History of Western Philosophy
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History of Western Philosophy

4.03 of 5 stars 4.03  ·  rating details  ·  11,718 ratings  ·  373 reviews
First published in 1946, History of Western Philosophy went on to become the best-selling philosophy book of the twentieth century. A dazzlingly ambitious project, it remains unchallenged to this day as the ultimate introduction to Western philosophy. Providing a sophisticated overview of the ideas that have perplexed people from time immemorial, it is 'long on wit, intell...more
Paperback, 792 pages
Published February 2nd 2004 by Routledge
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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...more
Ian [Paganus de] Graye
Overview

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...more
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'....more
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...more
Paul
Russell's History of Philosophy is a good little introduction to a massive field. His biases will be a problem for those who are aligned with the ones he critiques. This is because he frequently lets his biases cloud his thinking. For example, he writes,

"So little is known of him [Leucippus] that Epicurus (a later follower of Democritus) was thought to have denied his existence all together, and some moderns have revived this theory. There are, however, a number of allusions to him in Aristotle,...more
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 annecdotes 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...more
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...more
Adam
Ray Monk
"A History of Western Philosophy remains unchallenged as the perfect introduction to its subject. Russell...writes with the kind of verve, freshness and personal engagement that lesser spirits would never have permitted themselves. This boldness, together with the astonishing breadth of his general historical knowledge, allows him to put philosophers into their social and cultural context... The result is exactly the kind of philosophy that most people would like to read, but which only...more
Jared Colley
This book is invaluable to me. I first read it as a high schooler & young college student, and I have never stopped reading it since. This has served as a resource/reference for countless various reasons. Mr. Russell offers a pretty comprehensive account of Western, intellectual history here, but he also provides erudite commentary on almost all major philosophers & philosophies of the Western tradition. The only reason I give this 4 and not 5 stars is Mr. Russell's glaring ommission of...more
Mr.
This is of course an analytic philosopher's history of western philosophy, which means that Russell presupposes that there is a single rational goal which all philosophers are seeking to reach through collective progress. Unfortunately, philosophy is not mathematics, nor is it science. Russell's account is sometimes troubling, sometimes funny, as he methodically points out every logical error in the Ancient Greeks, the rationalists, the empiricists, etc. The notion of progress as it pertains to...more
Animesh
This is the mother of all books!

This tome was apparently dictated by Bertrand Russell to his secretary during his lecture trips in America as he traveled by train across the country in the 1920s.

It is witty, provocative, profound, and informative all at the same time.

If you want to know what genius is, then read this book. It is the encapsulation of the entire philosophical thoughts of the western world, written (well, dictated) in the most engaging way possible. Need I say more?

Read it.

[Alas,...more
Carlo
There is no doubt that Russell ignores some important elements in the history of western thought in his History of Western Philosophy. I am not as much annoyed as some who consider this book worthless for that matter. I may be biased toward him and the importance he gives to the scientific method in considering the various schools of philosophy. He obviously aims at a philosophy based on the scientific knowledge acquired at his time. However, I see it somewhat unfair to totally ignore some figur...more
Stian
A very subjective history of philosophy. Russell makes it very clear what he thinks of every philosopher mentioned and it's not very hard to see who he likes and who he dislikes.

The first part of the book on Ancient Philosophy I thought was excellent and very fascinating. The variety of thought and ideas here was really incredible and made for very easy and interesting reading throughout. In fact, once I had finished Russell's examination of Plato I decided to read three of Plato's dialogues, a...more
Szplug
My introduction to Western Philosophy, an overview of some twenty-five hundred years of thought about what constitutes existence and the best manner for man to conduct himself whilst a part of a grand metaphysical theatre. Russell makes a perfect guide, combining a deft and engrossing gift for writing with a warm humanity, impressive erudition, and the ability to impart remarkable clarity to what can, in other hands, be very complex and abstruse subject matter. While I have come to believe his j...more
Nickolette
This is fucking huuuuge. The subject as well. If you think Rome was wicked, just wait and see what happens after Christ. To go through Christianity and the Dark Ages was dreadful, let alone live it. But as philosophers come closer to our times it gets more and more interesting, familiar but not necessary easier to comprehend. I still could not summarize what Kant and Hegel are all about and probably I lack the curiosity to ever will.

"A History of Western Philosophy" is exactly what the title say...more
James
I first read this book when I was an undergrad after devouring Russell's compact and excoriating compilation of essays titled Why I am not a Christian which, for first year philosophy students, serves as a pretty compelling account for why religious belief is not only harmful but woefully inadequate for addressing most of the serious issues that face humanity in the modern world. It was just nice to read somebody who talked sense and could write about complicated issues in a reasonably intelligi...more
Joshua
Finally! It took several months, but I finally finished. And this book was worth every minute. It's the best history of philosophy I've read. Not that I have read enough histories to determine that this is the best out there. But I have read a few which I can compare it to. Many histories of philosophy are far too simplistic, written at a level appropriate for a junior high student. I tried to break away from that type by reading Frederick Coppleston's history, but that was over-correcting the p...more
Anthony
a very comprehensive history that ranges from the pre-socratics to the early 20th century (ending with bergson and dewey)-- the history needs to be taken for what it's worth (russell doesn't really try to hide his prejudices and he gets less objective as he nears his present time; nietzsche and marx do not get fair consideration at all), but it is an extremely helpful tool for chronological and conceptual organization and i wish i'd have come to it sooner-- philosophy, as it exists in my mind, i...more
Richard
Mar 17, 2008 Richard rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: history buffs, pastors, aspiring intelligensia
Reading Bertrand Russell was a great surprise because his writing is so clear. He relates philosophers to their cultural contexts, an idea overused today, but Russell acheives a balance between philosophy as a mere expression of culture versus philosophy as having claims we can test and which we must take into account. Some surprising chapters include figures not usually reckoned as philosophers- Lord Byron, most notably- but included for their influence on the history of thought. His taxonomy o...more
Juanita Rice
An absolutely stupendous compendium! Reading it took me a year or more, especially the section on "Catholic Philosophy" which, in fact, generally covers the historical period from early Roman times (some of that is in the previous segment) up to the Renaissance. By including ample reference to sociopolitical history as well as ideological history, Russell allows the reader to better understand why various philosophies are born and abandoned. Careful and very readable summaries of each philospher...more
Aaron
I have only, as yet, finished the sections on the pre-Socratics, the Socratic trio and the post-Aristotlean ancient philosophies - but this book is an absolutely magisterial tome! Russell writes with great lucidity and weaves a complex historical narrative that traces the history of Western philosophy (in all disciplines and regards) with masterful precision. An eye-opening journey in reading.

Upon finishing this book, my feeling is much the same. Russell's narrative voice and authority is charmi...more
Jacob Aitken
This book is vintage Russell: exceptionally written yet cheerfully oblivious to his own blind spots. As far as one volume summaries of philosophy go, this is probably the best--not because he faithfully explicates opposing viewpoints from an objective position; he does no such thing. Rather, he *tells* a story and tells it well. Most reviewers will urge a reader to buy (or not buy) a book based on its merits (or not buy based on its flaws). I take the opposite position--buy the book because of t...more
Ernest
Why three stars only? Too much condensed information packed into one volume! Necessarily, coverage of some other philosophers is missing or only superficial at best. Facts can make for a tedious and boring read at times. Perhaps it would have been desirable if he divided this project into three volumes instead. I particularly didn't like his analysis of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche; obviously, his coverage of continental philosophy is abysmally lacking. As for appreciations, the fact that Russell...more
Hermit
Aug 01, 2013 Hermit is currently reading it
I've read this book till Aristotle and it will probably be a while before I resume it so I will just write my thoughts on what I've read so far.

This is clearly one of the greatest books that exist. I have read each chapter at least twice and have made notes from it. There is no doubt in my mind that the rationalistic prose of Bertrand Russell is the best that I have come across in any piece of writing that I've read. I have taken tons of inspiration from this book.

While I haven't read any other...more
Esteban del Mal
I've been working on this for months, which is no big deal because the book has independent sections covering each philosophical epoch and its representative philosophers. Russell is dry but knowledgeable. I'm not a fan of his strict materialism, but he is what he is.

***

7/15/09: Floating on the surface of Saint Augustine's intrigues. A little boring. I'm told that someone of my disposition is better suited to Tarnas's book, The Passion of the Western Mind.

***

9/4/09: Finally finished Book II, Ca...more
Jaakko J.
What one book should I read if I would want to know what philosophy is?


If you will ever read just a single book on the subject of philosophy, I think that it should be “The History of Western Philosophy” that was written by a certain Bertrand Russell. In less than 800 pages, he covers the immense field of western philosophy from Thales to the modern times and does it well.
The most wonderful thing of all is that you put the book down with a feeling that you have really gained an insight on what p...more
Fil Krynicki
This one was a marathon. I finished six weeks to the day from taking the book out from the library. At times, it was captivating. At other times, it put me to sleep. For some philosophers, I now know with some clarity their philosophy, parts of their lives and their fallacies. For others, I can remember not much more than that they existed, at a certain time, and were either Catholic or not (hint - the prefix "Saint" implies a Catholic bent).

In the end, the book enlightened me as to the difficul...more
k
I tend to have two problems when reading philosophy. One, each author has their own set of pet terms whose meanings aren't precisely identical to those of their common usages. Two, I assume that when something doesn't make sense, it's my fault. It's not a perfect book by any means, with some glaring omissions (Kierkegaard, Freud, economic liberalism, existentialism), but it goes a long way in terms of providing a background on philosophical thought.

Russell is a logician, and something of a human...more
Curtis
If you, like myself, have been raised under the sunshine of Western civilization this is a book you ought to be reading, in place of The Bible, if you want to have a better understanding of your mental lineage/heritage. This book offers up the true origin story of occidental mankind. Bertrand Russell goes back as far as Socrates and winds his way through philosophers and their philosophies, through the ages, all the way up to and including John Dewey who was a contemporary of Russell's. Russell'...more
Anand
I started reading this Russell's book 2 years ago. With much procrastination I have finished it within 2 years.

One, excuse I would give for myself for reading so slow is that this book's entirety consists of separate chapters on explaining philosophical doctrines from the Milesian to his own philosophical school. and I would say his writing is dense (needs to be in some chapters) and quite dry I would say.

On that regard This book is more of reference book, and not to be truly enjoyed on its own...more
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17854
Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell, OM, FRS, was a Welsh philosopher, historian, logician, mathematician, advocate for social reform, pacifist, and prominent rationalist. Although he was usually regarded as English, as he spent the majority of his life in England, he was born in Wales, where he also died.

He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1950 "in recognition of his var...more
More about Bertrand Russell...
Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects The Problems of Philosophy The Conquest of Happiness Religion and Science In Praise of Idleness: And Other Essays

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“To teach how to live without certainty, and yet without being paralyzed by hesitation, is perhaps the chief thing that philosophy, in our age, can still do for those who study it.” 274 likes
“A stupid man's report of what a clever man says can never be accurate, because he unconsciously translates what he hears into something he can understand.” 229 likes
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