The Story of Philosophy

The Story of Philosophy

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by Will Durant, Frederick Davidson

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A brilliant and concise account of the lives and ideas of the great philosophers--Plato, Aristotle, Bacon, Spinoza, Voltaire, Kant, Schopenhauer, Spencer, Nietzsche, Bergson, Croce, Russell, Santayana, James and Dewey--The Story of Philosophy is one of the great books of our time. The Story of Philosophy is a key book for any reader who wishes to survey the history


A brilliant and concise account of the lives and ideas of the great philosophers--Plato, Aristotle, Bacon, Spinoza, Voltaire, Kant, Schopenhauer, Spencer, Nietzsche, Bergson, Croce, Russell, Santayana, James and Dewey--The Story of Philosophy is one of the great books of our time. The Story of Philosophy is a key book for any reader who wishes to survey the history and development of philosophical ideas in the Western world.

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The New York Times A delight.

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Blackstone Audio, Inc.
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Unabridged, 16 Cassettes
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6.75(w) x 9.53(h) x 2.47(d)

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Chapter 1



If you look at a map of Europe you will observe that Greece is a skeleton-like hand stretching its crooked fingers out into the Mediterranean Sea. South of it lies the great island of Crete, from which those grasping fingers captured, in the second millennium before Christ, the beginnings of civilization and culture. To the east, across the Ægean Sea, lies Asia Minor, quiet and apathetic now, but throbbing, in pre-Platonic days, with industry, commerce and speculation. To the west, across the Ionian, Italy stands, like a leaning tower in the sea, and Sicily and Spain, each in those days with thriving Greek colonies; and at the end, the "Pillars of Hercules" (which we call Gibraltar), that sombre portal through which not many an ancient mariner dared to pass. And on the north those still untamed and half-barbaric regions, then named Thessaly and Epirus and Macedonia, from which or through which the vigorous bands had come which fathered the geniuses of Homeric and Periclean Greece.

Look again at the map, and you see countless indentations of coast and elevations of land; everywhere gulfs and bays and the intrusive sea; and all the earth tumbled and tossed into mountains and hills. Greece was broken into isolated fragments by these natural barriers of sea and soil; travel and communication were far more difficult and dangerous then than now; every valley therefore developed its own self-sufficient economic life, its own sovereign government, its own institutions and dialect and religion and culture. In each case one or two cities, and around them, stretching up the mountainslopes, an agricultural hinterland: such werethe "city-states" of Eubœa, and Locris, and œtolia, and Phocis, and Bœotia, and Achæa, and Argolis, and Elis, and Arcadia, and Messenia, and Laconia -- with its Sparta, and Attica -- with its Athens.

Look at the map a last time, and observe the position of Athens: it is the farthest east of the larger cities of Greece. It was favorably placed to be the door through which the Greeks passed out to the busy cities of Asia Minor, and through which those elder cities sent their luxuries and their culture to adolescent Greece. It had an admirable port, Piræus, where countless vessels might find a haven from the rough waters of the sea. And it had a great maritime fleet.

In 490-470 B. C. Sparta and Athens, forgetting their jealousies and joining their forces, fought off the effort of the Persians under Darius and Xerxes to turn Greece into a colony of an Asiatic empire. In this struggle of youthful Europe against the senile East, Sparta provided the army and Athens the navy. The war over, Sparta demobilized her troops, and suffered the economic disturbances natural to that process; while Athens turned her navy into a merchant fleet, and became one of the greatest trading cities of the ancient world. Sparta relapsed into agricultural seclusion and stagnation, while Athens became a busy mart and port, the meeting place of many races of men and of diverse cults and customs, whose contact and rivalry begot comparison, analysis and thought.

Traditions and dogmas rub one another down to a minimum in such centers of varied intercourse; where there are a thousand faiths we are apt to become sceptical of them all. Probably the traders were the first sceptics; they had seen too much to believe too much; and the general disposition of merchants to classify all men as either fools or knaves inclined them to question every creed. Gradually, too, they were developing science; mathematics grew with the increasing complexity of exchange, astronomy with the increasing audacity of navigation. The growth of wealth brought the leisure and security which are the prerequisite of research and speculation; men now asked the stars not only for guidance on the seas but as well for an answer to the riddles of the universe; the first Greek philosophers were astronomers. "Proud of their achievements," says Aristotle, "men pushed farther afield after the Persian wars; they took all knowledge for their province, and sought ever wider studies." Men grew bold enough to attempt natural explanations of processes and events before attributed to supernatural agencies and powers; magic and ritual slowly gave way to science and control; and philosophy began.

At first this philosophy was physical; it looked out upon the material world and asked what was the final and irreducible constituent of things. The natural termination of this line of thought was the materialism of Democritus (460-360 B. C.) -- "in reality there is nothing but atoms and space." This was one of the main streams of Greek speculation; it passed underground for a time in Plato's day, but emerged in Epicurus (342-270), and became a torrent of eloquence in Lucretius (98-55 B. C.). But the most characteristic and fertile developments of Greek philosophy took form with the Sophists, travelling teachers of wisdom, who looked within upon their own thought and nature, rather than out upon the world of things. They were all clever men (Gorgias and Hippias, for example), and many of them were profound (Protagoras, Prodicus); there is hardly a problem or a solution in our current philosophy of mind and conduct which they did not realize and discuss. They asked questions about anything; they stood unafraid in the presence of religious or political taboos; and boldly subpoenaed every creed and institution to appear before the judgment-seat of reason. In politics they divided into two schools. One, like Rousseau, argued that nature is good, and civilization bad; that by nature all men are equal, becoming unequal only by class-made institutions: and that law is an invention of the strong to chain and rule the weak. Another school, like Nietzsche, claimed that nature is beyond good and evil; that by nature all men are unequal; that morality is an invention of the weak to limit and deter the strong; that power is the supreme virtue and the supreme desire of man; and that of all forms of government the wisest and most natural is aristocracy.

No doubt this attack on democracy reflected the rise of a wealthy minority at Athens which called itself the Oligarchical Party, and denounced democracy as an incompetent sham. In a sense there was not much democracy to denounce; for of the 400,000 inhabitants of Athens 250,000 were slaves, without political rights of any kind; and of the 150,000 freemen or citizens only a small number presented themselves at the Ecclesia, or general assembly, where the policies of the state were discussed and determined. Yet what democracy they had was as thorough as never since; the general assembly was the supreme power; and tho highest official body, the Dikasteria, or supreme court, consisted of over a thousand members (to make bribery expensive), selected by alphabetical rote from the roll of all the citizens. No institution could have been more democratic, nor, said its opponents, more absurd.

During the great generation-long Peloponnesian war (430-400 B. C.), in which the military power of Sparta fought and at last defeated the naval power of Athens, the Athenian oligarchic party, led by Critias, advocated the abandonment of democracy on the score of its inefficiency in war, and secretly lauded the aristocratic government of Sparta. Many of the oligarchic leaders were exiled; but when at last Athens surrendered, one of the peace conditions imposed by Sparta was the recall of these exiled aristocrats. They had hardly returned when, with Critias at their head, they declared a rich man's revolution against the "democratic" party that had ruled during the disastrous war. The revolution failed, and Critias was killed on the field of battle.

Now Critias was a pupil of Socrates, and an uncle of Plato.


If we may judge from the bust

Meet the Author

Will Durant (1885–1981) was awarded the Pulitzer Prize (1968) and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1977). He spent more than fifty years writing his critically acclaimed eleven-volume series, The Story of Civilization (the later volumes written in conjunction with his wife, Ariel). A champion of human rights issues, such as the brotherhood of man and social reform, long before such issues were popular, Durant’s writing still educates and entertains readers around the world.

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The Story of Philosophy 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Will Durant's "The Story of Philosophy", published in 1926 and still in reprint today, is fortunately now in eBook form from the original publisher, Simon and Schuster. Reading the eBook is just like reading the printed version except that the footnotes are at the back of the book rather than the bottom of each page (they would have been more useful at the end of each chapter because many contain additional information that you will miss if you don't "follow" the footnote). Printed versions have become increasingly difficult to read because of the worn-out and broken type resulting from so many reprintings over the decades. How nice to read a legible version of "The Story of Philosophy" again. Durant is renowned as a story-teller of philosophy and the history of civilization. He was not a professional philosopher or historian (though he was a student of philosopher John Dewey at Columbia), and he insists that experts will learn nothing new. But the rest of us do learn a whole new world from Durant's approach of leading us by the hand through different periods, making great personages come alive in the context of their times and helping us understand their thoughts and actions that have had lasting relevance for those who came later and, most importantly, for our own times (today as well as 1926). For example, starting by establishing Plato in the context of his times (the secular Sophists, aristocratic rule vs. democracy, declining belief in established religion), Durant helps us understand the main points of Plato's idealist philosophy and convinces us that Plato has the true explanation for everything in human life and that his philosophy will last for all time; there's no need for any later philosophers; we might as well read no further. But suddenly we are hit with the fact that Plato's students already expressed doubts about some of his explanations, and Plato himself eventually admitted some self-doubt. We now see all the faults of the idealism of Plato and wonder how we ever got taken in by it. One of his students, Aristotle, proceeded to turn Plato's philosophy on its non-idealist head, so to speak, and the "story" starts all over again. It will be a similar arc for all philosophers, no one of whom, it turns out, has the full truth but each of whom (after Durant helps us see their failings) provides a new starting point for those who follow. ADVICE TO FIRST-TIME READERS: Skip the Preface and Introduction (which spend too much time justifying the study of philosophy, which will become meaningful only later) and start with Chapter 1 (Plato).
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is not a technical work of philosophy, nor one in which the author aims to present a philosophy of his own. It is rather an introduction to the lives and thought of the great philosophers. It is written in a clear, understandable way. It is highly recommended for those who wish to enter the world of philosophy. As a young person this book gave me much. I think especially of the inspiring picture given of Spinoza, the only great philosopher who lived, according to Durant,in full accordance with his own teaching. This work truly gives the feeling of philosophy as an adventure of mind which the ordinary reader can happily partake in.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book does a fair job in covering a wide range of philosophers. When reading it, however, I would advise caution with the chapter on Nietzsche. The combination of the bad and sometimes fraudulent translations available at the time this was written, and the author's own obvious resentment toward Nietzsche might give anyone new to Nietzsche an unfair misconception of the philosopher. A much better study of the man can be found in any of Kaufman's translations and critiques.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Great intro to philosphy-as far as knowing some of the most important philosphers and their basic ideas.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is in my top 5 of all time. I have re-read sections of this book at least a dozen times. It should be the first philosophy book you read. He makes philosophy and philosophers interesting and meaningful. Too much philosphy and too many philospers are academic / theoretical. Durant is a great historian / philosopher in his own right.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It is a book for common people .The writer,himself is not a philosopher , therefore this book did not discuus deeply about difficult ideas of great philosophers .It is also an incomplete story of philosophy .There is nothing about existentionalisn and logical positivism . Hegel is a great philosopher of new age ,but he was ignored . There are very short comments about him. I think this a book of some great philosophers personal livies' stories with discussing very shortly about thier ideas Although it is not a great book of philosophy but it introduce the philosophy to a layman who want to know about this subject It is also a book with literary and simple language , I read it with interest
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book remains a high quality introduction to philosophy even though it was first published more than 70 years ago. Durant does an excellent job of providing the reader with enough knowledge to understand the vitality of each philosopher. This was the very first book of philosophy I ever read--almost 30 years ago. Now I am a philosophy prof. and I regularly recommend this text to my students. It is well written and even entertaining. But the age of the book does show through in places. The text ends with the beginning of the 20th century and so has nothing of contemporary philosophy in it. Also, the writing style is academic (in the best sense of the word)--some readers may struggle with the level of writing. Still, this book makes a fine first reader for any undergraduate wanting a serious introduction to philosophy.
dorislouiselitz More than 1 year ago
this book is great. I am still reading it. there are so many interesting moments in it. but, it takes time to read a book like this. so, I am taking my time.