David Mytton

Book Review (4/5) – Story of Philosophy (Will Durant)

Published (updated: ) in Book Reviews.

Originally published on Goodreads.

Reading philosophy can be quite difficult, depending on the writing/translation style, but Durant makes significant effort to help the reader understand the key concepts and principles behind each philosopher. He summarises the key works and then provides his own commentary and criticism which helps with building an understanding of where the particular philosophy might fit in today. 

For each philosopher, Durant examines their biography, summarises the major works and adds his own critique. Where relevant, their position in relation to other philosophers of the time is also explains. This is a great way to learn about not just the philosophy of the most important and well known philosophers, but the historical context that made their work relevant. 

My favourite has to be Schopenhauer. I find that he brings a refreshing level of clarity to describing human nature, society and politics. Yet without Durant’s historical detail, one would miss the reasons why Schopenhauer wrote what he did, and why he was so pessimistic. You would also miss the context around Schopenhauer’s comments about women, which despite the historical position of women in society at the time and Schopenhauer’s own experiences, are completely inappropriate and wrong. It’s too easy to dismiss an entire body of work because of a single piece rather than be able to separate them and consider each on its own merits so the context Durant offers is helpful in that regard.

I was surprised at the running theme throughout history of almost every well known philosopher considering aristocracy as the best form of government. Of course this starts with Plato but the idea doesn’t go away over the centuries. 

I didn’t give this 5 stars because despite Durant’s efforts, it is still challenging in places. But I don’t think that is Durant’s fault given the subject matter he is tackling!