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The Story of Philosophy [Anglais] [Poche]

Will Durant

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If you look at a map of Europe you will observe that Greece is a skeleton-like hand stretching its crooked fingers out into the Mediterranean Sea. South of it lies the great island of Crete, from which those grasping fingers captured, in the second millennium before Christ, the beginnings of civilization and culture. To the east, across the Ægean Sea, lies Asia Minor, quiet and apathetic now, but throbbing, in pre-Platonic days, with industry, commerce and speculation. To the west, across the Ionian, Italy stands, like a leaning tower in the sea, and Sicily and Spain, each in those days with thriving Greek colonies; and at the end, the "Pillars of Hercules" (which we call Gibraltar), that sombre portal through which not many an ancient mariner dared to pass. And on the north those still untamed and half-barbaric regions, then named Thessaly and Epirus and Macedonia, from which or through which the vigorous bands had come which fathered the geniuses of Homeric and Periclean Greece.

Look again at the map, and you see countless indentations of coast and elevations of land; everywhere gulfs and bays and the intrusive sea; and all the earth tumbled and tossed into mountains and hills. Greece was broken into isolated fragments by these natural barriers of sea and soil; travel and communication were far more difficult and dangerous then than now; every valley therefore developed its own self-sufficient economic life, its own sovereign government, its own institutions and dialect and religion and culture. In each case one or two cities, and around them, stretching up the mountainslopes, an agricultural hinterland: such were the "city-states" of Eubœa, and Locris, and œtolia, and Phocis, and Bœotia, and Achæa, and Argolis, and Elis, and Arcadia, and Messenia, and Laconia -- with its Sparta, and Attica -- with its Athens.

Look at the map a last time, and observe the position of Athens: it is the farthest east of the larger cities of Greece. It was favorably placed to be the door through which the Greeks passed out to the busy cities of Asia Minor, and through which those elder cities sent their luxuries and their culture to adolescent Greece. It had an admirable port, Piræus, where countless vessels might find a haven from the rough waters of the sea. And it had a great maritime fleet.

In 490-470 B. C. Sparta and Athens, forgetting their jealousies and joining their forces, fought off the effort of the Persians under Darius and Xerxes to turn Greece into a colony of an Asiatic empire. In this struggle of youthful Europe against the senile East, Sparta provided the army and Athens the navy. The war over, Sparta demobilized her troops, and suffered the economic disturbances natural to that process; while Athens turned her navy into a merchant fleet, and became one of the greatest trading cities of the ancient world. Sparta relapsed into agricultural seclusion and stagnation, while Athens became a busy mart and port, the meeting place of many races of men and of diverse cults and customs, whose contact and rivalry begot comparison, analysis and thought.

Traditions and dogmas rub one another down to a minimum in such centers of varied intercourse; where there are a thousand faiths we are apt to become sceptical of them all. Probably the traders were the first sceptics; they had seen too much to believe too much; and the general disposition of merchants to classify all men as either fools or knaves inclined them to question every creed. Gradually, too, they were developing science; mathematics grew with the increasing complexity of exchange, astronomy with the increasing audacity of navigation. The growth of wealth brought the leisure and security which are the prerequisite of research and speculation; men now asked the stars not only for guidance on the seas but as well for an answer to the riddles of the universe; the first Greek philosophers were astronomers. "Proud of their achievements," says Aristotle, "men pushed farther afield after the Persian wars; they took all knowledge for their province, and sought ever wider studies." Men grew bold enough to attempt natural explanations of processes and events before attributed to supernatural agencies and powers; magic and ritual slowly gave way to science and control; and philosophy began.

At first this philosophy was physical; it looked out upon the material world and asked what was the final and irreducible constituent of things. The natural termination of this line of thought was the materialism of Democritus (460-360 B. C.) -- "in reality there is nothing but atoms and space." This was one of the main streams of Greek speculation; it passed underground for a time in Plato's day, but emerged in Epicurus (342-270), and became a torrent of eloquence in Lucretius (98-55 B. C.). But the most characteristic and fertile developments of Greek philosophy took form with the Sophists, travelling teachers of wisdom, who looked within upon their own thought and nature, rather than out upon the world of things. They were all clever men (Gorgias and Hippias, for example), and many of them were profound (Protagoras, Prodicus); there is hardly a problem or a solution in our current philosophy of mind and conduct which they did not realize and discuss. They asked questions about anything; they stood unafraid in the presence of religious or political taboos; and boldly subpoenaed every creed and institution to appear before the judgment-seat of reason. In politics they divided into two schools. One, like Rousseau, argued that nature is good, and civilization bad; that by nature all men are equal, becoming unequal only by class-made institutions: and that law is an invention of the strong to chain and rule the weak. Another school, like Nietzsche, claimed that nature is beyond good and evil; that by nature all men are unequal; that morality is an invention of the weak to limit and deter the strong; that power is the supreme virtue and the supreme desire of man; and that of all forms of government the wisest and most natural is aristocracy.

No doubt this attack on democracy reflected the rise of a wealthy minority at Athens which called itself the Oligarchical Party, and denounced democracy as an incompetent sham. In a sense there was not much democracy to denounce; for of the 400,000 inhabitants of Athens 250,000 were slaves, without political rights of any kind; and of the 150,000 freemen or citizens only a small number presented themselves at the Ecclesia, or general assembly, where the policies of the state were discussed and determined. Yet what democracy they had was as thorough as never since; the general assembly was the supreme power; and tho highest official body, the Dikasteria, or supreme court, consisted of over a thousand members (to make bribery expensive), selected by alphabetical rote from the roll of all the citizens. No institution could have been more democratic, nor, said its opponents, more absurd.

During the great generation-long Peloponnesian war (430-400 B. C.), in which the military power of Sparta fought and at last defeated the naval power of Athens, the Athenian oligarchic party, led by Critias, advocated the abandonment of democracy on the score of its inefficiency in war, and secretly lauded the aristocratic government of Sparta. Many of the oligarchic leaders were exiled; but when at last Athens surrendered, one of the peace conditions imposed by Sparta was the recall of these exiled aristocrats. They had hardly returned when, with Critias at their head, they declared a rich man's revolution against the "democratic" party that had ruled during the disastrous war. The revolution failed, and Critias was killed on the field of battle.

Now Critias was a pupil of Socrates, and an uncle of Plato.


If we may judge from the bust that has come down to us as part of the ruins of ancient sculpture, Socrates was as far from being handsome as even a philosopher can be. A bald head, a great round face, deep-set staring eyes, a broad and flowery nose that gave vivid testimony to many a Symposium -- it was rather the head of a porter than that of the most famous of philosophers. But if we look again we see, through the crudity of the stone, something of that human kindliness and unassuming simplicity which made this homely thinker a teacher beloved of the finest youths in Athens. We know so little about him, and yet we know him so much more intimately than the aristocratic Plato or the reserved and scholarly Aristotle. Across two thousand three hundred years we can yet see his ungainly figure, clad always in the same rumpled tunic, walking leisurely through the agora, undisturbed by the bedlam of politics, buttonholing his prey, gathering the young and the learned about him, luring them into some shady nook of the temple porticos, and asking them to define their terms.

They were a motley crowd, these youths who flocked about him and helped him to create European philosophy. There were rich young men like Plato and Alcibiades, who relished his satirical analysis of Athenian democracy; there were socialists like Antisthenes, who liked the master's careless poverty, and made a religion of it; there was even an anarchist or two among them, like Aristippus, who aspired to a world in which there would be neither masters nor slaves, and all would be as worrilessly free as Socrates. All the problems that agitate human society to-day, and provide the material of youth's endless debate, agitated as well that little band of thinkers and talkers, who felt, with their teacher, that life without discourse would be unworthy of a man. Every school of social thought had there its representative, and perhaps its origin.

How the master lived hardly anybody knew. He never worked, and he took no thought of the morrow. He ate when his disciples asked him to honor their tables; they must have liked his company, for he gave every indication of physiological prosperity. He was not so welcome at home, for he neglected his wife and ... --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Broché .

Revue de presse

The New York Times A delight. --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Broché .

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Couverture | Copyright | Table des matières | Extrait | Index | Quatrième de couverture
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376 internautes sur 385 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Think twice before ordering the Mass Market publication 25 janvier 2001
Par Leonard R. Reitz - Publié sur
I did a search for ''The Story of Philosophy'' and only the Mass Market version of this book came up (ISBN 0-671-73916-6) which I ordered. The print was so unreadable due, at least to my copy, of a very heavy, black, flared type-setting. There was no chance of reading the book with any enjoyment....lo and behold I find a second book (ISBN 0-671-69500-2) which is excellently type-set, and very readable. Even though this second book format is twice the price of the cheaply done Mass Market format, it is eminently worth it. I make these comments, in order to save some poor soul from the hassle I went through to get a readable copy of this most excellent book.
150 internautes sur 157 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 The words of the wisest men in history 19 mars 2002
Par Christopher - Publié sur
Format:Poche|Achat vérifié
There is no pre-requisite to the enjoyment of philosophy, and there is no pre-requisite to the Story of Philosophy. Simply bring a mind that is famished for an injection of joy.

"That is very good; but there is an infinitely worthier subject for philosophers than all these trees and stones, and even all those stars; there is the mind of man. What is man, and what can he become?" (Durant summarizing Socrates)

Philosophy is the night that you looked up at those 100 billion stars and 100 billion galaxies and realized that you were beginning to ask the right questions. "To know what to ask is already to know half." (Durant summarizing Aristotle) Philosophy is the one great conversation in your past that echoes in every conversation since. When will that time come again? "All excellent things are as difficult as they are rare." (Durant summarizing Spinoza)

That phenomenon of wonder will return when you open the "Story of Philosophy". A further taste of Durant's warming liquor:

"Every science begins as philosophy and ends as art; it arises in hypothesis and flows into achievement."
"How many a debate would have been deflated into a paragraph if the disputants had dared to define their terms."
"Political science does not make men, but must take them as they come from nature."
"The chief condition of happiness, barring certain physical prerequisites, is the life of reason--the specific glory and power of man."

Durant's approach is linear in time, but immense in breadth. Beginning with Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, we are not only granted access to their treasure chests of wisdom, we are also given insights into the men. Durant introduces the era before he introduces the philosopher, for humanity inspires humanity, and these giants have benefactors of their own. Durant considers history as important an aspect of philosophy as metaphysics, and here he shines with a polished historian's touch (see Will Durant - "Story of Civilization").

"Athens became a busy mart and port, the meeting place of many races of men and of diverse cults and customs, whose contact and rivalry begot comparison, analysis, and thought."
"Traditions and dogmas rub one another down to a minimum in such centers of varied intercourse; where there are a thousand faiths we are apt to become skeptical of them all."

Durant runs the gauntlet of great thinkers (Plato, Aristotle, Bacon, Spinoza, Voltaire, Kant, Nietzsche), and introduces you to some odd-looking but strong-eyed and delightful strangers (Schopenhauer, Spencer, Bergson, Croce, Russell, Santayana, James, Dewey).

"How can we explain mind as matter, when we know matter only through mind?" (summarizing Schopenhauer)
"We often forget that not only is there a soul of goodness in things evil, but generally also a soul of truth in things erroneous." (summarizing Spencer)
"In ourselves, memory is the vehicle of duration, the handmaiden of time; and through it so much of our past is actively retained that rich alternatives present themselves for every situation. As life grows richer in its scope, its heritage and its memories, the field of choice widens, and at last the variety of possible responses generates consciousness, which is the rehearsal of response... Free will is a corollary of consciousness; to say that we are free is merely to mean that we know what we are doing." (summarizing Bergson)

How many of these men have you missed in the crowd of history? And how many days will pass before you make their acquaintance? What will your future be like once you hold their wisdom in your hands? Durant believes it will be a far richer one.

The Story of Philosophy actually contains more summary than quote, and we would normally cringe at such an announcement. Only the bravest of souls would wade into the brine of further philosophical precis. But Durant is the encapsulation of the finest teachers you have met in this lifetime, and his abridgements multiply the reader's comprehension while encouraging cross-referencing with the originals, making the entire experience savory and thoroughly digestible. Durant is the rare case of a man who can interpret wisdom and also construct it anew. The result is maybe the highest ratio of wisdom-to-words of any book in the Library of Humanity.

Compare his extractions of Kant with an original text of the babbling scholar:

"Sensation is unorganized stimulus, perception is organized sensation, conception is organized perception, science is organized knowledge, wisdom is organized life: each is a greater degree of order, and sequence, and unity." (summarizing Kant)
"The real church is a community of people, however scattered and divided, who are united by devotion to the common moral law." (summarizing Kant)
"Kant was too anxious to prove the subjectivity of space, as a refuge from materialism; he feared the argument that if space is objective and universal, God must exist in space, and be therefore spatial and material."

After 50 pages of Durant on Kant, you will be praying for the entire translation. But Durant moved on to other fine thinkers, and, after 500+ pages of wisdom, you will rejoice that the balance of his substantial catalog is over 10,000 pages (Lessons of History, Story of Civilization - 11 vols.).

Within one year of the original printing (1926), the work found its way onto the nightstands of the scholarly and the coffee tables of the middle-class. It inspired a flood of "Story of ..." books whose words are now lost to the past. It was, and still is, the primary text for many university philosophy curricula. For those who have read it, Story of Philosophy is probably their "trapped on a desert island with one book" selection. That the work remains in print and in demand three generations later is a testament to the author and to the subject... both mighty fine creations.
50 internautes sur 51 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 A wonderful introduction... 14 juin 2000
Par Guy Cutting - Publié sur
I usually look down on philosophical "collections" because they tend to give an inadequate picture of any single philosopher and they also tend to lack cohesion. But this book is not just a collection - it is more like a narrative. The name "The STORY of Philosophy" indicates the focus, which is not just to present the work of various philosophers but to weave them together. Durant's choice of philosophers may seem to be unreasonable, but it serves his purpose. He presents a wide range of thought, from ancient Greek to modern. His analysis is always deep - his insights are fascinating. His understanding of the nuances of these thinkers is not in question. Each section presents Durant's analysis alongside material quoted directly from the philosopher being discussed. In this way both the original material and thoughtful analysis are given. In broader terms, Durant brings all this diverse thought together. He describes the progression of thought through careful comparison and contrast and gives each of these philosophers a position in reference to one another and to a unified picture. Each of these thinkers is put into a broader context than simply their own writings; parallels between these philosophers emerge alongside a portryal of their historical significance. All in all a real achievement and a worthwhile read for almost anyone (as an introduction to philosophy or as a valuable new perspective on material you're already familiar with). Recommended...
25 internautes sur 27 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Few books change the way you see the world - this is one. 21 mars 2002
Par Ashwin - Publié sur
If you believe that philosophy is about complex theorizing, and not your cup of tea - think again, in fact dont think - just read Will Durants book. The title says it all so wonderfully elegantly, that it makes one feel almost emotional about the book after it is over - this book is a story. It is a story of a science, of a subject, and the people who made it. It is a tale that will move you with the love Plato shows for Socrates, that will bring you to tears as you read the Excommunication Curse pronounced on the young Spinoza, and will make you shake your head with its force of ideas as it explains Descartes and Kant.
Once you are through with this book, and you lift your head again from its pages, the world will not seem the same. Few books can have so profound an effect on its reader - and this book does that. To the keen and curious, Durant lays bare about 2000 years of human thought, and puts in simple terms, some of the most baffling and complex of ideologies - and in doing so, the reader is left with a path to follow. The path of genius, the path of wisdom, and the path of enlightenment by reading the various books and philosophies of those mentioned here.
Read this book, own it, treasure it, and pass it on to your children, this is heritage... this is a work of art.
15 internautes sur 15 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Fun Introduction to Western Philosophy 19 janvier 2005
Par J_Onyx - Publié sur
Will Durant was an extraordinary man. He earned the PhD degree in Philosophy from Columbia University. Still young, he mastered several important languages. Until "Story of Philosophy" brought him fame and fortune, he was a high school teacher and an activist at one of the Modern School Movement schools, established and operated by Syndicalists. Several of these unique schools were founded & operated. Recently, a full history was published about the Modern School Movement. Durant was a major figure at his East Coast school. He taught several languages including Latin and Greek. He married one of his students and named her "Auriel." She was a bright student who mastered several languages herself. Later she collaborated on Durants career project, the ten volume, "Story of Civilization".

"Story of Philosophy" was an instant hit in 1925 and it has never been out of print. It is an American classic. There is nothing like it. It is short, accurate, well written and witty. No one was more surprised than Durant, when his book was am instant best seller, and it moved on to be a hit around the world. An important American thinker, Mortimer J. Adler, sharply criticized the book. It certainly is open to criticism--Durant cogently citicised it himself--but Adler went too far. I suspect Adler intensely disliked the man, who was something of a hedonist and an agnostic who later published a self-indulgent autobiography. Adler , one of the finest minds of the 20th century, must have intensely disliked Joseph Campbell as well. (He went much to far criticising Campbell, although the part about how the graduate student Campbell told Adler and others that philosophy was over his head is something starry-eyed Campbell followers should anchor their feet to)

Durant was one of the leading prose stylists of his day. Reading anything Durant wrote is enjoyable, if only for the prose, wit, and wisdom. "Story of Philosophy" presents an author witty and wise beyond his years. Durant was precocious.

Readers who like "Story...", treasure Durant
s ten volume "Story of Civilization". The income "Story of Philosophy" brought Durant left him independently wealthy, not rich but freed from working the rest of his life. He resigned from teaching and began full-time research for "Story of Civilization"

I highly recommend "Story of Philosophy." Shortly after its publication, it caused a sharp increase in students wanting to study philosophy, something Will Durant was justifiably proud of for the rest of his life.
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