Great Thinkers, Great Ideas : an Introduction to Western Thought by Vincent J. Falcone – second edition pdf
In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland there is a scene in which Alice, walking along, comes to a fork in the road. Pausing, she asks the Cheshire Cat, “Would you tell me please, which way I ought to walk from here?” The Cheshire Cat answers, “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.” “I don’t much care where—” says Alice. “Then it doesn’t much matter which way you walk,” says the cat.
Which road to take, in this journey of life, is a problem which confronts all young people. In one sense all teaching rests on the premise that what path one takes is important, and the making of judgments as to which path is best can be even more important.
In this text we shall undertake the study of some political, moral, and economic theories. These basic ideas, as put forth by some of the great thinkers of western civilization provide signposts to the many and varied roads which can be taken in forming opinions on some very important questions. What is the proper relationship between the citizen and the state? How can we best judge right from wrong?
Does every man have a price? If we accept the concept of majority rule, how do we deal with the desires of those in the minority? If we reject the concept of majority rule, what do we choose as the alternative? Capital punishment, abortion, war and peace, love and sex, free enterprise, communism, socialism—the issues are endless.
Since the issues are endless, the questions unlimited, and the ideas complex, this study shall be a presentation of the basic ideas and concepts put forward by some well known philosophers. We shall not attempt an in-depth study of philosophy; rather the goal is to make students aware of the important ideas of western philosophy, to undertake an analysis of the validity of the thoughts encountered, and to expand the number of options available in the making of intellectual choices.
In terms of the subject matter the goals of this study are modest. The major objective will not be met—we will fall short of the goal. But that too is part of the process which students must recognize. We often fall short of our goals—but if we know where we are going, at least we will know what road to take— and in that regard we are one step ahead of Alice.
We are about to embark on a study, a study of ideas. Many of the greatest thinkers from the ancient Greeks to the present day are going to help us in this study by challenging us with their thoughts about many questions. The general focus will be on political, moral and economic ideas, but in the process we will move in and out of topics which relate, sometimes directly, sometimes obliquely, to the major thrust of the course.
We could call this a course in the History of Ideas, or we could simply say we are going to discuss philosophy. Regardless of the title, the subject is the same.
What is philosophy?
Why should we study it? What good will come of our efforts? Philosophy, defined, means “love of wisdom.” Please note, not love of knowledge, although knowledge is important, but love of wisdom. Philosophy has been said to be the art of making the complex simple, or a way of thinking, or a search for truth, or a search for meaning, or a way to live the good life. On a multiple choice question sheet the correct answer would be “All of the above” —and more. Socrates once said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Life is important; if this is so, then we are obliged to try to learn how to live it well.
This text will present a very basic introduction to the subject. It will be long on politics, ethics, and logic; short on esthetics and metaphysics. This presentation is intentional; the purpose is to bring students into discussion and through the exchange of ideas, expand their understanding of issues of importance to them. We certainly will not cover it all. But we will be introduced to much, and much of what we learn will be confusing. But confusion is the beginning of wisdom—and that brings us back to the definition of philosophy.
PART 1: An Introduction to Clearer Thinking
- Attitudes: How They Affect Our Thinking
- Classifying Viewpoints: Conservative and Liberal
- Epistemology and Logic
- Fallacies: Errors of Language and Logic
PART 2 : Moral Philosophy: Ideas of Good and Evil, Right and Wrong
- Moral Philosophy: A Brief Introduction
- Plato and Aristotle: Idealism and Realism
- Epicurus and Epictetus: Pleasure and Apathy
- Aquinas and Descartes: Faith and Reason
- Hume, Bentham and Mill: Subjectivism and Utilitarianism
- Kant and Schopenhauer: Idealism and Pessimism
- Nietzsche and Sartre: Naturalism and Existentialism
PART 3 : Political Theory: The Relationship of Man and the State
- Introduction to Political Theory
- Law: Understanding the Rule of Reason
- Problems of Government: Five Great Issues
- Plato and Aristotle: Utopia and Polity
- Augustine and Aquinas: Platonist and Aristotelian
- Machiavelli and Hobbes: The Prince and the Leviathan
- Locke and Rousseau: The Social Contractors
- Burke and Hegel: Conservatism and Absolute Idealism
- Marx and Mussolini: Communism and Fascism
PART 4 : Economic Theory: An Introduction
- Introduction to Ecomomic Theory
- Smith and Ricardo: Laisez Faire and Free Trade
- Malthus and Owen: Gloom and Doom vs. Optimism
- Veblen and George: The Theory of the Leisure Class and the Single Tax
- Keynes and Friedman: Pump Priming and Individual Choice
- Parkinson, Webbs, Von Mises and Hobson: Insights into Economic Theory
- Application of Ideas to the Modem World