Philosophy: 100 Essential Thinkers by Philip Stokes will have you pondering the nature of reality once you put down this thought-provoking book. The guide gives a wonderful introduction to Western philosophic thought and includes such a diverse range of theorists from Pythagoras to Copernicus to Wolstonecraft and Quine.
In case you are wracking your brains about this field of study, Stokes offers a very brief but good evaluation on what constitutes philosophy and its importance. “It is neither a science, interested in the collection and organisation of new information, nor an art, representing a reaction to the world as perceived,” he writes. “Philosophy, then, is an altogether unique activity.” Stoke further argues that modern philosophy is “undervalued and overlooked” and should not be confined to those who study the subject. Rather, its reflective quality plays a significant part in any person’s life, helping one to find direction and purpose.
The clear and concise format and uncomplicated language of Philosophy: 100 Essential Thinkers makes it an accessible overview for older teens and a fine refresher for mature readers who are already familiar with key philosophical concepts. An index would have been nice, but a well-structured contents page and a glossary of critical terms at the end of the text make up for it.
Thinkers are grouped according to schools of thought; (Stoics, Rationalists, Idealists, Existentialists), and each entry is two pages long, bearing a short summary overhead which outlines the philosopher’s vision. Accompanying the condensed but detailed review is a portrait of the individual in question — in case your curiosity gets the better of you. It has to be said that these photos have a strangely piercing quality; you will find that Lenin and Hegel’s gazes in particular have an unsettling power.
As well as covering a brief biographical note of the thinker, Stokes compares works and influences of other personalities to better understand their ideas: You will find that De Beauvoir’s thoughts on the plight of women as asserted in The Second Sex are understood to have developed from an existentialist theme expressed in the ideas of Sartre. And Jung’s incorporation of Freudian psychology into his own mystical ideas meant that he was able to combine Eastern principles with modern Western beliefs.
The best feature about this handy book is the broad range of people covered who are not primarily thought of as philosophers, like Einstein and Darwin. Stokes instead categorizes them under ‘The New Scientists,’ along with Durkheim and Kuhn. Each person’s contribution is valued in this way – there are no right or wrong answers and, as Stokes would agree, significant theories should not be ignored to fit a rigid definition of philosophy.
Not a text you would draw on for academic citation but one you would use as a helpful reference point, Philosophy: 100 Essential Thinkers is definitely worth owning. There are no wasted words here. Soon you’ll be questioning your place in the universe and wondering which truth to believe.