A Brief History of Thought Book Summary - A Brief History of Thought Book explained in key points

A Brief History of Thought summary

Luc Ferry

A Philosophical Guide to Living

Listen to the first key idea

Key idea 1 of 7
4.4 (252 ratings)
24 mins
7 key ideas
Audio & text

What is A Brief History of Thought about?

A Brief History of Thought (1996) chronicles the big moments in the history of Western philosophy in a lucid and accessible way – from the Stoicism of classical Greece right through to twentieth-century postmodernism. Not simply a description of abstract ideals, it shows how we can apply the wisdom of the world’s best thinkers to live happier and more meaningful lives.

About the Author

Dr. Luc Ferry is a French philosopher and prolific author, whose books include On Love: A Philosophy for the Twenty-First Century (2012) and The New Ecological Order (1992). Between 1996 and 2011 he was Professor of Philosophy at Paris Diderot University, and from 2002 until 2004 was Minister of Education for the French government.

Table of Contents
    Key idea 1 of 7

    Philosophy has three primary dimensions.

    To outline the history of philosophy, we must understand what it is – how it works, and what it seeks to achieve. 

    So, what is philosophy?

    Unfortunately, there’s no universally accepted definition – philosophers are a notoriously opinionated and argumentative group. But we can arrive at a satisfactory description with a bit of thought.

    To begin with, humans are, in philosophical language, finite beings: mortal creatures occupying a limited patch of space and time. And, unlike other animals, we’re aware of these limits. A dog or lion, for instance, has no advance knowledge of their death. They’re only concerned with the present moment. But humans live knowing that they – and their loved ones – will inevitably die. 

    This shadow of death forces us to contemplate what to do with our fleeting time on Earth. It also instills us with deep terror – fear of losing loved ones, fear of the unknown, fear of nothingness.

    This angst prevents us from living a wholly contented life, full of love and satisfaction. And from the start, philosophy and religion have tried to help us conquer this fear – but they go about it in entirely different ways.

    Religion – and particularly Christianity – promises to save us from the fear of death through faith. If we have faith in God, He will save us by admitting us into heaven, where we’ll reunite with our loved ones for eternity.

    Philosophy, on the other hand, promises to save us by using our own logic and reasoning. By trying to understand ourselves, other people and the world we inhabit, philosophy hopes to conquer the anxiety surrounding death.

    Toward this end, philosophical thinking comprises three stages.

    First is theory. This involves thinking deeply about the nature of reality. But our knowledge of reality is filtered through the tools we use to comprehend it, and so theory studies those tools too. How do we pinpoint the causes of natural phenomena? What are the ways through which we can establish a statement as “true?” These questions make up the second part of theory.

    Second is ethics. This is more practical and studies humanity. In particular, it asks how we should behave and coexist with one another. 

    Third is wisdom or salvation. This is the ultimate goal of religion and philosophy and asks what – if any – meaning there is to life, and how we can live a fulfilled life free from the suffocating fear of our mortality.

    And one of the first philosophies to utilize this three-stage system was Stoicism.

    Want to see all full key ideas from A Brief History of Thought?

    Key ideas in A Brief History of Thought

    More knowledge in less time
    Read or listen
    Read or listen
    Get the key ideas from nonfiction bestsellers in minutes, not hours.
    Find your next read
    Find your next read
    Get book lists curated by experts and personalized recommendations.
    Shortcasts New
    We’ve teamed up with podcast creators to bring you key insights from podcasts.

    Who should read A Brief History of Thought

    • Those who find philosophy cryptic and confusing
    • History students not up to speed with the development of Western thought
    • Introspective humans searching for a meaning to life

    Categories with A Brief History of Thought

    What our members say

    Sven O.

    It's highly addictive to get core insights on personally relevant topics without repetition or triviality. Added to that the apps ability to suggest kindred interests opens up a foundation of knowledge.

    Thi Viet Quynh N.

    Great app. Good selection of book summaries you can read or listen to while commuting. Instead of scrolling through your social media news feed, this is a much better way to spend your spare time in my opinion.

    Jonathan A.

    Life changing. The concept of being able to grasp a book's main point in such a short time truly opens multiple opportunities to grow every area of your life at a faster rate.

    Renee D.

    Great app. Addicting. Perfect for wait times, morning coffee, evening before bed. Extremely well written, thorough, easy to use.

    Start growing with Blinkist now
    25 Million
    Downloads on all platforms
    4.7 Stars
    Average ratings on iOS and Google Play
    Of Blinkist members create a better reading habit*
    *Based on survey data from Blinkist customers
    Powerful ideas from top nonfiction

    Try Blinkist to get the key ideas from 5,500+ bestselling nonfiction titles and podcasts. Listen or read in just 15 minutes.

    Start your free trial