The prolific popular-level philosopher, Peter Kreeft of Boston College, has a four-volume history of philosophy coming out in March.

Professor Kreeft explains what makes these volumes different:

  1. It’s neither very long (like Copleston’s twelve-volume tome, which is a clear and helpful reference work but pretty dull reading) nor very short (like many skimpy one-volume summaries) but just long enough.
  2. It’s available in separate volumes but eventually in one complete work (after the four volumes—Ancient, Medieval, Modern, Contemporary—are produced in paperbound editions, a one-volume clothbound will be published).
  3. It focuses on the “big ideas” that have influenced present people and present times.
  4. It includes relevant biographical data, proportionate to its importance for each thinker.
  5. It is not just history but philosophy. Its aim is not merely to record facts (of life or opinion) but to stimulate philosophizing, controversy, argument.
  6. It does this by aiming above all at understanding, at what the old logic called the “first act of the mind” rather than the third: the thing computers and many ”analytic philosophers” cannot understand.
  7. It uses ordinary language and logic, not professional academic jargon or symbolic logic.
  8. It is commonsensical (and therefore is sympathetic to commonsense philosophers like Aristotle).
  9. It is “existential” in that it sees philosophy as something to be lived, and tested in life. It concentrates on the questions that make a difference to your life.
  10.  It dares to be human and, therefore, occasionally funny or ironic.
  11. Like the “Great Books,” it assumes that philosophy is not about philosophy but about reality; about wisdom; about life and death and good and evil and man and God and “stuff like that,” rather than mere analysis of language. It cooks edible meats rather than just sweeping the floor of garbage.
  12. It tries to be simple and direct and clear in showing how deep and dark and mysterious the questions of philosophy are. It combines clarity with profundity, as neither “analytic” nor “continental” philosophy yet does (though they’re both trying).
  13. It sees the history of human thought as more exciting, more dramatic, than military or political history. Its running thread is “the great conversation.” It lets philosophers talk to each other.
  14. It takes the past seriously. It does not practice “chronological snobbery.” Our ancestors made mistakes. So do we. We can see ours best by reading them.
  15. It will stay in print forever or till the Cubs win the World Series and the world ends.
  16. It gives more space (16-20 pages) to the 10 most important philosophers, medium space (5-15 pages) to the next 20, and only a little space (2-4 pages) to the other 70.
  17. It’s not “dumbed down.” It doesn’t patronize.
  18. It can be understood by beginners. It’s not just for scholars.
  19. It’s usable for college classes or by do-it-yourselfers.
  20. It takes every philosopher serious, but it’s not relativistic. It argues (usually both pro and con), because it believes in Truth.
  21. It does not deliver platitudes. It emphasizes surprises. For “philosophy begins in wonder.”
  22. It includes visual aids: charts, cartoons, line drawings, and each philosopher’s face.
  23. It gives not just the what but the why: why each philosopher asked the questions he did, and the rationale for the answer he gave.
  24. It includes many memorable and famous quotations, in boldface type.
  25. It prepares readers for reading the philosophers themselves, by warning them what to expect.
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5 thoughts on “25 Ways Peter Kreeft’s 4-Volume History of Philosophy Is Different from All the Others”

  1. Luma says:

    Fantastic! I love reading Kreeft.

  2. Caleb Suko says:

    My brother studied under Peter Kreeft in Boston. I have always liked his logic so I think I’ll have to check this one out.

  3. Mike Crowl says:

    I used to read a lot of Kreeft in the past, and for the most part really enjoyed his work. His Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Heaven was my introduction to him, and its ideas were amongst the most encouraging I’ve read. I think everyone should read it, to change their bland and dull ideas about what it might be like.
    I didn’t realise he was still alive (!) so it’s great to hear about these books.

  4. Win says:

    Kreeft writes,

    “But why is Christ’s maleness essential? Because he is the revelation of the Father, and the Father’s masculinity is essential. This is the second half of our equation.
    To understand this second proposition, we must distinguish “male” from “masculine.” Male and female are biological genders. Masculine and feminine, or yang and yin, are universal, cosmic principles, extending to all reality, including spirit.

    All pre-modern civilizations knew this. English is almost the only language that does not have masculine and feminine nouns. So it is easy for us who speak English to believe that the ancients merely projected their own biological gender out onto nature in calling heaven masculine and earth feminine, day masculine and night feminine, sun masculine and moon feminine, land masculine and sea feminine. In the Hindu marriage ceremony the bridegroom says to the bride, “I am heaven, you are earth.” The bride replies, “I am earth, you are heaven.” Not only is cosmic sexuality universal, its patterns are suspiciously consistent. Most cultures saw the sun, day, land, light, and sky as male; moon, night, sea, darkness, and earth as female. Is it not incredibly provincial and culturally arrogant for us to assume, without a shred of proof, that this universal and fairly consistent human instinct is mere projection, myth, fantasy, and illusion rather than insight into a cosmic principle that is really there?”

    The more common pattern is not masc. fem. but animate, inanimate. Also Grammatical gender is absent from Sino-Tibetan and Native American languages. And let’s not forget that in German, sun is feminine, and moon is masculine. Light is feminine in French, neuter in Spanish and feminine in Spanish. Kreeft has an accuracy score well below random. Who is provincial and culturally ignorant?

  5. Wow, those are 25 good reasons to buy these books! I’m so glad he wrote them.

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Justin Taylor


Justin Taylor is senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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