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A Short History of Western Philosophy

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Item Code: NAT165
Author: A.S Thakur
Publisher: Mayur Paperbacks, Ghaziabad
Language: ENGLISH
Edition: 1994
ISBN: 8171981291
Pages: 140
Other Details 8.50 X 5.50 inch
Weight 160 gm
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Book Description

About the Book

The book entitled, A Short History of Western Philosophy, examines succinctly, yet adequately, the leading ideas and main trends in philosophy of the Western World from the Greek times to the present century.

The emphasis is put on those ideas which have a universal appeal and are still stimulating to readers, interested in the philosophy of the Western World. It is to be acknowledged that the Western philosophy has had its impact on the philosophical systems of many countries in the world.

It is hoped that the book will be of great use to the students of philosophy in the universities and to readers in general who are interested in the Western philosophy which is known for its richness, comprehensiveness and profundity.

About the Author

Professor A.S. Thakur was educated in India, England and Nigeria. He has written many books, published by leading publishers like National Publishing House, New Delhi and Macmillan, London. He has had a long experience of teaching in India and Africa. At present, he is the Dean, Faculty of Education, University of Maiduguri, Nigeria.


Many books have been written on the history of western philosophy by eminent philosophers. The books are profound. However, these are, by and large, too comprehensive to be read by students whose main concern is to acquire the knowledge of the leading ideas of various philosophers within a short time.

The book entitled, A Short History of Western Philosophy, examines succinctly, yet adequately, the leading ideas and main trends in philosophy of the western world from the Greek times to the present century.

The Greek philosophical ideas were based on a strong sense of reality matched equally with a strong sense of abstraction. From Anaximander's "boundless something", Pythagorian "harmony of spheres", Heraclitus's "Logos and Flux", Anaxagoras's "Nous", Protagoras's "Homomensura", Socrates's "know thyself', Plato's "Ideas" to Aristotlian "Doctrine of Four Causes", there is a galaxy of ideas. The ideas have stimulated countless philosophers to interpret, challenge and accept them as well as advance new ideas. The world owes a debt of gratitude to the Greeks who laid the foundations of the philosophical discourse. They answered some questions, raised issues, presented problems and acknowledged that there was ample scope for further debate on man and his known and unknown worlds.

The political conquest of the Greeks by the Romans was, in one way, a set back to the further development of the Greek ideas; in another way, the ideas spread across the vast. Roman empire, though in an adulterated form. The real set back to many aspects of .Greek philosophy came from the Christian theology of the middle ages.

T he Christian theologians rallied support from Plato and Aristotle to rationalize the Christian dogmas and the result was "Scholasticism". Scholasticism aimed at the theological interpretation of all problems of life and emphasized methods. The medieval Christian philosophy justified the truths of Christian faith by rational argument as far as possible, but the free exercise of the philosophic impulse largely disappeared. Such an impulse had to wait for the Renaissance, with its ideas of Rationalism and Empiricism. The Renaissance breathed in a new life into the arts, humanities, philosophy and literature. In philosophy, Rationalism was developed by Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz. Descartes's Cognito, ergo seem (I think, therefore I am), Spinoza's "Infinite Substance" and Leibniz's "Monads" were the kemals in the philosophical fruits of Rationalism. Rationalism as a core of philosophy was replaced by Empiricism. Empiricism emphasised human experience as the starting point of philosophy.

Locke, Berkley, Hume, Kant, Fitche and Hegal made great contributions in their unique ways to the philosophical position of Empiricism. Locke's tabula rasa (empty slate), Berkley's "to be is to be perceived" (Esse est Percipi), Hume's "Infinite Substance", Kant's a posteriori justification of a priori position constituting knowledge-"thing-in-itself", Fitche's "Anstoss"-a shock caused by finite ego and non-ego and Hegel's presentation of "Being" and "non Being" as identical enriched the philosophy of Empiricism. Neo-Remanticism showed a predilection with axiology.

Schopenhauer and Neitzsche represented the neo-romantic movement in, Schopenhauer retained the "thing-in-itself', but identified it with "will", which was one and timeless. His cosmic will was wicked, thus he has been labeled as a pessimist. Nietzsche treated "will" as individual and through the revolts against all traditions; he wanted to produce a "heroic man", the man of genius. Neo-romanticism was followed by contemporary western philosophies of Idealism, Pragmatism, Evolutionism, Realism, Marxism, Existentialism and Logical Positivism.

In general, Idealism stressed the central role of the spiritual in man's interpretation of experience. Idealism was developed by British, Italian and American philosophers.

British Idealism was represented by Green through his doctrine of relations, by Bradley through his "absolute criterion", by Bosanqiiet in his exposition that every true preposition was so in the last resort because its contradictory was not conceivable in harmony with the whole experience, and by Mctaggart who advocated that the Absolute could only be perfectly manifested in the emotion of love between finite selves that were its only fundamental differentiations.

Italian Idealism was represented, by Croce and Gentile. Croce vii developed his philosophy of mind or spirit as the primary and ultimate Reality. Gentile emphasized the unitary character of Reality and developed his philosophy of self-consciousness.

American Idealism was represented by Royce and Howison. Royce formulated his theory of Synthetic Idealism and said that ieas sought "Being" as that which, when completely known, would fulfill them and end their doubts. Lo loyal to to yalty was the essence of ethical conduct-to be yalty. Howison's philosophy was concerned with maintaining and defending the integrity, moral freedom and responsibility of man.

Pragmatism laid stress on the "plastic' nature of reality and the practical function of knowledge as an instrument for adapting to reality and controlling it. The pragmatists considered change as an inevitable condition of life and emphasized the priority of actual experience over fixed Principles. Ideas were instruments and plans of action to be judged as efficient, useful and valuable, or not, depending on the role, they played in contributing to the successful direction of behavior. Peirce, exponents of pragmatism. James, and Dewey in America and Schiller in England were the chief exponents of pragmatism.

For Peirce, propositions had no meaning unless they could be translated into prescriptions for attaining new experimental truths. Reality meant the object of those fixed beliefs about which, after prolonged enquiry, consensus of opinion had been secured, and "truth" happened to be merely a quality of these beliefs. James was a nominal’s and emphasized the reality of particular sensible experience. For him, the whole function of philosophy was to find out what difference would it was the true one make to you and me, definite instants of our life, if this world formula was the true one.

Dewey formulated "Instrumentalism" in which he integrated the methods and conclusions of scientific knowledge with beliefs about values and purposes. The implication of Dewey's analysis of the organic, cultural and formal conditions of intelligent action was that all reflective conduct issued in an evaluation of a situation with respect to future action and consequences. For Dewey, the aim of living was the ever enduring Process of perfecting, maturing and refining. Schiller developed "Humanism" a,' a variant of pragmatism. His humanism was a standing protest against the views which sight to "personalize "humanize" science and knowledge and based them on a " and abstract sciences principles, identifying a close connection between logic and human

Evolutionism was mainly the product of the adrances in biology, and philosophers like Spencer, Bergson and Morgan contributed to its development. Spencer identified "Ultimate Being" as force or energy, which was behind perceived objects and events, but it was unknowable. Bergson talked of "impulse" (elan vital) which drives life to take greater and greater risks towards its goal of an ever higher and higher efficiency. Yet, another evolutionist philosopher-Alexander-boldly stated that "space-time" was the stuff of which the world was made.

Realism connoted any view point that accorded to the objects of man's knowledge and existence which was independent of whether he was perceiving thinking about them. Russell and Moore contributed to the philosophy of realism. Russell analyzed the concept of infinity and continuity, and asserted the reality of the external world by emphasizing the reality of space and time.

Moore outlined three constituents in experience-a unique element called "consciousness", a unique relation of this consciousness to the object which was the third constituent. Existentialism treated existence as always particular and individual, and an investigation of the meaning of "Being". Man was, therefore, called "there being". (Dasein), because he was defined by the fact that he was in the world and inhabited it.

Amongst the existentialist philosophers, Kierkegaad took a lead and he was followed by Heidegger, Jaspers, Sartre and Marcel. Kierkegaad asserted that subjectivity was truth or truth lay in subjectivity. Every individual experience has a uniqueness for itself because subject and object aspects of experience were in a concrete unity which was sui generis. Logic might be able to analyse the unity, but it was unable to create such a synthesis.

Heidegger made a distinction between a "Being" (Seiende) and "Being" (sein). The former was anything found in one's experience and the latter transcended everything that was concrete. The opposing aspects of Seiende and Sein were resolved through the conception of Dasein-distinctly human aspects characterized by openness.

Jaspers regarded the consciousness as always intentional. The knowledge of the absolute was in symbols as there was no other way of knowing the absolute. The world was a world for man because it surrounded him. For Jaspers, freedom and God were inseparable.

Sartre believed that phenomena were not relative to a nominal reality: they were relative to consciousness. There were two sorts of beings-"being-in-itself' and "being-for-itself", with freedom as the via media. Human consciousness existed not only as a subject but also as an objective. Sartre set out to prove that God did not exist.

For Marcel, the ontological reality was a mystery and not a problem. Human beings undergo experience in a hierarchical order. The difference between the person continuing to stay at the lower plane and the one who entered a higher plane consisted in the freedom of choice, exercised by the two persons.

Marx set out to change history by means of the historical and dialectical materialism. All history was a history of class struggle. The class which had the means of material production at its disposal had control at the same time over the means of mental production. One of the chief cultures of dialectical materialism was the great emphasis, it laid on change and movement as the basic character of Reality. It conceived change as self-change, brought about by a conflict of forces within the changing substance.

Logical Positivism demonstrated the impossibility of metaphysics, and emphasized logical interpretation and consolidation of the results of all the different branches of science by reducing them to a universal language. The function of philosophy was to engage itself in the logical analysis of empirical statements containing the results of science.

It is hoped that the book will be of great use to the students of philosophy in the universities and to readers in general who are interested in the Western philosophy which is known for its richness, comprehensiveness as well as profundity.

**Contents and Sample Pages**

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