The award-winning French philosopher briefly summarizes the major philosophical ideas since Ancient Greece and explains why he has opted for contemporary humanism.
Ferry (Philosophy/The Sorbonne; Learning to Live: A User’s Manual, 2010, etc.) writes that some dinner guests recently challenged him to create a philosophy course for children and adults, something presumably accessible to both. If this book is the result, Hogwartians may be the only children capable of comprehension. But many college-educated Muggles will doubtless find it useful, too. The author begins with perhaps the most difficult question (What is philosophy?) and offers a three-dimensional answer: salvation (not in the religious sense), theory and morals and ethics (terms he uses interchangeably). The author then moves on to his historical tour of philosophical ideas, focusing on the first superstars—Plato, Aristotle et al. He examines how Christianity was able to supplant the Greeks (the religion’s vastly appealing notion of the afterlife) before moving on to humanism, a movement prompted by the discoveries and thought of Copernicus, Newton, Descartes and Galileo. Kant and Rousseau earn high marks here (though not the highest). Next comes Nietzsche. The author acknowledges, more than once, how that philosopher’s ideas, unfortunately, appealed to the Nazis, but Ferry mostly succeeds in separating the thoughts from the deeds. The author views Heidegger as the most important post-Nietzschean, focusing sharply on that philosopher’s views of technology and materialism and how they threaten the possibility of a more reflective, philosophical population. Ferry tries to lighten the tone of the narrative with literature (Poe makes an appearance, as does V.S. Naipaul) and popular culture (allusions to digital music). Ferry is an atheist and suggests throughout that religion is irrelevant.
A focused history, neither simple nor simplistic, that—no surprise—shows the history of philosophy moving inexorably toward the author’s current beliefs.