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A History of Western Philosophy

By: Bertrand Russell
Narrated by: Jonathan Keeble
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Summary

Bertrand Russell's A History of Western Philosophy serves as the perfect introduction to its subject; it remains unchallenged as the greatest account of the history of Western thought. Charting philosophy's course from the pre-Socratics up to the early twentieth century, Russell relates each philosopher and school to their respective historical and cultural contexts, providing erudite commentary throughout his invaluable survey. This engaging and comprehensive work has done much to educate and inform generations of general readers; it is written in accessible and elegantly crafted prose and allows for an easy grasp of complex ideas.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your My Library section along with the audio.

©1945 Bertrand Russell (P)2013 Naxos AudioBooks

What listeners say about A History of Western Philosophy

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    4 out of 5 stars

Great book, just remember when it was written

This is a history of Western philosophy in relation to the changing social and political climate through the ages. The conclusion is that philosophers are mainly a product of their times, and politics and society are only shaped in a small part by philosophy.

Aside from the descriptions of philosophy in relation to historical events, the emphasis is mainly on metaphysics and epistemology, ie those aspects of philosophy that are now mainly the domain of the sciences. Where it does touch upon ethics the book is somewhat dated, especially with regard to Atistotle's virtue ethics, which barely get a mention despite their importance in modern philosophy.

Nevertheless this is a highly informative account of philosophy's social history. Most entertaining perhaps is the brilliant and scathing chapter on Nietzsche, in which Russell places the German philosopher in a dialogue with Buddha. And the account of the hereditary principle with regard to economics remains even today a fascinating and relevant insight.

A special mention must go to Jonathan Keeble and his brilliant reading throughout. He perfectly distills Russell's humour throughout, adding a tone of witty irreverence to the book. He also takes every opportunity to show off his acting chops; the Frankenstein's Monster excerpts were particularly entertaining.

Worth a listen if you have 38 hours to spare! Though perhaps worth it just for certain chapters, particularly, Pythagoras, The Hellenistic Period, Spinoza, and especially Nietzsche.

63 people found this helpful

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Don't worry, this written for everyone

Basically this is the history of how humans deal with the universe but somehow it's understandable to the layman like me. Genius

22 people found this helpful

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Great set of lectures

Would you listen to A History of Western Philosophy again? Why?

This book came from Bertrand Russell's war time lectures in the US for the Barnes Foundation. Because they started out as lectures, it works well as an audio book.

Who was your favorite character and why?

I particularly enjoyed the early chapters on Pythagoras and other pre-Socratic philosophers. Russell's characteristic wit shines through in many places, my favourite quote is his suggestion that Pythagoras was a mixture of Einstein and Mrs Eddy.

What about Jonathan Keeble’s performance did you like?

Well read.

20 people found this helpful

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An amazing introductory book on philosophy

A beautiful summary of main philosophical ideas. Very well read. I bought the printed book first but found it too long. The audiobook allowed me to listen at times when I had to do manual jobs.

17 people found this helpful

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Extensive well researched account of philosophy

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

I am studying Philosophy at the Open University and found this account very interesting. It gives the background, personal details of philosophers which makes it come alive and memorable. It was a long listen but well worth the effort and I might very well listen to it again.

16 people found this helpful

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A must for all philosophers!

Would you consider the audio edition of A History of Western Philosophy to be better than the print version?

Equal, it is nice to have it read but I also have the book. The audio did help to pronounce some of the odd words. I would suggest reading it and having it read aloud would help with understanding the different philosophies.

What did you like best about this story?

It was a history of Western Philosophy!

13 people found this helpful

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Staggering breadth of western thought

If you could sum up A History of Western Philosophy in three words, what would they be?

History of thought.

What did you like best about this story?

The sheer scope of this work is more than I would have sat down to read, but listening to it and learning about the history of philosophy and how it helped build the way the West views the world, the universe, itself, culture, science and art is more than I expected.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

At 38 hours long, it would have taken some effort to listen to it one sitting. However, I did listen to it in large chunks of 4-6 hours at a time, which gives some idea of how interesting I found it.

Any additional comments?

This is the first of its kind that I have read, so is worth remembering it is Bertrand Russell's view and comes out of his own world view, though does well to treat fairly viewpoints that differ from his own. As far as sources go, Russell is excellent, but I would be curious how others have tackled the topic.

10 people found this helpful

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A complex story superbly told.

Expertly addresses editorial biases created by political and religious overlaps. So well narrated that you forget that you are not reading the book yourself. Makes for a useful reference book in the future.

9 people found this helpful

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A master teacher

Would you consider the audio edition of A History of Western Philosophy to be better than the print version?

Equally good.

What was one of the most memorable moments of A History of Western Philosophy?

Not an appropriate question.

Have you listened to any of Jonathan Keeble’s other performances? How does this one compare?

No

Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

Not an appropriate question.

Any additional comments?

There are some brilliant lecturers out there on audible and there are many engrossing and well structured courses on philosophy but they cannot compare to Russell. He is a master teacher who grasps the breadth of subject and makes it his own as a philosopher himself. Not easy and perhaps caught in its time but still an incomparable guide to western philosophy. It should be read by everyone who wants to ponder these things ... Well read too.

8 people found this helpful

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I loved this book

I am an architect with a keen interest in philosophy and I found this book to be a great introduction to philosophy. Beautifully written, as it was to be expected from Russel, and great narration. I cannot recommend this book enough for anyone who did not study western philosophy but wants to have a general understanding of the subject.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Gary
  • 21-11-13

Works on all levels

There doesn't seem to be a wasted section in this book because all the pieces seem to tie together from early to modern times. The author will first tell you the relevant history and social conditions at the time and how they went about influencing the philosophy he's going to discuss.

You get a really interesting peak into the mindset of a writer during the end of WW II. The author would often bring in the Germans (Nazis) and Japanese and how what he is telling you is relevant to what was going on in the world at the time he wrote the book. Those parts of the books alone are worth reading the whole book.

There was one part of the book during the discussion of Plato when I got overwhelmed, because he kept going on and on and soon as I was understanding one part he'd go on to another part and I wanted to stop listening. I'm glad I didn't, because what he does next is introduce another philosopher by saying how the philosopher disagreed with Plato for the following reasons and then I would start to understand what Plato really meant. It's like studying math. One doesn't really understand the algebra until one learns the calculus and so on.

The book covers a lot, but I retain major parts of it. For example, I remember that Hegel believed that you couldn't understand the part without understanding the whole universe (uncle doesn't exist without nephew), and Marx's class struggle comes from Hegel's ideas about nations and so on.

The narrator does a superb job.

The book is also interesting for another reason. It might be my last foray into a grand survey of philosophy because it does such a good job. As the book preceded through out time, I realized the role of philosophy was getting smaller and smaller as the role of science (and math) was getting larger and larger. The book goes a long way towards showing me how much more important science has become, and how less important philosophy is.

I usually listen to science books, but this book did fill in some gaps for me and I highly recommend it even for lovers of science books.


75 people found this helpful

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  • Collin
  • 18-11-15

The Summary of My Bachelor's Degree

What made the experience of listening to A History of Western Philosophy the most enjoyable?

The reminder of each of the greatest philosophers most influential ideas. While I hold a bachelors degree in the subject, this reminder was an enjoyable return to a time when I had left Plato's cave to see more than just shadows on a wall.

What was the most compelling aspect of this narrative?

The Historical background information, though interesting, tended to be longer than I had anticipated. However, in the grand scheme of the book, it turned out to shed wonderful light on the pillars on which platforms each mentioned philosopher stood. Most compelling, however, was the summation of each philosophers contributions to the whole, while giving just enough detail to whet one's appetite to read more about each.

Have you listened to any of Jonathan Keeble’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

I am not familiar with Keeble, but his accent is pleasing - despite some rather interestingly pronounced words.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

There are several embedded jokes for both newcomers to philosophy and veterans of the subject. The Orphic denial of beans in the diet, for instance, is treated by Russell with as much humor as one would expect for such silly nonsense.

Any additional comments?

During my bachelors degree, philosophy was divided into four sections of historical classes (ancient, medieval, modern, and contemporary), Metaphysics I and II, Ethics, two seminars, and Logic - all of which are tested in the final comprehensive exam. This one book encompasses all four historical, Metaphysics I and II, Ethics, and easily also a minor in history, and misses only symbolic logic. While some may argue that this book is no substitute for a classical college education, I would say that an intent listener, who pauses to reflect between chapters and eagerly reads more on each subject he or she finds of particular interest, would gain just as much true knowledge as I did in four years of University. Especially since they would have listened to these lecture much less hungover than I did.

48 people found this helpful

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  • Marcus
  • 22-12-13

Philosophy and Social Environment

Russell’s account of philosophy is unique and controversial. On can say that he knew it. His exposition, with plenty of appreciation and critics of his own, is sometimes ironic, sometimes sarcastic. He gave to greek philosophy the attention it demands. From that he presented a fair selection of philosophers. He went until John Dewey, his contemporary. In his reflections he tried to situate each philosopher in his social environment and, for that reason, the book contains a good amount of (social) history. This is a great introduction to philosophy and its problems.

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  • Matt
  • 25-05-14

Excellent example of Protestant polemic thinking

Bertrand Russell displays an excellent example of Protestant polemic thinking in this masterwork opinion on the craft of philosophy. In his panoramic exploration of philosophy, he best provides an excellent dissection of ancient Greek philosophy. It is clear Russell's historical accuracy is only limited by his lifespan (1870s-1970), and by his obvious brainwashing by Protestant polemics in England. It would come as a great irony to Russell, who confessed his near obsession with needing to feel loved, that the Catholic Church now has more parishioners in England than the Church of England itself. This is relevant because this work is clearly skewed in thought by the Protestant polemic thought process of the past 500 years. You will not find any inkling of recognition of the vast steps forward in historical analysis and forensics of the era of database historical research. Russell did not have this knowledge available to him, and his continual jabs at anything related to the Holy See indicate a man who believed the Spanish Inquisition was an evil force, that the Catholic Church was corrupt and doomed to failure and that the Enlightenment was actually enlightening. This latter point is critical. Russell was ultimately a failure at politics, and probably his misunderstanding of history is why. He shows no indication of understanding the influence of secular infiltration of the Catholic Church in the medieval era, not a smidgen of understanding that thoughtful man was moving from a world of kingdoms to a world of nation states and not nary a notion war is a natural consequence of politics. Countless failed attempts to secure a seat in Parliament and his odd, maybe eccentric, adherence to anti-Vietnam policy and peacenik thought reveal a man lost in a search for any kind of power over his own conscience. A great cartoon would be of Pope Paul or John banging their heads against this "mad bugger's wall." It is a shame Russell wielded academic power in such a way as to push the Protestant polemic further along, saddling untold numbers of admirers with the same skewed perspective that led to his many failures in politics. And the greatest irony was his self-confessed near-constant need to feel loved. Would that he could have been young enough during the Second Vatican Council to participate with the hundreds of other Protestant thinkers at that landmark congregation. He might not have filled his book with so much vitriolic opinion and it would have made the excellent, systematic discussion of ancient Greek philosophy much more enjoyable. In the main, this is a fine book to read to understand the outdated mindset of Protestant polemics in the world of philosophy. Russell wrote no less than five autobiographical works to promote his fullness of self. This book is far better than any of them even with the glaring ignorance of reality inherent in its core.

15 people found this helpful

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  • shadowmason
  • 27-07-14

I'm not a Philosophy Major

This is interesting, educational, and well performed. Love how it interweaves western history,philosopher lives, and philosophy into one entertaining and informative blend. GREAT BOOK. I did whispersync which I am sure helped. Annotated portions that I could review at a later date.

13 people found this helpful

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  • Neuron
  • 01-12-15

Better used as a reference

Bertrand Russell is one of my favorite philosophers. Many other philosophers are, at least to me, incomprehensible. I often don’t understand their arguments and their conclusions seem to come from out of the blue. What I like about Russell is his clarity in explaining philosophical arguments, his own as well as others, in something that at least resembles pure English.

In this extremely ambitious book, Russell goes through pretty much all of western (and some eastern) philosophy. As he moves from one philosophical epoch to the next, he always sets the scene by describing the historical context that helps the reader understand where the ideas came from.

After describing the historical context, and the resulting philosophical ideas he critiques the ideas, explaining their weaknesses as well as their strengths. I don't know if it is because he is a clear thinker or a good communicator, but he his critique of philosophical ideas seem to make sense. For a philosopher, Russell also seems relatively humble. He does not, like certain other philosophers dismiss the scientific endeavour as just imperfect empiricism. Of course, being a logician he does not dismiss deductions either. For an amateur philosopher such as myself, he comes across as balanced.

Having said that, it is hard to stay focused throughout the book, and I would recommend using it more as a companion reference book if you are taking a course in philosophy. So read it, but maybe not all at once.

11 people found this helpful

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  • nick
  • 21-06-18

advice to non-philosophers

This book is as straight forward a read as any book could be on the complex subject of philosophy but that is not to say it is an easy read in general. Philosophy is hard and its authors easy to misinterpret. I recommend to anyone listening to this book, if you don't have a background in philosophy, use Russel as a guide but do supplementary reading of the thinkers he discusses. Without prior education you will most likely walk away from the book falsely thinking you understand these philosophers, underestimating their contributions, and having an ill conceived prejudice against them.

The title of the book is misleading. What makes this book tower above others is its ability to identify what the defining moments of philosophy were, how they define our times, and its lucid criticism of these ideas. Both in how wrong such ideas were and how some lead to destructive irrational political movements. Many books teach philosophy in the spirit of impartiality while giving no commentary. This book is not impartial.

Russel does a good job of inoculating the reader from the seductive arguments of the past and for that even a beginner should start here despite the need for extra strict. If you're just getting started with philosophy and you have the conviction to do supplementary study along with the book. This book will radically change how you think and see the world.

7 people found this helpful

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  • Strejer
  • 06-12-15

A very good book to casually listen to

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Having listened to all this, I have to say I am going to recommend it to anyone who wants to get a birds' eye view of philosophy from antiquity to the modern times, up ww2.

What did you like best about this story?

I don't mean strictly birds' eye, there are areas where Betrand Russel goes in quite the detail and offers you insight into the mind of many philosophers throughout the ages. I especially like it when he describes the thoughts of the ancients and medieval scholars and philosophers.

owever, I do have one thing to complain about in regards to Bertrand Russell and that is that by the end of the video, the biases have gotten the better of him. He is an internationalist, a socialist (not in the american sense, and I don't mean it in a bad way either) and has certain opinions that color his views. These things become more clear as he gets into the more recent philosophers though one can spot them when discussing the "4 doctors of the Church" and other medieval and Renaissance scholars. So this is a fair warning to people who would listen to this audio book, keep in mind and don't let his bias become yours. Don't let his personal interjections color your views. But more importantly, don't let this put you off from enjoying and listening to this wonderful audio book cover to cover.

Why?

Because once you went through it, you can and will be able to find your footing and know what you want to learn about more. Maybe his comments on Descartes sparked your interest. Maybe his descriptions of Pythagoras' quite curious world view made you giggle and laugh and want to go out and explore other curiosities and absurdities that people believed. And so on and so forth.

What about Jonathan Keeble’s performance did you like?

As for the reader, I have to say, it was brilliant. Johnathan Keeble does so much for the book. He immerses himself and you in the book and what he says, acts out the scenes, respects punctuation and gives life and meaning and joy in listening to this audio book.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

Don't make a movie from this book

Any additional comments?

Yes, as I said, while Bertrand Russells' views color his opinions and his bias becomes evident when speaking about the more recent philosophers, he doesn't really try and conceal it, or try and persuade you that his view is the correct one. So don't let his bias become yours. Get the information and the benefit of listening to so you can find your footing in the world of philosophy and know for what you want to go for next.

Cheers.

7 people found this helpful

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  • Murasaki
  • 24-12-14

BEE IN HIS BONNET

What made the experience of listening to A History of Western Philosophy the most enjoyable?

PROBABLY RUSSELL'S BIASED INTERPRETATIONS -- I CHUCKLED.

Who was your favorite character and why?

THE AUTHOR. HE IS COMICALLY PARTISAN AND SO SURE OF HIMSELF.

What about Jonathan Keeble’s performance did you like?

INTELLIGENT

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

EVERYTHING ABOUT PLATO AND ARISTOTLE IS DISTORTED ENOUGH TO MAKE ME CROSS.

Any additional comments?

DO NOT READ THIS IF YOU ARE NEW TO PHILOSOPHY AND WANT AN OVERVIEW. IT IS JUST TOO BIASED. IT IS INTERESTING IF YOU ARE ABLE TO EVALUATE THE SYNOPSES BASED ON YOUR READINGS OF ORIGINAL SOURCES.

7 people found this helpful

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  • Matthias
  • 25-04-15

very impressive work despite a few massive errors

An almost incredible amount of knowledge in so many fields accumulated in a single book but there certainly are flaws..
Clearly the work of a great mind, it is all the more surprising and disappointing to find out that Russell was apparently incapable of understanding especially Schopenhauer let alone appreciating his work and that he's so obviously biased throughout the book. Kierkegaard is also largely ignored, among others. He seems to have been more interested in the fact that Schopenhauer himself couldn't live up to his own Philosophy. Since when can you judge a Philosophy by how well the Author himself applies it in his daily life? Even more shocking is how much time he wastes on talking about Nietzsche, by far the most overestimated Philopher in history, partly no doubt due to Bertrand Russell. Nietzsche never had anything original to say and was good only as a critic of other Writers, of Religion and so on. And as Russell himself says, it's so much easier to criticise the ideas of others than to be creative oneself. Russell concludes the chapter on Nietzsche by quoting Shakespeare, saying: "this is Nietzsche's philosophy in a nutshell". Well, if that's the case then what do we need Nietzsche for? Shakespeare's work has been there a lot longer than Nietzsche's. The best explanation for the two erroneous chapters on Schopenhauer and Nietzsche would be that maybe Russell's wife and not he himself wrote them. It's well known after all that Russell's wife assisted him with this book.

Great Narrator.

5 people found this helpful