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A Brief History of Western Philosophy

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In this lucid and masterful work, the eminent scholar Anthony Kenny offers an indispensable resource - the most concise and compelling story of the complete development of philosophy available.

365 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1998

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About the author

Anthony Kenny

128 books93 followers
Sir Anthony Kenny is an English philosopher whose interests lie in the philosophy of mind, ancient and scholastic philosophy, the philosophy of Wittgenstein, and the philosophy of religion.

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5 stars
64 (20%)
4 stars
114 (37%)
3 stars
109 (35%)
2 stars
13 (4%)
1 star
6 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 18 of 18 reviews
11 reviews13 followers
August 15, 2012
I'm ashamed to say it took me over a decade after buying this book to actually read it. Perhaps specialists and philosophy buffs will have other opinions, but for the uninitiated this book does exactly what you want it to do. This is not simply a chronology of famous names and dates or a series of biographical notes; it is very much a history of the ideas themselves, told in an objective, concise and, occasionally, witty manner. The examination is critical at times, not in the negative layman's sense but in the sense that it hints at some of the vulnerabilities and counterpoints that have or may be offered against the ideas presented. While it won't make you an expert on anything, obviously, I found that it did give me a platform and the confidence I was looking for to go on to read more on the subject. At the very least, the book will make you conversant on the bigger topics. It should be noted that there is very little 20th century philosophy beyond Russel and Wittgenstein and almost nothing on American philosophy (a revised edition would be a good idea), but that is a minor quibble.
Profile Image for Chandler.
92 reviews
March 23, 2019
JESUS that took a while!! man...if this guy likes wittgenstein so much then why doesnt he MARRY him! but this is honestly a pretty good book. i just feel owned that a few months ago they came out with a revised edition that i cant find a pdf for. local library has one tho so...hm...
Profile Image for Johannes Solano.
55 reviews
August 5, 2018
I've read parts of this book. I'm currently rereading the whole thing. At first, this looks like an ambitious summary but upon reading it; I find it quite disappointing. Apart from being short, Professor Anthony Kenny offers much more historical information than philosophical content. First of all, this is not an ideal introduction for beginners. The author provides more philosophical jargon than elucidations which makes it a bit technical. Second, it is quite short and thin. In just 300+ pages or so, you can't expect to learn the whole history of western philosophical thought although there are short histories out there which are quite dense in terms of information(Roger's Scruton Short History of Modern Philosophy for instance). And finally, Kenny fails to provide the best points or important contributions of some thinkers thus, providing only 3 to 5 pages to some of them that it is difficult to find intellectual satisfaction.

My views might change in the future though.
Profile Image for Jannik Faierson.
112 reviews9 followers
June 1, 2021
It took me many weeks and months but now I finally finished the History of Philosophy. Not literally like Hegel, but by reading a textbook next to my studies. Only having the time to read once or twice a week, Kenny's style has been very facilitative. He presents the complex net of ideas through the lenses of all relevant philosophers since ancient times. By separating their systems into short chapters, which summarize disciplines, works or phases, single ideas are quick to grasp. Yet, the big themes concerning the true nature of knowledge, reality, and meaning shimmer throughout the many chapters.
A great and comprehensive reading to develop a deeper understanding of the development of philosophy. It's like looking at a stage where many different actors perform a theater play.
At the same time, Kenny offers a concise and usable overview of each individual protagonist, which makes it an ideal book of reference for future projects.
Profile Image for Mike_dangerous.
69 reviews
January 15, 2011
I loved this book. The dude has a sense of humor, and he predigests the ideas of many fine philosophers, and this allowed me to plow through the book in bits and pieces over a few months.

As a bonus, his early comments on Empedocles almost killed me. Things go pretty much chronologically. And even at the end, the author is sharp and witty with Wittgenstein.
Profile Image for Markus.
31 reviews
November 11, 2021
This book feels far too dense for what its worth- Kenny focuses far too much on breaking down the works of philosophers rather than showing how this movement begat that.

I don’t know what demographic Kenny was trying to reach with this book- it seems like those who are well acquainted with with the subject would be bored to tears by the biography of Wittgenstein, while those who are just getting into philosophy will have an impossible task of puzzling out the Philosophy of Logic from these biographies.

Still, it’s a pretty handy reference book, and I’ll treat it as such. You can go back to it whenever you need a cliffnotes version of a thinkers life and works, and I’ve found it works well as a primer for a specific text you’re beginning to study.

Still, this is a massive undertaking have to give credit where credit is due- the author knows his subject.

Profile Image for Andrei Hognogi.
72 reviews2 followers
May 17, 2022
On par with Bertrand Russell's history of philosophy and it's amazing to read to contrast the two and triangulate a better understanding of each era.

Summary of how they compare:
+ (Kenny's) spends more time on antiquity and presocratics
- less time on Aristotle
- less time on medieval philosophy
+ a more succinct recounting of Maimonedes and Islamic scholars
- less time on Hegel
+ More time on Wittingstein

Just go ahead read them both.
Profile Image for Reno Syaputra.
13 reviews
September 19, 2021
I am neither a philosophy nor social science student, but have a huge passion in understanding western philosophy for catching most of the seminar in social and political science class. This book is the go-to when you want to see western philosophy from the bird eye point of view. It is not as detail as the book by Copleston. But for an introduction purpose, this book is perfect.
Profile Image for Naresh Sahu.
6 reviews5 followers
December 3, 2019
Good read if you are beginning to tread on the path to study philosophy and want introductory explanation of all the ideas and how they came about. Just was a little disheartened to find no mention of Albert Camus.
Profile Image for Wendy.
2 reviews2 followers
December 28, 2018

Kenny’s book is a concise chronological introduction to the great minds of philosophical thought through the ages. There were a few explanations of theories that were not particularly clear and could have been helped with illustrations or perhaps an alternative approach to explain it.
Profile Image for Nic.
28 reviews8 followers
April 14, 2023
Original title: A Brief History of Western Philosophy. A good classic introduction to Western philosophy from ancient Greece to Wittgenstein. Kenny provides a lot of historical context and does not only present philosophical ideas on their own. His style is easy to read and quite enjoyable. Being a brief history, some philosophers were presented better than others, but that seems to come with the territory. His new history is twice as long and I think I'd like to read it. I particularly like that he gives space to medieval philosophy, I find that many skip that part.
Profile Image for Othoob.
41 reviews
May 29, 2022
This volume is quite short. Nonetheless, the author tries to mention every aspect of philosophy briefly, and I had to further study these topics to widen the area of my knowledge. However, this book is excellent. His explanation (mostly) is understandable, yet, lacks depth (which is something to be expected since it’s a short volume).
He also includes history, and the important turning points, and provides historical context before explaining the philosophy of that time.

Some parts of the book were superficial in explanation which sometimes leaves you with more questions (and I used some other online sources for more clarification). Overall this book is good. Although it may not have the depth that you want, you can get an idea of the main philosophy and concepts of each era and school of thought. So, if you are planning to read more about them, at least you’d know what to search for. There’s another book by the same author that is a bigger volume and provides a more detailed history of philosophy which I’d recommend more (especially by this author).
Profile Image for Seamusin.
218 reviews9 followers
August 27, 2016
Fantastic. He's tied so much together in such a neat package. Nice interplay between outlines of philosophers and their criticisms. Chatper 20 (Darwain, Newman and Freud) is to me out of place - would have preferred something on existentialism rather... But still, a heavily-highlighted book I'll keep safe for years to come.
Profile Image for Henrik Haapala.
509 reviews86 followers
July 22, 2020
Beautiful overview of the history of philosophy. We should not judge the present as hard as we do. Maybe a return to the old classics would benefit us. All philosophy consists of footnotes to Plato. Required reading in university philosophy class. Short, succinct and clear texts and paragraphs on the greatest philosophers in history.
Displaying 1 - 18 of 18 reviews

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