Great Ideas of Philosophy, 2nd Edition

Course No. 4200
Professor Daniel N. Robinson, Ph.D.
Philosophy Faculty, Oxford University; Distinguished Professor, Emeritus, Georgetown University
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Course No. 4200
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What Will You Learn?

  • Witness the birth of philosophy in the classical Greek world through the ideas of Socrates, Plato, and others.
  • Explore a variety of philosophical schools, including stoicism, scholasticism, pragmatism, and existentialism.
  • Learn how Western philosophy evolved to form a dialogue between great thinkers across thousands of years.
  • Discover how many modern fields - such as science, psychology, law, and computing - were born from philosophy.
  • Examine humanity's finest answers to difficult questions about morality, justice, virtue, happiness, and more.

Course Overview

Humanity left childhood and entered the troubled but productive world when it started to criticize its own certainties and weigh the worthiness of its most secure beliefs. Thus began that "Long Debate" on the nature of truth, the scale of real values, the life one should aspire to live, the character of justice, the sources of law, the terms of civic and political life—the good, the better, the best.

The debate continues, and one remains aloof to it at a very heavy price, for "the unexamined life is not worth living."

This course of 60 lectures gives the student a sure guide and interpreter as the major themes within the Long Debate are presented and considered. The persistent themes are understood as problems:

  • The problem of knowledge, arising from concerns as to how or whether we come to know anything, and are justified in our belief that this knowledge is valid and sound
  • The problem of conduct, arising from the recognition that our actions, too, require some sort of justification in light of our moral and ethical sensibilities—or lack of them
  • The problem of governance, which includes an understanding of sources of law and its binding nature.

The great speculators of history have exhausted themselves on these problems and have bequeathed to us a storehouse of insights, some so utterly persuasive as to have shaped thought itself. In these coherent and beautifully articulated lectures you will hear Plato and Aristotle, the Stoics and Epicureans, the Scholastic philosophers and the leaders of Renaissance thought.

In addition, you will learn about the architects of the Age of Newton and the Enlightenment that followed in its wake—all this, as well as Romanticism and Continental thought, Nietzsche and Darwin, Freud and William James. This course is a veritable banquet of enriching reflection on mental life and the acts of humanity that proceed from it: the plans and purposes, the values and beliefs, the possibilities and vulnerabilities.

Some of What You Will Learn

In these lectures you will:

  • Explore three basic philosophical questions: What can I know? How should I behave? Is this tribe or polis able to preserve our knowledge, protect our interests, lead us to a more meaningful life?
  • Understand why we should aspire to moral excellence through habitual striving and a devotion to self-perfection, and how we might attain a flourishing form of life.
  • Explore the four assessments of what constitutes the good life. These have come and gone over the course of time in many forms.

The titles of the lectures in this course reveal its scope. In every lecture, there is substance that can change your view of the world and its history.

You will see the creation of rational thought. Dr. Daniel N. Robinson addresses in one lecture why such a rich tapestry of thought would begin in ancient Greece and why, weaved together during the lives of three specific men, it would never be equaled.

Most famous was Socrates, the pagan philosopher whom St. Augustine would revere because he was willing to die for truth. Socrates's student, Plato, wrote so powerfully on almost every issue in philosophy that Alfred North Whitehead later commented that all of Western philosophy was a footnote to Plato. (But British philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell described Plato as a "garden-variety" Fascist.)

How We Live Determines Character

Aristotle, Plato's student, had possibly the most fruitful mind in human history. He laid the foundations for virtually every science, and his treatises on friendship and the good life have never been surpassed. As Dr. Robinson concludes: "Aristotle makes quite clear that our character is shaped by our works. That is, we make ourselves into the sorts of beings we are in virtue of the manner in which we conduct our lives."

After Greece, the lectures explore the beginnings of Christian philosophy in the work of the Roman Stoics, the exceptional debt of civilization to Roman law and to Islamic scholars who preserved and extended Greek thought while Europe became a backwater in the Dark Ages.

Early in the 17th century, Francis Bacon defends the scientific mode of knowledge. Experience and not speculation is the central source of learning. He observed that "words are but the pictures of matter," and that to fall in love with words was as mistaken as to "fall in love with a picture."

Bacon's program to rely on experience was not embraced by the genius René Descartes, inventor of analytic geometry, whose division of the mind and the body has been a rupture in Western philosophy ever since. Professor Robinson describes one reply to Descartes' proof of his own existence:

"The Scottish 'commonsense' philosopher Thomas Reid is kidding around a bit when he gets to Descartes' famous 'Cogito, ergo sum.' Descartes would not accept his own existence until he could come up with a very good rational argument that culminates in a conclusion that he exists. Reid says a man who disbelieves his own existence is no more fit to be reasoned with than one who thinks he's made of glass."

Ideas Engender Democracy

The course carefully examines the ideas of Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Reid, and the impact of those ideas on governments—particularly on the new democracy in America.

The Enlightenment program of scientific knowledge undermined the possibility of human freedom because a world completely determined by material causes made freedom an illusion. The course examines the ongoing debate, exemplified by the conflict between Hume and Kant, over whether there can be any truly moral acts taken in a causally determined world.

And the course shows how this debate is amplified in the German Romantic thought of Goethe and Schiller, in which freedom becomes the defining feature of human being. In Nietzsche, the lectures show how the argument for freedom takes on a full, dark, and possibly more honest aspect.

The course also examines the collision between the inherently social understanding of meaning created by Wittgenstein and the vastly different estimation of human thought created by the code-breaking genius Alan Turing—and the subtle reply to him from American philosopher John Searle.

Further lectures, unique to the second edition of this course, examine the concept of reality itself:

  • Do ideas of natural law and moral reality exist in the larger universe, independent of us or our sentiments?
  • How should moral problems affect medical and ethical decisions?
  • Is war ever justified?

You will see how natural law theory has evolved through the Enlightenment and the writings of Jeremy Bentham and John Austin, among others. Theories of a "just" war, beginning with St. Augustine and including St. Thomas Aquinas and Francisco Suarez, set forth the principles by which engaging in and conducting war are justified.

Finally, after exploring the concepts of aesthetics and beauty, we take a concluding look at history's greatest theological debates about the existence of God.

A Great Teacher

This course is the integration of a lifelong student of these issues who has thought and published in every area covered by these lectures. Professor Robinson is one of those rare teachers whose tremendous respect for his audience, vast expertise, relish for language, and engaging rhetorical flair create an exceptionally enjoyable learning environment.

Dr. Robinson's lectures make the ideas of philosophy thrilling, passionate, human, and divine. Customers agree: "Professor Robinson explains multiple disciplines like no one since Aristotle. His scope is awesome. A professor's professor." Another writes: "Enjoying these tapes is one of the most rewarding experiences of my life at this time."

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60 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    From the Upanishads to Homer
    Before ancient Greek civilization, the world hosted deep insights into the human condition but offered little critical reflection. Homer planted the seeds of this reflection. x
  • 2
    Philosophy—Did the Greeks Invent It?
    The ancient Greeks were the first to objectify the products of their own thought and feeling and be willing to subject both to critical scrutiny. Why? x
  • 3
    Pythagoras and the Divinity of Number
    How can we comprehend the very integrity of the universe and our place within it, if not by way of the most abstract relations? x
  • 4
    What Is There?
    How many kinds of stuff make up the cosmos? Might everything, in fact, be reducible to one kind of thing? x
  • 5
    The Greek Tragedians on Man’s Fate
    The ancient philosophers were only part of the rich community of thought and wonder that surrounded the world's first great dramatists and their landmark depth psychologies. x
  • 6
    Herodotus and the Lamp of History
    Can history actually teach us? Herodotus looked at what he took to be certain universal human aspirations and deficiencies and concluded that indeed history could. x
  • 7
    Socrates on the Examined Life
    Rhetoric wins arguments, but it is philosophy that shows us the way to our humanity. x
  • 8
    Plato's Search For Truth
    If one knows what one is looking for, why is a search necessary? And if one doesn't know, how is that search even possible? Socrates versus the Sophists. x
  • 9
    Can Virtue Be Taught?
    If virtue can be taught, whose virtue will it be? A look at the Socratic recognition of multiculturalism and moral relativism. x
  • 10
    Plato's Republic—Man Writ Large
    This most famous of Plato's dialogues begins with the metaphor—or perhaps the reality—of the polis (community) as the expanded version of the person, with the fate of each inextricably bound to that of the other. x
  • 11
    Hippocrates and the Science of Life
    Hippocratic medicine did much to demystify the human condition and the natural factors that affect it. x
  • 12
    Aristotle on the Knowable
    Smith knows that a particular triangle contains 180 degrees because he has measured it, while Jones knows it by definition. But do they know the same thing? x
  • 13
    Aristotle on Friendship
    If true friendship is possible only between equals, how equal must they be—and with respect to what? x
  • 14
    Aristotle on the Perfect Life
    What sort of life is right for humankind, and what is it about us that makes this so? x
  • 15
    Rome, the Stoics, and the Rule of Law
    The Stoics found in language something that would separate humanity from the animate realm, and that gave Rome a philosophy to civilize the world. x
  • 16
    The Stoic Bridge to Christianity
    The Jewish Christians, Hellenized or Orthodox, defended a monotheistic source of law. x
  • 17
    Roman Law—Making a City of the Once-Wide World
    Roman development of law based on a conception of nature, and of human nature, is one of the signal achievements in the history of civilization. x
  • 18
    The Light Within—Augustine on Human Nature
    Thoughts and ideas from the fathers of the early Christian Church culminated in St. Augustine, who explores humanity's capacity for good and evil. x
  • 19
    What did the Prophet teach that so moved the masses? And how did the Western world come to understand the threat embodied in these Eastern "heresies"? x
  • 20
    Secular Knowledge—The Idea of University
    Apart from trade schools devoted to medicine and law, the university as we know it did not come into being until 12th-century Paris. x
  • 21
    The Reappearance of Experimental Science
    There were really two great renaissances. The first occurred at Oxford in the 13th century: the recovery of experimental inquiry by Roger Bacon and others. x
  • 22
    Scholasticism and the Theory of Natural Law
    Thomas Aquinas's treatises on law would stand for centuries as the foundation of critical inquiry in jurisprudence. x
  • 23
    The Renaissance—Was There One?
    From Petrarch in the south to Erasmus in the north, Humanistic thought collided with those seeking to defend faith. x
  • 24
    Let Us Burn the Witches to Save Them
    Even in the time we honor with the title of Renaissance ran an undercurrent of a heady and ominous mixture of natural magic, natural science, and cruel superstition. x
  • 25
    Francis Bacon and the Authority of Experience
    Francis Bacon would come to be regarded as the prophet of Newton and originator of modern experimental science. x
  • 26
    Descartes and the Authority of Reason
    Descartes is remembered for "I think, therefore I am." With his work, the authority of revelation, history, and title was replaced by the weight of reason itself. x
  • 27
    Newton—The Saint of Science
    In the century after Newton's death, the Enlightenment's major architects of reform and revolution defended their ideas in terms of Newtonian science and its implications. x
  • 28
    Hobbes and the Social Machine
    As the idea of social science gained force, Hobbes's controversial treatise helped to naturalize the civil realm, readying it for scientific explanation. x
  • 29
    Locke’s Newtonian Science of the Mind
    If all of physical reality can be reduced to elementary corpuscular entities, is the mind nothing more than comparable elements held together by something akin to gravity? x
  • 30
    No matter? The Challenge of Materialism
    When Berkeley reacted to Locke with an extravagant critique of materialism, he unwittingly reinforced claims of skeptics he meant to defeat. x
  • 31
    Hume and the Pursuit of Happiness
    David Hume was perhaps the most influential philosopher to write in English, carrying empiricism to its logical end and thus grounding morality, truth, causation, and governance in experience. x
  • 32
    Thomas Reid and the Scottish School
    Thomas Reid was Hume's most successful and influential critic, with a common sense psychology that was both naturalistic and compatible with religious teaching and which reached America's founders. x
  • 33
    France and the Philosophes
    The leading French thinkers of the 18th century—Voltaire, Rousseau, Condorcet, and Diderot—appealed directly to the ordinary citizen, encouraging skepticism toward traditional authority. x
  • 34
    The Federalist Papers and the Great Experiment
    The extraordinary documents written in support of the proposed constitution represent a profound legacy in political philosophy. x
  • 35
    What Is Enlightenment? Kant on Freedom
    Here the limits of reason and the very framework of thought complete—and in another respect undermine—the very project of the Enlightenment. x
  • 36
    Moral Science and the Natural World
    Kant traced the implications of a human life as lived in both the natural world of causality and the intelligible world of reason (where morality arises). x
  • 37
    Phrenology—A Science of the Mind
    In founding the now-discredited theory of phrenology, Franz Gall nevertheless helped define today's brain sciences. x
  • 38
    The Idea of Freedom
    The idea of freedom developed by Goethe, Schiller, and other romantic idealists forms a central chapter in the Long Debate over whether or not science has overstepped its bounds. x
  • 39
    The Hegelians and History
    Hegel's Reason in History and other works inspired a transcendentalist movement that spanned Europe, Great Britain, and the United States. x
  • 40
    The Aesthetic Movement—Genius
    By the second half of the 19th century, the House of Intellect was divided between two competing perspectives: the growing aesthetic concept of reality and the narrowing scientific view. x
  • 41
    Nietzsche at the Twilight
    A student of the classics, Nietzsche came to regard the human condition as fatally tied to needs and motives that operate at the most powerful levels of existence. x
  • 42
    The Liberal Tradition—J. S. Mill
    When can the state or the majority legitimately exercise power over the actions of individuals? The modern liberal answer is set forth in the work of Mill, an almost unchallenged authority for more than a century. x
  • 43
    Darwin and Nature’s “Purposes”
    From social Darwinism to sociobiology, the evolutionary science of the late 18th and 19th centuries dominates social thought and political initiatives. x
  • 44
    Marxism—Dead But Not Forgotten
    After years of influence, the Marxist critique of society is now more a subtext than a guiding bible of reform. x
  • 45
    The Freudian World
    Marx, Darwin, and Freud are the chief 19th-century architects of modern thought about society and self—each was nominally "scientific" in approach and believed their theories to be grounded in the realm of observable facts. x
  • 46
    The Radical William James
    Mortally opposed to all "block universes" of certainty and theoretical hubris, James offered a quintessentially home-grown psychology of experience. x
  • 47
    William James's Pragmatism
    Working in the realm of common sense, James directed the attention of philosophy and science to that ultimate arena of confirmation in which our deepest and most enduring interests are found. x
  • 48
    Wittgenstein and the Discursive Turn
    Meaning arises from conventions that presuppose not only a social world but a world in which we share the interests and aspirations of others. x
  • 49
    Alan Turing in the Forest of Wisdom
    Turing is famous for breaking Germany's famed World War II Enigma code, but, as a founder of modern computational science, he also wrote influentially about the possibilities of breaking the mind's code. x
  • 50
    Four Theories of the Good Life
    The contemplative. The active. The fatalistic. The hedonistic. There are good but limited arguments for each of these. x
  • 51
    Ontology—What There "Really" Is
    From the Greek ontos, there is a branch of metaphysics referred to as ontology, devoted to the question of "real being." Ontological controversies have broad ethical and social implications. x
  • 52
    Philosophy of Science—The Last Word?
    Should fundamental questions, if they are to be answered with precision and objectivity, be answered by science? We consider Thomas Kuhn's influential treatise on scientific revolutions. x
  • 53
    Philosophy of Psychology and Related Confusions
    Psychology is a subject of many and varied interests but narrow modes of inquiry. Today cognitive neuroscience is the dominant approach, but other schools have reappeared. x
  • 54
    Philosophy of Mind, If There Is One
    The principal grounds of disagreement within the wide-ranging subject of philosophy of mind center on whether the right framework for considering issues is provided by developed sciences or humanistic frameworks. x
  • 55
    What makes a Problem "Moral"
    Is there a "moral reality"? We examine especially David Hume's rejection of the idea that there is anything "moral" in the external world. x
  • 56
    Medicine and the Value of Life
    What guidance does moral philosophy provide in the domain of medicine, where life-and-death decisions are made daily? x
  • 57
    On the Nature of Law
    Philosophy of law is an ancient subject, developed by Aristotle and elaborated by Cicero. We see how natural law theory has evolved through the Enlightenment and the writings of Jeremy Bentham and John Austin. x
  • 58
    Justice and Just Wars
    Theories of the "just war," beginning with St. Augustine and including St. Thomas Aquinas, Francisco de Vittoria, and Francisco Suarez, set forth principles by which engaging in and conducting war are justified. x
  • 59
    Aesthetics—Beauty Without Observers
    The subject of beauty is among the oldest in philosophy, treated at length in several of the dialogues of Plato and in his Symposium, and redefined through history. What is beauty? Is there anything "rational" about it? x
  • 60
    We consider various theological arguments for and against belief in God, including those of Thomas Aquinas, Thomas Reid, and William James. x

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  • 344-page course synopsis
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Your professor

Daniel N. Robinson

About Your Professor

Daniel N. Robinson, Ph.D.
Philosophy Faculty, Oxford University; Distinguished Professor, Emeritus, Georgetown University
Dr. Daniel N. Robinson is a member of the philosophy faculty at Oxford University, where he has lectured annually since 1991. He is also Distinguished Professor, Emeritus, at Georgetown University, on whose faculty he served for 30 years. He was formerly Adjunct Professor of Psychology at Columbia University, and he also held positions at Amherst College and at Princeton University. Professor Robinson earned his Ph.D. in...
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Great Ideas of Philosophy, 2nd Edition is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 150.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Heavy-duty but authoritative and well done This is a pretty heavy-duty course—more in-depth discussions of the history and concepts of philosophy than I’ve encountered before, either in college or elsewhere—taught by one of the most articulate presenters I’ve ever heard. Robinson uses the English language more widely, and I think more effectively, than any other Teaching Company professor so far (Arnold Weinstein would be my second choice). He was criticized in a couple of the on-line reviews for using highfalutin words—that is, deliberately embellishing his lectures with unnecessarily arcane, obscure words—but I disagree. Probably 10 times in the course of the 60 lectures I went to the dictionary to look up or confirm the meaning of a word he had used, and every time its usage was perfect—that is, the unfamiliar word was not simply a substitute for something more familiar, but more specifically applicable in some way. I must admit that philosophy is no stronger a subject for me now than it was in college (where I got 2 C’s in 4 quarters of philosophy courses), and there was a fair amount that was too abstract or theoretical for me to fully grasp, but it went down easier than it did 50 years ago. The 6 lectures on the 10th and final disk (on morality, medicine, law, justice, aesthetics, and God) are pretty impressive and would be well worth revisiting.
Date published: 2018-12-22
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Daniel Robinson failed us...Ego>Education I’ve listened to these lectures numerous times trying to glean the IDEAS....but Robinson doesn’t present ideas like he the course description...instead it’s a bloviated historical narrative with interesting unrememorable tidbits thrown in to prove just how knowledgeable Robinson is. He’s very knowledgeable about the history of Philosophy....but he doesn’t teach the ideas just all of the surrounding facts. I come away from all of these lectures asking myself...”What did I learn?” What’s frustrating is the guy could just teach the ideas but he tries to be sophisticated and give us this historical narrative of ideas....that doesn’t teach the IDEA. These lectures annoy me so much because they could have been sooooo good if Robinson wasn’t trying to be sooo smart and just chose to explain ideas and secondarily the history of those ideas.
Date published: 2018-09-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from My Favorite Lecturer I have listened to the series twice now, and I continue to find it interesting and informative. I had wonderful courses in philosophy as an undergraduate, and these lectures are a fascinating extension of those. Dr. Robinson takes a potentially arcane subject and brings it to life such that I look forward to every new lecture.
Date published: 2018-07-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Professor Robinson is very good at his craft Professor Robinson is very good at his craft. He is articulate but not pompous. He strives to make the lectures easy to understand. I believe only those with absolutely no knowledge of philosophy would have difficult understanding him. Those who have taken a basic course in philosophy would benefit greatly. The lectures provide information that is very pertinent to everyday life. There is no ivory tower here.
Date published: 2018-03-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from excellent lectures, enjoyed each lecture. I plan to enjoy listening to these lectures again in the near future. There is so much information in each one and the lectures are very well presented. Great course! Looking to the next one on archaeology when it arrives. I have seven courses and each has been excellent.
Date published: 2018-02-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great ideas of philosophy I have read over a dozen so far and have learned something useful in every one of them. Looking forward to the rest!
Date published: 2018-01-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent Context and Presentation It would be desirable to illustrate the " terms" and "high light" of phrases in the back ground in Video Format for clear and unequivocal understanding of listeners. This is only reason, not giving five stars. Please, re-edit and update for the previous buyers. This teaching includes all levels of intelligence who are interested in.
Date published: 2017-12-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I, for one, love Daniel Robinson I can't imagine too many people feeling that there is not enough material covered in this course. I can understand why one might quibble with D.R.'s diction. He uses English in a way perhaps more fundamental than is common today. You may find yourself getting schooled in vocabulary but it seems to me that conversation is the art D.R. loves most, atop neuroscience, psychology, and philosophy... topics well within the sphere of this polymath. I found it an honor to spend time with him. My ex, conversely, couldn't hack him and gave up. Bring both hemispheres of your brain to his lectures for you will need them. P.S. He is the sort of affable chap that you might enjoy taking a pipe and brandy with in front of a fire.
Date published: 2017-09-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Quite engaging I am a mechanical engineer. I was about to shoot myself in the head when I started this class. How boring!! I stuck it out for the first six lessons, and I have to say it has become quite engaging. I am in lesson 47, and regularly listen to a lecture every couple of days on my way into work. The lecturer is very knowledgeable, personable, and has no qualms about subtly stabbing history along the way. Bottom line, do not give up on this class. It is a winner.
Date published: 2017-08-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course I bought this course last month and am about a quarter way through and have enjoyed every lesson. Dr. Robinson makes the subject of philosophy understandable and accessible to anyone. There is no knowledge more valuable than self knowledge and this course leads the student to reflect on what it means to be a human.
Date published: 2017-08-19
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Religion tainted Not really a true historical study of philosophy but a biased and highly limited selection to promote Christian religion and the belief in a God.
Date published: 2017-07-09
Rated 1 out of 5 by from The worst course on the Great Courses catalog I started this course with a lot of enthusiasm to learn more about philosophy. But I became disappointed very quickly. It all started when I heard Professor Robinson refer, repeatedly, to right angle triangles as "rectilinear triangles". Professor Robison regularly tries to show us his linguistic erudition by giving us the Greek and Latin etymology of words and phrases, as well as often quoting in Greek, Latin, French and German. Given this, he should be well aware that the word "rectilinear" comes from the Latin "rectus" (straight) and "linea" (line), that is, "in a straight line". In addition, a decent high school student in a geometry class knows that a triangle is that figure bounded by the line segments connecting three NONCOLINEAR vertices. Thus, the expression "rectilinear triangle" is complete nonsense. Hardly something I would have expected from someone who appears to have excellent academic credentials. The next thing I encounter is that he says that a^2 + b^2 = c^2 (a squared plus b squared equals c squared) is Pythagoras' theorem. High school students know that for an expression like a^2 + b^2 = c^2 to be a theorem one should be able to replace the symbols a, b and c with any set of number and find out the the equation is satisfied. This, of course, is not true; just set the values to be a = 1, b = 1 and c = 1, and one quickly finds out that we get 2 on the left side of the equals sign but 1 on the right side. Thus, a^2 + b^2 = c^2 is not Pythagoras' theorem but it is not a theorem at all. In fact, one version of Pythagoras' theorem states that "in a right angle triangle, the sum of the squares of the lengths of the sides adjacent to the right angle is equal to the square of the length of the opposite side". The formula a^2 + b^2 = c^2 can only be said to give an expression to Pythagoras' theorem if, and only if, we stipulate that a and b are the lengths of the sides adjacent to the right angle and c is the length of the opposite side. So much for Professor Robinson's erudition in geometry. Professor Robinson often makes side remarks about science and mathematicas that are, at best, ancillary to his arguments, perhaps because he wants us to know how much he knows about science and mathematics, in addition to philosophy. For example, in a lecture on David Hume, pointing out that Hume was a strong critic of induction, he brings up frequentist probability to argue that it is consisitent with Hume's discussion on inference. Although Professor Robinson does not say this in his lecture, the frequentist version of probability can be summarized as saying that in a set of trials with different, potential outcomes, the probability of one of the potential outcomes is, for the limit where we have made an extremely large number of trials, equal to the ratio of the number of trials in which we observe the desired outcome divided by the total number of trials. To get back to Hume's arguments about induction, suppose we take two possible outcomes: (1) the sun rises in the morning, (2) the sun does not rise in the morning. If we look at a series of observations over the last 10 days, we find that the sun has risen every one of those days. Thus, we can tentatively conclude that the probability of the sun rising in the morning is one or close to one. If we extend this set of observations to 100 or 1000 days we also find out that the sun has risen in the morning every one of those days. In fact, if we go back in the historical record, we find out that the sun has risen every morning for as long as we have evidence. Thus, the probability for the sun rising in the morning is one with as much accuracy as we care to request. Now, from basic probability theory we know that a probability of one for a given event is equivalent to complete certainty. In other words, the frequentist theory of probability tells us that, on the basis of previous observations, there is a certainty that the sun will rise tomorrow. However, this is EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE of what Hume argued for. So much for Professor Robinson's knowledge of probability theory. I could go on with similar comments. However, I would like to conclude by suggesting that the title of this course should be, more appropriately, Professor Robinson's Ideas About the Great ideas of Philosophy. This points to one of the most frustrating things about this course. It was often very hard to distinguish between Professor Robinson's own opinions and those of the people he was talking about in the lectures. I recognize that by just choosing the silabus of the course the professor is necessarily using his or her idiosyncracies, knowledge, background and tastes. This perfectly acceptable. But in a course in philosophy, I also expect that the professor make a clear distinction between what he or she opines and the subject matter of the lectures. I found this often hard to separate.
Date published: 2017-07-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Quintessential humanites professor This prof. is erudite, witty, funny, and loves humanistic learning and study. He is what a professor should be. I have all the courses he does for the Teaching Company and cherish them all. I could listen to the good doctor lecture on the mating habits of Oak Trees; he's that good. It goes without saying that he knows his stuff, but he makes a potentially dull subject come to life with his style and enthusiasm. If Dr. Robinson had taught at my alma mater, I would have majored in whatever it was he was teaching and double majored in the other thing he was teaching. These lectures along with others he has given reward repeated listenings.
Date published: 2017-06-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very well presented Just started listening, bought CDs mainly for long drives. Professor Robinson is one of the best presenters I've encountered in a large number of programs I've purchased from the Great Courses.
Date published: 2017-06-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from To much drifting and less focus! It's great and entertaining, but... it is hard to follow with no 100% attention. Therefore, it is not so good for listening while driving. Please consider this problem in the (in case) coming 3rd edition. PS. Apology, in case my English is bad.
Date published: 2017-06-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great survey Being, as my "handle" implies, only an armchair philosopher, I found Dr. Robinson's course to be very useful. I don't pretend to be someone who chases philosophical ideas to their depths, but I do appreciate knowing the history of ideas in broad strokes -- a sort of "how we got to where we are." Accordingly, this course was right up my alley. I was refreshed on some things I already knew, and had certain gaps filled in. And it certainly doesn't hurt that, in my mind, Dr. Robinson is one of the best presenters I know of.
Date published: 2017-05-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exceptional I am still trying to fill in gaps from my early education and philosophy was one of them. I also earned a certificate in the highly popular Harvard Edx philosophy course, Justice, and got much more out of Professor Robinson's lectures. I found Professor Robinson's course broader and much more fulfilling. The lectures were prepared and delivered in a way that was understandable and presented and reinforced key points in a way that many courses fail to do. This made the concepts flow from lecture to lecture and build to a knowledge base. If there were any time that philosophy was considered an "academic" pursuit, that time is now over. The current climate of fuzzy thinking and obfuscation, which threatens our lives and liberty, makes the study of philosophy essential. It is very satisfying to delve into material that separates logical and non-logical, non-supportable, thinking. For me, this course was entirely successful and satisfying, exactly what I want to get out of the Great Courses. I am grateful for the hard and careful work of Professor Robinson in preparing and delivering this excellent introduction to philosophy.
Date published: 2017-03-06
Rated 2 out of 5 by from This course might be a good introduction for those having no prior experience with the material. However, anyone who has had a class in philosophy or done any significant reading will find, as I did, that the treatment of these ideas is superficial. The lectures are less than dynamic and do not match up well with the text in the course guidebook. If you want breadth rather than depth, this course may suffice. If you want depth and substance, this course fails to meet that standard.
Date published: 2017-03-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Great Ideas of Philosophy 2nd edition Philosophy is the cure to the Mars Virus, I believe this true knowledge to be the anti-virus, there is some kind of evil ignorance attacking not the body but the soul and while this true knowledge takes awhile and much reflection, there does indeed appear to be a prince of illumination, like gravity, though completely undetectable, holds the universe together with a rational order, mandate, or wish. It is at once a COMMAND. I want to thank Professor Robinson and the Teaching Company, Sincerely Dan Perry
Date published: 2017-01-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Erudite and Humane That's what Daniel Robinson is: erudite and humane. This is my favorite lecture series I've listened to so far. I decided to listen to it after hearing Robinson's 12 episode series on "The Greek Legacy", which I also thought was fantastic. I listened to these episodes over the course of about three weeks. I kept going back to hear another episode whenever I had a free moment because I was so hooked in both by content and presentation. The scope of this class is impressive: from antiquity to the present. Obviously, not everyone in the history of philosophy is included -- not much on Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, or the other existentialists, but what are you going to do? Every single course could probably be multiplied to include or enlarge a bit more. Some of the other reviewers have objected to what they perceived as a bias. I don't agree. Robinson has a perspective, clearly, but I wouldn't say it amounts to a bias (a word that is almost always used negatively). It was clear that he has intellectual sympathy for Aristotle, William James, Thomas Reid, and natural law, but he treats other figures generously even when it's clear he doesn't agree with them (e.g. Freud, Nietzsche). I also read among other reviewers, discomfort with the fact that Robinson identifies himself as a theist (in the last lecture). Another reviewer said that this profession of belief was the last line in the course. Actually, it wasn't. It was close to the last line of the course, but the final line was something like, "all serious ideas are always welcome" -- which struck me as an appropriate way to end a philosophy series. I watched the video, but I think the audio would be fine. I do have one objection to the video. The "classroom" had what appeared to be a fake window that gave a view of a brick wall with some ivy growing up it. That's fine, but if you look closely, the mortar work on the bricks is disgraceful and sloppy. Robinson seems like he has high standards, and I'm surprised he didn't ask somebody to get a bricklayer in there to fix it before he lectured. Also, something else about the video: in one of the earlier lectures, toward the end, Robinson starts moving his fingers around as if he is playing "air-piano". i watched his fingers to see what song he was playing. It looked like Beethoven's Piano Sonata no. 6, but I can't be sure. Can anyone else tell?
Date published: 2016-12-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Philosophy done right Of the 20+ Great Courses I have finished, Robinson's Great Ideas of Philosophy is the best. The instructor's presentation is darn near flawless. He has no verbal tics, he never repeats himself, and he rarely uses a descriptive word or phrase twice. His organizational device is the threefold schema: What can we know? How should we live? How should we govern ourselves? It's good because it's simple and it anchors the set of lectures. I found him best on the Greek roots of philosophy and (of course) psychology. The weakest lecture is probably the one on Wittgenstein. (FWIW, I don't blame him--LW doesn't float my boat, either.)
Date published: 2016-11-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Simply fabulous! Presented in an easy to understand quick pace. I would recommend to anyone!
Date published: 2016-10-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Clarity and Connection From lecture to lecture, the clear connections are made in the shaping of epistemology, ethics, and politics. In addition, the connections between mythology, literature, science, mathematics as part of philosophy help make sense of how how we have learned to think through problems and entertain possible solutions to them. Would that more schools taught philosophy instead of facts and we learned how to think before we learned what to think!! Amazing work. Thank you.
Date published: 2016-09-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very informative, extremely convenient Learning has been my passion since I was very young, but I am on the go from the time I get up until the time I go back to bed. Great Courses allows me to continue to learn on my schedule.
Date published: 2016-09-15
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Slow going I learned a lot from this course, but it's a bit slow. I found it hard to focus. Otherwise, great course.
Date published: 2016-09-02
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Extremely boring and difficult to listen to I was excited when I purchased this course. I love this type of material. Unfortunately the professor does not have good speaking skills. The entire course sounds like he is rambling on endlessly without rime or reason. This would probably be a great course if they got a good speaker to present it. It is very difficult to follow what he is saying. I forced myself to listen to several of the lectures and each time could make no sense of anything due to how he rambled on. SAD! I wasted my money on shipping charges only to be extremely disappointed. SKIP this one.
Date published: 2016-08-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Introduction to the Long Debate AUDIO: CDs This course is a great introduction to western philosophy, one that I recommend to anyone new to the subject. It is a good first stop before going on to other TC philosophy courses, even for those more familiar with the subject. Professor Daniel Robinson not only has an engaging delivery, but also a well-crafted series of lectures organized around three key philosophical problems (Course Guidebook 1, Page 3): Problem of Knowledge: “How do we come to know anything? On what basis do we undertake to frame and seek answers to questions?” Problem of Conduct: “…nothing less than the problem of deciding how one’s life should be lived. How should I conduct myself in such a way that my life is a satisfying one? How will I be able to act in such a way that maximizes pleasure and minimizes pain? What sort of a person should I strive to be? What’s the nature of the relationships I have with others?” Problem of Governance: “…arises in light of conflicts at the level of conduct. On what basis does a people come to understand itself as a people? What is the basis on which modes of leadership are chosen? What is the basis on which leaders are resisted, revolutions staged, radical upheaval fomented?” Professor Robinson makes the complex easier to understand, without watering it down, by excellent everyday analogies and an easygoing lecture style. There is also much dry humor and an occasional philosopher’s joke mixed in (e.g., Descartes enters a bar and orders a drink. After finishing it, the bartender asks Descartes if he would like another one, to which Descartes replies “I think not”, and then promptly disappears.). But this is not to say that there is not much seriousness in this course, after all it is philosophy. Professor Robinson’s course is notable not only for wit and humor, but also for providing us with a wider perspective than is usually found in other courses and books. Among the most interesting indications of our being on the receiving end of a novel approach, beyond the problems stated above, is Professor Robinson’s beginning the course by discussing the Hindu Upanishads, 800-600 BC, as an example of pre-philosophic morality tales compared to the unique development of Greek philosophy (at roughly the same time), which is the foundation of western philosophy; delving into the important philosophic contributions of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas; detailing in admirable fashion how “…it was ultimately the Islamic community that put the West back on the path toward an intellectually and scientifically powered course of discovery, using [in the 10th and 11th centuries] the tools of ancient Greek thought” (Page 28, Guidebook 2); waxing eloquent on the significance of such matters as Gothic cathedrals and finding relevance to what he calls the “Long Debate” in the European witch hunts, 1400-1700; including such figures as Goethe and Schiller and Mother Theresa; ranking high ‘The Federalist Papers’ along with Plato’s ‘Republic’ and Aristotle’s ‘Politics’; and, most notably, detailing philosophy’s relationship with and challenges from science since its rise in the seventeenth century. Regarding science, Professor Robinson treats Phrenology at length, an odd thing to do in a philosophy course. In this case, however, he deals with two birds with one stone, so to speak, first on the Phrenology’s materialist challenge to the philosophic “map of thought” in development by Hume, Kant, and others; second, as an example of what we today would call “settled science”, which turns out to be wrong, as he shows us how widespread the belief in Phrenology (“bumpology” to its detractors) was in the 19th century among even the supposed enlightened. (He will do the same later on such matters as Darwinism, Freudianism, and Behaviorism). In addition to appreciating the limitations of science, Professor Robinson has definite reservations about political correctness. The first forty-nine lectures are fairly chronological in the development of western philosophy, up through Wittgenstein and Turing, with a lot of good context and biographical detail. Lecture fifty is a summing up of sorts, as Professor Robinson discusses Four Theories of the Good Life, ending with the observation of saints and heroes (Page 8 Guidebook 4): “that a saintly and heroic life is not lived self-consciously. Rather, it’s lived in a way that’s conscious of others… [which includes] a contemplative mode of life…an active form of life…[adopting] an essentially fatalistic position”. The final ten lectures concern topics that draw on key ideas from earlier ones and incorporate much that is new, both in developments and more recent thinkers. Such matters as the philosophies of science, mind, and psychology are discussed, as well as ontology, morality, law, justice, just wars, and, most interesting for me, aesthetics. I must admit that some of these lectures were hard going and merit more than one time through. Nevertheless, I enjoyed them all, but most especially the final lecture, God-Really? This one might be the deal-breaker for atheists and others, as Professor Robinson concludes (similar to William James) with our choice being between “…a dead cosmos of meaningless statistical possibilities or one alive with promise and the nurturing of hope. I would consider it as simply curmudgeonly to choose the former. I choose the latter” (Page 60 Course Guidebook 4), noting further that the choice comes with a “...divine and providential source” (audio only, lecture 60). A truly great TC course, one which I will refer back to and listen to again. Do not let the sixty lecture length hold you back. Professor Robinson moves along at a good pace and keeps things interesting throughout. For me, the lectures ended all too soon. The course guidebooks are great, providing excellent lecture summaries and related material.
Date published: 2016-07-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Great Ideas of Philosophy I have watched this course twice, and wil do so again. Professor Robinson presents this topic in a manner that just infatuates me. The final ten minutes of each lecture are a learning experience unto themselves. The vocabulary used is perfect, and a learning experience in and of itself. Philosophy was a new area of interest to me five years ago, and dominates my thought precesses. Every other course, in my opinion, relates to this topic. That includes history, religion, and cosmology. As an old man, I look forward to the rest of my life emersing myself in your courses, with a periodic review of Dr. Robinson's perspectives. Addiction to knowledge is a wonderful thing at any age. Thanks to the TGC.
Date published: 2016-07-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Philosophy I didn't take philosophy in college, but have always been interested in the topic. I am only 8 lectures into the 60 but I can without reservation recommend this to anyone that is on the fence about whether to try it or not. I bought the CDs since I am listening during my commute. Very well presented and if you have a love of words you'll get an additional treat as he uses words you don't often encounter in everyday conversation. 100 % satisfied with this purchase!
Date published: 2016-06-03
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Slanted In his thirty-hour history of western philosophy, Professor Robinson applauds himself for including certain topics and philosophers (The Federalist Papers and Goethe, for example), typically overlooked in such surveys. He has included them so as not to be guilty of the “narrow, one-sided rendering” of intellectual history so often on offer, reminding us all that, “one side of a story is hardly a story at all. It’s rather more like propaganda when you think about it.” To be sure. And now to the fair and balanced treatment Professor Robinson gives his subject. William James gets an hour. Schopenhauer receives a few sentences. Kierkegaard isn’t even mentioned. Nor is Husserl, Bergson, Camus, Sartre and the bulk of thinkers and movements associated with continental philosophy. In his lecture on ontology, he begrudgingly mentions Heidegger, but only long enough to express his disdain for the “Heidegger industry” which grew in his wake, and to point out Heidegger was a Nazi. He never makes clear why this is relevant to Heidegger’s philosophical arguments, nor does he trouble himself with the political backwardness of philosophers he appears to esteem. Frege, for example, was an anti-Semite and Hitler fan, but this doesn’t come up. Nietzsche, on the other hand, was not an anti-Semite, but this does not stop Professor Robinson from insinuating that he was. He points out (apropos of nothing) that Nietzsche’s sister and his one-time friend Wagner were both rabid anti-Semites, and is happy to let his listeners conclude Nietzsche shared this prejudice. He never mentions that Nietzsche himself vociferously attacked anti-Semitism. When he turns to a discussion of Nietzsche’s actual philosophy, he skips the moral project for which Nietzsche is most famous: the revaluation of all values. Instead, Professor Robinson reduces Nietzsche to a rather pitiable cynic and nihilist (he was neither – in fact, the revaluation of all values was meant to prevent nihilism), whose syphilitic ravings would never have found a publisher had it not been for the overly indulgent freethinking of the time. It is not hard to glean why Professor Robinson is loath to give Nietzsche’s moral philosophy its due. At the end of Professor Robinson’s lecture on morality, he winsomely hints that he is, himself, a radical moral realist. And he makes patently clear toward the end of the series that he believes in God. Unfortunately, he appears to feel this entitles him to mangle, or simply ignore the existence of, philosophers he finds distasteful in a general survey of western philosophy. So though he is happy to expand on Thomas Aquinas’s ontological proofs of God’s existence, he sums up centuries of reaction to those arguments as just so much spilled ink. “The debate goes on,” Professor Robinson declares at the end of his course, and all “good arguments are welcome.” But they clearly aren’t where Professor Robinson is concerned, and for him to suggest they are only highlights how biased he is. Like anyone else, Professor Robinson is entitled to his personal taste. But what he is proffering here is supposed to be a comprehensive history of western philosophy. In that context, his slants and omissions constitute academic censorship, made all the more galling by his self-congratulation at NOT providing the “narrow, one-sided rendering” he feels accustomed to seeing in other intellectual histories. Whether he’s happy about it or not, continental philosophy does, in fact, exist, and for him to pretend it doesn’t is clearly to present “one side of a story,” which, as he says himself, is “rather more like propaganda when you think about.”
Date published: 2016-05-29
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