Regular price: $20.85

Free with 30-day trial
Membership details Membership details
  • A 30-day trial plus your first audiobook, free
  • 1 credit/month after trial – good for any book, any price
  • Easy exchanges – swap any book you don’t love
  • Keep your audiobooks, even if you cancel
  • After your trial, Audible is just $14.95/month
OR
In Cart

Publisher's Summary

Philosophy begins with questions about the nature of reality and how we should live. These were the concerns of Socrates, who spent his days in the ancient Athenian marketplace asking awkward questions, disconcerting the people he met by showing them how little they genuinely understood.

This engaging book introduces the great thinkers in Western philosophy and explores their most compelling ideas about the world and how best to live in it. In forty brief chapters, Nigel Warburton guides us on a chronological tour of the major ideas in the history of philosophy. He provides interesting and often quirky stories of the lives and deaths of thought-provoking philosophers from Socrates, who chose to die by hemlock poisoning rather than live on without the freedom to think for himself, to Peter Singer, who asks the disquieting philosophical and ethical questions that haunt our own times.

Warburton not only makes philosophy accessible, he offers inspiration to think, argue, reason, and ask in the tradition of Socrates. A Little History of Philosophy presents the grand sweep of humanity's search for philosophical understanding and invites all to join in the discussion.

©2011 Nigel Warburton (P)2014 Audible Studios

More from the same

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

Overall

  • 4.4 out of 5.0
  • 5 Stars
    861
  • 4 Stars
    532
  • 3 Stars
    163
  • 2 Stars
    21
  • 1 Stars
    7

Performance

  • 4.5 out of 5.0
  • 5 Stars
    896
  • 4 Stars
    387
  • 3 Stars
    105
  • 2 Stars
    14
  • 1 Stars
    6

Story

  • 4.4 out of 5.0
  • 5 Stars
    736
  • 4 Stars
    471
  • 3 Stars
    159
  • 2 Stars
    20
  • 1 Stars
    6
Sort by:
  • Overall

Good Listen

Exactly the type of book I was looking for. A broad overview, to the point and informative.

34 of 35 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Very Well Done

What did you love best about A Little History of Philosophy?

This was a very interesting overview of major philosophers from Socrates to the present time. Just the right level for me. I had studided briefly some philosophy in college, but forgotten most of it, and wanted an overview the major people and ideas.<br/><br/>This was perfect and the reading was excellent.

32 of 33 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

A good summary view

If you're new to philosophy, this is a good summary view of the field from Aristotle to Singer. There are some interesting omissions, such as Heidegger, and some nice looks at modern issues.

It's not a deep book, nor is it intended to be. It gives a snapshot for inspiration for further learning.

If you have a fair grasp of philosophy already, and have struggled through a few writers on your own, you might do better with Will Durant's Story of Philosophy, in which the author takes on many of the same philosophers with more vigor. Bertrand Russell's Problems of Philosophy covers many of the issues with less history.

In the Great Courses series there are similar summaries. Exploring Metaphysics is one I can recommend. Great Minds of the Medieval World covers many of the early philosophers found here with more depth.

30 of 31 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Loved it. Succinct, humorous, digestible bits

Finally, a nice summary of highlights of western philosophy. I loved every minute of it and will re-listen a few more times in the future.

43 of 45 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • McCoffee
  • Pretoria, South Africa
  • 10-04-15

The Easy Track to the Big Picture

Really enjoyable overview of western thinking with a strong narrator. Organization is mostly chronological. Easy to listen to chapters a couple of time. This is prepping me before reading actual works by some of the philosophers.

31 of 33 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • brandi
  • PITTSBURGH, PA, United States
  • 03-31-16

Spectacular!

Each key philosophy is described in chronological order and in detail. The author makes this complex subject come alive. His narrative is newbie - friendly and scholarly. =)

40 of 43 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Excellent, short but sweet

Would you consider the audio edition of A Little History of Philosophy to be better than the print version?

I enjoy listening to books as I do other things around the house and especially enjoy a well written and spoken book when finding myself wide awake during the night.

What was the most compelling aspect of this narrative?

Clear and sometimes entertaining history of the world's most famous philosophers and some of their rather unique turns of mind.

Any additional comments?

Definitely a book I will listen to more than once. Would recommend it highly.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Meet the great minds.

Nice work,full of facts and guide to the great thinkers of
the past. History and religion.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Great recap of introductory philosophy

This book does not stick out in any spectacular way. It was well written but not prosaic. It was funny but not hilarious. It was informative, but it did not explore new frontiers. Still, I quite liked this book. Each chapter dealt with one or two of the usual suspects in the history of philosophy. Following the Western philosophical tradition, it begins, with Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and a few other Greek dudes. I was slightly disappointed that Democritus, a personal favorite, did not get a chapter. He then moves on, chronologically, devoting chapters to Machiavelli, Hobbes, Descartes, Spinoza, Hume, as well as Darwin and William James who I consider to be more like scientists (though I guess that scientists are in some sense philosophers). The author also devotes chapters to some modern scholars such as Bertrand Russell, Wittgenstein, Turing, and Peter Singer who is still trying to poke the world with his version of utilitarianism.

Since chapters are short and economically written, you rarely get bored as a reader. This is quite hard to do, and it seems to me that many authors lack the ability to only keep the most relevant text. Apart from a brief comprehensible description of the ideas of each philosopher, the author also provides the historical context. Unlike Bertrand Russell's History of Western philosophy, which is much much longer, this book does not give a detailed analysis of the validity of every idea. Typically it merely describes the ideas and leaves the rest to the reader.

If you have forgotten your introductory philosophy or if you would like to get an introduction to philosophy, but you don’t have weeks to spend then this book is an excellent choice.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Locke's Socks or, How We Got Where We Are Now

Consider this brainteaser from John Locke: you have a pair of socks. Every time you wear a hole in them, you patch it. Eventually, the socks are all patches—there’s none of the original material left. Are they the same socks?

That’s why I don’t “do” philosophy. I just can’t get excited at the prospect of sitting around wondering how I know what I know. Or whether the world around me is a figment of my imagination. I’ve got a job to do. Kids to raise. Socks to buy.

But when some nice chap like Nigel Warburton, who understands these things, sits down and writes a layman’s guide to philosophy I sit up and take notice, especially if it’s on sale. Because deep down I still suspect that when I steered clear of philosophy in college (except for the scraps that were necessary when reading, say, Chaucer or Dante) I was leaving a gaping hole in my education.

If you’re anything like me, this Little History will teach you a lot about yourself. Your reactions to the different positions expounded should help you get a grip on where you stand vis-a-vis God, the Cosmos, Life, Death and other concepts that start with capital letters.

For example. I am Catholic, a convert as of the year 2000. I find the prospect of a purely physical, God-less universe about as terrifying as any vision of Hell. Therefore I am repelled by the Logical Positivists’ enthroning of science and empirical rationalism to the exclusion of all metaphysics. On the other hand, reading John Locke’s Two Treatises on Government bores me beyond tears, but I could spend all day reading about the revolution his works helped inspire.

In other words, while needing to see abstract ideas worked out in the physical world, I just as readily eschew ideas that embrace the physical to the exclusion of the metaphysical. It’s not quite a paradox, I know. But it strikes me as an inconsistency in my makeup. It’s the kind of self-insight this book of many viewpoints will provoke in you, too.

And there are a lot of viewpoints. 40 bite-sized chapters (no more than 10 to 14 minutes) sum up most of the important thinkers from Socrates to Peter Singer. I couldn’t help being reminded of Monty Python’s “Philosopher’s Song”—the thinkers and their schools of thought go by so fast. Brevity necessitates a focus on just one or two aspects of any philosopher. In the case of Darwin or Marx, that’s not a real problem: their ideas were pretty monolithic. It doesn’t work so well for someone like Saint Thomas Aquinas or Hegel.

While learning something about myself, I learned even more about the trajectory of philosophy over the past two and a half millennia. But more on that later.

As other reviews have said, this Little History is a compact yet comprehensive survey, well written and engagingly read. While I enjoyed it very much, however, history has taught me that ideas—especially bad ideas—have consequences. This rollicking romp through Western Thought could never make me completely shake off the feeling that the more modern the philosophy, the more it becomes a mere intellectual game, a showcase for the cleverness of the philosopher. We admire those we deem “brilliant”, forgetting that mental agility is no guarantee of healthy or constructive thinking.

For instance:

From the chapter on the Stoics I gained something that has been invaluable in my daily task of raising two teenagers: people tend to treat their emotions like the weather. It may be storming outside, but we forget that we have control over our emotions.

On the other hand:

In his youth the French Revolution convinced Hegel that “fundamental assumptions can be overturned, and that what seemed to be fixed for all time needn’t be.” He held this outlook for the rest of his life—even after the Terror and the Napoleonic Wars.

Rejecting Kant’s concept of nouminal reality, Hegel decided that, “the mind shaping reality just is reality”. Which is like the child who closes their eyes and says, “You can’t see me”.

To avoid the hopeless cycle of yearning for things, acquiring them and then yearning for something else, Schopenhauer recommended a life of poverty and chastity. (Really? I thought that was called “monasticism”.)

John Stuart Mill believed that, given the choice between binge-watching Beverly Hills 90210 and reading Hamlet, we would all opt for the “higher pleasure”. As Warburton points out, Mills’ mistake was in assuming everyone was like him.

For William James, “truth is simply what works”. In other words, if the shadows on the wall of Plato’s famous cave “work” for the people chained therein, why bother bringing them out into the sunlight?

With his “philosophic calculus”, Bentham attempted to pinpoint how much happiness each experience affords us—assuming we all could agree on the value of each “unit” of happiness. And how many units should be assigned to eating ice cream or working out.

Hegel’s idea of the End of History wasn’t the Second Coming but “the gradual and inevitable coming to self-awareness of Spirit through the march of Reason.” It's a point of view, “no one had really appreciated before” and I don’t wonder why. I’ll opt for a loving Savior over an inevitable march every time. Especially when Warburton tells us scholars can’t even agree how to translate Hegel’s word for “Spirit”.

And A. J. Ayers’ version of Logical Positivism—that only statements which are “true by definition” and “empirically verifiable” can be believed—ultimately perished in the gears of its own logic.

The real problem with philosophers—or, at least my problem with philosophers—is twofold. First, since the divorce of philosophy and theology in the Early Modern Period, philosophers have started from their own private preconceptions. Sartre’s own private rejection of God led him to conclude that all of us human beings have no purpose (this, by the way, was his notion of “freedom”.)

Secondly, philosophers don’t know when to quit, following their ideas beyond the limits of absurdity. Rousseau argued so passionately for his notion of freedom that he ended up insisting that those who disagreed with his notion should be “forced to be free”. Apropos of philosophy acted out in history, we know what that kind of thinking made possible in the 20th Century.

As long as we’re pondering inevitabilities, the trajectory of this book, from Socrates to Singer, inevitably reminds me not how far we’ve come to how far we’re fallen. Yes, I know: thinking that everything was better “back then” is always an iffy proposition. You can so easily end up in a bunker, oblivious to the good things that Modern Times can offer. On the other hand, one of those good things isn’t the alarming philosophy of, say, Peter Singer.

For instance: Why is it mandatory that I give to a charity that saves the lives of children in Africa, yet I should not hesitate to pull the plug on a person in a vegetative state? True, we know those children are in need—but just as truly, we cannot say with absolute certainty what is going on inside that person’s mind. Or, even more importantly, their soul. Further: isn’t Singer’s insistence on pulling the plug much akin to treating that person as a “dumb animal”, something to which he would strenuously object (if, of course, we were talking about an animal)? That’s what happens when philosophy, once the handmaid of theology, becomes the handmaid of science.

As Warburton says in his summing up, reading Singer—or any philosopher—“will make you think hard” about your own positions on issues. Ultimately, rather than rely on the “new generation” of philosophers Warburton speaks of, who aim at teaching us “how to live”, I’ll rely on the millennia of wisdom reposed in the Catholic Church and, by extension, the Western Tradition. Philosophy once served theology because the Judeo-Christian revelation was recognized as a surer guide to life than mere human speculation. At the same time, human reason was valued as a tool to more deeply understand that revelation. Putting aside our modern insistence that orthodox belief somehow strangles original thought, I’ve found that it provokes and supports original thought, starting with the idea that there’s something seriously wrong at the heart of our modern philosophy.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

Sort by:
  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • David
  • 09-14-15

Tremendous overview of western philosophy

If you could sum up A Little History of Philosophy in three words, what would they be?

Engaging, thought-provoking and concise.

What did you like best about this story?

I've heard nearly all of the their names, but really I never had a clear concept of the ideas of the major western philosophers, until I listened to this book. In a remarkably easy-to-listen-to style, the author presents a neat, somewhat superficial but pithy summary of arguably the 40 most important and influential western philosophers in modern history. From Socrates and Plato through to Peter Singer, he introduces the person, his key ideas and contributions to thought, and how others received his or her ideas.I know more now than I did before, and have enjoyed listening to this book so much I'm going to listen to it again.

Have you listened to any of Kris Dyer’s other performances? How does this one compare?

Haven't listened to any of Kris's other performances. I thought he had some slightly unusual pronunciation - a long 'a' in "Isaac" and two equally-emphasized syllables in "at-om" jarred slightly for me, but he is a clear, warm-voiced reader and I would happily listen to more.

Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

It made me thirsty for more of the same - and I wonder if there is a similarly concise, masterly overview of eastern philosophy available in a similar format?

Any additional comments?

Highly recommended - accessible, interesting, and thought provoking stuff, which makes me realise a lot of the moral or intellectual questions which we all ponder from time to time are well-rehearsed, categorised, and have been thoroughly explored by philosophers who - for the most part - have something to say on the subjects which merits a bit of our attention. Five stars.

17 of 17 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • dave
  • 03-01-15

Philosophy Bites

Loved it. Not too heavy going for the person in the street (me). The author also does the excellent philosophy bites podcast. Recommended.

15 of 16 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • Anonymous User
  • 05-26-17

A great entry into philosophy

A great entry into philosophy which leaves me wanting to learn more on the subject.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Mr. D. Southcott
  • 04-12-17

Great intro

Great bite-sized intro to major philosophical threads from ancient world to present. Doesn't dwell on individuals but presents the ideas chronologically and simply.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • Adam
  • 03-18-17

Thoroughly fascinating from start to finish.

Excellently read by the narrator, this book shines a light on the core ideas of some of the world's greatest thinkers. Devoting a chapter to each person, the author gives you just enough information as to be satisfying, while also leaving you with the desire to seek out more specifics about the works of Socrotes, Mill, Sartre, and Singer.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • peter
  • 10-20-16

Top quality

If you're looking for a quality audio book that will explain Western philosophy to you, then this is it. Starting chronologically from Socrates to the present day, it charts all of the most notable philosophers and their various ideas. It is supremely well written and narrated, as well as being very informative without being too high-brow. Highly recommended.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • anna
  • 08-04-16

Accessible philosophy

Really enjoyed this book. It's a great way to get an overview of philosophy in bit size chunks.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • Sabina
  • 05-30-16

Good book

Not a bad book on introduction to philosophy! Not super in depth but encourages firther reading and research. Really enjoyed it and will be reading some further books!

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • Brent
  • 04-01-15

wonderful

absolutely loved it! listened to it everywhere, in the bath, walking to work, everywhere. highly recommended.

11 of 12 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • Amazon Customer
  • 10-14-16

Easy read of a difficult subject.

Superb sampler of an often dense and difficult subject beautiful easy read......Loved it


Would recommend as an introduction to all the major philosophers and there work.

9 of 10 people found this review helpful

Sort by:
  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • brett
  • 04-19-15

A good listen

I have never read anything on philosophy. I found this very interesting and thought provoking

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • Jasmine
  • 04-16-16

eye opening!

loved the narration, and had a great overview on philosophy. changed my outlook on how I see the world and definitely changed how I think about things.
other reviewers are upset the book didn't go into details but it is a huge subject and it is titled "a brief history" its enough to ponder the subject and get some ideas.