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Publisher's Summary

Grasp the important ideas that have served as the backbone of philosophy across the ages with this extraordinary 60-lecture series. This is your opportunity to explore the enormous range of philosophical perspectives and ponder the most important and enduring of human questions - without spending your life poring over dense philosophical texts.

Professor Robinson guides you through more than 2,000 years of philosophical thinking and gives you a coherent, comprehensive, and beautifully articulated introduction to the great conversation of philosophy. Every lecture contains substance that can change your view of the world and its history.

You'll journey from the early philosophical ideas of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle; chart the origins of Christian philosophy and investigate the Islamic scholars who preserved and extended Greek thought during the Middle Ages; and venture through Enlightenment contributions to philosophy, from Francis Bacon to Locke, Hume, Kant, Mill, and Adam Smith.

Then shift your attention to the modern era, where you see groundbreaking ideas like psychoanalysis, pragmatism, and nihilism, as well as the collision between the inherently social understanding of meaning created by Wittgenstein, the vastly different estimation of human thought developed by the code-breaking genius Alan Turing, and the subtle response to him made by the American philosopher John Searle.

While the lectures cover an enormous range of key thinkers and ideas, they always focus on the most important ideas. The result is a course that gives you everything you need to finally grasp humanity's exciting philosophical history - without years of intense academic study and piles of dense reading.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

©2004 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2004 The Great Courses

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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A Hard Review to Write

This is one of the hardest reviews I have written. I have struggled with deciding how to judge this course. There are aspects that I really enjoyed. The professor is clearly brilliant and knows the material very well. If anything, the professor's brilliance and knowledge of the material may be too good because many, but not all, of the lessons are taught at higher than a beginner's level. I took this course to fill a gap in my education. During college, Introduction to Philosophy was an elective course that I never managed to work into my schedule. I have enjoyed using the Great Courses to fill in gaps in my education by taking the classes that I simply did not get around to in college. So, I was hoping for Philosophy 101. This course, though, was more like Philosophy 201 or 301. Throughout, the professor used terminology that he did not adequately define or assumed the listener already understood. Despite the professor being highly knowledgeable and a quality presenter, his failure to explain terminology made following portions of the course very difficult. My opinion is not completely negative, and I certainly learned some things from the course. I particularly enjoyed the last ten lessons where he summarized different philosophical approaches to topical areas such as medical ethics, legal theory, justifications for war, aesthetic judgments and the existence of God.

56 of 59 people found this review helpful

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Great overview with some degree of detail

I found this to be a thought-provoking and interesting overview of many of the major philosophers and their respective reasonings and arguments. This isn't a scant overview where you get a handful of minutes on profound thinkers, you get a little bit more than - usually at least one full lecture and often more when the philosopher or philosophy is refered back to in later lectures.

The Professor clearly has mastery over his course and it's a pleasure to have had he opportunity to sit in on his classes while in my car, or on my lawn mower.... or layed out on the couch/floor.

I definitely recommend this as a great starting point and believe it will push you to consider or read/listen to more writings/lectures on the subject or, at least, on a particular philosophy or philosopher.

4/5 stars represents something I'd possibly listen to again - and I very well may - probbaly selectively based upon interest in a particular lecture or two. Trying to get away from LOVING everything I hear - but I'm frequently failing. This one slips to just shy of 5 because it didn't have me so 'eager' to continue listening at every breath of my day.

Thanks,
Will

41 of 43 people found this review helpful

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Terrific exploration of philosophical ideas

If you could sum up The Great Ideas of Philosophy, 2nd Edition in three words, what would they be?

Articulate, nuanced, explanatory

What did you like best about this story?

Philosophy is the greatest subject matter to which humans turn their attention, and Professor Robinson pinpoints knowledge, conduct and governance as the three great themes of human history and experience, then explores these in a way that draws the listener in. This man knows and loves his subject.

What about Professor Daniel N. Robinson’s performance did you like?

He is erudite without being pompous, and very easy to listen to. His tone is discursive, with the light and shade generally found in conversation but not in reading -- he doesn't give the impression that he is reading out his lecture notes.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

yes - but good luck! 60 lectures. Extraordinary value.

Any additional comments?

Get this one if it's the only course you buy.

17 of 18 people found this review helpful

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  • Brian
  • DENVER, CO, United States
  • 12-29-13

A Rather "Spatial" Take on Philosophy

Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

There is no doubt that Robinson is extremely learned. He's also a little self-impressed. His style can sometimes catapult you into the stars, or drive you nuts, depending on how well you're paying attention. Now, if your looking for a linear take on the history of philosophy, where the lecturer lays everything out according to a strict chronology and a "cause and effect" approach, you would probably do better with another overview. Yet if you're interested in being pulled through 2,500 years of thought according to an extremely erudite professor, who has, mind you, some eccentricity thrown in for good measure, than you will appreciate this approach. In other words, Robinson likes to go for the big ideas. And he likes to spend a lot of time building up to those big ideas. If you're patient and can follow his near-prose style of speaking, it does pay off. And, to his credit, he's working very hard to set things up so you can have your own epiphany with the ideas, which is what great philosophy professors should do. But then again, sometimes you just want the facts, and you want them laid out clearly and concisely. I sometimes found myself thinking "this is amazing," and other times, I found myself thinking, "ok, yeah, yeah, yeah, think I'll forward to the next lecture now." In all he gave me some great insight, some "great ideas," but I did feel it was a lot of work sometimes, and a lot of highs and lows.

What did you like best about this story?

Robinson is smart as hell and passionate, and this comes across in many of the lectures. He seems to do a little bit better with modern philosophy, starting with Bacon. <br/><br/>You're best off finishing a lecture if you happen to start it.

48 of 53 people found this review helpful

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Introduced me to philosophy

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

I bought this for leisure and I found it to be thoroughly educational, inspirational and most importantly fun to listen to

19 of 21 people found this review helpful

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Drink Deeply...

It will not take long for the listener to realize that Professor Robinson is one smart cookie. I worked it out less than two minutes in as the narrator reeled off his accomplishments: Ph.D in Neuropsychology, positions at prestigious universities, author of seventeen(!) books- even by the standards of Great Courses teachers, Robinson is in a class above.

This man will make you THINK. All of these lectures are packed with content. Now, you don't need a grounding in philosophy before going in, but you do need to give your undivided attention. When I listened to this while walking, commuting or doing chores, I'd often find my mind slipping away only to jump back after he's moved on. When I come back to these lectures, I'll be bringing a pen and a notebook.

Here are some passages to help get the vibe of the course:

"Now, just as for Protagoras, one, two, three and four are not mere numbers. Neither can it be a coincidence that the harmonic structure of music should have, as it's reliable effect on our auditory system, that is, that we should hear as harmonious what in fact is governed by the mathematical laws of harmony. Why is it that the perfect fifth sounds the way it does?"

"...Let me stay with materialism for a moment, it is useful to point out that defenses of it often rely on evidence gathered by methods that presuppose the validity of the claim. Namely, methods suited to identify and quantify matter, or material things. There tends to be a certain circularity, even a vicious circularity, between the ontological position we take and the methods that we employ to vindicate, or confirm, or as we like to say, objectively test it. This will be apparent in more than one major theory considered in subsequent lectures..."

"...It is a credit to Socrates' lasting genius that he understands the interconnectedness of these questions, that the problem of knowledge, the problem of conduct, and the problem of governance are various phases of the same kind of problem, and that problem is how we come to know ourselves, and realize our humanity in the course of a lifetime..."

"...and I'm going to pause here to make clear just what it means to be a radical empiricist, and to be the radical William James, for it is this that gives power and consistency to the entire range of James' thought. Now, the usual adoption of, or concession to, empiricistic philosophies is a hedged one. The apologist is likely to say something along these lines, 'Well of course, a lot of the things we know we know as the result of experience, there are some things we can't know by way of experience, this being sort of abstract Leibnizian, Cartesian sorts of things, and anyway the senses really can deceive us from time to time, but by and large I'm certainly willing to use my senses in most of the ordinary business of life." Now this, I say, is a position that is as boring as it is probably faultless. It most assuredly is not the position of a radical empiricist..."

"...In just about every area of expertise, there are achievements that simply cannot be defined in words, but only exhibited in the performance itself. So from an ontological point of view, the question must arise whether our conceptions of reality are also shaped by intuitive and tacit modes of knowing, with skepticism arising as a result of the inability to articulate or justify the grounds..."

"...Now I want to make point that I think is at once controversial and commonsensical, and those two can go hand-in-hand. The resources of the law, in matters of this kind, very often seem far more developed, far more supple, more protean, more capable of finding controlling maxims on the basis of the thick record of juridical reasoning than does the book of moral philosophy itself..."

As the poet says, "A little learning is a dangerous thing/ Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring." If you're interested, here's a nice deep well for you.

11 of 12 people found this review helpful

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An Excellent Introduction to Western Philosophy

Would you listen to The Great Ideas of Philosophy, 2nd Edition again? Why?

Yes. It contained a number of ideas worth thinking about more and/or revisiting.

What other book might you compare The Great Ideas of Philosophy, 2nd Edition to and why?

From Socrates to Sartre, by T. Z. Lavine. Both books attempt to cut a large swathe through western philosophical thought; Lavine's work tends to go more in depth, however, since it deals with fewer philosophers.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Treat Yourself

If you are looking for an immensely thought-provoking, thorough, and accessible look at the major aspects if philosophy, you can't beat this. The 60 lectures were worth every minute.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

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Not much integration

I bought this course as an introduction to philosophy in general, and that is what I'm basing my review on.

The professor doesn't try very hard to integrate the thoughts of each lecture into a bigger conceptual scheme. I felt very isolated from one lecture to the next. The lectures are good enough in content, and would be great if you just wanted to turn on a lecture here or there to hear some random topic in philosophy talked about by an educated person. But as an intro to philosophy it falls short.

If you're looking for a conceptual scheme dealing with the progression of philosophy and giving a more comprehensive intro, I highly recommend the "Great Minds in the Western Intellectual Tradition" from the Great Courses.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Disappointing

Would you try another book from The Great Courses and/or Professor Daniel N. Robinson?

The Great Courses, yes. Robinson, no.

What could The Great Courses have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

The Great Courses should have reviewed the content of this book for accuracy and bias.

Would you be willing to try another one of Professor Daniel N. Robinson’s performances?

No.

What character would you cut from The Great Ideas of Philosophy, 2nd Edition?

Professor Robinson

Any additional comments?

This is a course on the great ideas of philosophy only if "great" is defined to mean ideas of which Professor Robinson approves and which fit his narrow, Christianity-centered perspective. There were no great philosophers in the Renaissance? Really? Machiavelli, anyone? Professor Robinson's inclusion of witchcraft in this course was baffling, especially as his perspective appears to be that witches had actual magical powers. At no point does he suggest that persecuting witches was pointless because, hey, not possible to kill the neighbor's cows with the power of one's mind. Then we have the Inquisition presented as an advance in human rights. This is so ridiculous as to require no further comment. The list of the problems with this course is much too long for this review. Don't buy it.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Andrew
  • 12-02-13

Well presented introduction to philosophy

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

The book covers philosophy from the start of civilisation to modern times - with some thematic discussions at the end. It is largely focused on western ideas, although there were passing references to eastern thought, particularly early on. So a really good overall introduction, best supplemented with supporting reading. It tackles some difficult concepts and does, at times, require work from the listener (ie. full concentration and time to digest ideas): I repeated some parts 2 or 3 times to get the full meaning. Overall very stimulating and largely enjoyable.

What about Professor Daniel N. Robinson’s performance did you like?

The American lecturer had a pleasant and warm tone, clearly and naturally spoken, with a few endearing tics such as saying "do you see?" at the end of some particularly complex example or explanation - or to emphasise a point. As the lectures developed it was interesting to build a picture of his personal perspectives - on some challenging issues, which is not to say that arguments were not presented in the round.

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

These lectures were stimulating and had the impact of returning me to other books to further develop my understanding.

Any additional comments?

There was a lot crammed in - most of the major figures of philosophy are touched on. Also a focus on some ideas not normally treated as "philosophical" eg. USA constitution and Freud. An excellent initial overview.

13 of 13 people found this review helpful

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  • John
  • 01-19-15

What a great idea!

Fabulous romp through history and it's formative ideas. The reader is interesting to listen to, has a great grasp of the subject and witty to boot.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Montreal
  • 06-11-17

Religion tainted

It always turns my stomach when academics take advantage of knowledge to disseminate blatantly biased propaganda. Here we have religion (of the Christian brand) and Monarchical ideology in a smooth-talking name-dropping somewhat arrogant teacher of philosophy. The other negative reviews give specific details of the same things that shocked me when I listened to this course. Fortunately I got fed up half-way, before reaching the outrageous and dogmatic last class (a pitch for God).

5 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • Peter
  • 12-18-17

Greek and the western ideas, good but not global

More accurately described as the great ideas of philosophy stemming from the greek ideas, an accounting of why not is included but not a global consideration

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  • Kenneth
  • 06-27-17

Thoughts provoked.

Narrated well. Would like to have a summary of each lecture for quick reference. Recommended reading/ listening and a worthy foundation stone for any life; a wise investment of time.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 05-21-17

A fabulous presentation

I found this series stimulating, entertaining, and intelligently incisive in catching catching the nub of so many great thinkers and tracing the development and reworking of so many ideas through ever changing contexts. I've been reading and debating philosophy for 35 years on and off and this series of lectures has refreshed my heart for philosophical inquiry. Many thanks.

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  • RC Spies
  • 04-17-17

Comprehensive introduction to philosophy

Many of the great ideas are covered in this book. But you will need to explore each topic separately for more insight.

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  • Greg Gauthier
  • 06-09-16

Masterful, Enthralling, Enlightening

Dr. Robinson is a remarkable lecturer, a brilliant storyteller, and a skilled logician. It's taken me a month to traverse all 60 lectures, but it was well worth the effort in my estimation. 30 days to consume a lifetime of wisdom is a good bargain. More importantly, it's great to know that at least one man cares enough about The West to make sure we all remember what makes it worth caring about.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Linda Branson
  • 08-19-17

Great overview of philosophy and noted figures

What did you like most about The Great Ideas of Philosophy, 2nd Edition?

A great intro to philosophy for people who haven't studied it before (like me). Goes through a lot of history and how it relates to present day thinkers, which is very enlightening.<br/><br/>Narrator is excellent; very thoughtful explanations and demonstrates different sides of philosophical arguments.<br/><br/>Really enjoyable reading.

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  • Lewis
  • 01-28-17

Wordy, hard to follow, lots of fluff

What disappointed you about The Great Ideas of Philosophy, 2nd Edition?

The lecturer's language was unnecessarily complex and he spent a lot of time discussing 'fluff'. So the lectures were difficult to follow and in the end he didn't communicate very much of substance. Unfortunately, I found them to be low-yield.

Has The Great Ideas of Philosophy, 2nd Edition put you off other books in this genre?

No, but it has put me off other books by this lecturer.

Who might you have cast as narrator instead of Professor Daniel N. Robinson?

Definitely Professor David K. Johnson. I've listened to a lot of philosophy lectures by the Great Courses and he is the best by FAR - excellent communicator, philosopher and teacher.

If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from The Great Ideas of Philosophy, 2nd Edition?

There was so much 'fluff' in each lecture. He spent so much time telling stories, discussing dramas and characters, digressing from the core issues. I would have preferred a much more detailed discussion of the actual philosophical ideas, arguments for and against each idea, whether there is any modern expert consensus regarding the ideas and how the ideas have developed over time.

Any additional comments?

Please get Professor David K. Johnson to do a similar lecture series. I would purchase anything written and narrated by him!

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  • Tim Jones
  • 12-19-16

Good, though very brief, overview

This series is comprised of 30min lectures - each covering a different 'great idea', usually through the person that proposed it.

As can be guessed, this time is not really sufficient to get a decent look at the idea or person, but is a good reference as who to look into later. Some ideas get good coverage; others are very brief with the choices the lecturer made about what to cover (thought the one on Nietzsche was unfocused, for example) and sometimes the lecturer uses a throw-away line at the end of some lectures that you wish he'd gone into more.

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  • J
  • 07-28-16

Thoroughly Engaging

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Very engaging, a quick survey of the most important philosophical ideas in history, probably good for someone new to the world of philosophy.

What did you like best about this story?

The narrative is very engaging.

Have you listened to any of Professor Daniel N. Robinson’s other performances? How does this one compare?

No.

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  • evan
  • 06-23-16

the reader excessively uses useless fluff words

As philosophy is plagued by over complication of simple concepts, this is just a prime example. Dumbest collection of what would be great philosophical thoughts in a non-linear, almost non sensical presentation giving a bad name to academia.

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  • Joshua
  • 12-13-15

Entertaining and informative

In these 50 lectures, Prof. Robinson wittingly illustrates a dialectic of philosophical perspectives comprising issues of knowing, issues of conduct and issues of governance.

This was my first exposure to philosophical thought and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The subject quality aside, these lectures were delivered expertly. I frequently found myself laughing due to the wit with which these arguments were conveyed; the arguments themselves being fascinating.

Prof. Robinson you have created in me a student of philosophy. I endeavour next to consume the Homeric epics and Greek dramatists that constituted as you put it "pre-philosophical" thought.