A. C. Grayling takes the reader from the worldviews and moralities before the age of the Buddha, Confucius and Socrates through Christianity's capture of the European mind, from the Renaissance and Enlightenment on to Mill, Nietzsche, Sartre and, finally, philosophy today.
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.