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The Story of Philosophy by Bryan Magee: A Review and Critique of the Essential Guide to Western Philosophy

The Story of Philosophy by Bryan Magee: A Review

Philosophy is one of the oldest and most fascinating disciplines in human history. It explores some of the most fundamental questions about reality, knowledge, morality, politics, art, religion, and more. But how did philosophy begin? What are its main branches and schools? Who are its most influential thinkers and what are their main ideas? How has philosophy changed over time and what are its current challenges?

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If you are looking for a comprehensive, accessible, and engaging introduction to the history of western philosophy, you might want to check out The Story of Philosophy by Bryan Magee. This book is a remarkable achievement that covers more than 2500 years of philosophical thought in a clear and lively manner. It is not only a great source of information but also a pleasure to read.


What is the book about?

The Story of Philosophy is a book that tells the story of philosophy from its origins in ancient Greece to its latest developments in the 20th century. It is divided into 10 chapters, each focusing on a major period or movement in philosophical history. Each chapter consists of several sections that introduce the main philosophers, concepts, arguments, problems, and controversies that shaped that period or movement.

The book is richly illustrated with photographs, paintings, diagrams, maps, timelines, quotations, summaries, and biographies that help to bring the story to life. It also includes a glossary of key terms, a bibliography of further reading, and an index of names and topics.

Why is it worth reading?

The Story of Philosophy is worth reading for several reasons. First, it is written by a renowned philosopher and author who has a deep knowledge and passion for the subject. Bryan Magee is a former professor of philosophy at Oxford University and the host of several popular TV series on philosophy. He has written many books and articles on various aspects of philosophy, including Confessions of a Philosopher, The Great Philosophers, Popper, and Wagner and Philosophy.

Second, it is written in a clear, concise, and engaging style that makes philosophy accessible and enjoyable for anyone. Magee avoids unnecessary jargon and technicalities and explains complex ideas and arguments in simple and understandable terms. He also uses examples, analogies, metaphors, and stories to illustrate his points and to stimulate the reader's imagination and curiosity.

Third, it is written with a critical and balanced perspective that acknowledges the strengths and weaknesses of different philosophical views and approaches. Magee does not shy away from pointing out the problems, contradictions, limitations, and criticisms that philosophers have faced or raised against each other. He also does not impose his own opinions or preferences on the reader but invites them to think for themselves and to form their own judgments.

The Greeks and their world

The origins of philosophy

The story of philosophy begins in ancient Greece, where the first philosophers emerged around the 6th century BCE. These philosophers were not just interested in abstract speculation but also in observing and explaining the natural world around them. They were called natural philosophers because they sought to discover the nature or essence of things.

The natural philosophers were dissatisfied with the traditional explanations of nature that relied on myths, legends, and superstitions. They wanted to find rational and empirical grounds for their claims. They also wanted to find a principle or element that could account for the origin, structure, and change of everything that exists. They proposed various candidates for this principle, such as water, air, fire, numbers, atoms, or logos.

The main schools of thought

The natural philosophers gave rise to several schools of thought that developed different aspects of their inquiries. Some of the most influential schools were:

  • The Cynics, who rejected conventional values and norms and advocated a simple and natural life in accordance with nature.

  • The Sceptics, who doubted the possibility of certain knowledge and advocated a suspension of judgment on all matters.