The History of Philosophy: AC Grayling’s insightful but blinkered view

Review: AC Grayling is a superb communicator of complex concepts but there are absent voices: women and Irish philosophers for starters

Ac Grayling largely concentrates on male, white and western philosophy

Ac Grayling largely concentrates on male, white and western philosophy

Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy looms over his academic successors in the same way James Joyce’s Ulysses overshadows novelists. The book is rarely read from cover to cover and it’s full of head-spinning digressions but Russell won a Nobel Prize in Literature partly on the strength of it, and it remains de rigueur on the shelves of any respectable intellectual.

Trying to outdo Russell, then, requires not just considerable brainpower and a way with words but also a bit of an ego. AC Grayling appears well qualified under all three headings.

The 70-year-old academic, who scandalised his peers by setting up an independent undergraduate college in London a few years ago, has a masterly appreciation of the currents of western philosophical thought, especially the Anglo-American tradition. He is a superb communicator of complex concepts with an eye for the arresting fact. Who knew Plato required knowledge of mathematics for entry to his academy? Or that John Locke introduced “consciousness” into English? Or that John Rawls was politicised by his feminist mother?

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