An Illustrated Brief History of Western Philosophy.

Title: An Illustrated Brief History of Western Philosophy.
Author/s: Kenny, Antony.
Material type: Book.
Publisher/date: Wiley-Blackwell (2006).
Format: Paperback (400 pages).
ISBN: ISBN-10: 1405141794, ISBN-13: 978-1405141796.
Area and topic: History of philosophy and ideas.
Intended audience/ reading level: General/accessible
Purchasing and information: 1), 2)
Unique and/or salient feature/s: ‘An Illustrated Brief History of Western Philosophy’ is a chronological overview of the history of Western philosophy. The book is illustrated, has a strong emphasis on historical context, and the author (Antony Kenny) is a prominent and well respected scholar of the history of philosophy and ideas.
Synopsis and/or additional information: The following information is sourced from the above links (see ‘Purchasing and information’) and the text.

  • ‘Spanning 2,500 years of thought, ‘An Illustrated Brief History of Western Philosophy’ provides essential coverage of the most influential philosophers of the Western world; among them: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Jesus, Augustine, Aquinas, Machiavelli, Descartes, Hobbes, Spinoza, Berkeley, Hume, Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Mill, Nietzsche, Darwin, Freud, Frege, Russell, and Wittgenstein’.
  • ‘Replete with over 60 illustrations – ranging from Dufresnoy’s The Death of Socrates, through to the title page of Thomas Moore’s Utopia, portraits of Hobbes and Rousseau, photographs of Charles Darwin and Bertrand Russell, Freud’s own sketch of the Ego and the Id, and Wittgenstein’s Austrian military identity card – this lucid and masterful work is ideal for anyone with an interest in Western thought’ (back cover).
  • Table of Contents: Preface. List of Illustrations. Acknowledgements. 1. Philosophy in its infancy. 2. The Athens of Socrates. 3. The philosophy of Plato. 4. The system of Aristotle. 5. Greek philosophy after Aristotle. 6. Early Christian philosophy. 7. Early Medieval philosophy. 8. Philosophy in the thirteenth century. 9. Oxford philosophers. 10. Renaissance philosophy. 11. The age of Descartes. 12. English philosophy in the Seventeenth-Century. 13. Continental philosophy in the Age of Louis XIV. 14. British philosophy in the eighteenth century. 15. The Enlightenment. 16. The critical philosophy of Kant. 17. German Idealism and Materialism. 18. The Utilitarian’s. 19. Three nineteenth-century philosophers. 20. Three Modern Masters. 21. Logic and the foundations of mathematics. 22. The philosophy of Wittgenstein. Afterword. Suggestions for further reading. Index.
Strengths: There are many historical introductions to philosophy but ‘An Illustrated Brief History of Western Philosophy’ has the following notable strengths — especially for teaching philosophy at secondary school level: The book is illustrated which adds an obvious visual dimension; the reading level is very accessible; the content is enjoyable to read; the content is wide ranging extending beyond the bounds of philosophy as understood in the narrower confines of the university syllabus; close attention is paid to the historical processes that shape and situate the development of philosophy. In addition to these features, it is worth again noting that the author, Antony Kenny, is a very well respected philosopher who, having written an entire series covering the history of Western philosophy (each volume dedicated to a different era), is extremely knowledgeable in this area. Finally, even if the book is not used as a classroom resource, as a general overview to philosophy, teachers can only benefit from reading this book.
Limitations: Although arguments and positions are discussed, the emphasis is on the historical development of the philosophical tradition. Notably, metaphysical, ethical, epistemological issues dovetail into each other within the discussions of particular philosophers, traditions and movements. This may be an issue for those who wish to teach or learn philosophy in terms of these various core sub-discipline/branches. Furthermore, the difference between those issues, arguments and positions that are still considered to be ‘hot topics’ and those that are of historical interest only, is not made obvious to the reader. Finally, other than discussion on a few of the prominent forerunners, the book does not pay sufficient attention to 20th century philosophy, let alone the current state of philosophy as it is practiced in the early 21st century. Notably, there is practically no mention of 20th Century Continental tradition e.g. Sartre, Existentialism, Phenomenology and Post-structuralism.

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