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Announcing a New Book: Founders of Western Philosophy

Learn history of philosophy from this extraordinary survey by Leonard Peikoff.

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“There is only one power that determines the course of history,” said Ayn Rand, “just as it determines the course of every individual life: the power of man’s rational faculty — the power of ideas.” To understand history, then, we need to study the fundamental philosophical ideas that move the world. And the best way to do that is with the guidance of a great teacher who can untangle, analyze and explain the intricacies of philosophers’ claims, theories and arguments.

The Ayn Rand Institute Press is happy to announce the release of a new book: Founders of Western Philosophy: Thales to Hume. Carefully edited by Michael S. Berliner, this volume is drawn from Leonard Peikoff’s 1972 lecture course of the same name, covering the history of Western philosophy from ancient Greece through medieval and early modern philosophy.

This book preserves the informal, engaging style of Dr. Peikoff’s lectures, making the process of understanding and digesting difficult issues and conceptions enjoyable and immediately rewarding — I experienced reading six hundred pages as if it were a hundred. Fans of Ayn Rand’s philosophy will also appreciate how Dr. Peikoff, while presenting various philosophical figures objectively and accurately, is able to relate their views and arguments to Objectivism.

Founders of Western Philosophy offers great value not only to philosophy students but to everyone interested in the subject, regardless of prior knowledge or expertise. It’s best to read the whole book, as it is a brilliant example of intellectual integration, but some readers might find it useful to read selected passages or chapters about particular philosophers or theories they are currently interested in.

On the occasion of this book’s release, we are glad to publish in New Ideal the foreword by Robert Mayhew as well as Dr. Berliner’s preface.

Founders of Western Philosophy is available for purchase on Amazon, in paperback and Kindle editions.

From Robert Mayhew’s Foreword to
Founders of Western Philosophy: Thales to Hume

In the early 1980s, while I was an undergraduate, I was torn between going to graduate school or to law school. It was at that time that I first listened to Leonard Peikoff’s lectures on the history of Western philosophy, from Thales to Hume. It was a tour de force, covering the essential ideas of the most significant and influential philosophers, from the dawn of philosophy in ancient Greece up to the eighteenth century, and it influenced my decision the following year to pursue in graduate school the serious study of the history of ideas. This history in the hands of Dr. Peikoff did not consist of discrete and disconnected episodes or units; rather, it was an integrated presentation of the unfolding of the history of philosophy, with the major figures of each period responding to those who came before them and influencing those who came after. Moreover, Dr. Peikoff throughout tied the abstract ideas in this history to the “real world,” acting as a “philosophical psychotherapist” (in his apt description) diagnosing Western civilization.

I eventually received my PhD in philosophy, with a specialization in ancient Greek philosophy and especially Aristotle. Over the past three decades, as a historian of philosophy, I have devoted most of my research to individual trees (and, so to speak, to their roots, branches, and leaves); but I have never lost sight of the forest, in large part owing to my introduction to the subject.

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“Philosophy is not a bauble of the intellect,” as Dr. Peikoff would later begin his magnum opus, Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, “but a power from which no man can abstain.” Anyone interested in a history of this crucially important subject is fortunate to have available this course in book form and can do no better than to begin here.

From Michael S. Berliner’s Editor’s Preface to
Founders of Western Philosophy: Thales to Hume

The lectures present the ideas of the philosophers who shaped Western civilization, the meaning and practical consequences of these ideas, their unidentified influence on the minds of modern men — and a critical analysis, which will provide a defense against many of today’s prevalent intellectual fallacies. The course concludes with a lecture on the Objectivist answer to selected philosophic problems.

So reads the announcement in the August 14, 1972, issue of The Ayn Rand Letter for Leonard Peikoff’s course Founders of Western Philosophy: Thales to Hume. The twelve-lecture course, beginning on September 14, 1972, took place at the Hilton Hotel, 6th Ave. and 53rd St., in New York City and was immediately offered worldwide on tape to groups of ten or more on a rental basis.

Because the course was presented orally, a significant amount of editing was required to make the book more amenable to the reading audience. I hasten to add, however, that I did not edit for philosophic or historical content, nor did I rewrite on the premise of “This is what I think Dr. Peikoff meant to say.” I did eliminate repetition and a number of colloquial and conversational expressions, and I made some grammatical changes. I also moved some questions and answers so that they follow the lectures that contain those topics, and I retained some answers that repeated material in the lectures, on the premise that Dr. Peikoff thought that material important enough to warrant repetition. I also added the footnotes, including citations for quotations from secondary sources. I did not cite quoted material from the philosophers discussed by Dr. Peikoff: Not only are there multiple translations of the non-British philosophers, but web searches make it easy to find and compare different versions. Bracketed material was added by me, except where noted as asides from Dr. Peikoff during the lectures. All punctuation is mine, because Dr. Peikoff did not see either the original transcription or the edited version, and I had access only to the recordings of the live lectures, not to any of Dr. Peikoff’s notes or manuscripts. A word-for-word transcript of the tape recording of the course resides in the Ayn Rand Archives, and audio recordings of all sessions are available free of charge on the Ayn Rand Institute’s website under the course title History of Philosophy.

I would like to thank Donna Montrezza, my longtime colleague, for her diligent and thoughtful proofreading and copyediting and her helpful comments in the difficult task of turning oral material into written. Thanks also to Simon Federman for his skillful production work and to Ziemowit Gowin for creating the highly valuable index.


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Ziemowit Gowin

Ziemowit Gowin, PhD candidate in philosophy, is a junior fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute and web editor of New Ideal.

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