Philosophy: The Classics

Title: Philosophy: The Classics.
Author/s: Warburton, Nigel.
Material type: Book.
Publisher/date: Routledge (2nd edition: 2001).
Format: Hardcover (272 pages).
ISBN: 10: 9780415239974, 13: 978-0415239974.
Area and topic: History of philosophy and ideas.
Intended audience/ reading level: Tertiary/lower and upper.
Purchasing and information: 1) amazon.com 2) fishpond.co.nz
Unique and/or salient feature/s: ‘Philosophy the Classics’ is an introduction, guide book, overview and assessment of twenty-seven of the most classic and fundamental texts of Western philosophy.
Synopsis and/or additional information: The following information is sourced from the above links (see ‘Purchasing and information’) and the text.

  • Each chapter contains a brief history of the text being discussed over approximately 10 -15 pages. Each chapter includes a summary of the principal arguments, common criticisms of these arguments (and the work in general), a glossary of terms, and a reading list for further study.
  • The Contents are: Plato: The Republic, Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics; Boethius: The Consolation of Philosophy; Machiavelli, The Prince; Descartes: Meditations; Hobbes: Leviathan; Spinoza: Ethics; Locke: An Essay Concerning Human Understanding;  Locke: Second Treatise of Government; Hume: An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding  Hume: Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion; Rousseau: The Social Contract; Kant: Critique of Pure Reason; Kant: Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals; Schopenhauer: The World as Will and Idea; Mill: On Liberty; Mill: Utilitarianism; Kierkegaard; Either/Or; Marx and Engels: The German Ideology, Part One; Nietzsche: Beyond Good and Evil; Nietzsche: On the Genealogy of Morality; Russell: The Problems of Philosophy; Ayer: Language, Truth and Logic; Sartre: Being and Nothingness; Sartre Existentialism and Humanism; Wittgenstein: Philosophical Investigations; Rawls: A Theory of Justice.
Strengths: ‘Philosophy the Classics’ is an excellent pedagogical aid for both teachers and students trying to understand some of the most important, influential texts of the western philosophical tradition. Notably, the overviews are simple, brief and clear yet manage to include the following: a) the main positions and argument that are of philosophical significance 2) a sense of historical context which really helps to enrich the readers understanding of the importance and relevance of the positions and arguments and 3) a focus on the more important and/or enduring aspects of the reading 4) an assessment of the books influence and legacy. Featuresthat  help the reader/student to gain a sense of the ‘pig picture’.In sum, the book is a good introduction for secondary school students to classic works that are, for the most part, hard to comprehend without some guidance.
Limitations: Given the scant coverage of each classic book, there is the obvious worry that the reader is left with what can only be an impoverished ‘cartoon’ account of the text in question. Arguably, a book dedicated to discussing only a few entries (say – between 1 and 10) may offer a better service.

Comment on this article