A History of Western Philosophy
Excerpt from the introduction:
A Few words of apology and explanation are called for if this book is to escape even more severe censure than it doubtless deserves. An apology is due to the specialists on various schools and individual philosophers. With the possible exception of Leibniz, every philosopher whom I treat is better known to some others than to me.
If, however, books covering a Widefield are to be written at all, it is inevitable, since we are not immortal, that those who write such books should spend less time on any one part than can be spent by a man who concentrates on a single author or a brief period. Some, whose scholarly austerity is unbending, will conclude that books covering a wide field should not be written at all, or, if written, should consist of monographs by a multitude of authors.
There is, however, something lost when many authors co-operate. If there is any unity in the movement of history, if there is an intimate relationship between what goes before and what comes later, it is necessary, for setting this forth, that earlier and later periods should be synthesized in a single mind. The student of Rousseau may have difficulty in doing justice to his connection with the Sparta of Plato and Plutarch; the historian of Sparta may not be prophetically conscious of Hobbcs and Fichte and Lenin. To bring out such relations is one of the purposes of this book, and it is a purpose which only a wide survey can fulfil. There are many histories of philosophy, but none of them, so far as I know, has quite the purpose that I have set myself.
Philosophers are both effects and causes: effects of their social circumstances and of the politics and institutions of their time; causes (if they are fortunate) of beliefs which mould the politics and institutions of later ages. In most histories of philosophy, each philosopher appears as in a vacuum; his opinions are set forth unrelated except, at most, to those of earlier philosophers. I have tried, on the contrary, to exhibit each philosopher, as far as truth permits, as an outcome of his milieu, a man in whom were crystallized and concentrated thoughts and feelings which, in a vague and diffused form, were common to the community of which he was a part.
This has required the insertion of certain chapters of purely social history. No one can understand the Stoics and Epicureans without some knowledge of the Hellenistic age, or the scholastics without a modicum of understanding of the growth of the Church from the fifth to 'the thirteenth centuries. I have therefore set forth briefly those parts of the main historical outlines that seemed to me to have had the most influence on philosophical thought, and I have done this with most fulness where the history may be expected to be unfamiliar to some readers for example, in regard to the early Middle Ages. But in these historical chapters, I have rigidly excluded whatever seemed to have little or no bearing on contemporary or subsequent philosophy.
The problem of selection, in such a book as the present, is very difficult. Without detail, a book becomes jejune and uninteresting; with detail, it is in danger of becoming intolerably lengthy. I have sought a compromise, by treating only those philosophers who seem to me to have considerable importance, and mentioning, in connection with them, such details as, even if not of fundamental importance, have value on account of some illustrative or vivifying quality.
Philosophy, from the earliest times, has been not merely an affair of the schools, or of disputation between a handful of learned men. It has been an integral part of the life of the community, and as such, I have tried to consider it. If there is any merit in this book, it is from this point of view that it is derived.
This book owes its existence to Dr Albert C. Barnes, having been originally designed and partly delivered as lectures at the Barnes Foundation in Pennsylvania. As in most of my work during the years since 1932, I have been greatly assisted in research and in many other ways by my wife, Patricia Russell.
A History of Western Philosophy received a mixed reception, especially from academic reviewers. Russell was somewhat dismayed at the reaction Russell himself described the text as a work of social history, asking that it be treated in such a manner Russell also stated: "I regarded the early part of my History of Western Philosophy as a history of culture, but in the later parts, where science becomes important, it is more difficult to fit into this framework. I did my best, but I am not at all sure that I succeeded. I was sometimes accused by reviewers of writing not a true history but a biased account of the events that I arbitrarily chose to write off. But to my mind, a man without bias cannot write interesting history — if, indeed, such a man exists.
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