Frederick Copleston's original nine-volume A History of Philosophy began as an attempt to provide Catholic seminary students, whom Copleston believed were being woefully undersold in philosophy, a comprehensive but accessible guide to the ideas and individuals that have shaped philosophy. His work went on to be regarded by many a single best history of philosophy ever written in English.
Coplsteon's work sought provides a detailed, and by consensus fair, treatment of the major philosophers and their ideas from the Pre-Socratics all the way up to Levi-Strauss. He skillfully avoids simplistic caricatures and his narrative sparkles with incident and intellectual excitement giving each philosopher a full hearing with erudition, attention to style, while illuminating each figure has to those who came before and to those who came after.
Nevertheless Copleston, who is well known for his public debates and resounding defenses for the existence of God, never hides his own perspectives--but he also does not use it to truncate or distort others' views. Thus, Copleston's work is remarkably well-rounded, complete, and scholarly. Though originally intended for students, Copleston's work is a staple work for any library; especially those who wish to learn about and engage philosophical questions in an informed manner.
About Volume II
Covering nearly 1000 years A History of Philosophy, Volume 2: Medieval Philosophy--From Augustine to Duns Scotus, may be the masterpiece of Copleston's nine volume magisterial work. Beginning with the Patristic Period and the Apologetically oriented philosophy of figures such as Justin Martyr, Copleston also examines Augustine's adoption of Platonic categories and political philosophy, the work of Pseudo-Dionysius, Boethius, Cassidorus, Isidore before arriving at the "Carolingian Renaissance" and John Scotus' Eriugena in part II.
Part III covers the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth centuries examining the primary problem faced in this era, that of "Universals" before continuing on to St. Anselm's "proofs", the School of Chartres, St. Victor, and the emerging debates between Dualists and Pantheists. In this section, Copleston also documents the rise and influence of Islamic philosophy, the recovery of Aristotle and the rise of Jewish philosophy.
But then we arrive at the thirteenth century--Copleston's personal specialty. Here Copleston begins with the University of Paris, before moving to William of Auvergne, Grosseteste, and Alexander of Hales. St. Bonaventure follows with Albert the Great shortly after followed by an extended and definitive treatment of the Church's doctor St. Thomas Aquinas--and the many philosophical and theological revolutions he initiated, and the complete subdual of Averros and Aristotle.
Several other intermediary figures are examined before Copleston arrives at Duns Scotus for whom he provides a similarly masterful treatment as he did with Aquinas.
Conceived originally as a serious presentation of the development of philosophy for Catholic seminary students, Frederick Copleston's nine-volume A History Of Philosophy has journeyed far beyond the modest purpose of its author to universal acclaim as the best history of philosophy in English.
Copleston, an Oxford Jesuit of immense erudition who once tangled with A.J. Ayer in a fabled debate about the existence of God and the possibility of metaphysics, knew that seminary students were fed a woefully inadequate diet of theses and proofs, and that their familiarity with most of history's great thinkers was reduced to simplistic caricatures. Copleston set out to redress the wrong by writing a complete history of Western Philosophy, one crackling with incident and intellectual excitement - and one that gives full place to each thinker, presenting his thought in a beautifully rounded manner and showing his links to those who went before and to those who came after him.
Frederick Copleston (1907-1994) grew up in England. He was raised in an Anglican home but converted to Catholicism while a student at Marlborough College. He later became a Jesuit and then pursued a career in academia. He studied and lectured at Heythrop College and wrote an eleven-volume History of Philosophy, which is highly respected. He also spent time teaching at Gregorian University in Rome and, after he retired, lectured at Santa Clara University in California. He was appointed a member of the British Academy in 1970. He is famouse for debating Betrand Russell over the existence of God in a 1948 BBC broadcast.
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