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Philosophical Connections

Compiled by Anthony Harrison-Barbet




Philosophical Connections has one overmastering claim to originality and value as a work of reference. There are plenty of histories of philosophy, plenty of companions to, and encyclopedias of philosophy, and plenty of books where the names of the 126 western philosophers featured in this work are indexed and their ideas itemized. There is no other work in which the connections of ideas are so clearly set out — who influenced and was influenced by whom, and concerning what. Look up Aristotle, for example. You want to know what he said about substance. You find this highlighted. You want to know what happened to this murky topic in the thought of others. You are directed in the 'Connections' section at the end of entry to (among others) Aquinas and Descartes as sympathetic utilizers of Aristotle's concept, and thence, via Locke, to Hume's rejection, and to different usages of the term in the writings of later thinkers. The directions are clearly given by the system of numbers, letters, and colour codes explained in the "How to Use the Profiles" section.

The Profile for each philosopher follows a pattern. There is a brief biographical sketch and an account of his ideas and arguments in which the key ideas are highlighted and identified by letters and numbers. There is a critical summary, a brief indication of further reading, and then the all-important connections.

But why are the interconnections of thought and argument so important? Certainly it is possible to tackle philosophical problems concerning, for example, the nature of knowledge, the existence of God or gods, or the grounding of morality, without reference to what other people have said, thought or written. A very few great philosophers such as Descartes or Wittgenstein may have had some success in trying to do so, but most of us need the assistance of our philosophical predecessors to move us forward in the subject so that, at the very least, we do not make the same mistakes over an over again in every generation. Even Descartes owed a lot to... Well, perhaps you should look him up and find out! So this book should be seen as a kind of vade mecum which will help the curious to get to grips with philosophical issues by learning something about their origins and the various solutions offered in the past. It is a unique work of reference, not another history to be read at length from start to finish.

It must be emphasized that the summaries offered under each philosopher are not, and are not intended to be, in-depth works of scholarship. They are summaries for the purposes of identifying main themes and connections, and Dr Harrison-Barbet has held a fine balance between undue brevity and excessive detail in each entry. The Profiles vary in length — more space being devoted to major philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Mill, and Ricoeur (though it should not be assumed that there is any exact correlation between the length of a Profile and the importance of the subject of it). It must also be stressed that many of the connections you will find in the following pages will be regarded by some scholars as contentious. One reason for this is that there may be some disagreement about what a philosopher really meant, or a successor may be indirectly influenced by a third party, or may have inadvertently hit upon the same idea as a predecessor without knowing it. (Modern journals are full of 'new' ideas which are old, in some cases centuries old.) And of course no claim is made for the completeness of the connections; no doubt there are many others which have been overlooked or have yet to be discovered. Nevertheless as a guide for students and teachers this new work of reference will allow the patterns of ideas and arguments that constitute western philosophy to be followed through the main contributions to that tradition over the past twenty-five centuries. If that is not useful, I do not know what is.

J. C. A. Gaskin