Review of The Path of Philosophy

David W. Drebushenko has reviewed The Path of Philosophy: Truth, Wonder and Distress in the newest issue of Teaching Philosophy (Vol 35, Issue 3, September 2012. pp 308-311). His overall thoughts on the book are, as he states, “quite positive.” He praises the writing, the scope and the extensive glossary at the end of the book. His criticisms mostly focus on the historical perspective that I adopt in this text, as he himself does not organize his own philosophy classes in this same manner.

It is true that many instructors utilize a non-historical, topical perspective when they teach introductory philosophy courses. I have also experimented with such an approach in the past; often with great success. However,what I have found to be the drawback of this approach is that it can leave students with an impression of philosophy as something that takes place in a vacuum, outside of history and as something that is engaged in by thinkers who work in isolation from one another. Placing philosophers and their philosophies in historical context, on the other hand, helps to convey the sense that philosophy is a tradition that involves an ongoing conversation between thinkers from various places and times. The ideas and arguments of philosophers are always informed and influenced by their predecessors, and so I think it quite important for students to be aware of the historical trajectory within which these conversations unfold.

Throughout the many years that I was in school as a philosophy student (eight years, more or less, stretching from my undergraduate through my doctoral education), the history of philosophy was never emphasized. While I feel like I was well educated in particular arguments, ideas, figures, and schools of thinking, this knowledge lacked an historical thread to tie it all together and to give it context. In fact, it was often suggested to me by my instructors and mentors that the “history of philosophy” is not really “philosophy” at all.

While it is true that the discipline of philosophy is not the same as history, I also think understanding history is useful to contextualize the arguments, ideas, movements and themes dealt with by philosophers. I have to confess that after earning my Ph.D., I felt like I had a very limited understanding of the overall scope and character of Western philosophy as a whole. Researching and developing The Path of Philosophy: Truth, Wonder, and Distress has been a personal exercise in correcting what felt like a gap in my own philosophical education, and I hope that students who read this book will benefit from it as well.

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