Why I’ve always wanted to read a book like Luc Ferry’s “A Brief History of Thought”

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One of my majors in college was “Philosophy.” However, it may as well have been called, “Religious Studies” or “Philosophy of Religion” because the overwhelming majority of courses I took for the major were in the “religious studies” category. Not like the title of my BA degree really matters for much, or as if anyone cares about the nuances, but I’m just saying. At the time, I wasn’t complaining. This is just the way I wanted it to be because I was more interested in how different religions relate to each other than do philosophers. At the time, religion just seemed a bit more pertinent.

But getting what I wanted back then meant I wouldn’t have enough time to do a thorough job of learning the overall “history of philosophy” as we know it. In fact, none of my undergrad philosophy courses ever provided me an overall trajectory of the tradition. The closest I got to this was an absolutely phenomenal upper-level literary theory course I took in my senior year (ironically, not required for my philosophy major, but for my english major). Dr. Lorri Nandrea rocked. my. world. My eyes were opened to how complex “language” and “interpreting” and the “history of reading” is. It was a truly monumental moment for me in my learning. Ever since, I’ve wanted a similar experience of learning as it relates to the history of philosophy. But I just never made it happen. I’ve been too intrigued by other subjects, until now.

I am now doing some readings on my own in the history of philosophy, and one of the books I recently picked up was Luc Ferry’s, A Brief History of Thought: A Philosophical Guide to Living. I absolutely loved it, and I would highly recommend it to anyone vaguely interested in the topic. Why did I love it?

Well, the book stems from a chat Luc had over a supper on holiday, where some of Luc’s friends asked him to improvise a philosophy course for adults and children alike. He decided to accept the challenge, and came to relish it. As he says,

“The exercise forced me to stick to essentials – no complicated words, no learned quotations and no references to obscure theories. As I worked through my account of the history of ideas, without access to a library, it occurred to me that there is nothing comparable in print. There are many histories of philosophy, of course; some are excellent, but even the best ones are a little dry for someone who has left university behind, and certainly for those yet to enter a university. And the rest of us are not particularly concerned.”

In this book, Ferry has done a marvelous job preserving the impromptu style. It is addressed to the nonacademic, yet Ferry has somehow managed to avoid simplification. Dude, I wanna know how you do that?! Clarity was his main responsibility, and in my mind, he delivered! I find that inspiring, especially from a philosopher! I’m still trying to learn that trick myself. Not only was this an easy-to-understand history of philosophy summation, it was for me a shining example of exemplar pedagogy.

So, there’s lots I could say about this handy little piece. But, I’ll keep it simple: I liked this book because after reading it, I was able to chart the entire history of philosophy on a page! This is a picture of it which was scribbled on the back page of the book (all mistakes are assuredly mine!)

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Granted, it isn’t nuanced. It isn’t “thick.” But it is clear, simple, and easy for even me to understand! It’s a straightforward picture of the whole story. I love it. Ferry’s was a great resource for me as I begin to think about history in a whole new way. Philosophy, I’m comin-back-atcha!

 

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