A Short History of Philosophy.

Title: A Short History of Philosophy.
Author/s: Higgens, Kathleen. Solomon, Robert, C.
Material type: Book.
Publisher/date: Oxford University Press (1996).
Format: Paperback (329 pages).
ISBN: ISBN-10: 0195101960, ISBN-13: 978-0195101966
Area and topic: History of philosophy and ideas.
Intended audience/ reading level: General/ accessible to medium.
Purchasing and information: 1) amazon.com. 2) fishpond.co.nz
Unique and/or salient feature/s: ‘A Short History of Philosophy’ is a chronological introduction to the Western philosophical tradition. As part of the wider story behind the development of Western philosophy, the book also includes subject matter that is not strictly philosophy – or is philosophical in nature but not directly related to the Western philosophical tradition.
Synopsis and/or additional information: The following information is sourced from the above links (see ‘Purchasing and information’) and from the text.

  • Contents include the entire Western philosophical tradition – ancient, medieval, modern, and 20th century philosophy (existentialism, positivism, analytic philosophy, postmodernism, feminism, and multiculturalism).
  • Material that is not generally included as part of the Western philosophical tradition includes many of the world’s main religious traditions – especially Eastern religion and thought. Examples are Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Furthermore, ‘along with the major characters, such as Aristotle, Kant, and Confucius – Solomon and Higgins draw engaging portraits of less well-known alchemists, mystics, rebels, eccentrics of all sorts, including figures often ignored in philosophy—figures such as Teresa of Avila, who contributed to the mystical traditions of Catholicism; al-Razi, a contrarian Persian philosopher within the Arabic tradition who described the philosophical life as “godlike;” and Erasmus, the Dutch philosopher who parodied the foolishness of man in his praise of folly’.
  • Finally, the book pays sufficient attention to the wider external cultural and social context situating the internal development of Western philosophy. For example, the authors consider the ‘legacy of the revolutions wrought by science, industry, colonialism, and sectarian warfare, and the philosophical responses to the traumas of the twentieth century (including two world wars and the Nazi Holocaust)’.
Strengths: There are many historical surveys of Western philosophy but this book has been selected for the following reasons: The authors (Higgens and Solomon) are very experienced writers with an obvious deep understanding of the history of Western philosophy; the book is very well written, comprehensive and (unlike many) engaging and enjoyable to read; notably, the attention given to the historical externalities that frame the internal development of Western philosophy – and other material not usually considered to be part of the tradition, greatly enriches the content.
Limitations: As with all historical surveys and anthologies the emphasis is not on doing philosophy as such. The arguments and positions discussed within are included for a deeper understanding of the development of Western philosophy i.e. they are not necessarily currently or seriously held positions and/or arguments. In sum, other than historical knowledge, it is not obvious how the book could be used for teaching actual philosophy. Having said this, for a brief overview of the tradition and the rich significance of the ideas discussed, teachers can only benefit from reading this book.

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