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Publisher's Summary

Hailed as “lucid and magisterial” by The Observer, this book is universally acclaimed as the outstanding one-volume work on the subject of Western philosophy.

Considered to be one of the most important philosophical works of all time, the History of Western Philosophy is a dazzlingly unique exploration of the ideologies of significant philosophers throughout the ages - from Plato and Aristotle through to Spinoza, Kant and the 20th century. Written by a man who changed the history of philosophy himself, this is an account that has never been rivaled since its first publication over 60 years ago.

Since its first publication in 1945, Lord Russell’s A History of Western Philosophy is still unparalleled in its comprehensiveness, its clarity, its erudition, its grace, and its wit. In seventy-six chapters he traces philosophy from the rise of Greek civilization to the emergence of logical analysis in the 20th century. 

Among the philosophers considered are: Pythagoras, Heraclitus, Parmenides, Empedocles, Anaxagoras, the Atomists, Protagoras, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, the Cynics, the Sceptics, the Epicureans, the Stoics, Plotinus, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, Benedict, Gregory the Great, John the Scot, Aquinas, Duns Scotus, William of Occam, Machiavelli, Erasmus, More, Bacon, Hobbes, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, the Utilitarians, Marx, Bergson, James, Dewey, and lastly the philosophers with whom Lord Russell himself is most closely associated - Cantor, Frege, and Whitehead, coauthor with Russell of the monumental Principia Mathematica.

©1945 Bertrand Russell. Copyright renewed ©1972 by Edith Russell. All rights reserved. (P)2013 Naxos AudioBooks. All rights reserved.

What listeners say about A History of Western Philosophy

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    4 out of 5 stars

Russell's Philosophy, Some History Included

The Good: The history is thorough, and you will get a great fundamental understanding of the evolution of philosophical thought. Russell is a wonderful author and does a fantastic job capturing the reader's attention and making the material feel relevant. He is very skilled at presenting a coherent argument and making it appeal to the reader's intuition.

The Bad: It is PAINFULLY obvious when Bertrand Russell is talking about a philosopher he likes vs one he does not like. While he never blatantly says something that is false, he omits or downplays the more absurd positions of the philosophers he likes, while at the same time exaggerating the positions of the philosophers he doesn't like. Reading this, you'd think Democritus and Niels Bohr are a hair's breadth apart and that Plato would have wholeheartedly approved of the Soviet Union. Furthermore, he continuously interjects his own arguments, pulling the reader out of the history to consider some relatively dense argument making subtle distinctions that have yet to come up organically.

This book can be summarized as Bertrand Russells philosophical thought presented in roughly chronological order, opposing any past philosophers who happen to disagree with him and praising any past philosophers who agree with him as they come up. While I don't love the work, it is unfortunately the best work I've found covering this material.

14 people found this helpful

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Experience limited by my own inexperience

The book is likely even superior than my review would lead you to think, being that I lack the background in Philosophy to more completely appreciate the discussion and skill of the author to weave millennia of thought into one book. Nonetheless, I was very impressed by the book, and found it enlightening.

The reading was fitting for the topic, with the expected tone of a tenured academic. The fact that the same gruff voice was used for every philosopher's quote was rather amusing (you know, because they all speak like that, right? lol) The occasional influctuations of voice was refreshing, providing a bit more natural feel, and kept the naration from becoming the most difficult part of the experience.

At times my mind would wander or "zone out", particularly when a thorough review of the actual details of the unique philosophies of each person were expounded upon. This again, you can imagine by reminiscing your experience in some university lectures. The subject and story, however, was not on the whole, too dry. Needless to say, the philosophies themselves were the most difficult part. Considering that is probably the point, I give them all their due credit.

Myself, I liked best the historical aspect, whether biographical, anthropological, or ideological. My preferred portions, as such, generally were the introductory sections of each section, chapter, book, etc. The overviews and summaries of this very deep dive were priceless for me keeping afloat at times. I presume that preference for the greater "in summary" moments would likely be the same for the broader audience of listeners, with the exception being certain dedicated students/scholars of Philosophy pursuing or possessing a degree in the field.

Ultimately, I'm very happy with the time spent with the book. I learned many things, considered new ideas, and appreciated the gifted explanations that I think will help my understanding of our modern society.

10 people found this helpful

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Masterful

Russell did a brilliant job transporting me back into the minds of previous epochs. While he did insert his perspective at times, he always established first the environment and influences that built the philosophers. It is amazing to see the threads of Pythagoras, Heraclitus, Plato, Aristotle, and Christianity founding both helpful and harmful dogmas that persisted for many centuries. I love noticing the things that previous philosophers understood as "given" that we would never presume today, and wondering what doctrines are binding my mind to the present moment. It is distressing to see philosophers of the past making obeisance to a Christianity that would happily burn them for dissenting thought. I was upset that so many philosophers could be so ground-breaking in certain analyses while remaining entirely credulous as far as religion was concerned. I am convinced it is a testament to the uniformity of belief in their societies and a terrifying knowledge of the social consequences of renouncing it; some of which they faced after writing merely indirect challenges. This area is my emphasis, though, not Russell's.

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A truly great read

If you’re looking for something to act as the book version of a survey course on western philosophy, this is an excellent choice. While admitting his impartiality at the beginning, Russell goes on to describe the schools and thinkers of the past Miley is with remarkable fairness and insight, listing the merits and flaws as he sees them as well as the historical background in which they lived.

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Difficult

Understanding what this genius is attempting to explain for me was like wrestling a bear. And, as one might easily guess, the bear always was triumphant. The very last chapter is a brilliant summary that IS something I can grasp. This man, this GENIUS, has a mathematical mind that FAR exceeds my just above average intellect. The ONLY reason that the book gets 4 stars rather than 5 is much more about my ability to comprehend than his ability to explain.

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5 Star conversion into Audio Book format

Often good books have poor audiobooks - this book has an excellent audio book: the chapters are named (rather than many audio books where, for example, the book’s introduction is chapter 1 in the audio book and none of the chapters are named in the audiobook, so navigating to the correct chapter in audible requires on to listen to the beginning of each chapter to find out what chapter it really is), the narration is excellent, and the foot notes are read out loud at the end of each sentence and indicated as footnotes. Please make all audiobooks like this.

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This should be in every elementary classroom.

There was so much history, geography and science explained to me it took some reflection before I realized I was being bombarded with philosophy.

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Best General Work on Philosophy

As good today as the day it was released decades ago. Nothing since comes close

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Educational

Best introductory education into the development of Western philosophy. Loved this and would play again. Narration is excellent; both well paced and clearly enunciated.

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This is a very insightful look into the development of philosophy

This is a very insightful look into the development of philosophy throughout middle eastern and western societies. It is tedious at points and very long but I enjoyed it. At the same time I read a lot philosophy and history books and so this is right up my alley. Although the author is one of the most famous atheists of the 20th century, he does explore how philosophy has developed in the Christian Church mainly in the 2nd - 9th centuries. He does not spend any specific time or effort on the reformation and that was disappointing. I don’t recommend this book unless you are really interested in understanding philosophy and how it developed.

Sincerely,
Pastor Paul Trimble