Our Philosophical Traditions: A Brief History of Philosophy in Western Civilization

Our Philosophical Traditions: A Brief History of Philosophy in Western Civilization

Our Philosophical Traditions: A Brief History of Philosophy in Western Civilization

Our Philosophical Traditions: A Brief History of Philosophy in Western Civilization

Excerpt

History, as any schoolboy or schoolgirl can tell us, deals with the past. But what the past is is by no means clear to the minds of most people. The past is not something which once was and is no more, so that we can properly turn our attention from it and live, without further reference to it, in our own exciting present. Time has a greater continuity than most people realize; and the past, at least in many of its vital phases, provides the institutions and alignments, the ideas and principles, by which we are today surrounded and in the context of which we must work out such degree of salvation as we may achieve. Our political life in America bears the ineffaceable marks of John Locke's hopes and fears; our economic life reflects the optimism of Adam Smith and is shadowed by the towering figure of Karl Marx; our religious life moves in large part along channels established by St. Paul and St. Augustine and St. Thomas; our educational life rests squarely upon that courageous readiness of Plato and Aristotle to explore the world and to appraise men's lives under the guidance of human reason. The strands from the past have been woven into a complicated fabric, and only too often the threads are tangled or torn or knotted.

Nothing which has come down to us from the past has come down in finished form. Nothing, just because it is ancient, can bind us authoritatively or can be set up as a model for us to imitate and to repeat. Yet without understanding of the past we shall never understand where we now are and hence be able to formulate wise programs of how further to proceed. Or, to change the metaphor, without the materials which the past provides, we shall never find the resources which we need today in our struggle to fashion a civilized society and to lead the life of reason.

This book, as its subtitle indicates, is a history of philosophy in the western world. But it is more than that. It is explicitly intended -- more directly and self-consciously, perhaps, than other existing histories of philosophy -- to help its readers to discover in the past the . . .

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