Translate to multiple languages

Subscribe to my Email updates
Enjoy what you've read, make sure you subscribe to my Email Updates

Thursday, June 27, 2019

The History of Philosophy by AC Grayling, review: all the way from Aristotle to Zeno | Book reviews -

To write a history of philosophy is as thankless a task as cleaning a house by Jane O'Grady, The Telegraph.

Vatican fresco The School of Athens, 1509-1511, by Raphael
Photo: Getty Images
However thorough the cleaner (or author) has been, what will be commented on is the patch of dust they have missed. And whereas what counts as dirt is fairly obvious, what counts as philosophy is itself a philosophical problem.  A history of science can discuss past scientific concepts either as mistaken attempts to fill explanatory gaps (phlogiston, caloric, the ether) or as place-markers that have been subsequently given content (genes, heat, electricity); as superseded stages on a journey, or fads that are now abandoned.

In philosophy, however, ideas now current make little sense without understanding their origins, these being not only the clue to their meaning, but, usually, concepts that must be freshly reinterpreted themselves. A history of philosophy, therefore, is not so much a charting of that discipline’s past as a reliving and rethinking of it. Dead philosophers need to be discussed as if they were still talking to us, perennial speakers in an ongoing conversation. Yet they must also be treated as products of their own particular eras if anachronism is to be avoided.

The philosopher A C Grayling carries off this unwieldy project with wit and grace, deftly juggling its contradictory problems. Inevitably there will be nit-pickers who enumerate the philosophers and parts of philosophy that he has neglected in his history, or complain that it predictably begins with the ancient Greek Thales in about 600BC (Grayling happily admits he is telling the “orthodox story”)...

From Descartes in the 17th century, distinguishing the mind from anything that occupies space, we glide easily to what that distinction, and its accruing problems, later became – the tantalising mind-body problem – and the ways in which subsequent philosophers have tackled it.  We see Hobbes as a Royalist who fled the republican aftermath of the English Civil War, and who defended absolute monarchy by declaring “self-contradictory” those citizens who rebelled against protective tyranny when they had deliberately sacrificed certain freedoms so as to gain it...
Read more... 

Recommended Reading

The History of Philosophy