The Great Philosophers:Heidegger
By Johnathan Ree
Heidegger 1889-1976'We ourselves the entities to be analysed.' With those words, Martin Heidegger launched his assault on the 'sham clarity' of traditional Western thought. We are neither immortal souls nor disembodied intellects, he argues, but finite historical existences. And we are bound to the world by threads of interpretation and misinterpretation more strange and tangled than we can ever hope to comprehend.In his masterpiece Being and Time (1927) Heidegger used his technique of 'existential analysis' to undercut traditional dilemmas of objectivity and subjectivity, rationality and irrationality, absolutism and relativism. Truth itself, he argues, is essentially historical.The greatest adventures of twentieth-century thought can be seen as footnotes to Being and Time, and in this brilliantly lucid exposition Jonathan Rée spells out all its main arguments without blunting any of its disturbing paradoxes.
The Great Philosophers: Russell
By Ray Monk
Bertrand Russell 1872-1970Bertrand Russell discovered mathematics at the age of eleven. It was, he recalled, a transporting experience: 'as dazzling as first love.'From that moment on, he would pursue his passion with undying devotion and all but erotic fervour. Mathematics might succeed, he felt, where philosophy had failed, reducing thought to its purest form, and freeing knowledge from doubt and contradiction.And so, for a time, it seemed. Russell's mathematical investigations effortlessly resolved at a stroke some of philosophy's most intractable problems. Yet if mathematics could be a liberating mistress, she was an unreliable one...Opening up the work of one of our age's undisputed giants, Ray Monk's exhilaratingly clear, readable guide tells a compelling human tale too: a moving story of love and loss, of ecstatic triumph and deep disillusion.
The Great Philosophers:Marx
By Terry Eagleton
Part of the GREAT PHILOSOPHERS series.Terry Eagleton explains that freedom, for Marx, entailed release from commercial labour, "a kind of creative superabundance over what is materially essential". Eagleton outlines the relationship between production, labour and ownership which lie at the core of Marx's thinking. Marx's utopia was a place in which labour is increasingly automated, emancipating the wealth of sensuous individual development so that "savouring a peach [is an aspect] of our self-actualisation as much as building dams".
The Great Philosophers: Descartes
By John Cottingham
René Descartes 1596-1650The 'father of modern philosophy', René Descartes has been accorded all the admiration a father customarily receives - and all the resentment.That mind-body duality by which he so deftly made sense of us now seems less paradigm than prison. And yet, to unthink it appears impossible. For better of worse, Descartes must remain our starting-point in the attempt to understand ourselves and our relation to our world.Yet if the problems begin with Descartes, so too may some of the solutions. John Cottingham's fascinating guide finds in the French philosopher's own neglected later work some intriguing hints as to how the stumbling-blocks might be surmounted. The father of modern philosophy, it seems, might yet be his child's deliverer.
The Great Philosophers: Wittgenstein
By Peter Hacker
Ludwig Wittgenstein 1889 - 1951P.M.S. Hacker's Wittgenstein offers an illuminating introduction to Wittgenstein's philosophy of mind and to his conception of philosophy. Combining passages from Wittgenstein's writings with detailed interpretation and commentary, Hacker leads us into a world of philosophical investigation in which 'to smell a rat is ever so much easier than to trap it.'Wittgenstein claimed that the role of philosophy is to dissolve conceptual confusions, to untie the knots in our understanding that result from entanglement in the web of language. He overturned centuries of philosophical reflection on the nature of 'the inner', of our subjective experience and of our knowledge of self and others. Traditional conceptions of 'the outer', of human behaviour, were equally distorted and so too was the relation between the inner and the outer. Hacker shows how Wittgenstein's examination of our use of words clarifies our notions of mind, body and behaviour.
The Great Philosophers: Turing
By Andrew Hodges
Alan Turing 1912 - 1954Alan Turing's 1936 paper On Computable Numbers, introducing the Turing machine, was a landmark of twentieth-century thought. It settled a deep problem in the foundations of mathematics, and provided the principle of the post-war electronic computer. It also supplied a new approach to the philosophy of the mind.Influenced by his crucial codebreaking work in the Second World War, and by practical pioneering of the first electronic computers, Turing argued that all the operations of the mind could be performed by computers. His thesis, made famous by the wit and drama of the Turing Test, is the cornerstone of modern Artifical Intelligence.Here Andrew Hodges gives a fresh and critical analysis of Turing's developing thought, relating it to his extraordinary life, and also to the more recent ideas of Roger Penrose.
The Great Philosophers: Socrates
By Anthony Gottlieb
Socrates 469 - 399BC'If you put me to death,' Socrates warned his Athenian judges, 'you will not easily find anyone to take my place.' So indeed it would prove, a single cup of hemlock robbing the western philosophical tradition of the man with best claims to be its founding father.Yet Socrates' influence was not so easily to be done away with. His words lovingly recorded by his devoted disciple Plato, his doctrines reached a posterity which has, through twenty-seven centuries now, taken him as its teacher.The marriage of idealism and scepticism in his though; his sense of education as self-discovery; his view of philosophy as preparation for life: these have been the stuff of western thought at its best. So completely did Socrates embody these values, he was prepared to die in their defence...
The Great Philosophers:Schopenhauer
By Michael Tanner
Schopenhauer 1788 - 1860Western philosophy's most profound and unrelenting pessimist, Schopenhauer hymned the miseries of human existence with a joylessness that was little short of lyrical. Yet he thrilled to the beauties of music and art.How did such deep bleakness and such sublime enthusiasm come to coincide in one man, one mind? Only by squaring these two sides of Schopenhauer can we truly hope to understand this most paradoxical - even perverse of thinkers. Only through his thoughts on Beauty can we apprehend his attitude towards Truth.The failure of later philosophers down the generations to resolve these apparent contradictions has seen Schopenhauer's thought unjustly marginalized and philosophy itself much poorer. Michael Tanner's enthralling introduction teases out the difficulties and unpicks the paradoxes to reveal the exhilarating coherence beneath. It amounts to nothing less than a rediscovery of one of Western tradition's greatest philosophers.
The Great Philosophers: Plato
By Bernard Williams
Plato c428 - c348BCWithout the work of Plato, western thought is, quite literally, unthinkable. No single influence has been greater, in every age and in every philosophic field. Even those thinkers who have rejected Plato's views have found themselves working to an agenda he set.Yet between the neo-platonist interpretations and the anti-platonist reactions, the stuff of 'Platonism' proper has often been obscured. The philosopher himself has not necessarily helped in the matter: at times disconcertingly difficult, at other disarmingly simple, Plato can be an elusive thinker, his meanings hard to pin down. His dialogues complex and often ironically constructed and do not simply expand his views, which in any case changed and developed over a long life.In this lucid and exciting new introductory guide, Bernard Williams takes his reader back to first principles, re-reading the key texts to reveal what the philosopher actually said. The result is a rediscovered Plato: often unexpected, always fascinating and rewarding.
The Great Philosophers:Pascal
By Ben Rogers
Pascal 1623-1662The moralist who advocated dressing up, the ascetic who liked a flutter, the devout Christian who lauded vanity, Pascal is a funnier, more ironic philosopher than his reputation as an anguished existentialist would suggest.Yet however irreverent the terms of his ironic project, its underlying impetus is both serious and profound. In this superb new introduction to the thinker and his thought, Ben Rogers demonstrates the deep wisdom of Pascal's defence of popular folly - a defence which he used to highlight the higher delusions of the learned.Setting the Pensées in the context of Pascal's life and philosophical career, Rogers reveals how their apparent frivolity underpins a fascinating, far-reaching and still challenging body of moral and political thought. His remarkable guide offers an eye-opening account of the work of a marvellous and much neglected thinker.
The Great Philosophers: Popper
By Frederic Raphael
Karl Popper 1902-1994The political history of the twentieth century has been full of savage 'certainties'. A similar idea of history warranted the callous savageries of both Marxism and Fascism. They shared a faith in what Karl Popper called 'Historicism': the belief that the future could be predicted and that man had to align himself with its bloody progress.Totalitarianism, Popper maintained, was based on ideas implicit in Western philosophy, from Plato to Hegel and Marx. It was his unique achievement to challenge the fundamental arguments in which Left and Right cloaked their authority.At a time when Communism and Fascism were devastatingly alluring to many intellectuals, Popper attacked their philosophical roots with passionate reasonableness and unflinching scepticism. As Frederic Raphael suggests in this elegant and intriguing introduction to his philosophy of science and history, Popper's epic modesty may have made him the most radical thinker of our times.
The Great Philosophers:Kant
By Ralph Walker
Immanuel Kant 1724-1804'Dry, obscure... prolix.' That was Kant's own critique of his first Critique - and exasperated students since have extended it to the rest of his work. Yet despite its sprawling form and forbidding content, Kant's moral philosophy has continued to compel the attention of every serious thinker in the field.Today, indeed, it seems more important than ever. Never has the need for moral absolutes been more pressing than in this age of genocide and oppression, and yet as old certainties dissipate themselves in doubt and disillusion, not only religious faith but humanist confidence have found themselves supplanted by cynicism. If the appeal to a judging deity appears an evasion, even to believers, utilitarian head-counting seems no more than an exercise in ethical accountancy.This is where Kant comes in. Clear, concise - and overwhelmingly convincing - Ralph Walker's lucid guide spells out the power and renewed relevance of his thinking: a genuinely objective, absolute basis for a modern moral law.
The Great Philosophers:Collingwood
By Aaron Ridley
R. G. Collingwood 1889-1943Many philosophers have been interested in aesthetics, but Collingwood was passionate about art. His theories were never merely theoretical: aesthetics for him was a vivid, vibrant thing, to be experienced immediately in worked paint and in sculpted stone, in poetry and music.Art and life were no dichotomy for Collingwood - for how could you have one without the other? Works of art were created in and for the real world, to be enjoyed by real people, to enchant and enhance.Aaron Ridley's fascinating introduction opens up the work of this most rewarding of aesthetic thinkers, tracing his thought from its philosophic origins through to its practical consequence and ethical implications. The man who saw art as 'the community's medicine for the worst disease of mind' had a sense of its urgent importance which we ignore at our peril today.
The Great Philosophers:Aristotle
By Kenneth Mcleish
Aristotle c. 384- c.322 BCThe ideas Aristotle outlined in his Poetics have formed the foundation for the whole history of western critical theory. No work has had more influence upon the literature of centuries - neither has any been so profoundly, so perversely misunderstood.Mystification, moralization, recruitment into the cause of this or that literary culture... with all the interpretations, Aristotle has too seldom been permitted to speak for himself. If the prescriptive rigidities of the Renaissance went entirely against the grain of his open, accepting empiricism, the psychologising mania of the moderns has been no truer a reflection of his thought.Kenneth McLeish's introduction cuts through centuries of accreted obscurity to reveal the forthright, astonishingly original book which Aristotle actually wrote. The philosopher who emerges proves more 'modern' than any of his interpreters.
The Great Philosophers: Hume
A short book combining extracts from the work of one of the world's greatest thinkers with commentary by on of Britain's most distinguished writers on philosophy.
The Great Philosophers: Spinoza
By Roger Scruton
Born to be misunderstood, Spinoza was a man whose theology was banned for Godlessness. The very virtuosity of his reasoning left logicians unsettled, while even to professional thinkers in our own time, Spinoza has seemed too clever by half. And yet, as Roger Scruton shows in this strikingly readable introduction to the man and his though, Spinoza's concerns were both simple and sublime. Few philosophers, indeed, have shown such a straightforward, sustained and honest interest in uncovering the most fundamental aspects of existence. Too important to be dismissed as a mere genius, Spinoza is rediscovered here in all his quiet and consoling simplicity.
The Great Philosophers: Hegel
By Raymond Plant
Part of the GREAT PHILOSOPHERS series.G.W.F. Hegel 1770-1831Without Hegel, modern thought is unthinkable. From Marx to Merleau-Pontyh, from Kierkegaard to Nietzsche, those whose ideas have made the modern age have all worked in his shadow.For Hegel's preoccupations have turned out to be our own. The isolation of the individual adrift in society, the yearning of the divided self for an integrated wholeness: these are anxieties his successors have shared. The rival claims of the personal and the public, the immediate instant and the wider historic narrative: these have remained pressing problems through two hundred years of change.Yet if his 'philosophy' seems as contemporary as ever, Hegel's 'religious' views have been dismissed as irrelevant anachronism. The distinction is false, however. In his theological explorations, suggests Raymond Plant in this illuminating new guide, Hegel tackled the issues of interest to us all.
The Great Philosophers: Nietzsche
By Ronald Hayman
A short book combining extracts from the work of one of the world's greatest thinkers combined with commentary from one of Britain's most distinguished writers on philosophy.
The Great Philosophers: Voltaire
By John Gray
Part of the GREAT PHILOSOPHERS series.Voltaire's savage laughter range out across eighteenth-century Europe, puncturing the pomposities and hypocrisies of power. Kings and cardinals felt the sting of his satire; governments and aristocracies endured his derision.Yet the aims of the Enlightenment's clown were nothing if not serious: to throw back the blinds of ignorance and superstition and let the sun of science and intellect stream in; to rebuild benighted Christendom as a new civilisation, secular and free.Herald of reason and revolution, Voltaire's mocking voice has echoed through two centuries of change. But as the Enlightenment's achievements have come increasingly into question, the joke has rebounded on the comedian himself. A creation of Christianity in way he never realised, Voltaire owed more to his epoch's orthodoxies than he could have ever guessed.John Gray's absorbing provocative introduction offers a radical reassessment of a fascinating and important figure, at once demythologizing the icon and revealing his genuine greatness.
The Great Philosophers: Locke
By Michael Ayres
Part of the GREAT PHILOSOPHERS series.John Locke 1632-1704What Newton did for physics in the seventeenth century, Locke did for philosophy. The revolution wrought by these two giants established the intellectual underpinnings of the modern world.Yet out own age has called their contributions into question. While Newton's universe has come to seem unduly mechanistic, Locke has been out of favour for his wordy rhetoric, the apparent imprecision of his thought and the perceived irrelevance of his once-radical empiricism.This fascinating guide restores an underrated thinker to his rightful place at the very centre of modern philosophical enquiry. Basing his exposition upon a resourceful re-reading of An Essay concerning Human Understanding, Michael Ayers explains the historical significance of Locke's philosophical project, and its continuing capacity to challenge and compel.