Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Book Review: The Story of Philosophy by Will Durant

The Story of Philosophy by Will Durant is an excellent book that offers an overview of philosophy throughout history. From Aristotle to more modern thinkers the spectrum is defined. It provides an explanation of each of the philosophies so that readers understand what they mean and the personal histories of each person. As an overview, it does not move into specific depth but does afford a broad range of understanding.  It is a great place to understand how leading thinkers influence economics, science, and life. 

The life of philosophers is not easy and often results in a tragic end. As they question the nature of life, truth, God, and reality they most often rub against more powerful members of society. To make dreams into reality inevitably means that many will win but some members will lose. Of course those who lose cling to the power of their previous glory. Think of Socrates and his ethics that was designed to create an efficient society but instead ended in his poisoning.  The man was loved but his ideas were radical. 

The “who” is often replaced by the “what” through the course of societal history.  The individual philosopher may have long passed away but their thoughts and ideas continue on and are added to a greater body of knowledge. It is this body of knowledge that continues to push society to think in new and more accurate ways about their lives and the nature of the world.  Without this function society would cease to develop and grow; being forever stuck in underdeveloped perspectives.

The nature of reality is subjective to how people perceive themselves, information, and the world. The more aware we are of multiple points of view and methods of looking at the world the more accurate we become in assessing it. For example, each science tests concepts from a particular point of view. Even though each uses the scientific method the results are still subjective (less without reasoning) without viewing the results in relation to other sciences and perspectives. This subjectivity is based in the perspective of the human being and the historical perspective of the scientific approach. 

The book offers a broad overview of the major opinions offered by some of the greatest world philosophers. Philosophy helps give a broader perspective to life than that which is proposed by scientific exactness. As scientists look inward to the details, philosophy has the possibility to connect these details into a wider framework for understanding. A world of details is relatively useless without a framework to see, implement, and connect those details together. 

Some of the philosophers introduced are Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Francis Bacon, Spinoza, Voltaire, Immanuel Kant, Schopenhauer, Herbert Spencer, and Nietzsche. The book affords a broad overview and is one of the leading books for understanding general philosophy. It is full of quotes and strong explanations of each of the particular perspectives. 

One of my favorites is Francis Bacon who is known as an empirical philosopher who tried to use reasoning to find finite elements.  He was an attorney general and a powerful statesman. In the Praise of Knowledge (1592) Bacon states, “My praise shall be dedicate to the mind itself. The mind is the man, and knowledge mind; a man is but what he knoweth…Are not the pleasures of the affections greater than the pleasures of the senses, and are not the pleasures of the intellect greater than the pleasures of the affections?...”

The book has approximately 401 pages with philosophical concepts packed in. It is a strong read for anyone who wants to understand the basics of philosophical thought in their attempt to create a greater understanding of the world around them. Combined with history the study of philosophy also helps in understand why modern man thinks the way he does. If you read enough from a variety of different sciences you may come to the conclusion that everything in the world runs according to laws and these laws define how decisions are made. To understand the perspective is to understand the future decision.

Durant, W. (1961). The story of philosophy. NY: Simon and Schuster
Pages 401

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