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A Little History of Philosophy, by
Nigel Warburton

Little History of Philosophy

Published: September 1, 2012

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We all grow up incessantly asking our parents, teachers and peers ‘why’, ‘what’ and ‘how’. Some people never stop. In the illuminating and very readable A Little History of Philosophy, Nigel Warburton tells us about 40 of the most special questioners and their key ideas, taking us on a rip-roaring journey through the history of Western philosophy. The questions are timeless – How do I know what’s real? Is it ever right to lie? Why should I care about others? What does it mean to be free? – and also of urgent importance to the way we live now: How should we treat animals? Can computers ever be intelligent? What do we owe to poorer people in far-off lands?

One of the ways philosophers consider the knottiest ethical problems is by using thought experiments. One of the most famous is about a runaway train – explored in Chapter 37. Imagine that you see it one day hurtling out-of-control down the tracks towards five workers. It’s going far too fast for them to get out of the way in time, and they will surely die. However, there is a fork in the tracks just before the men. On the other line there is one worker who would get squashed. You are close enough to the points to flick the switch and divert the train. Should you?

There is no right or wrong answer – some think it’s right that one should die instead of five; others say it’s wrong to ‘play God’ and divert the train – but a good life is one in which we ask ourselves these sorts of questions. A Little History of Philosophy is an enlightening, witty book, that will help you to do so too.

Some reviews

‘Survey the entire history of (western) philosophy through short intellectual biographies of 40 philosophers from Socrates to Peter Singer, in as broadly approachable a style as E. H. Gombrich’s A Little History of the World. A tall order; that Warburton (of the excellent podcast Philosophy Bites) has succeeded so well is a triumph.’  Steven Poole, The Guardian

‘The magic of Nigel Warburton’s book is its disarming accessibility. It closely follows the template of A Little History Of The World – Ernst Gombrich’s 1935 introductory text for children, recently translated by Yale – and Warburton is the ideal shout for a writer to match Gombrich’s terse charm and easy authority. Anyone who’s enjoyed Warburton’s brilliant podcast series, Philosophy Bites, where he and fellow demystifier David Edmonds half-nelson academics into spelling out their their theories, will know he has a special gift for defusing complexity.’  Chris Brown, Time Out

Just some of the remarkable people in this book

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About the author

Nigel Warburton joined the Open University in 1994. He is best known for his introductory philosophy books.

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About the illustrator

Jeffrey Thompson graduated from the Maryland Institute College of Art with an BFA in 1992 and has worked as an illustrator for the past 15 years.

More about Jeffrey Thompson