It has taken me many moons of leisure reading to complete The Dream of Reason: a History of Philosophy From the Greeks to the Renaissance, a book which I’ve greatly enjoyed. I was seeking a good, non-superficial introductory book that delved into the history of Western thought and philosophy, one that would confer a good basic grasp of the issues and complexities of the evolution of men’s thought.
The main benefit of reading this book is that it’s chronological and starts with the earliest Greek philosophers. In the process of reading, one clearly understands how each thinker was reacting the the ideas of the schools that came before, and how dialectical relationships developed. For instance, I knew that Epicurus was influenced by Democritus’ atomism, but I had no idea that Democritus had been reacting to Parmenides’ early physics.
These threads of philosophy become easy to discern when one reads this book. One also begins to make a more or less clear profile of some of the great philosophers, their personalities and central themes. In the case of Aristotle, because he wrote so much and his intellectual legacy was so varied and complex, I felt that the introduction was somewhat superficial, but this is to be expected. Aristotle deserves an entire book.
I was initially annoyed that Sceptics, Epicureans, and Stoics were all included in one single chapter that dealt with the three therapeutic philosophies of the Hellenistic era, but there are several introductions out there on Epicureanism (including mine) and what this chapter did for me was to accentuate the good in each one of the three Hellenistic schools and contrast where they differ, for perspective.
The book only goes up to the Renaissance. When one arrives at the Middle Ages, it’s truly sad how the intellectual development of the entire continent of Europe was held hostage by the church, which restricted all thought and whose supernatural claims become intrusive points of reference in all of philosophy. European philosophy during the Dark Ages is compared to the Sleeping Beauty.
Overall, this book is great for those seeking to cover the basics of how philosophical thought evolved.