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Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?: 23 Questions from Great Philosophers

3.67  ·  Rating details ·  251 ratings  ·  37 reviews
Do we have free will?
How can we know anything?
What is justice?
Why is there evil in the world?
What is the source of truth?
Is it possible for God not to exist?
Can we really believe what we see?

These are some of the questions that have intrigued the world's greatest thinkers over the ages. They are questions that make us think about the way we live, work, relate to each other
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published November 13th 2007 by Basic Books (first published 2006)
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3.67  · 
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 ·  251 ratings  ·  37 reviews

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Bill  Kerwin
Mar 21, 2015 rated it really liked it

To those of you who loved philosophy in college, but are fearful of re-kindling such a demanding relationship, I would recommend this little book. It is a commitment-free afternoon of philosophical dalliance. This is no candle-lit dinner; this is an early lunch at a well-lighted cafe.

Leszek Kolakowski—a real philosopher known both for his works on Marxism and his works on religious belief—poses twenty-three questions crucial to the thought of twenty-three different philosophers from Socrates to
Burak Uzun
Feb 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: jaguar-kitap
Kolakowski; Sokrates'ten Platon'a, Descartes'tan Hobbes'a, Schopenhauer'a, Heidegger'a, 30 düşünür hakkında denemeler yazmış. Her bir denemede, bahsedeceği düşünürün insanlığa yönelttiği sorulardan hareketle bir yolculuğa çıkmış ve bu yolculuğu sorularla devam ettirmiş.
Yalnız kendisi, "Bu denemeleri neden yazdım?" bölümünde kitabın bir hap bilgiler toplamı, bir özetleme çabası ya da ders kitabı olmadığını belirtmiş.
Anladığım kadarıyla -hissettiğim demeliyim belki de- düşünüşler arası bir yolculu
Maria Borland
This could almost be the outline for a module on God in the history of European philosophy. Kolakowski states in his introduction that 'If a student attempted to sit an exam based on these essays, he would be disapointed'. This is true, each brief chapter acts as a lesson that requires you to have done or to go out and do the extra reading. I have a feeling it is a book better read slowly. Each section concludes with several open ended questions that you could easily imagine facilitating a semin ...more
Jun 01, 2010 rated it really liked it
Recommended to James by: Jerry Ritter
This is a small book both in number of pages and height - it is only six and a quarter inches tall. But within this small frame Leszek Kolakowski packs a lot of philosophy. It is organized by philosopher from ancient to modern and for each section of about ten pages the book focuses upon one key idea associated with the philosopher being discussed. As Kolakowski says in the introduction: "I do not intend to 'summarize' Plato, Descartes or Husserl: that would be an absurd ambition." [at least wit ...more
Mar 20, 2017 rated it liked it
A tiny pocket-sized thing that can be breezed through in a sitting or two. It's mostly paraphrase, not so much insight-driven. Unfortunately, this isn't even the full translation of Kołakowski's Polish book. It leaves out chapters on Aristotle (!), Meister Eckhart, Nicolas of Cusa, Hobbes (!), Heidegger (!), Jaspers and Plotinus. The translator blames this on the request of the American publisher (Basic Books), and it's baffling to me why 23 questions is preferable to an even 30.
Dec 05, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
A birthday gift, & a beautifully-written tour through the central questions raised by some of the most important figures in Western European thought. (Sadly, the author had not, at the time of writing, got his head around Wittgenstein, who is omitted.) Kołakowski treats each philosopher with great respect - though, admittedly, some more than others (his handling of Nietzsche in particular can verge on the testily paternal); but the book is not without problems.

Firstly, the 'great philosophe
Mar 11, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: foundation-texts
A great summary of the pillars of Western philosophy. Summary is the key word, though. I was mislead when I picked it up: I thought each chapter was a selection from the actual philosopher himself (yup, all men). It's actually Kolakowski's summation of their central argument. That's fine enough, and he was coherent enough to keep me reading, though a bit routine in his approach to each fella.

It's quite a lot of heady thought to digest at once. I had major metaphysical fatigue about two-thirds th
Christian Schwoerke
Despite Kolakowski's demurral, this is a summary account of Western philosophy, and it's an interesting and engaging ride, though one that required me to make notes as I read. Each of the thirty philosophers in the Penguin edition of this book (apparently only 23 in the Basic Books edition) is unique in his perspective, but sometimes only slightly different from some predecessor (or follower). Notes were also helpful in trying to separate out a philosopher's terms and concepts, as there is a goo ...more
Abbi Dion
I really enjoyed this. The author's tone is really humble yet morally intelligent. Basically this volume serves as a nice primer and/or refresher of some of the wackos born to this here earth. Sadly, the English edition doesn't include sections on Aristotle, Heidegger, or Jaspers. If you can read the original Polish edition, you will be able to enjoy them, however. Favorite passage: "Kierkegaard's view of the relation between the world and eternity emerges from his remarks about the sign of the ...more
Mike Lindgren
Feb 18, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Professor Kolakowski has written a superb little book here, both dense and lucid, a kind of personal, idiosyncratic summary of the central ideas of 23 great philosophers from Socrates to Husserl. It's fairly dry, dealing tersely with a lot of demanding, abstract ideas, so it makes me feel dumb (in a good way), but it's so short that it can be read in an afternoon or so, in snatches. Its operation on me is to spark a yearning for an extra lifetime or two where I could devote hours upon hours to r ...more
Oct 22, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very clearly argued, cleanly written explication of many of the great philosophers, beginning with Socrates and ending with Husserl. Kolakowski doesn't try to explain each philosopher's entire program, rather he provides a window into one or two questions he thinks are both interesting and representative. The result is rather like an elegant Cliff Notes for intellectuals who can't be bothered to sweat it out with the originals but want a sense of what they were saying. I would recommend this b ...more
Feb 12, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A magnificent, guided tour through Western Philosophy. Starting with Socrates, this tour goes through Parmenides, Heraclitus, Plato, Epictetus, Empericus, St Augustine, St Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, William of Occam, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Pascal, Locke, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Bergson and Husserl. Each philosopher's core thought is described in just a few pages. I personally, for the first time, got the essence of most of the 23 philosophers except Spinoza, K ...more
Jul 21, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
Besides the fact this is a small book that can easily fit in a shirt pocket, the biggest reason I like it is that it names the biggest positive conclusions in the development of philosophy, and without saying 'this is reality" it leaves you with the most asked questions which remain about the conclusions drawn by those various philosophers which it covers. I would have liked it had they included Bertrand Russell and Sartre, maybe also Voltaire, rather than just raising their specters in relation ...more
Apr 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A wonderfully clear short introduction to 23 philosophers and 23 philosophical questions, none of which have been answered to universal satisfaction. Not an introduction to philosophy (the author says a student who tries to sit an exam based only on reading this book will fail) nor a full account of any of the philosophers. More an introduction to ways of thinking about philosophical questions. Translated from the Polish, and therefore even more astonishing that it is so clear even I can follow ...more
Aug 24, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wasn't what I was looking for as the underlying frame of thought evident throughout the book was towards God. So in that sense it is great. It does have a good chronological structure and organization, with a historical summary and highlights at the start and questions at the back. Whilst the language is impeccable, I lost the train of thought many times as it became lengthy when it seems like the purpose of the book is to be bite-sized and readable chapter by chapter. Some chapters (Ockham, Sch ...more
May 26, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Terry by: Leslie, indirectly
Six months ago I would not have imagined that I would even read a philosophy book and if I had contemplated doing so, I would not have imagined rating it higher than one star. As I observed in my updates on this book, I did not find much in the way of persuasive philosophical arguments, but I did enjoy reading Kolakowski's take on 23 philosophers' handling of a big question each. The author presented clear, concise slices of each philosopher's thought. I especially profited from the questions Ko ...more
August Locke
Mar 23, 2013 rated it liked it
This book has offers very brief essays on the thoughts of philosophers from antiquity to 20th century. From Parmenides, Plato, St. Augustine, Descartes, Pascal, Locke, Hume, Kant, Schopenhauer, Bergson, etc. The book offers a window into examining some of the most fundamental questions of life. It would be a wonderful book for any precocious student in grade 10 or 11, but has little to offer to someone who has already explored philosophy on Wikipedia. :)
Aug 10, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
thoughtful stroll around the history of philosophy which appeared in translation in 2007. it deals with the big questions and, for me, the first, from Heidegger among others before and after, has to be the biggest of them all, though unresolveable. ethical, scientific and progressive philosophers wilfully miss the point of unresolveable questions
Dec 31, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
When I picked up this book, I thought there would be a series of arguments answering the question asked in the title of the book, instead there is a number of thumb nail sketches of philosophers starting with Socrates going through Husserl. Only does Spinoza attempt to answer the question, and he uses it as a reason to believe in God.
Jacob Wren

Leszek Kołakowski writes:

There is a certain attitude of the soul, so to speak, which manifests itself in the similar insights attained, with great effort, by all those who strive to touch the essence of being, whether they are Christians, Hindus, Buddhists or Platonists. They know that if they ever imagine that they understand God, they are wrong: it is not God.

Niels Westerneng
Feb 03, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Outstanding book, the author touches a fraction of the great works of the most interesting philosophers of all time, and does so in extraordinary fashion. This is one of those books you need to buy twice due to wear.
Sep 24, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Horrible. If Kolakowski's intention was to explore the questions of great philosophers, then a coherent summary of, or argument regarding, these ideas would be necessary. Instead we get a dry re-hashing of a philosopher's work with no clear viewpoint. Waste of time.
Eric Kalnins
An interesting read but large parts not to my taste (or understanding) as there is an emphasis on God and religion which are beyond my comprehension (or belief to be honest). For those readers with a more indulgent mind than mine.
Jun 30, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Kolakowski (and is it is wife who translated this?) is such a humane writer with a real feeling for his readers. His pithy explications of these philosophers' ideas are engaging even when their subjects are not!
Brian S
This is a group of short essays on the central ideas of 23 great philosophers. I enyoyed the ones on philosophers I was farmiliar with more than those I wasn't.
Saurabh Patki
a gd book which dwells on some of the most profound POV of philosophy's concepts by some of world's grt thinkers
Apr 20, 2015 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: psbc
Note: check out Penguin edition.
Geoff Little
May 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I love knowing that we humans KEEP having same question 10, 100, 2500 years ago.
Belynda Smith
Sep 07, 2007 is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: philosophically minded
Lovely looking hardbook which a lovely friend sent me from England. Interesting premise as he looks at philosophers' ideas about specific conundrums. Looking forward to getting into it!
Sep 08, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great short introduction to various European philosophers; one easily digestible chapter per philosopher. Written in kind of a conversational lecture-like tone. Good bathroom reading.
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Distinguished Polish philosopher and historian of ideas. He is best known for his critical analysis of Marxist thought, especially his acclaimed three-volume history, Main Currents of Marxism. In his later work, Kolakowski increasingly focused on religious questions. In his 1986 Jefferson Lecture, he asserted that "We learn history not in order to know how to behave or how to succeed, but to know ...more