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An Illustrated Brief History of Western Philosophy

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Suleyman Demirel University.


“An Illustrated Brief History of Western philosophy”

Written by: Darynova Nazerke

Group: Accounting & audit

Received by: Frolov Albert


Book review – Anthony Kenny “An Illustrated Brief History of Western philosophy”

I am going to write about a book, I have recently read. The book  is written by the well-known philosopher of the 20th century Anthony Kenny. The title of the book is “An Illustrated Brief History of Western philosophy”. This book about history of philosophy. Kenny tells the story of philosophy chronologically, his lively narrative bringing the great philosophers to life and filling in the historical and intellectual background to their work. Kenny also looks closely at each of the main areas of philosophical exploration: knowledge and understanding; science; metaphysics; mind and soul; the nature and content of morality; political philosophy.

Part 1


This book started with story about Pythagoras. His name became familiar to many generations of European schoolchildren because he was credited with the first proof that the square on the long side of a right-angled triangle is equal in area to the sum of the squares on the other two sides. Also he thought that at death a person’s soul might migrate into another kind of animal. The doctrine of the transmigration of souls was called in Greek ‘metempsychosis’.

But Thales did not believe in Pythagoras’ doctrine of transmigration, but he did maintain the immortality of the soul. He maintained that the earth rests on water and he believed, they were all made out of water.

Pupil of Thales called Anaximander. He made the first map of the world and of the stars, and invented both a sundial and an all-weather clock. He taught about the earth.

Xenophanes of Colophon lived into the fifth century. He was the first philosopher of religion. he wrote, ‘the clear truth about the gods no man has ever seen nor any man will ever know’. But he did claim to know where these legends of the gods came from: human beings have a tendency to picture everybody and everything as like themselves. He thought that God is divine is a living thing which sees as a whole, thinks as a whole and hears as a whole.

Heraclitus lived early in the fifth century in the great metropolis of Ephesus. The city, in Heraclitus’ day as in St Paul’s, was dominated by the great temple of the fertility goddess Artemis. He visited the temple from time to time, but only to play dice with the children. In Artemis’ temple, too, he deposited his three-book treatise on philosophy and politics, a work, now lost, of notorious difficulty, so puzzling that some thought it a text of physics, others a political tract. In this book Heraclitus spoke of a great Word or Logos which holds forever and in accordance with which all things come about. He wrote in paradoxes, claiming that the universe is both divisible and indivisible, generated and ungenerated, mortal and immortal, Word and Eternity, Father and Son, God and Justice.

Pupil of Xenophanes – Parmenides was born in the closing years of the sixth century. He is the first philosopher whose writing has come down to us in any quantity: he wrote a philosophical poem in clumsy verse, of which we possess about a hundred and twenty lines. In his writing he devoted himself “ontology”. Ontology gets its name from a Greek word. Then Kenny explain this word. Parmenides’ poem is in two parts: the Way of Truth and the Way of Seeming. The Way of Truth contains the doctrine of Being, which we have been examining; the Way of Seeming deals with the world of the senses, the world of change and colour, the world of empty names.

Zeno, a friend of Parmenides some twenty-five years his junior, developed an ingenious series of paradoxes designed to show beyond doubt that movement was inconceivable. The best known of these purports to prove that a fast mover can never overtake a slow mover.

Empedocles flourished in the middle of the fifth century and was a citizen of the town on the south coast of Sicily which is now Agrigento. He is reputed to have been an active politician, an ardent democrat who was offered, but refused, the kingship of his city. He was renowned as a physician, but according to the ancient biographers he cured by magic as well as by drugs, and he even raised to life a woman thirty days dead. In his last years, they tell us, he came to believe that he was a god, and met his death by leaping into the volcano Etna to establish his divinity. Whether or not Empedocles was a wonder-worker, he deserved his reputation as an original and imaginative philosopher. He wrote two poems, longer than Parmenides’ and more fluent if also more repetitive. One was about science and one about religion. Empedocles knew that the moon shone with reflected light; however, he believed the same to be true of the sun. He was aware that eclipses of the sun were caused by the interposition of the moon. He knew that plants propagated sexually, and he had an elaborate theory relating respiration to the movement of the blood within the body. He presented a crude theory of evolution.

Democritus was the first significant philosopher to be born in mainland Greece. Democritus was a polymath and a prolific writer, author of nearly eighty treatises on topics ranging from poetry and harmony to military tactics and Babylonian theology. But it is for his natural philosophy that he is most remembered. The fundamental tenet of Democritus’ atomism is that matter is not infinitely divisible. Bodies which Democritus called “atoms”. He believed that they are too small to be detected by the senses, and that they are infinite in number and come in infinitely many different kinds. They are scattered, like motes in a sunbeam, in infinite empty space, which he called ‘the void’. They have existed for ever, and they are always in motion. They collide with each other and link up with each other; some of them are concave and some convex; some are like hooks and some are like eyes.

Part 2

The Athenian Empire

This part of the book written about the history of the Athenian Empire. The Athenian Empire – one of the great and famous city of Greece. The earliest philosophers had flourished in Ionia. Internally, Athens was a democracy, the first authenticated example of such a polity. ‘Democracy’ is the Greek word for the rule of the people, and Athenian democracy was a very thoroughgoing form of that rule. Athens was not like a modern democracy, in which the citizens elect representatives to form a government. Rather, each citizen had the right personally to take part in government by attending a general assembly, where he could listen to speeches by political leaders and then cast his vote. The judiciary and the legislature in Athens were drawn by lot from members of the assembly over thirty; laws were passed by a panel of 1,000 chosen for one day only, and major trials were conducted before a jury of 501. Athenian democracy was not incompatible with aristocratic leadership, and during its period of empire Athens, by popular choice, was governed by Pericles, the great-nephew of Cleisthenes. He instituted an ambitious programme to rebuild the city’s temples which had been destroyed by Xerxes. To this day, visitors travel across the world to see the ruins of the buildings he erected on the Acropolis, the city’s citadel. The Parthenon, the temple of the virgin goddess Athena, was a thank-offering for the victories of the Persian wars. Athens was unrivalled anywhere in the world for architecture and sculpture.



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