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How is this history of philosophy different from all others?
1. It’s neither very long (like Copleston’s twelve-volume tome, which is a clear
and helpful reference work but pretty dull reading) nor very short (like many
skimpy one-volume summaries) but just long enough.
2. It’s available in separate volumes but eventually in one complete work (after the
four volumes – Ancient, Medieval, Modern, Contemporary – are produced in
paperbound editions, a one-volume clothbound will be published).
3. It focuses on the “big ideas” that have influenced present people and present
4. It includes relevant biographical data, proportionate to its importance for each
5. It is not just history but philosophy. Its aim is not merely to record facts (of life
or opinion) but to stimulate philosophizing, controversy, argument.
6. It does this by aiming above all at understanding, at what the old logic called
the “first act of the mind” rather than the third: the thing computers and many
“analytic philosophers” cannot understand.
7. It uses ordinary language and logic, not professional academic jargon or
8. It is commonsensical (and therefore is sympathetic to commonsense
philosophers like Aristotle).
9. It is “existential” in that it sees philosophy as something to be lived, and tested
in life. It concentrates on the questions that make a difference to your life.
10. It dares to be human and, therefore, occasionally funny or ironic.
11. Like the “Great Books,” it assumes that philosophy is not about philosophy but
about reality; about wisdom; about life and death and good and evil and man
and God and “stuff like that,” rather than mere analysis of language. It cooks
edible meats rather than just sweeping the floor of garbage.
12. It tries to be simple and direct and clear in showing how deep and dark and
mysterious the questions of philosophy are. It combines clarity with profundity,
as neither “analytic” nor “continental” philosophy yet does (though they’re
13. It sees the history of human thought as more exciting, more dramatic, than
military or political history. Its running thread is “the great conversation.” It lets
philosophers talk to each other.
14. It takes the past seriously. It does not practice “chronological snobbery.” Our
ancestors made mistakes. So do we. We can see ours best by reading them.
15. It will stay in print forever or till the Cubs win the World Series and the world
16. It gives more space (16–20 pages) to the 10 most important philosophers,
medium space (5–15 pages) to the next 20, and only a little space (2–4 pages) to
the other 70.
17. It’s not “dumbed down.” It doesn’t patronize.
18. It can be understood by beginners. It’s not just for scholars.
19. It’s usable for college classes or by do-it-yourselfers.
20. It takes every philosopher serious, but it’s not relativistic. It argues (usually
both pro and con), because it believes in Truth.
21. It does not deliver platitudes. It emphasizes surprises. For “philosophy begins
22. It includes visual aids: charts, cartoons, line drawings, and each philosopher’s
23. It gives not just the what but the why: why each philosopher asked the
questions he did, and the rationale for the answer he gave.
24. It includes many memorable and famous quotations, in boldface type.
25. It prepares readers for reading the philosophers themselves, by warning them
what to expect.
Peter Kreeft teaches philosophy at Boston College and is the author of scores of books in philosophy and religion, among them, from St. Augustine's Press: An Ocean Full of Angels, Socratic Logic, The Philosophy of Jesus, Jesus-Shock, The Sea Within, I Surf Therefore I Am, If Einstein Had Been a Surfer, and Summa Philosophica.