The Handy Western Philosophy Answer Book: The Ancient Greek Influence on Modern Understanding

Visible Ink. (Handy Answer Book). Sept. 2020. 368p. ISBN 9781578597314. $49.95; pap. ISBN 9781578595563. $24.95. REF
As the subtitle indicates, the ancient Greeks are the subject of this masterly deep dive. (A text box notes that philosophy developed independently of the West in India and East Asia.) After chapters on the pre-Socratics, Socrates and Plato, Aristotle, and Hellenistic thought, there is a 2,000-year gap, then 19 pages on 20th-century, analytic, continental, and pragmatic philosophy. But there is plenty for D’Angelo (retired supervisor, Brooklyn P.L.; Barbarians at the Gates of the Public Library) to explain in the sections on the foundational Greeks (and perhaps separate volumes on modern Western philosophy and on Eastern philosophy are forthcoming). Chronological order reflects the ongoing conversation that is philosophy, and Renaissance and later thinkers (Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Nietzsche) are occasionally mentioned as influenced by the ancients. Some questions are connective (“Who was Gorgias? Who was Thrasymachus?”); others are conceptual (“Why is the history of philosophy important?”). Alexander the Great, his era, and Hellenistic culture and politics receive many pages. Aristotelian ethics are clearly differentiated from Christian morals; the exposition of Aristotelian logic and the clarification of his acceptance of slavery are particularly trenchant. Each philosophical position, on cosmology, politics, epistemology, etc., is minutely described, without judgment, usually with illuminating examples. A glossary, bibliography, and index add utility.
VERDICT Although the language is lucid, these complex philosophies are explicated rather than simplified, and math and abstract concepts make this work more challenging than other “Handy” offerings. Motivated readers will find the subject admirably expounded.
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