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A Brief History of Thought summary

Luc Ferry

A Philosophical Guide to Living

4.3 (283 ratings)
24 mins

Brief summary

A Brief History of Thought by Luc Ferry is an introduction to philosophy which charts the evolution of Western thought from ancient Greece to contemporary times. It provides insight into how philosophy can inform and enrich our lives today.

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    A Brief History of Thought
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    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.

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    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.

    A Brief History of Thought Review

    A Brief History of Thought by Luc Ferry (2008) is an enlightening exploration of philosophical ideas that have shaped our understanding of the world. Here's why this book is definitely worth reading:

    • Packed with profound insights and thought-provoking analysis, it challenges readers to question their existing beliefs and expand their intellectual horizons.
    • Covering a wide range of philosophical traditions, from ancient Greek thinkers to modern philosophers, it provides a comprehensive overview of human thought throughout history.
    • The book effortlessly connects abstract concepts to real-life implications, making complex philosophical ideas accessible and relevant to everyday life.

    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

    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.

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    A Brief History of Thought FAQs 

    What is the main message of A Brief History of Thought?

    A Brief History of Thought explores the evolution of human thinking and the search for meaning in life.

    How long does it take to read A Brief History of Thought?

    The reading time for A Brief History of Thought varies depending on the reader's speed. However, with the Blinkist summary, you can get the key insights in just 15 minutes.

    Is A Brief History of Thought a good book? Is it worth reading?

    A Brief History of Thought is a thought-provoking book that offers valuable insights into the history of ideas. It is definitely worth a read.

    Who is the author of A Brief History of Thought?

    A Brief History of Thought is written by Luc Ferry.

    What to read after A Brief History of Thought?

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