A history of philosophy by Frank Thilly - PDF ebook

A history of philosophy by Frank Thilly

A history of philosophy


From the introduction:

The history of philosophy aims to give a connected account of the different attempts which have been made to solve the problem of existence or to render intelligible to us our world of experience. It is the story of the development of reasoned human thought from its earliest beginnings down to the present time; not a mere chronological enumeration and exposition of philosophical theories, but a study of these in their relation to one another, the times in which they are produced, and the thinkers by whom they are offered. 

While every system of thought is more or less dependent on the civilization in which it arises, the character of preceding systems, and the personality of its author, it, in turn, exercise a potent influence on the conceptions and institutions of its own and succeeding ages.

 The history of philosophy must, therefore, endeavour to insert each world-view in its proper setting, to understand it as a part of an organic whole, to connect it with the intellectual, political, moral, social, and religious factors of its present, past, and future. It must also attempt to trace the line of progress in the history of human speculation: show how the mental attitude called philosophy arises, how the different problems and the solutions that are offered provoke new questions and answers, and what advance has been made, on the different stages, towards reaching the goal.

In dealing with the different systems, we shall be careful to let the authors present their ideas without extensive criticism on our part. It will be found that the history of philosophy is, in a large measure, its own best critic; that a system is continued, transformed, supplemented, or overcome by its successors, that the errors and inconsistencies contained in it are brought to light; and that it is often made the starting-point of new lines of thought. 

The historian should assume an impartial and objective attitude in his study, and, so far as he can, guard against obtruding his own philosophical theories into the discussions. It will, however, be impossible to eliminate the personal element altogether; to some extent, the historian's preconceptions are bound to shine through his work. 

They will manifest themselves in many ways: in the emphasis which he lays on particular philosophies, in his notion of what constitutes progress and decline, — even in the amount of space devoted to different thinkers. All this is unavoidable. 

The philosopher, however, should be permitted to tell his own story without being interrupted by constant objections before he has had the opportunity of stating his case completely. And we should not criticise a system solely in the light of present achievement, that is, measure it by present standards to its hurt. Compared with modern theories, the early Greek world-views seem naive, childish, and crude, and it would be no great mark of intelligence to ridicule them; whereas regarded from the standpoint of their times, as the first efforts of a people to understand the world, they may well stand out as epoch-making events.

 A system of thought must be judged in the light of its own aims and historical setting, by comparison with the systems immediately preceding and following it, by its antecedents and results, by the development to which it leads. Our method of study will, therefore, be historico-critical.

The value of the study of the history of philosophy ought to be apparent. Intelligent persons are interested in the fundamental problems of existence and in the answers which the human race has sought to find for them on the various stages of civilization. Besides, such a study helps men to understand their own and other times; it throws light on the ethical, religious, political, legal, and economic conceptions of the past and the present, by revealing the underlying principles on which these are based. 

It likewise serves as a useful preparation for philosophical speculation; passing, as it does, from the simpler to the more complex and difficult constructions of thought, it reviews the philosophical experience of the race and trains the mind in abstract thinking.

 In this way, we are aided in working out our own views of the world and of life. The man who tries to construct a system of philosophy in absolute independence of the work of his predecessors cannot hope to rise very far beyond the crude theories of the beginnings of civilization. Science and philosophy may be said to have had their origin in religion, or rather, originally science, philosophy, and religion were one: mythology is the primitive attempt to understand the world. 

The man at first interprets the phenomena which, for some reason or other, largely practical, attract his attention, according to his crude experiences. He projects his own nature into them, fashions them after his own image, animates them, regards them as somehow alive and ' ' ensouled. ' ' Among many peoples, such vague and indefinite animistic notions are transformed into clear and distinct conceptions of personalities, — of a higher order than human beings, but yet essentially resembling human beings (polytheism). None of these mythological creations, however, can be regarded as the work of single individuals or as the product of logical thought; they are expressions of the collective soul, in which imagination and will play the most important role. 

A universal history of philosophy would include the philosophies of all peoples. Not all peoples, however, have produced real systems of thought, and the speculations of only a few can be said to have had a history. Many do not rise beyond the mythological stage. Even the theories of Oriental peoples, the Hindus, Egyptians, Chinese, consist, in the main, of mythological and ethical doctrines, and are not thoroughgoing systems of thought: they are shot through with poetry and faith. We shall, therefore, limit ourselves to the study of the Western countries, and begin with the philosophy of the ancient Greeks, on whose culture our own civilization, in part, rests. We shall follow the customary classification of universal history and divide our field into Ancient Philosophy, Medieval or Christian Philosophy, and Modern Philosophy.

The sources of our study will be (1) the works of the philosophers or the fragments of their writings, in cases where only the latter are extant: primary sources. (2) In the absence of either of these, we have to depend, for our knowledge of their teachings, on the most trustworthy and accurate accounts of them by others. Among the sources which will help us here are expositions of the lives and doctrines of particular philosophers, general and special treatises on the history of philosophy, criticisms of certain teachings, and references to them in various books. Such secondary sources are indispensable where the primary sources have disappeared. 

But even when this is not the case, the secondary sources are of great value in so far as they may throw light on the systems with which they deal. The historian of philosophy will seek help from all works that contribute to our knowledge of the subject, and among these, the secondary sources play an important part. He will also appeal to whatever fields of research may give him an understanding of the spirit of the times under examination: to the history of all human activities, such as science, literature, art, morals, education, politics, and religion.


the book details :
  • Author: Frank Thilly
  • Publication date: 1914
  • Company: New York, H. Holt

  • Download 33 MB

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