Title: A Short History of Modern Philosophy, by Roger Scruton
Motivation: Having once met Mr. Scruton, and having been on a philosophical binge in June and July, this book was an easy selection.
Completed: July 5, 2012 (#47)
Recommendation: Demanding, yet light-hearted and elegant.
While perhaps just shy of household name status in the United States or the United Kingdom, Mr. Scruton is one of the leading lights of the trans-Atlantic conservative movement, perhaps best known in England for his outspoken defense of fox-hunting.
This short history of philosophy since Descartes covers familiar ground available in numerous other surveys but focuses more on technical argumentation than more sweeping “history of thought” narratives:
In the first chapter I explain why I confine my discussion for the most part to the leading figures of post-Renaissance philosophy, and why my methods differ from those of the historian of ideas. My concern is to describe the content of philosophical conclusions and arguments, and not the contexts in which they occurred or the influences which led to them. Those with an interest in the history of ideas will wish to go back over the ground covered by this book and to explore the historical conditions from which the arguments grew, and the currents of influence which led from Hobbes to Spinoza, from Malebranche to Berkeley, from Rousseau to Kant, and from Schopenhauer to Wittgenstein. The classifications of schools and arguments that I have adopted may then begin to appear, if not arbitrary, at least very much matters of philosophical convenience.
Mr. Scruton is as idiosyncratic in his way as Bertrand Russell in the latter’s famous History of Western Philosophy–available for “rent” on Amazon(!)–and shares his famous predecessor’s literary verve. A Superfluous Man particularly enjoys the lucidity of Mr. Scruton’s prose–here we find much light and little heat:
To ask whether it is possible now to believe what Leibniz wrote is to submit one’s interpretation to a severe intellectual discipline. It becomes necessary to discover what Leibniz really meant by his conclusions, and what arguments justified, or might justify, his belief in them. It becomes necessary to translate the thought of previous philosophers from the jargon that might obscure its meaning, to remove from it all that is parochial and time-bound, and to present it in the idiom which modern people would use in the expression of their own most serious beliefs.
A wonderful short volume–well worth the while.