Derek Sivers

Story of Philosophy - by Will Durant

Story of Philosophy - by Will Durant

ISBN: 0671739166
Date read: 2018-07-20
How strongly I recommend it: 8/10
(See my list of 200+ books, for more.)

Go to the Amazon page for details and reviews.

Profiles of some top philosophers: Plato, Aristotle, Bacon, Voltaire, Kant, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche. But wow - Durant’s writing steals the show. A hundred various thoughts to digest.

my notes

The love of a modestly elusive Truth seemed incomparably more glorious than the lust for the flesh.

We believe there is something vital and significant in us, if only we could decipher our own souls.

Those who don’t want millions, but an answer to their questions: we want to seize the value and perspective of passing things, to pull ourselves up out of the maelstrom of daily circumstance.

We want to coordinate our energies by criticizing and harmonizing our desires.

Some philosophers have had all sorts of wisdom except common sense.

Many a philosophic flight has been due to the elevating power of thin air.

Science seems always to advance, while philosophy seems always to lose ground. Yet this is only because philosophy deals with problems not yet open to the methods of science.
As soon as a field of inquiry yields knowledge susceptible of exact formulation it is called science.
Philosophy seems to stand still, perplexed; but only because she leaves the fruits of victory to her daughters the sciences, and herself passes on, divinely discontent, to the uncertain and unexplored.

Every science begins as philosophy and ends as art; it arises in hypothesis and flows into achievement.

The philosopher wishes to ascertain the relation to experience in general, and thereby to get at its meaning and its worth.
He combines things in interpretive synthesis.
He tries to put together, better than before, that great universe-watch which the inquisitive scientist has analytically taken apart.

A fact is not complete except in relation to a purpose and a whole.

When genius speaks to us we feel a ghostly reminiscence of having ourselves, in our distant youth, had vaguely this self-same thought which genius now speaks, but which we had not art or courage to clothe with form and utterance.

Multi-cultural cities: Traditions and dogmas rub one another down to a minimum in such centers of varied intercourse.
Where there are a thousand faiths we are apt to become sceptical of them all.

Wealth brought the leisure and security which are the prerequisite of research and speculation.

He could drink like a gentleman - without fear and without excess.

He did not claim to have wisdom, but only to seek it lovingly; he was wisdom’s amateur, not its professional.

Philosophy begins when one learns to doubt one’s cherished beliefs.

Plato says human behavior flows from desire, emotion, and knowledge.
Desire: restless and acquisitive souls, who are absorbed in material quests and quarrels, who burn with lust of luxuries and show, and who rate their gains always as naught compared with their ever-receding goals.
Emotion: temples of feeling and courage, who care not so much what they fight for, as for victory “in and for itself”. Their pride is in power rather than in possession.
Knowledge: the few whose delight is in meditation and understanding; who yearn not for goods, nor for victory, but for knowledge; who leave both market and battle-field to lose themselves in the quiet clarity of secluded thought; whose will is a light rather than a fire, whose haven is not power but truth: these are the men of wisdom, who stand aside unused by the world.

People need the guidance of philosophers, as desires need the enlightenment of knowledge.
Only a philosopher-king is fit to guide a nation.
This is the key-stone of Plato’s thought.

They were taught philosophy the age of thirty. It would not have been wise to let them taste the dear delight too early; for young men, when they first get the taste of philosophy in their mouths, argue for amusement, and are always contradicting and refuting, like puppy-dogs who delight to tear and pull at all who come near them.

Life in society requires the concession of some part of the individual’s sovereignty to the common order; and ultimately the norm of conduct becomes the welfare of the group.

Aristotle violated his own canons plentifully; but then he was the product of his past, and not of that future which his thought would build.

Every important term in serious discourse shall be subjected to strictest scrutiny and definition. It is difficult, and ruthlessly tests the mind; but once done it is half of any task.

Aristotle concerned himself with the objective present, while Plato is absorbed in a subjective future.
Socrates gave philosophy to mankind, and Aristotle gave it science.

A guide to correct reasoning is as elevating as a manual of etiquette; we may use it, but it hardly spurs us to nobility.

Where there is no strife there is decay: the mixture which is not shaken decomposes.

Excellence will depend on clear judgment, self-control, symmetry of desire, artistry of means.
It is the middle way, the golden mean.
The qualities of character can be arranged in triads, in each of which the first and last qualities will be extremes and vices, and the middle quality a virtue or an excellence.
So between cowardice and rashness is courage
between stinginess and extravagance is liberality
between sloth and greed is ambition
between humility and pride is modesty
between secrecy and loquacity, honesty
between moroseness and buffoonery, good humor
between quarrelsomeness and flattery, friendship
between Hamlet’s indecisiveness and Quixote’s impulsiveness is self-control.
It is not an exact average - it discovers itself only to mature and flexible reason.

Excellence is an art won by training and habituation.
We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have these because we have acted rightly.
These virtues are formed in man by his doing the actions.
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.

Youth is the age of extremes.
Fault is always on the side of excess and exaggeration.
Get out of one extreme without falling into its opposite. For one extreme easily passes into the other.
The man in the middle position; the brave man is called rash by the coward, and cowardly by the rash man.

Friendship is more necessary to the happy than to the unhappy.

Our philosophy is where our treasure lies.

If men think that a ruler is religious and reveres the gods, they are less afraid of suffering injustice at his hands, and are less disposed to conspire against him, since they believe that the gods themselves are fighting on his side.

Democracy:
The user of a house will be a better judge of it than the builder, and the guest will be a better judge of a feast than the cook.
The many are more incorruptible than the few.

The Greek mind lacked limiting and steadying traditions; it moved freely in an uncharted field, and ran too readily to theories and conclusions.
So Greek philosophy leaped on to heights unreached again, while Greek science limped behind.
As knowledge grew, fear decreased; men thought less of worshiping the unknown, and more of overcoming it.
No man could fail to flourish in such a time and country, if there was seed in him at all.

It is difficult to be either master or servant if one is sensitive.

In love, it does not do to give one’s self wholly; one should at all times give, but at no time all.
Gratitude is nourished with expectation.

Knowledge unapplied in action is a pale academic vanity.
Crafty men condemn studies, simple men admire them, and wise men use them;
for the end of scholasticism culminates in pragmatism.

Are not the pleasures of the affections greater than the pleasures of the senses, and are not the pleasures of the intellect greater than the pleasures of the affections?

Francis Bacon Essays (1597–1623): among the few books that deserve to be chewed and digested.
Each of these essays gives in a page or two the distilled subtlety of a master mind on a major issue of life.

Nothing could be so injurious to health as the Stoic repression of desire; what is the use of prolonging a life which apathy has turned into premature death?
Nature is often hidden; sometimes overcome; seldom extinguished.
Let not a man trust his victory over his nature too far.

Italians have an ungracious proverb: “Tanto buon che val niente” : so good that he is good for nothing.

Declare what men do in fact, and not what they ought to do.

Want a full and varied career, giving acquaintance with everything that can broaden, deepen, strengthen or sharpen the mind.

A principal fruit of friendship is the ease and discharge of the fullness and swellings of the heart, which passions of all kinds do cause and induce.

Whoever hath his mind fraught with many thoughts, his wits and understanding do clarify and break up in the communicating and discoursing with another; he tosseth his thoughts more easily; he marshaleth them more orderly; he seeth how they look when they are turned into words; finally he waxeth wiser than himself; and that more by one hour’s discourse than by a day’s meditation.

Young men embrace more than they can hold, stir more than they can quiet.
Men of age object too much, consult too long, adventure too little, and content themselves with a mediocrity of success.
The virtues of either may correct the defects of both.

As no perfect view of a country can be taken from a flat; so it is impossible to discover the remote and deep parts of any science by standing upon the level of the same science, or without ascending to a higher.

Government suffers, precisely like science, for lack of philosophy.
Philosophy bears movement guided by total knowledge and perspective, as against aimless and individual seeking.
The rational sciences are the keys to all the rest.

Whatever your mind seizes and dwells upon with peculiar satisfaction is to be held in suspicion.
More care is to be taken in dealing with such questions, to keep the understanding even and clear.
It must not be supplied with wings, but rather hung with weights to keep it from leaping and flying.

Truth knows no parties.

He had the northern hunger for truth rather than the southern lust for beauty.

Humility is either the hypocrisy of a schemer or the timidity of a slave; it implies the absence of power.
All virtues are forms of ability and power.

To hate is to acknowledge our inferiority and our fear; we do not hate a foe whom we are confident we can overcome.

Thought should not lack the heat of desire, nor desire the light of thought.

In the end there is no virtue but intelligence.

Voltaire carried on the antiseptic scepticism of Montaigne.
His later educators, the Jesuits, gave him the very instrument of scepticism by teaching him dialectic - the art of proving anything, and therefore at last the habit of believing nothing.

History proves that anything can be proved by history.

Only charlatans are certain.

Even if Philosophy should end in the total doubt of Montaigne’s “Que sais-je?” it is man’s greatest adventure, and his noblest.

To unite the ideas of Berkeley and Hume with the feelings of Rousseau, to save religion from reason, and yet at the same time to save science from scepticism - this was the mission of Immanuel Kant.

Sensations and thoughts await our call, they do not come unless we need them.

We shall never find a straight line that is not the shortest distance between two points. Mathematics, at least, is saved from scepticism.

We must avoid behavior which, if adopted by all men, would render social life impossible.

I must not lie, even if it be to my advantage.

An action is good not because it has good results, or because it is wise, but because it is done in obedience to this inner sense of duty.

The only thing unqualifiedly good in this world is a good will - the will to follow the moral law, regardless of profit or loss for ourselves. Never mind your happiness; do your duty.

Ask not how we may make ourselves happy, but how we may make ourselves worthy of happiness.
Let us seek perfection - whether it bring us happiness or pain.

When mere creeds or ceremonies usurp priority over moral excellence as a test of religion, religion has disappeared.

We can think of something only by relating it to something else, and perceiving its similarities and its differences. An idea without relations of any kind is empty.

Every idea and every situation in the world leads irresistibly to its opposite, and then unites with it to form a higher or more complex whole.

Struggle is growth; character is built in the storm and stress of the world;
Pain is a sign of life and a stimulus to reconstruction.

Life is not made for happiness, but for achievement.
Periods of happiness are blank pages in history.

Schopenhauer: Like a sensible pessimist, he had avoided that pitfall of optimists - the attempt to make a living with the pen.

The intellect may seem at times to lead the will, but only as a guide leads his master; the will is the strong blind man who carries on his shoulders the lame man who can see.
We do not want a thing because we have found reasons for it, we find reasons for it because we want it; we even elaborate philosophies and theologies to cloak our desires.

A good will is more reliable than a clear mind.
Brilliant qualities of mind win admiration, but never affection.

Everyone believes himself to be perfectly free, and thinks that at every moment he can commence another manner of life, which just means that he can become another person.
But through experience, he finds to his astonishment that he is not free; that in spite of all his resolutions and reflections he does not change his conduct.

Nothing is so fatal to an ideal as its realization.

Fulfilment never satisfies.
We are unhappy married, and unmarried we are unhappy. We are unhappy when alone, and unhappy in society.

Everything else can satisfy only one wish; money alone is absolutely good because it is the abstract satisfaction of every wish.

The more we know of our passions, the less they control us.

The greatest is not the conqueror of the world, but the subduer of himself.
To discipline one’s self - that is the highest thing.

It is dangerous to read about a subject before we have thought about it ourselves.
When we read, another person thinks for us; we merely repeat his mental process.
If anyone spends almost the whole day in reading, he gradually loses the capacity for thinking.

Aristotle says, “To be happy means to be self-sufficient.”

Genius is renouncing one’s own personality for a time, so as to remain pure knowing subject.

There is, of course, a large element of egotism in pessimism: the world is not good enough for us.
When the romanticist discovers that his ideal of happiness works out into actual unhappiness, he does not blame his ideal. He simply assumes that the world is unworthy of a being so exquisitely organized as himself.

Pleasure is the harmonious operation of our instincts.

Thought without action is a disease.

He became cynical, like one who had staked all on a single throw of the dice, and had lost.

Bring about not the betterment of the majority, who, taken as individuals, are the most worthless types, but the creation of genius, the development and elevation of superior personalities.

The very last thing a sensible man would undertake would be to improve mankind: mankind does not improve, it does not even exist - it is an abstraction; all that exists is a vast ant-hill of individuals.

Society is an instrument for the enhancement of the power and personality of the individual; the group is not an end in itself.

The man who does not wish to be merely one of the mass only needs to cease to be easy on himself.

Nature abhors equality, it loves differentiation of individuals and classes and species. Socialism is anti-biological.