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A History of Western Philosophy

by Bertrand Russell

January 3, 2000

Well, another year, another direction. My thoughts while I was reading Invitation to a Beheading convinced me that I should have a better grounding in philosophical concepts. So I asked my parents to give me Russell's A History of Western Philosophy for Christmas; they came through, and I started reading it today.

I have in the past been kind of suspicious of survey texts, and felt like a lot more was to be gained by reading primary sources. In this case however I am going for some breadth of knowledge; and hopefully as I read I will find some references for books to give me more information about specific philosophers and schools of thought.

January 4, 2000

I finished part I, on pre-Socratic philosophy, and compiled a list of further reading.

Also I've been annotating the text quite a bit -- a habit I am happy to have finally picked up.

January 6, 2000

One of my principle goals in reading this book is to get better acquainted with the meanings of the terms, "monism" and "dualism", of which I have currently a very fuzzy understanding.

I've already come across the terms once or twice in the text; moving forward I'm going to try and track closely the contexts in which the terms are used.

January 7, 2000

Reading about Socrates' discussion with Parmenides on the nature of ideas just now, I was prompted to flip back to part I and read about Parmenides again. It crossed my mind that Parmenides' cosmology is similar to a thought I had while taking high school physics.

January 8, 2000

After today, I'm going to take a break from this book for a week or so; got some other things to work on. But while I'm thinking about the world-views of the pre-Socratic philosophers, I thought I would just write a short note on Heraclitus.

January 28, 2000

The last couple weeks reading and trying to come to terms with Plato have been unpleasantly reminiscent of my freshman Introduction to Western Culture (or whatever it was called) class. Not that I hated the class, you understand -- just didn't like being made to read Plato. I might be finding some common ground with the Greek -- I'm not sure yet. I'm not going to write about my response to the Plato section just yet; I'm sure I'll come back to it later on.

February 2, 2000

A note: today is the first day with all even digits since August 8, AD 888.

Reading about Aristotle's take on the theory of forms has led me to want to read his essay De Anima (On the Soul), which I am about to start; but first, I thought I would write a note about my preconceptions and biases, what I am hoping to find in the essay.

March 2, 2000

Still trying to grapple with Greek metaphysics; I came up with the seed of an idea about what question metaphysics is trying to answer.

March 7, 2000

I read today about Aristotle's theory of logic, including his Posterior Analytics which examines the origin of first premisses in reasoning. Russell's analysis of the shortcomings of Aristotelian syllogistic reasoning was useful.

This is the first piece of philosophical writing that Russell has discussed, not to be concerned with the nature of reality. The pre-Socratics and Plato, at least insofar as they appear in this book, tried solely to describe existence -- I have fuzzily and inexactly grouped all instances of this type of thinking under the rubric "Metaphysics". In creating a theory of logic, Aristotle is describing a set of rules for using language -- it seems to me that there is more hope for success in this type of philosophizing.

March 20, 2000

As I reach the end of the Ancient philosophers and the beginning of Christianity, it is fitting that I have begun wondering about the connection between Plato's story of the cave, and the resurrection of Christ.

April 10, 2000

Just a progress report -- I'm in the middle of the section on Catholic philosophy, about halfway through the book; I'm having some trouble identifying with the mediaeval Catholic philosophers, I guess is why I have not been writing much about them.

May 3, 2000

After not reading the book for a few weeks, I have decided to put it aside for the time being. I want to work through some issues with metaphysics; I will be writing essays that will be accessible from the First Drafts page; and as soon as it arrives I am going to start reading Hans Blumenbergs Leaving the Cave. This is going to be a huge project, because it is in German and not yet translated; reading it is going to involve becoming much more competent in German than I am currently. Anyways, I'll come back to Russell after I feel like I really have a grip on metaphysics.