Grayling offers a remarkably comprehensive history of philosophy from ancient Greece to the present. He covers not only Western philosophy but Indian, Chinese, Arabic-Persian, and African philosophy as well, and his skill as an expositor is apparent. Grayling clearly explains difficult ideas, such as Hegel’s account of freedom and Bradley’s argument about relations, and is particularly strong on philosophical logic, one of his own specialties, as is evident in his discussions of Frege, Russell, Carnap, and Quine. Grayling is a master of the surprising anecdote ... He does not conceal his own favorable view of the Enlightenment and replies in a penetrating way to Horkheimer and Adorno’s famous critique in Dialectic of Enlightenment ... Comparable to Anthony Kenny’s A New History of Western Philosophy, this work will interest readers of philosophy and intellectual history. It aims at general audiences, but scholars will also find it valuable.
Grayling takes a modest approach to delimiting his subject. Rather than begin with an overarching definition, he identifies core concerns of what we now call 'philosophy' and then traces their historical antecedents. This is a wise strategy, because, as Mr. Grayling repeatedly reminds us, for most of its history 'philosophy' referred simply to rational inquiry in general ... But this approach has its own difficulties. What do epistemology, ethics and metaphysics have in common, other than their failure to become independent disciplines in their own right, as physics and psychology did? ... In his highly readable narrative, Mr. Grayling approaches these methodological questions judiciously, taking as few controversial stands as possible...For a book that covers more than 100 individual thinkers spanning 2,500 years, the level of both detail and accuracy is admirable ... In addition, he is charitable to a wide variety of philosophical views ... It is a testament to Mr. Grayling’s evenhandedness that one finishes this book none the wiser about his own convictions, aside from a general disapproval of Marxism, deconstruction and any philosophy that takes its bearings from religion ... Presenting the history of philosophy as neutrally as Mr. Grayling does here, as a catalogue of the opinions of the familiar great names, can give the impression that that is all there is to philosophy’s history, a cacophony of views, arguments, doctrines, systems. What goes lacking in histories like these is the ideal of objectivity (some of these philosophical views are right, and some are wrong), as well as precisely what historians, in their revolt against Hegel, have become so suspicious of: teleology, an account of where it is all leading to. It is, in one way, odd to expect anything less from a history of philosophy. We would not expect, for instance, a historian of physics to remain neutral on whether Newton or Einstein had a better theory of gravity...Which means that narrating the history of philosophy can’t be properly pursued without staking, and defending, philosophical claims in one’s voice about truth, reason, history and teleology.
... a clear update of Bertrand Russell’s magnificent, opinionated History of Western Philosophy, published in 1945, to include the latest ideas in feminism and deconstructionism, and a further 60 pages on non-western philosophy, especially Indian, Chinese and Arabic-Persian ... Grayling has always been vociferously anti-Christian, and this mars the opening of the book, where he attacks 'The Christians' who destroyed so much classical literature in an fanatical “'orgy'. This is a shrill and dubious assertion ... Once you accept that Grayling has his little tics, just like the rest of us, this is a cerebrally enjoyable survey, written with great clarity and touches of wit ... Grayling gives a great summary of the three pillars of Greek philosophy, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle ... as we approach modern times, there are fewer and fewer philosophers who are enjoyable to read ... The non-western section throws up some fascinating revelations.
As evidence that successive generations of philosophers have actually advanced human understanding, Grayling points not only to the ever-richer content of philosophy itself but also to new disciplines—including physics, psychology, and linguistics—incubated by philosophical inquiry. What Grayling hails as philosophy’s progress may appear problematic, though, to readers reluctant to join him in embracing scientific materialism (born of Baconian experimentalism) as a replacement for religious thought. A capacious and stimulating chronicle of philosophical endeavor.
... [Grayling] has a masterly appreciation of the currents of western philosophical thought, especially the Anglo-American tradition. He is a superb communicator of complex concepts with an eye for the arresting fact ... Familiar texts throw up fresh insights in Grayling’s hands, and he skilfully highlights the role chance plays in the history of ideas ... Grayling’s tolerance does run out when religion rubs up against reason ... non-western thought accounts for barely one-eighth of the book and is presented in a rather tokenistic fashion. In a threadbare chapter on African philosophy, for example, Grayling spends most of the time arguing that African philosophy does not exist ... One can’t fabricate the past but it’s extraordinary that the first female philosopher Grayling deigns to mention is on page 304 and then Harriet Taylor is referenced primarily in the context of her marriage to John Stuart Mill ... Grayling tells the history of philosophy through its 'big names', which is fine if you’re looking for a traditional reference book – this is how the subject has been taught for decades. A more dynamic approach would have been to trace the evolution of ideas thematically – and indeed we get a glimpse of the book Grayling could have written when he breaks out of the biographical format to deliver wonderful mini-essays ... Grayling’s decision to skim over the evolution of ethics is particularly puzzling ... [Grayling's] book stands up well against Russell’s classic. But the history of philosophy, as Grayling well knows, continues to be written and his efforts will inspire others to try to set the record straight.
The History of Philosophy (note the authoritative 'The') sees no dark side to the cult of Reason. And if reason can do little wrong, religion can do nothing right ... the briskly rationalist Grayling refuses the title of philosophy to any view of the world that involves religious faith. One wonders how Plato and Bishop Berkeley managed to slip into these pages ... Grayling has a high regard for philosophy but does not seem to find it much fun ... depth is sacrificed to breadth ... In a mixture of arrogance and provincialism, Grayling seems to think that it is analytic philosophers such as he who get to decide who is a philosopher and who is not. A section of his book on modern European thinkers commits some elementary blunders, but this doesn’t matter much because these writers aren’t really philosophers anyway. When it comes to affairs of the mind, Grayling is determined to have as little truck as possible with fancypants foreigners, unless like Kant and Hegel they have been dead for a decent amount of time ... In Grayling’s guide, continental thinkers such as Walter Benjamin, Jacques Lacan and Simone Weil don’t merit enough attention to have their ideas mangled. Instead, they receive honorary mentions ... Indian philosophy is summarised in around 15 pages, which is about the same amount of space devoted to John Locke, while African thought gets just short of seven pages, about half of what Grayling gives to Kant. All this lame gesture succeeds in doing is underlining how parochial the book actually is ... Grayling’s prose is lucid but lifeless. The lucidity, however, has its limits.
... an impressive, comprehensive catalogue of great thought and thinkers ... Perhaps Grayling’s greatest strength lies in his ability to categorize, contrast, and clarify complex ideas ... Elegant, clear, and precise, Grayling’s sweep through 'the principal areas of enquiry' distills philosophy to its main concerns: discerning the nature of reality, the principles of sound society, and how to live a good life. Clearly outlining 'the little patch of light' that he pictures as comprising human knowledge, Grayling’s superb work is an indispensable resource for any 'serious student of ideas.'
A magnificent recapping of the history of philosophy, as it stands apart from theology, in the classic model of Bertrand Russell ... In the hands of British scholar and journalist Grayling, it is a delight to engage in this sweeping history of the great thinkers throughout the ages, from pre-Socratics to the present. Moreover, in the last section of the book, the author offers a considerably shorter yet fair introduction to Indian, Chinese, Arabic-Persian, and African philosophy ... Unfortunately, there is a disturbing lack of women philosophers across Grayling’s 2,500-year survey, even under the cursory rubric of 'feminist philosophy'” The author’s approach is especially refreshing due to his acknowledgement that few philosophers were truly unique (even Buddha or Confucius); often what was required for lasting significance was a kind of luck and a stable of devoted followers ... Despite its glaring absence of women philosophers, Grayling’s accessible omnibus will provide a steppingstone for the student or novice.