History of Philosophy

Philosophy is best conceived as a dialogue with the best insights of our fellow rational animals over the centuries. It is something far more valuable than just views or opinions — a sustained rational development aimed at progressive improvement in distinguishing the better from the worse.

Hegel wrote that the history of philosophy is inseparable from philosophy itself, and I find that to be very true. He was actually the first major philosopher to write explicitly about the history of philosophy. Medieval scholasticism had treated the history of philosophy as a valuable repository of possible opinions and arguments, but was little concerned with issues of historical interpretation. Early modernity largely ignored the history of philosophy and wanted to start over, every man for himself. Anti-scholastic prejudice ran so high that apart from Leibniz, no major modern philosopher until Hegel treated Aristotle as anything more than a straw man. But since the 19th century and especially since the later 20th century, innumerable rich and sophisticated contributions to the historically informed interpretation of individual philosophers have been made, along with many excellent analyses of periods and trends.

I find it useful to alternate between consideration of a small number of essential reference points among the greatest of the great, and a much broader scope including many “minor” figures. (See History of Philosophy and Historiography sections.)

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