The Great Philosophers

Stephen Law does a great job catering for those casually curious about philosophy and its most prominent practitioners in this introductory volume. This is a refreshing book, and I appreciate its succinctness - it never launches into the excessively wordy and diluted style that I somehow came to expect from philosophical writings.

It presents to the reader fifty of history’s key thinkers in chronological order, dedicating about 3 to 4 pages to each. The philosopher’s single most important idea is explained and its implications explored, after which it is critically scrutinized, typically by means of conceivable counter examples. Biographical info, major works and concepts are presented in text boxes.

The book is jam packed with all sorts of interesting trivia. For example, the excommunicated Franciscan, William of Ockham did not devise the famous dictum that bears his name. He was merely a frequent user thereof. The principle was already known in the middle ages, and Thomas Aquinas (of all people) wrote earlier that If a thing can be done adequately by means of one, it is superfluous to do it by means of several; for we observe that nature does not employ two instruments where one suffices. And it turns out that a razor was user as an eraser in those days, to scrape errors from parchment.

So I now attend Saturday night post rugby braais ready and fully armed with an intelligent response should anyone enquire about my favourite philosopher. Unfortunately, that has not happened yet.

The Great Philosophers was first published in 2007. I bought a hardback copy about 2 months ago from Exclusive Books for R225. I’m about halfway through.

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The Great Philosophers - The Lives and Ideas of History’s Greatest Thinkers [Usually dispatched within within 1 - 2 weeks]
Stephen Law: The Great Philosophers - The Lives and Ideas of History’s Greatest Thinkers Stephen Law
Hardcover, 208 pages, April 2008
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The lives and ideas of history’s 50 greatest thinkers - the perfect beginner’s guide to the world of philosophy

This sounds appealing, I’ve added the title to my list.