social Circumstances from the Earliest Times to the Present Day, Bertrand Russell

    A History of Western Philosophy is a 1945 book by philosopher Bertrand Russell. A survey of Western philosophy from the pre-Socratic philosophers to the early 20th century, it was criticised for Russell's over-generalization and omissions, particularly from the post-Cartesian period, but nevertheless became a popular and commercial success, and has remained in print from its first publication. When Russell was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950, A History of Western Philosophy was cited as one of the books that won him the award. Its success provided Russell with financial security for the last part of his life.

    Content: Ancient Philosophy; Catholic Philosophy; and Modern Philosophy.

    تاریخ نخستین خوانش: چهارم ماه آوریل سال 1978 میلادی

    عنوان: تاریخ فلسفه غرب و روابط آن با اوضاع سیاسی و اجتماعی از قدیم تا امروز؛ نویسنده: برتراند راسل؛ مترجم: نجف دریابندری؛ تهران، سخن، 1340؛ در سه جلد: جلد نخست: فلسفه قدیم؛ جلد دوم: فلسفه قرون وسطی؛ جلد سوم: فلسفه جدید؛ چاپ دیگر: تبریز، بهمن، 1345؛ چاپ دیگر: تهران، بیست و پنج شهریور، 1348؛ چاپ دیگر: تهران، پرواز؛ 1351؛ در دو جلد، ؛ 1365؛ چاپ ششم 1373؛

    شرح نقادانه «تاریخ فلسفه» در غرب، از هزاره ی نخست پیش از میلاد مسیح، تا اواسط قرن بیستم میلادی. «نجف دریابندری» در مقدمه‌ ی خود بر کتاب می‌نویسد: «احساس خواننده‌ ی تاریخ «راسل»، همانند احساس جوان کنجکاوی ست، که همراه پدر ستیهنده و زبان‌ آور خود به دیدار بزرگان تاریخ تفکر میرود، و به گفت و گوی پرحرارت پدر با آنها گوش می‌دهد؛ و بسیار چیزها - چه از باب معلومات فلسفی و چه از باب شیوه‌ های جدل - می‌آموزد.». تاریخ فلسفه‌ ی غرب، بازنویس سلسله درس‌ هایی ست که «راسل» از 1940 میلادی تا سال 1943 میلادی در آمریکا داده بود که در تابستان سال 1944 میلادی و در انگلستان، برای انتشار آماده شد. ا. شربیانی

  • Roy Lotz

    I enjoyed this a bit too much.

    is exactly my kind of book, and so this review will be biased.

    This, however, illustrates my first point. One’s opinion of this work will largely depend on one’s opinion of Russell. This is because he frequently injects his views, ideas, and opinions into the text. I happen to love the guy; I’m sure reactions will differ.

    In this history, Russell does not entirely succeed in his stated goal. What he was trying to do was to firmly sit

    I enjoyed this a bit too much.

    is exactly my kind of book, and so this review will be biased.

    This, however, illustrates my first point. One’s opinion of this work will largely depend on one’s opinion of Russell. This is because he frequently injects his views, ideas, and opinions into the text. I happen to love the guy; I’m sure reactions will differ.

    In this history, Russell does not entirely succeed in his stated goal. What he was trying to do was to firmly situate major thinkers in their historical and cultural context, and then explore the ways that history both shapes and is shaped by these thinkers. This is more successful in the first two thirds, but drops off rather steeply in the section on modern philosophy. Following this plan, the book is divided into chapters on history and chapters on philosophers.

    Russell is an excellent writer. Even his fiercest critics grant him this merit. He has a knack for presenting abstract ideas with penetrating clarity. On top of this, he has a delightfully dry sense of humor, which he employs to great effect in breaking up turgid analysis. In general, Russell is at his strongest when presenting the philosophy itself; he is at his weakest when writing history. His ability to generalize is the cause of both qualities.

    As I mentioned above, Russell frequently injects his own views into the book. It should be noted, though, that he is crystal-clear when he is doing so. The reader is never confused as to whether it is Russell’s idea or that of the philosopher under discussion. The bulk of these additions are Russell’s opinions on philosophical problems and the success of their attempted solutions. Because Russell himself is one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century, these discussions are some of the most fascinating parts of the work. I would go so far to say—and I am in no position to say this—that no other book can give the student a greater insight into Russell’s thinking. He takes the opportunity to address nearly every aspect of philosophy: ethics, epistemology, metaphysics, political philosophy, etc.

    Russell, like everybody, has biases. He is particularly antagonistic to Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, and Rousseau. Nevertheless, I found his discussions of their ideas to be quite fair. The Nietzsche chapter even ends with a fictional conversation between Nietzsche, Buddha, and God. The only philosopher who I thought was manhandled was Plato, who Russell treats as he would "any contemporary advocate of totalitarianism." He doesn’t add that Plato almost singlehandedly created political philosophy.

    The reader of this book must be conscious of when it was written—at the height of WWII. Keeping this in mind, many of the motivations for Russell’s views become much more sensible. In the background of the text, running through every page, is his grappling with the questions: “what is the future for civilization? How did Hitler come to wield so much power?” Russell comes to the conclusion that the Nazis represent the culmination of a strain of anti-intellectualism and romanticism inaugurated by Rousseau and carried forward by Nietzsche, with roots extending all the way back to Plato. I disagree with this analysis. However, in my opinion, when seen in this light, almost all of the flaws in this work vanish. In fact, it would have been despicable to not have been concerned with these issues.

    Russell believed that educating the population in science, skepticism, and rational thinking were the keys to preventing further atrocities and making the world a better place. This book, written for a popular audience, is a part of that effort. The world could use more people like Bertrand Russell.

    [Note: Something I forgot to mention. This book may not be so great an introduction to philosophy for beginners. Russell is opinionated, so you are likely to get a skewed picture of a philosopher's outlook and relevance if you're first exposed to him through Russell. Additionally, because Russell is an imposing thinker himself, this book is not philosophy-lite.

    is far more enjoyable once you have actually read the thinkers yourself. This makes the experience of reading Russell's opinions like having an intelligent conversation with a fellow-reader. Russell is not an expert on many of the subjects he is writing about here, so it is quite legitimate to disagree with him. In fact, that's part of the value of this book.]

  • Foad

    کتاب رو با ترجمه ی نجف دریابندری خوندم. ترجمه خیلی خوب بود، هر چند گاهی جملات قابل فهم نبود، که نمیدونم مشکل از قصور فهم من بود یا از ترجمه.

    اسم درست این کتاب، "تاریخ انتقادی فلسفه" است، نه "تاریخ فلسفه". هر فصل از کتاب، تقسیم شده به دو قسمت: قسمت کوتاه (و گاه نارسای) نخست، به معرفی اجمالی بخشی (و نه تمام) از فلسفه ی فیلسوف خاص میپردازه. قسمت بلند و مفصل دوم، به انتقاد از فلسفه ش. هر چند خیلی این انتقادها دقیق و لذت بخش بودن، (مخصوصاً با نثرِ گاه طنز آمیز کتاب که نمی دونم کار ر

    کتاب رو با ترجمه ی نجف دریابندری خوندم. ترجمه خیلی خوب بود، هر چند گاهی جملات قابل فهم نبود، که نمیدونم مشکل از قصور فهم من بود یا از ترجمه.

    اسم درست این کتاب، "تاریخ انتقادی فلسفه" است، نه "تاریخ فلسفه". هر فصل از کتاب، تقسیم شده به دو قسمت: قسمت کوتاه (و گاه نارسای) نخست، به معرفی اجمالی بخشی (و نه تمام) از فلسفه ی فیلسوف خاص میپردازه. قسمت بلند و مفصل دوم، به انتقاد از فلسفه ش. هر چند خیلی این انتقادها دقیق و لذت بخش بودن، (مخصوصاً با نثرِ گاه طنز آمیز کتاب که نمی دونم کار راسل بوده، یا نجف دریابندری) اما نکته ی مهم، اینه که کسی که تازه میخواد با نظریات یه فیلسوف آشنا بشه، میخواد بیشتر حرف های اون فیلسوف رو هضم کنه و بفهمه و حالا فعلاً دنبال صحیح و سقیم بودنش نیست. کتاب از این جهت ضعیف کار کرده. در نتیجه به عنوان اولین کتاب فلسفه، پیشنهاد نمیشه. من نصف کتاب رو اول خوندم، بعد رفتم دو کتاب دیگه در تاریخ فلسفه غرب خوندم که آشنا بشم، و دوباره برگشتم سر این کتاب.

    راسل کار جالبی میکنه و در همه ی نظریات، سعی میکنه پسزمینه ی اجتماعی اون نظریه رو هم مد نظر داشته باشه. خیلی جاها نشون میده که این نظریه، مولود فلان شرایط اجتماعی بوده. این کار تطبیقی تاریخ فلسفه و تاریخ سیاسی-اجتماعی، خیلی جالب بود.

    گاهی هم یه نکاتی از نظریات فیلسوف میگه، که هیچ جای دیگه پیداش نخواهید کرد، چون اصلاً در نظریات اون فیلسوف نیست. بلکه استنباط راسل از نظریات اون فرده و میگه: اگه فیلسوف الف رو قبول داشته، پس ب رو هم قبول داشته.

    این نکات هم خیلی خیلی جالبن.

  • Riku Sayuj

    Russell is consistently opinionated throughout his presentation and it might confuse some of the readers that he is so casual in writing off some of the major philosophers and their key ideas. This is because the book is not a mere history of philosophy, a mere account of ideas, by any stretch. Instead it is a critical survey, a long catalogue of what Russell agrees and disagrees with among all the major doctrines. The format followed is

    Russell is consistently opinionated throughout his presentation and it might confuse some of the readers that he is so casual in writing off some of the major philosophers and their key ideas. This is because the book is not a mere history of philosophy, a mere account of ideas, by any stretch. Instead it is a critical survey, a long catalogue of what Russell agrees and disagrees with among all the major doctrines. The format followed is: a brief historical sketch to give context to a doctrine, an even briefer explanation, and then a long critical take that will put forward Russell’s opinions, usually about why it is misguided in the light of modern scientific approach. And more often than not, he is wary of those ideas which, from the point of view of his war-torn present, seemed 'dangerous.'

    In fact, I think that three strands of vexation can be discerned:

    1. Leading to orthodoxy in religion

    2. Leading to rigidity in logic

    3. Leading to Totalitarian fantasies

    Any idea which Russell felt was tending towards these were roundly attacked and put in place. Must have felt like a humanitarian act, writing this book! After all,

    If you were to attempt a history of philosophy, you can write a history without imposing on the reader what your own opinions are. Or you can write a history just to let the reader know exactly what you (as a thinker of some standing yourself, you might add!) think of each philosopher. Or you can write a history and try to justify why you prefer some, even one, more than the others.

    Russell has opted to for a mix of the last two options — and he prefers himself over all others, that’s all!

    As the book progresses it becomes more and more clear that it is a summary of Russell’s views, and not of the philosophers being discussed. This means that most of them gets short shrift. And as we approach modern times it is amusing to see how Russell is almost impatient for the history to quickly reach and culminate in his own position of Logical Positivism, which he clearly thinks is the best approach to philosophy and in the light of which he judges everyone else. This allows him to narrate the entire historical progress in a patronizing and all-knowing tone that might be jarring to a reader who is not willing to take the same attitude towards Russell’s own naivete!

    You have to out-patronize the patronizing author to enjoy this fully. That is the trick. And if you do, there is no end of fun to be had form this eminently readable epic.


Books Finder is in no way intended to support illegal activity. We uses Search API to find the overview of books over the internet, but we don't host any files. All document files are the property of their respective owners, please respect the publisher and the author for their copyrighted creations. If you find documents that should not be here please report them. Read our DMCA Policies and Disclaimer for more details.