Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.
I’ve always enjoyed philosophical ideas and discussions, but never knew all that much about the history of philosophy. This book turned out to be a fine corrective, and was a surprisingly accessible, engaging read as well.
Durant covers what he considers the major figures of Western philosophy, starting from the ancient Greeks and working his way up his own time, the 1920s. Some get more attention than others, but you’ll find most of the “household names” here, and Durant follows a formula that works pretty well. He sets up each philosopher’s life and historical context, provides a collage of the philosopher’s ideas, then adds some criticism of his own. Between his dry wit and his lively exploration of biographical details, the examination feels more like a good documentary than a lecture. Grover Gardner’s light, warm audiobook narration helped, too.
Beneath each figure and his ideas, Durant traces the evolution of thought, and shows the way philosophy laid the groundwork for science, ethics, systems of political ideas, and various ways of thinking about the nature of existence. In reading about Plato’s Republic, we see that the problems of government that we wrestle over today are nothing new at all -- indeed, his notion of “philosopher statesmen” expresses a set of ideals all too compromised in our current democratic system. In Spinoza’s determinist rationalism and Voltaire’s sharp, savage wit, we see the currents of reason and enlightenment pushing against previous centuries of superstition and dogma. In Kant and Schopenhauer we see the pendulum swinging the other way again, towards an understanding that rationality does not exist apart from human experience and its limitations, and that any framework of thought or ethics must grapple with this. This reaches full extension in the strident views of Nietchze, who views existence as a Darwinian struggle for mastery. Considering all the things Durant (or anyone else living in 1926) didn’t yet know about how far Nietzsche's philosophy would be twisted ten years hence, his calm analysis of “a few issues” in it is chilling.
Later chapters provide a short overview of early 20th century thinkers, such as Bertrand Russell, George Santayana, and John Dewey, who attempt to steer philosophy away from its 19th century idealism, and back into a more scientifically-grounded, analytical realm.
The Story of Philosophy definitely isn’t a comprehensive overview of Western philosophy (as others have noted, there could be more on Locke, Hobbes, Descartes, and Hume), but it’s a great introduction, written on a higher level than a “For Dummies” guide, but hardly dull or incomprehensible. It's a little humbling to recognize that, for virtually every political, ethical, moral, or religious debate I can imagine getting sucked into, the underlying questions have all long ago been well-pondered by towering intellects.
PS. For an amusing supplement, be sure to search youtube for "Three Minute Philosophy"
Well, I need a rest from philosophy now. But for an introduction to philosophy, and philosophers (what is a philosopher?) I found it very engaging, entertaining and illuminating. I'm sure I'll listen to it again one day.
Do you ever find yourself wanting to join a conversation about philosophy and finding that you just can't remember what Nietzsche or Kant postulated anymore? This book'll fix that.
As with all audiobooks but especially with material like this, a drawback is that sometimes you might find yourself wishing you could re-read a particular line or sit with it a while before moving on..
The only other shortcoming of the book for contemporary readers is that it was written nearly a hundred years ago, so it ends with Bergson, Willam James, Dewey, and Santayana. There are no feminists or postmodernists discussed.
It's not an especially difficult text to follow. You don't need a college degree or experience with philosophy to enjoy this one. It's beautifully written and read very pleasingly.
Remember when you first realized that sex led to babies? Or someone finally 'splained to you the relationship of the clutch to the engine and wheels? When you realized that the flower on a tomato plant led to a tomato and the seeds in tomatoes are what you plant to get tomatoes. Maybe it was when you realized that electricity was not a religious event... No matter what that moment was. This book will be another...
If you've ever wondered why we think and believe the way we do well this book is the Pimsleur's guide to philosophy...
The things you teach your newborn, infant, child, teenager, young adult come from ideas that you were taught and your parents were taught. But who invented guilt and responsibility and justice and industry or self worth for that matter. Well behind the scenes pilosophers (working overtime at low wages) were developing thought that eventually became accepted into society as mores folkways and law. Your outrage at cruelty and your abhorence of injustice were not always a part of how we lived in the middle ages.
How did we become a society that is conscious of when we put the seat down after we use the loo? Why are we occasionally nice to stangers? Why do we expect to be treated fairly? OK do I have your attention?
The answer is "it goes back a long way" and "it continues to evolve today". and you owe it to yourself to find out some of the roots of the way we believe what we believe. Whew!
Any history of philosophy will inevitably be a subjective history of philosophy. Will Durant has a strong grip on the philosopies of various great people and does a good job at simplifying the more complex ideas. However, there are some curious exclusions here; the pre-socratics are omitted, Descartes is only mentioned in relation to others (although it is clear he does not like him too much, which is understandable), Hobbes and Locke are also omitted. Since the book was written in the early 20th century, obviously some more recent philosophers are also missing. Personally, I wish he spent slightly less time detailing the lives of some of these philosophers and instead spent that time analysing more of their works. Still, I understand the need of context and to paint the people from whence the philosophies originated. It's a great, engaging listen.
This was a delight, (as much as that is possible for Schopenhauer.) There are wide gaps between philosophers, but Durant does such a good job of distilling the lives and thoughts of the ones he includes that it is a very worthwhile listen. The navel gazers come alive as men and Durant includes an abstract of the man's philosophy and then a section of criticism. I found it a very good introduction to the study of Western thought. Also, I'm glad that my opinion of Aristotle is not unique to me.
Its a book that is would loose it's essence if listened to whilst driving or doing something else. Albeit that being my main avenue for audiobooks, I would advise listeners to listen to this in a "library-like" environment to fully, or more deeply appreciate the essence of this book. It is a good book for those who appreciate philosophy and the narrators performance was excellent.
Never did I think that a book written in 1926 would resonate so well in modern times. Much care was taken crafting the prose, more than in modern books. Half the time I was bookmarking insight of philosophers, and half the time I was noting the author's own elegant turns of phrase. Example: "To see how short life is, one must have lived long". And "a man who has lived to 70 has survived his pessimism"
Faced with mindless duty, when an audio book player slips into a rear pocket and mini buds pop into ears, old is made new again.
Edward R. Murrow interviewed several famous people in a 1950s series called This I Believe. One of the participants was Will Durant.
Durant wrote his own “THIS I BELIEVE ESSAY” after having spent fifty years of his life researching and writing an eleven volume work titled “The History of Civilization”. His wife, Arieal Durant, a scholar in her own right, also labored those fifty years on this and other historical works. Durant writes, in his “THIS I BELIEVE ESSAY”,: “I find in the Universe so many forms of order, organization, system, law and adjustment of means to ends, that I believe in a cosmic intelligence and I conceive God as the life, mind, order and law of the world. I suspect that when I die I shall be dead. I would look upon endless existence as a curse as did the Flying Dutchman and the Wandering Jew. Death is life’s greatest invention; perpetually replacing the worn with the new.”
Durant is not irrefutably or completely revealing the world of philosophy. He is opening a door to the importance of philosophy. He shows that philosophy addresses the fundamental questions of human life.
In Durant’s updated (1950s) version of, “The Mansions of Philosophy”, he decries the paucity of philosophical interpretation of science and the failure of late 20th century philosophers to synthesize current scientific discoveries. He infers humanity is losing its way because scientific discoveries have little context and no direction.
I would recommend this book to individuals who wanted a good overview of the history of philosophy.
I initially read this book in a Introduction to Philosophy course some 35 year ago and just wanted a refresher on what was contained in this book. Needless to say, I forgot a lot, and maybe some sections of the book I never read. It was an enjoyable visit with a great American Professor of philosophy.
Ideas and thoughts never change