By Leonard Peikoff
This is the first part of a two-part, 24-lecture course on the history of Western philosophy taught by philosopher Leonard Peikoff. This first part starts with the pre-Socratic Greeks and ends with the Enlightenment thinker David Hume. This course is intended for non-experts, but philosophy students should find much value in Peikoff’s presentation as well.
Peikoff holds that philosophic ideas play a fundamental role in shaping world events. The purpose of these lectures is to trace the development of Western thought from ancient Greece to the present. The lectures summarize the arguments each philosopher offers in support of his conclusions, as well as Peikoff’s analyses and exposes of intellectual fallacies.
Here is the course outline:
1. The First Problem: Are There Any Absolutes? The father of philosophy: Thales. The philosophy of flux: Heraclitus, "You cannot step into the same river twice", change as the only absolute. The mind-body opposition begins: the mathematical mysticism of the Pythagoreans.
2. The Triumph of the Metaphysics of Two Worlds. The birth of determinism: the materialism of Democritus. The birth of "It seems to me": the skepticism of the Sophists; "Might makes right." Socrates. The first complete philosophy: Plato. Plato's metaphysical dualism.
3. The Results in This World. Plato's epistemology, the myth of the cave. Plato's ethics/politics: reason vs. emotion, Platonic love, the Philosopher-King, communism as the political ideal.
4-5. A Revolution: The Birth of Reason.
Aristotle. Epistemology: sensory evidence as the base of knowledge, the laws of logic, the nature of truth. Ethics/politics: happiness as the moral goal, reason and the good life, the Great-Souled Man; the ideal society.
6. Philosophy Loses Confidence.
The philosophy of pleasure: the hedonism of Epicurus. The philosophy of duty: Stoicism. The new Skepticism: Pyrrho of Elis. Neo-Platonism: Plotinus.
7-8. Philosophy Becomes Religious and Recovers. The rejection of reason and happiness: Christianity. The first major Christian philosopher: Augustine, faith as the basis of reason, the ethics of self-sacrificial love, man as a corrupt creature. The Dark Ages. The rediscovery of Aristotle. Thomas Aquinas: the union of Aristotelianism and Christianity, the absolutism of reason and the new role of faith. The aftermath: the Renaissance.
9. The New Breach Between the Mind and Reality. Materialism and determinism in the name of science, dictatorship in the name of harmony: Thomas Hobbes. The father of modern philosophy and the first famous Continental Rationalist: René Descartes, the method of universal doubt, "I think, therefore I am", the theory of innate ideas.
10. The Breach Deepens . . . The second famous Rationalist: Spinoza, pantheism, determinism. The third famous Rationalist: Leibnitz, the unreality of matter, the "windowless monads." British empiricism: John Locke.
11. . . . and the Attempt Collapses. Empiricism becomes subjectivist: Bishop Berkeley, "To be is to be perceived." Empiricism becomes bankrupt: the skepticism of David Hume, the attack on the external world and on causality, the breach between logic and fact.
12. Conclusion. The Objectivist answer to key problems posed by Ancient and Modern Philosophy.
Leonard Peikoff is an American philosopher who had a close 30-year friendship and professional association with Ayn Rand. He holds a Ph.D. in philosophy, is the author of three books, and has lectured on Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism for decades. He is considered the world’s foremost authority on the philosophy of Ayn Rand.
This course is 33 hours long. It was originally recorded in 1970 before a live audience. Each lecture is followed by a Q & A period.
Recorded in 1972.
(MP3 download; 33 hrs. 22 min., 1.44 GB)
This content is also available as a free course offering at campus.aynrand.org: link.
The description of this product has not necessarily been reviewed or approved by Leonard Peikoff.