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Founders of Western Philosophy: Thales to Hume

Leonard Peikoff

Date: Jan 01, 1970

This is the first part of a two-part, 24-lecture course on the history of Western philosophy taught by philosopher Leonard Peikoff. This first part starts with the pre-Socratic Greeks and ends with the Enlightenment thinker David Hume. The second part covers Kant to the present. This course is intended for non-experts, but philosophy students should find much value in Peikoff’s presentation as well.

Peikoff holds that philosophic ideas play a fundamental role in shaping world events. The purpose of these lectures is to trace the development of Western thought from ancient Greece to the present. The lectures summarize the arguments each philosopher offers in support of his conclusions, as well as Peikoff’s analyses and exposes of intellectual fallacies.

Here is the course outline:

1. The First Problem: Are There Any Absolutes? The father of philosophy: Thales. The philosophy of flux: Heraclitus, "You cannot step into the same river twice", change as the only absolute. The mind-body opposition begins: the mathematical mysticism of the Pythagoreans.

2. The Triumph of the Metaphysics of Two Worlds. The birth of determinism: the materialism of Democritus. The birth of "It seems to me": the skepticism of the Sophists; "Might makes right." Socrates. The first complete philosophy: Plato. Plato's metaphysical dualism.

3. The Results in This World. Plato's epistemology, the myth of the cave. Plato's ethics/politics: reason vs. emotion, Platonic love, the Philosopher-King, communism as the political ideal.

4-5. A Revolution: The Birth of Reason.
Aristotle. Epistemology: sensory evidence as the base of knowledge, the laws of logic,  the nature of truth. Ethics/politics: happiness as the moral goal, reason and the good life, the Great-Souled Man; the ideal society.

6. Philosophy Loses Confidence.
The philosophy of pleasure: the hedonism of Epicurus. The philosophy of duty: Stoicism. The new Skepticism: Pyrrho of Elis. Neo-Platonism: Plotinus.

7-8. Philosophy Becomes Religious and Recovers. The rejection of reason and happiness: Christianity. The first major Christian philosopher: Augustine, faith as the basis of reason, the ethics of self-sacrificial love, man as a corrupt creature. The Dark Ages. The rediscovery of Aristotle. Thomas Aquinas: the union of Aristotelianism and Christianity, the absolutism of reason and the new role of faith. The aftermath: the Renaissance.

9. The New Breach Between the Mind and Reality. Materialism and determinism in the name of science, dictatorship in the name of harmony: Thomas Hobbes. The father of modern philosophy and the first famous Continental Rationalist: René Descartes,  the method of universal doubt, "I think, therefore I am", the theory of innate ideas.

10. The Breach Deepens . . . The second famous Rationalist: Spinoza, pantheism, determinism. The third famous Rationalist: Leibnitz, the unreality of matter, the "windowless monads." British empiricism: John Locke. 

11. . . . and the Attempt Collapses. Empiricism becomes subjectivist: Bishop Berkeley, "To be is to be perceived." Empiricism becomes bankrupt: the skepticism of David Hume, the attack on the external world and on causality, the breach between logic and fact.

12. Conclusion. The Objectivist answer to key problems posed by Ancient and Modern Philosophy. 

Leonard Peikoff is an American philosopher who had a close 30-year friendship and professional association with Ayn Rand. He holds a Ph.D. in philosophy, is the author of three books, and has lectured on Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism for decades. He is considered the world’s foremost authority on the philosophy of Ayn Rand.

This course is 33 hours long. It was originally recorded in 1970 before a live audience. Each lecture is followed by a Q & A period.

Recorded in 1972.  (Editor's note: contradictory info left for reference purposes)

Note: The Campus/YouTube recordings are an edited compilation and the "lesson" breakdown doesn't reflect the original course breakdown

history of philosophy

Parts: 12

Handout: none

Publications:

  • e-Store, 2015 - 2002 mins - Also known as: History of Philosophy Part 1
  • Campus, 2018 - 2198 mins - An edited compilation of History of Philosophy parts 1 and 2
  • YouTube, 2020 - 35 mins - Lesson 1 - Introduction to the History of Western Philosophy
  • YouTube, 2020 - 18 mins - Lesson 2 - Thales of Miletus and the Birth of Greek Philosophy
  • YouTube, 2020 - 32 mins - Lesson 3 - Heraclitus of Ephesus: A World of Change and Contradiction
  • YouTube, 2020 - 30 mins - Lesson 4 - Parmenides of Elea: Logic Demands a Changeless Universe
  • YouTube, 2020 - 30 mins - Lesson 5 - Pythagoras: Mathematics and Mysticism
  • YouTube, 2020 - 50 mins - Lesson 6 - The Pluralists, the Atomists and the Birth of Determinism
  • YouTube, 2020 - 32 mins - Lesson 7 - The Skepticism of the Greek Sophists
  • YouTube, 2020 - 16 mins - Lesson 8 - The Life and Teachings of Socrates
  • YouTube, 2020 - 63 mins - Lesson 9 - Plato’s Metaphysics: The Perceptible World and the World of Ideal Forms
  • YouTube, 2020 - 42 mins - Lesson 10 - Plato’s Epistemology: From Innate Ideas to a Grasp of the Forms
  • YouTube, 2020 - 53 mins - Lesson 11 - Plato’s Ethics: Virtue and the Health of the Soul
  • YouTube, 2020 - 37 mins - Lesson 12 - Plato’s Political Philosophy: Collectivism and the Philosopher-King
  • YouTube, 2020 - 41 mins - Lesson 13 - Aristotle: A Philosopher for Living on Earth
  • YouTube, 2020 - 49 mins - Lesson 14 - Aristotle’s Epistemology: Concepts, Explanation and the Nature of Science
  • YouTube, 2020 - 41 mins - Lesson 15 - Aristotle: The Father of Logic
  • YouTube, 2020 - 37 mins - Lesson 16 - Aristotle’s Metaphysics: Matter, Form and Causality
  • YouTube, 2020 - 45 mins - Lesson 17 - Aristotle’s Teleology: Motion, Goal-Directed Action and the Unmoved Mover
  • YouTube, 2020 - 30 mins - Lesson 18 - Aristotle’s Psychology: The Nature of the Soul, Sense Perception and Thought
  • YouTube, 2020 - 17 mins - Lesson 19 - Aristotle: Universals, Individuation and an Overview of His Metaphysics
  • YouTube, 2020 - 78 mins - Lesson 20 - Aristotle’s Ethics and Politics: Happiness, Reason and the Ideal Society
  • YouTube, 2020 - 46 mins - Lesson 21 - Epicurus, Atomic Theory and the Ethics of Hedonism
  • YouTube, 2020 - 59 mins - Lesson 22 - Stoicism and the Quest for Apathy
  • YouTube, 2020 - 28 mins - Lesson 23 - Ancient Greek Skepticism: Arguing for the Impossibility of Knowledge
  • YouTube, 2020 - 51 mins - Lesson 24 - Neoplatonism and the Transition to Christianity
  • YouTube, 2020 - 29 mins - Lesson 25 - Saint Augustine on Knowledge and Reality
  • YouTube, 2020 - 54 mins - Lesson 26 - Saint Augustine and the Ethics of Christianity
  • YouTube, 2020 - 36 mins - Lesson 27 - The Dark Ages, Medieval Scholasticism and the Rediscovery of Aristotle
  • YouTube, 2020 - 49 mins - Lesson 28 - Thomas Aquinas: The Union of Aristotelianism and Christianity
  • YouTube, 2020 - 34 mins - Lesson 29 - The Separation of Faith and Reason: The Transition from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance
  • YouTube, 2020 - Lesson 30 - The Renaissance and the Protestant Reformation
  • YouTube, 2020 - 65 mins - Lesson 31 - The Rise of Modern Science and the Character of Renaissance Ethics
  • YouTube, 2020 - 29 mins - Lesson 32 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ldngPADUWzk
  • YouTube, 2020 - 63 mins - Lesson 33 - Thomas Hobbes: Nominalism, Skepticism and Political Absolutism
  • YouTube, 2020 - 67 mins - Lesson 34 - René Descartes: Father of Modern Philosophy and Continental Rationalism
  • YouTube, 2020 - 71 mins - Lesson 35 - Continental Rationalism: The Philosophy of Baruch Spinoza
  • YouTube, 2020 - 39 mins - Lesson 36 - Continental Rationalism: The Philosophy of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz
  • YouTube, 2020 - 56 mins - Lesson 37 - John Locke: Father of British Empiricism and Champion of Individual Rights
  • YouTube, 2020 - 52 mins - Lesson 38 - George Berkeley: From Empiricism to Idealism
  • YouTube, 2020 - 57 mins - Lesson 39 - David Hume: From Empiricism to Skepticism about the External World
  • YouTube, 2020 - 51 mins - Lesson 40 - David Hume: Causality, the Problem of Induction, and the Subjectivity of Ethics