Classical Philosophy: A Contemporary Introduction

Classical Philosophy: A Contemporary Introduction

Classical Philosophy: A Contemporary Introduction

Classical Philosophy: A Contemporary Introduction


Classical Philosophy is a comprehensive examination of early philosophy from the presocratics through to Aristotle. The aim of the book is to provide an explanation and analysis of the ideas that flourished at this time and considers their relevance both to the historical development of philosophy and to contemporary philosophy today. From these ideas we can see the roots of arguments in metaphysics, epistemology, ethics and political philosophy.The book is arranged in four parts by thinker and covers:The Presocratics Socrates Plato Aristotle Christopher Shields' style is inviting, refreshing and ideal for anyone coming to the subject for the first time. He provides a balanced account of the central topics and ideas that emerged from the period and includes helpful further reading and chapter overviews.


Philosophy began in the West in a specific time and place: in Greece, along the coast of Asia Minor, during the late sixth century BC. Though advancing with only small steps forward at first, philosophy flowered quickly, in some ways astonishingly quickly, during and after the life of Socrates (469-399 BC). Somehow this one man seems almost single-handedly to have transformed a loosely knit set of far-reaching questions about the character and direction of human existence into a discipline with its own distinctive aims and methods.

Now, philosophy does not own the questions it pursues; it is, on the contrary, easy to find the great tragedians and epoch poets of Greece assaying many of the subjects pursued by philosophers. Still, it seems that Socrates in a single-minded and determined sort of way introduced a distinctively philosophical approach, an analytical approach, to questions of concern to every reflective person-questions about the nature of human happiness, about the best form of life attainable by human beings, about the relationship between virtue and self-interest, and about the ultimate value of human life. In adopting an analytical approach to these matters, Socrates almost invariably approached them by posing disarmingly simple questions about the natures of virtue or of happiness, of self-interest, or of the human good. We all, we think, know what happiness is; it is, after all, what we all seek. Then someone like Socrates asks: What is happiness? Unwilling to accept facile responses, Socrates then demands unassailable answers, a sort whose production requires both searing self-reflection and careful critical acumen. As any student of Socrates quickly learns, it turns out that those who regard the answer to this sort of question as simple or straightforward will have trouble defending themselves when subjected to sustained scrutiny. To this extent, anyone wishing to reflect upon the best sort of life available to human beings will benefit from an encounter with Socrates or someone schooled by him.

Scope and aims

This book aims to provide an encounter of this sort. It is not intended as a substitute for reading the works of the philosophers it discusses. To be sure, there is no substitute for reading the writings of the classical philosophers; so, it is hoped only that this work will help illuminate some of their enduring contributions by bringing them into clear focus for a contemporary audience. It nowhere assumes that the philosophical contributions made by thinkers of this period have been superannuated or discredited by

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