A History of Western Philosophy

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9780671201586: A History of Western Philosophy

Hailed as “lucid and magisterial” by The Observer, this book is universally acclaimed as the outstanding one-volume work on the subject of Western philosophy.

Considered to be one of the most important philosophical works of all time, the History of Western Philosophy is a dazzlingly unique exploration of the ideologies of significant philosophers throughout the ages—from Plato and Aristotle through to Spinoza, Kant and the twentieth century. Written by a man who changed the history of philosophy himself, this is an account that has never been rivaled since its first publication over sixty years ago.

Since its first publication in 1945, Lord Russell’s A History of Western Philosophy is still unparalleled in its comprehensiveness, its clarity, its erudition, its grace, and its wit. In seventy-six chapters he traces philosophy from the rise of Greek civilization to the emergence of logical analysis in the twentieth century.

Among the philosophers considered are: Pythagoras, Heraclitus, Parmenides, Empedocles, Anaxagoras, the Atomists, Protagoras, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, the Cynics, the Sceptics, the Epicureans, the Stoics, Plotinus, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, Benedict, Gregory the Great, John the Scot, Aquinas, Duns Scotus, William of Occam, Machiavelli, Erasmus, More, Bacon, Hobbes, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, the Utilitarians, Marx, Bergson, James, Dewey, and lastly the philosophers with whom Lord Russell himself is most closely associated—Cantor, Frege, and Whitehead, coauthor with Russell of the monumental Principia Mathematica.

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About the Author:

Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell, Viscount Amberley, born in Wales, May 18, 1872. Educated at home and at Trinity College, Cambridge. During World War I, served four months in prison as a pacifist, where he wrote Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy. In 1910, published first volume of Principia Mathematica with Alfred Whitehead. Visited Russia and lectured on philosophy at the University of Peking in 1920. Returned to England and, with his wife, ran a progressive school for young children in Sussex from 1927-1932. Came to the United States, where he taught philosophy successively at the University of Chicago, University of California at Los Angeles, Harvard, and City College of New York. Awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950. Has been active in disarmament and anti-nuclear-testing movements while continuing to add to his large number of published books which include Philosophical Essays (1910); The ABC of Relativity (1925) Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits (1948); Why I Am Not a Christian (1957); and The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell (1967). For a chronological list of Russell's principal works see The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell (Simon and Schuster).

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

CHAPTER I

The Rise of Greek Civilization

In all history, nothing is so surprising or so difficult to account for as the sudden rise of civilization in Greece. Much of what makes civilization had already existed for thousands of years in Egypt and in Mesopotamia, and had spread thence to neighbouring countries. But certain elements had been lacking until the Greeks supplied them. What they achieved in art and literature is familiar to everybody, but what they did in the purely intellectual realm is even more exceptional. They invented mathematics and science and philosophy; they first wrote history as opposed to mere annals; they speculated freely about the nature of the world and the ends of life, without being bound in the fetters of any inherited orthodoxy. What occurred was so astonishing that, until very recent times, men were content to gape and talk mystically about the Greek genius. It is possible, however, to understand the development of Greece in scientific terms, and it is well worth while to do so.

Philosophy begins with Thales, who, fortunately, can be dated by the fact that he predicted an eclipse which, according to the astronomers, occurred in the year 585 B.C. Philosophy and science -- which were not originally separate -- were therefore born together at the beginning of the sixth century. What had been happening in Greece and neighbouring countries before this time? Any answer must be in part conjectural, but archeology, during the present century, has given us much more knowledge than was possessed by our grandfathers.

The art of writing was invented in Egypt about the year 4000 B.C., and in Babylonia not much later. In each country writing began with pictures of the objects intended. These pictures quickly became conventionalized, so that words were represented by ideograms, as they still are in China. In the course of thousands of years, this cumbrous system developed into alphabetic writing.

The early development of civilization in Egypt and Mesopotamia was due to the Nile, the Tigris, and the Euphrates, which made agriculture very easy and very productive. The civilization was in many ways similar to that which the Spaniards found in Mexico and Peru. There was a divine king, with despotic powers; in Egypt, he owned all the land. There was a polytheistic religion, with a supreme god to whom the king had a specially intimate relation. There was a military aristocracy, and also a priestly aristocracy. The latter was often able to encroach on the royal power, if the king was weak or if he was engaged in a difficult war. The cultivators of the soil were serfs, belonging to the king, the aristocracy, or the priesthood.

There was a considerable difference between Egyptian and Babylonian theology. The Egyptians were preoccupied with death, and believed that the souls of the dead descend into the underworld, where they are judged by Osiris according to the manner of their life on earth. They thought that the soul would ultimately return to the body; this led to mummification and to the construction of splendid tombs. The pyramids were built by various kings at the end of the fourth millennium B.C. and the beginning of the third. After this time, Egyptian civilization became more and more stereotyped, and religious conservatism made progress impossible. About 1800 B.C. Egypt was conquered by Semites named Hyksos, who ruled the country for about two centuries. They left no permanent mark on Egypt, but their presence there must have helped to spread Egyptian civilization in Syria and Palestine.

Babylonia had a more warlike development than Egypt. At first, the ruling race were not Semites, but "Sumerians," whose origin is unknown. They invented cuneiform writing, which the conquering Semites took over from them. There was a period when there were various independent cities which fought with each other, but in the end Babylon became supreme and established an empire. The gods of other cities became subordinate, and Marduk, the god of Babylon, acquired a position like that later held by Zeus in the Greek pantheon. The same sort of thing had happened in Egypt, but at a much earlier time.

The religions of Egypt and Babylonia, like other ancient religions, were originally fertility cults. The earth was female, the sun male. The bull was usually regarded as an embodiment of male fertility, and bull-gods were common. In Babylon, Ishtar, the earth-goddess, was supreme among female divinities. Throughout western Asia, the Great Mother was worshipped under various names. When Greek colonists in Asia Minor found temples to her, they named her Artemis and took over the existing cult. This is the origin of "Diana of the Ephesians." Christianity transformed her into the Virgin Mary, and it was a Council at Ephesus that legitimated the title "Mother of God" as applied to Our Lady.

Where a religion was bound up with the government of an empire, political motives did much to transform its primitive features. A god or goddess became associated with the State, and had to give, not only an abundant harvest, but victory in war. A rich priestly caste elaborated the ritual and the theology, and fitted together into a pantheon the several divinities of the component parts of the empire.

Through association with government, the gods also became associated with morality. Lawgivers received their codes from a god; thus a breach of the law became an impiety. The oldest legal code still known is that of Hammurabi, king of Babylon, about 2100 B.C.; this code was asserted by the king to have been delivered to him by Marduk. The connection between religion and morality became continually closer throughout ancient times.

Babylonian religion, unlike that of Egypt, was more concerned with prosperity in this world than with happiness in the next. Magic, divination, and astrology, though not peculiar to Babylonia, were more developed there than elsewhere, and it was chiefly through Babylon that they acquired their hold on later antiquity. From Babylon come some things that belong to science: the division of the day into twenty-four hours, and of the circle into 360 degrees; also the discovery of a cycle in eclipses, which enabled lunar eclipses to be predicted with certainty, and solar eclipses with some probability. This Babylonian knowledge, as we shall see, was acquired by Thales.

The civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia were agricultural, and those of surrounding nations, at first, were pastoral. A new element came with the development of commerce, which was at first almost entirely maritime. Weapons, until about 1000 B.C., were made of bronze, and nations which did not have the necessary metals on their own territory were obliged to obtain them by trade or piracy. Piracy was a temporary expedient, and where social and political conditions were fairly stable, commerce was found to be more profitable. In commerce, the island of Crete seems to have been the pioneer. For about eleven centuries, say from 2500 B.C. to 1400 B.C., an artistically advanced culture, called the Minoan, existed in Crete. What survives of Cretan art gives an impression of cheerfulness and almost decadent luxury, very different from the terrifying gloom of Egyptian temples.

Of this important civilization almost nothing was known until the excavations of Sir Arthur Evans and others. It was a maritime civilization, in close touch with Egypt (except during the time of the Hyksos). From Egyptian pictures it is evident that the very considerable commerce between Egypt and Crete was carried on by Cretan sailors; this commerce reached its maximum about 1500 B.C. The Cretan religion appears to have had many affinities with the religions of Syria and Asia Minor, but in art there was more affinity with Egypt, though Cretan art was very original and amazingly full of life. The centre of the Cretan civilization was the so-called "palace of Minos" at Knossos, of which memories lingered in the traditions of classical Greece. The palaces of Crete were very magnificent, but were destroyed about the end of the fourteenth century B.C., probably by invaders from Greece. The chronology of Cretan history is derived from Egyptian objects found in Crete, and Cretan objects found in Egypt; throughout, our knowledge is dependent on archeological evidence.

The Cretans worshipped a goddess, or perhaps several goddesses. The most indubitable goddess was the "Mistress of Animals," who was a huntress, and probably the source of the classical Artemis. She or another was also a mother; the only male deity, apart from the "Master of Animals," is her young son. There is some evidence of belief in an after life, in which, as in Egyptian belief, deeds on earth receive reward or retribution. But on the whole the Cretans appear, from their art, to have been cheerful people, not much oppressed by gloomy superstitions. They were fond of bull-fights, at which female as well as male toreadors performed amazing acrobatic feats. The bull-fights were religious celebrations, and Sir Arthur Evans thinks that the performers belonged to the highest nobility. The surviving pictures are full of movement and realism.

The Cretans had a linear script, but it has not been deciphered. At home they were peaceful, and their cities were unwalled; no doubt they were defended by sea power.

Before the destruction of the Minoan culture, it spread, about 1600 B.C., to the mainland of Greece, where it survived, through gradual stages of degeneration, until about 900 B.C. This mainland civilization is called the Mycenaean; it is known through the tombs of kings, and also through fortresses on hill- tops, which show more fear of war than had existed in Crete. Both tombs and fortresses remained to impress the imagination of classical Greece. The older art products in the palaces are either actually of Cretan workmanship, or closely akin to those of Crete. The Mycenaean civilization, seen through a haze of legend, is that which is depicted in Homer.

There is much uncertainty concerning the Mycenaeans. Did they owe their civilization to being conquered by the Cretans? Did they speak Greek, or were they an earlier indigenous race? No certain answer to these questions is possible, but on the whole it seems probable that they were conquerors who spoke Greek, and that at least the aristocracy consisted of fair-haired invaders from the North, who brought the Greek language with them. The Greeks came to Greece in three successive waves, first the Ionians, then the Achaeans, and last the Dorians. The Ionians appear, though conquerors, to have adopted the Cretan civilization pretty completely, as, later, the Romans adopted the civilization of Greece. But the Ionians were disturbed, and largely dispossessed, by their successors the Achaeans. The Achaeans are known, from the Hittite tablets found at Boghaz-Keul, to have had a large organized empire in the fourteenth century B.C. The Mycenaean civilization, which had been weakened by the warfare of the Ionians and Achaeans, was practically destroyed by the Dorians, the last Greek invaders. Whereas previous invaders had largely adopted the Minoan religion, the Dorians retained the original Indo-European religion of their ancestors. The religion of Mycenaean times, however, lingered on, especially in the lower classes, and the religion of classical Greece was a blend of the two.

Although the above account seems probable, it must be remembered that we do not know whether the Mycenaeans were Greeks or not. What we do know is that their civilization decayed, that about the time when it ended iron superseded bronze, and that for some time sea supremacy passed to the Phoenicians.

Both during the later part of the Mycenaean age and after its end, some of the invaders settled down and became agriculturists, while some pushed on, first into the islands and Asia Minor, then into Sicily and southern Italy, where they founded cities that lived by maritime commerce. It was in these maritime cities that the Greeks first made qualitatively new contributions to civilization; the supremacy of Athens came later, and was equally associated, when it came, with naval power.

The mainland of Greece is mountainous and largely infertile. But there are many fertile valleys, with easy access to the sea, but cut off by the mountains from easy land communication with each other. In these valleys little separate communities grew up, living by agriculture, and centering round a town, generally close to the sea. In such circumstances it was natural that, as soon as the population of any community grew too great for its internal resources, those who could not live on the land should take to seafaring. The cities of the mainland founded colonies, often in places where it was much easier to find subsistence than it had been at home. Thus in the earliest historical period the Greeks of Asia Minor, Sicily, and Italy were much richer than those of the Greek mainland.

The social system was very different in different parts of Greece. In Sparta, a small aristocracy subsisted on the labour of oppressed serfs of a different race; in the poorer agricultural regions, the population consisted mainly of farmers cultivating their own land with the help of their families. But where commerce and industry flourished, the free citizens grew rich by the employment of slaves -- male in the mines, female in the textile industry. These slaves were, in Ionia, of the surrounding barbarian population, and were, as a rule, first acquired in war. With increasing wealth went increasing isolation of respectable women, who in later times had little part in the civilized aspects of Greek life except in Sparta.

There was a very general development, first from monarchy to aristocracy, then to an alternation of tyranny and democracy. The kings were not absolute, like those of Egypt and Babylonia; they were advised by a Council of Elders, and could not transgress custom with impunity. "Tyranny" did not mean necessarily bad government, but only the rule of a man whose claim to power was not hereditary. "Democracy" meant government by all the citizens, among whom slaves and women were not included. The early tyrants, like the Medici, acquired their power through being the richest members of their respective plutocracies. Often the source of their wealth was the ownership of gold and silver mines, made the more profitable by the new institution of coinage, which came from the kingdom of Lydia, adjacent to Ionia. Coinage seems to have been invented shortly before 700 B.C.

One of the most important results, to the Greeks, of commerce or piracy -- at first the two are scarcely distinct -- was the acquisition of the art of writing. Although writing had existed for thousands of years in Egypt and Babylonia, and the Minoan Cretans had a script (which has not been deciphered), there is no conclusive evidence that the Greeks knew how to write until about the tenth century B.C. They learnt the art from the Phoenicians, who, like the other inhabitants of Syria, were exposed to both Egyptian and Babylonian influences, and who held the supremacy in maritime commerce until the rise of the Greek cities of Ionia, Italy, and Sicily. In the fourteenth century, writing to Ikhnaton (the heretic king of Egypt), Syrians still used the Babylonian cuneiform; but Hiram of Tyre (969-936) used the Phoenician alphabet, which probably developed out of the Egyptian script. The Egyptians used, at first, a pure picture writing; gradually the pictures, much conventionalized, came to represent syllables (the first syllables of the names of the things pictured), and at last single letters, on the principle of "A was an Archer who shot at a frog." This last step, which was not taken with any c...

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