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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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 153.
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
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Great Course on Western Philosophers This is definitely a very interesting subject. He covers famous philosophers from over 2,000 years. This includes many famous Greeks from their ancient height, Thomas Aquinas, Nietzsche, several others from various countries. Basically, it's very similar to what you would expect to get from a university level class. My only gripe is that it's strictly philosophers from the West; sometimes the lectures can be extremely boring yet they do add photos to make it more relatable. In one video, if you listen closely, he says "all children must die." That was very weird and they should be more professional and remove that sentence.
Date published: 2016-04-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Hard Review to Write This is one of the hardest reviews I have written. I have struggled with deciding how to judge this course. There are aspects that I really enjoyed. The professor is clearly brilliant and knows the material very well. If anything, the professor's brilliance and knowledge of the material may be too good because many, but not all, of the lessons are taught at higher than a beginner's level. I took this course to fill a gap in my education. During college, Introduction to Philosophy was an elective course that I never managed to work into my schedule. I have enjoyed using the Great Courses to fill in gaps in my education by taking the classes that I simply did not get around to in college. So, I was hoping for Philosophy 101. This course, though, was more like Philosophy 201 or 301. Throughout, the professor used terminology that he did not adequately define or assumed the listener already understood. Despite the professor being highly knowledgeable and a quality presenter, his failure to explain terminology made following portions of the course very difficult. My opinion is not completely negative, and I certainly learned some things from the course. I particularly enjoyed the last ten lessons where he summarized different philosophical approaches to topical areas such as medical ethics, legal theory, justifications for war, aesthetic judgments and the existence of God.
Date published: 2015-11-20
Rated 3 out of 5 by from OK overview but too religious and anti-scientific As the lecturer teaches at Georgetown, a Catholic University, it perhaps shouldn't surprise me how much the presentation was biased towards religion and against science, but for me this was a big turn-off. After all, I got into The Great Courses because of their wonderful courses in astronomy, physics, geology and the like. Starting at the end of the course, Robinson finishes with a lecture on the existence of God where he starts off OK - talking about what 'warrants' belief in anything, but then he blunders into mathematical and logical problems: he seems to create a false dichotomy between a multiple universe explanation for apparent cosmic fine-tuning and a cosmic designer, declares that he finds the comic designer more likely #not sure on what grounds - seems to me just based on personal credulity/incredulity# and then chooses to believe in God while challenging others to offer 'good arguments' to the contrary. It's hard to sum up everything wrong with this approach in a short review, but I'll poke a few holes briefly: we know one universe came into being, since we're in one. So 'universes come into being' is true, even if only once. So the difference between one universe coming into being and many is a difference of quantity not quality. We don't know that 'gods exist', so it is a qualitative difference - asserting a new kind of thing. So even accepting that false dichotomy, multi-universes where we happen to live in one that is capable of supporting life is at least marginally more likely if you take Occam's Razor seriously #understanding that O.R. is not a hard and fast rule of logic, just a guideline#. But the whole cosmic fine-tuning argument is problematic, because we'd have to know a lot more about how universes form to know if ours is even unusual. Maybe this is the only way they can form. The whole line of thinking is an argument from ignorance: I don't know, therefor: God. This I not a humble position, but an extremely arrogant one: I don't know, but I'll assert something I couldn't possibly know with great confidence. But even if you agree that a designer seems more likely than a multi-verse, Robinson fails to quantify how much more likely. Consider: if we rate the multi-verse answer at 5% likelihood of being correct and the Cosmic Designer at 6%, then we can say with a straight face that we find a Cosmic Designer more likely, but neither 'solution' is itself very likely. The inability to assign probabilities is part of what creates this false dichotomy. And yet as far as I can tell, Robinson's only 'warrant' he puts forth to believe in God is that he finds it more likely than a multi-verse. But really, the deeper problem is that asserting a cosmic designer has zero explanatory power. If the goal is to answer 'why do we live in a universe that has something rather than nothing' the answer 'god' just pushes the question back: why do we live in a universe with a god rather than a universe with nothing? If you must posit something 'eternal' why not the quantum vacuum? After all, we know the quantum vacuum exists #back to qualitative vs. quantitative#. And 'god' has no explanatory power. We could substitute 'faeries' or anything else and the result is the same. This is just not deep thinking. Robinson makes much ado about nothing in his digression about the problem of evil #why if God is all powerful and benevolent is there so much pain and suffering?#. This seems to be a favorite philosophical straw man of theists, who seem to think that overcoming this objection is the most important hurdle to proving that belief in a god is rational... Theistic philosophers often are quoted as saying that the Problem of Evil is the biggest reason there are atheists. As far as I can tell, it's only theists who think that. All the atheists I know reject theistic claims because there is no evidence for them. At best, the Problem of Evil is just a fun sideshow debate. In any event, 'theodicy' explanations like Robinson provides are just an exercise in speculative wishful thinking: as long as the theist can imagine a reason for pain and suffering, he can confidently assert that there is no problem of evil, even though there is no way to test his story - it is by nature unverifiable. The fact that theistic philosophers feel comfortable asserting things about the mind of God that they just made up by sucking on their pipes for a spell should clue us in on how most if not all theological speculations got started... People just made things up. Robinson asserts that he finds it unlikely that evolution could produce consciousness, but he doesn't seem to have any clear model for what consciousness is, and betrays zero familiarity with the literature on the evolution of the brain. His relationship with evolution in general seems to be based entirely on reading books by science deniers. Just the fact that he consistently uses language like 'ample examples of design in nature' rather than 'apparent design' presupposes his commitment to a designer. Evolutionary biologists would argue that far from being 'ample examples of design', there is not even one example. If Robinson has read one good book on evolution, it doesn't show in his lectures. Many of his lectures are critical about science as a way of knowing things #I see he has edited a book on Scientism, which is chiefly a label used by people who want to make sure science is put in its 'proper place' implying that there are legitimate domains of knowledge where science has no business#, but he doesn't really put forward any alternate epistemology. He makes much of the fact that children begin life credulous #and there's good evolutionary reasons for this: mom says 'don't touch the stove it's hot' it's good for the child not to be too skeptical#, but we grow out of that as adults, and yet he seems to think credulity when someone says 'there is a God' is totally reasonable while 'there is a Santa Clause' is not - I kept waiting for him to connect the dots for me on this, but he never did. And yet he wonders why scientists and philosophers don't seem to get along very well... And yet he rather bends over backwards trying to put a positive spin on things like the Inquisition #I believe he praised it for advances in jurisprudence#. I really liked the early lectures, but when it hit the middle ages and beyond, the personal biases and lack of scientific literacy were hard for me to swallow.
Date published: 2015-09-16
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointing I have had great luck with Teaching Company courses. Calculus, physics, music, wine etc. have all been terrific. I know very little about philosophy and sadly after this course, still know very little. I found the course assumed a level of background that left me feeling I had started in the middle of the course. The course lacked structure, no overviews, summaries just lots of meandering, lots of names and terminolgy that left me lost. Listened to every CD because I keep hoping it would start to come together. Never did. Disappointing.
Date published: 2015-07-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Strong Overview Having not been exposed to much of any Philosophy prior to graduating college, I recently decided to try to remedy that rather large gap in my educational experience. This was a pretty darned good place to start. I agree with one of the other reviewers that the material is a bit shallow at times & the professor often dragged things out a bit, but those were minor issues. I wanted to get a primer on what Philosophy is in general and how it may (or may not) add substance to my own life and thinking. Since doing this course, I have recently moved on to Philosophy of Science (which is great, but VERY challenging) and am doing some independent reading on Stoicism, one school of Philosophy that was touched on briefly by Professor Robinson. I can't really say enough about how much I enjoyed listening to Professor Robinson talk about these things. He seems like the ideal person to hold court around a big table with a large group of friends and guests discussing and debating the big issues of the day. In short, he's the ideal Philosophy professor. If you are looking for a solid introduction to this rather broad field of thought and study, you could do a lot worse than this course.
Date published: 2015-05-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Essential Course This course is an essential for anyone who wishes to sharpen, deepen, and broaden his understanding of the fundamental questions of living a conscious life. Professor Robinson opens his lectures with the following succinct abstract assertion: "We can identify three overarching issues that consume much of the subject matter of philosophy: the problem of knowledge, the problem of conduct, and the problem of governance." In other words, how is it that we come to know anything, how should one's life be lived, and on what basis should a people come to understand itself as a people? These are problems which continue to fix my own attention, and I was delighted that Professor Robinson took the trouble to present his knowledge with such exquisite precision and clarity in a charming, warm, and utterly refined, erudite manner. The historical survey of the significant contributions in the directions of clarifying these problems brought me up-to-date without years of study. This in itself is a huge advancement! Every lecture was a profoundly satisfying intellectual pleasure, Congratulations to Professor Robinson for such a fine presentation on the most fundamental questions of life and livingness. Thank you very much for sharing your knowledge and adding to my enjoyment of life.
Date published: 2015-03-29
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Ostentatious, Shallow and Not Recommended I was very disappointed with this lecture series. It really is a lecture on the "great ideas" of philosophy, and by that I mean it's not actually a philosophy lecture, just a lecture on the gist of philosophy. The "great ideas" are interesting, the problem is that any given "great idea" of intellectual history can usually be summed up in 30 seconds, not 30 minutes. As such these lectures drag on for way too long, they belabor the point over and over, and yet by the end you feel like you've learned little to nothing. Worst off the lecturer constantly veers into topic completely unrelated to the topic ostensibly at hand. And the lecturer is extremely ostentatious, spouting off hollow, pretentious references one by one. This sort of thing would be fine, even great, if these lectures actually had some meat to them, but they don't. It leaves you with the sense that that lecturer is just using his verbose vocabulary to compensate for his lack of content. This feels like a bad Freshman 101 course, which is great if you have absolutely no background in academic philosophy. However if you do, DO NOT get these lectures. This really is the "gist of intellectual history."
Date published: 2015-03-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An extraordinary experience! I thoroughly enjoyed the Great Ideas of Philosophy course. I visited these lectures almost every day during a dark, seemingly endless winter. On most mornings, before my wife awoke, I settled myself in my most comfortable chair with a cup of my darkest coffee, and, with the cat asleep in my lap, I listened to the next lecture. Often I stopped to replay the discussion of key points. It was such a rewarding experience (and a wonderful way to start the day!). Professor Robinson's remarks even gave me a word for it: Eudaimonia, indeed! I know I'll be returning to key lectures in the course for years to come. Thank you so much for an extraordinary experience!
Date published: 2015-03-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Nothing short of excellent! As is the case with many people interested in The Great Courses, I am a college graduate and even have advanced degrees. So I have some experience with university level instruction. This course by Professor Robinson is an intellectual delight. His presentation is insightful and penetrating, and I have been the beneficiary of it. I would recommend this course to everyone.
Date published: 2015-02-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent intro to Philosophy This was my first Great Course and I couldn't have made a better choice. It provided a broad introduction to the subject and the kind of substantive depth that I was looking for.
Date published: 2015-02-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Feeling educated, entertained and enlightened Professor Robinson is not only a master of the subject of philosophy but also a master of the English language and of story telling. He lets you know why philosophy will not provide final answers as he educates on the chain of questions spanning the computer-age to the birth of civilization.
Date published: 2015-01-09
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Too many fairies on the head of a pin I am a great fan of this company and its courses. I rarely have a critical review. This is an exception. The content was of no importance to anything that I or anyone I know care about. With all of the important ideas that could have been discussed, the subject matters the professor chose to address was genuinely disappointing. If you want to hear 30 hours of arguments about nothing, but which the professor thinks are clever, this is the course for you. Otherwise, select another course.
Date published: 2014-12-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I've always dreamed of going to Oxford... I'm not going to be falsely modest here - personal economics lead me to a state college education, which has served me very well and provided a great living. But I've always known I'm smart enough to thrive as a student at the world's leading Universities. Oxford scholar Robinson makes me long for that experience even more - although I'm now at least 20 years past that age! I pretty much make my living by being one of the smartest persons in the room, but I find I listen to some of these lectures twice and even three times to get the full meaning. Professor Robinson teaching weaves such a complex, rich and subtle web that my mind stretches to keep up. As I rarely have that challenge in my daily life I find this course to be feeding a hunger I didn't know I had. I expect I will start the course once again as soon as I finish it. These concepts are so fundamental, so basic to thought - I recognize them from economics, history, science, you name it - it is like discovering the foundation of learning. Highly recommended. Thank you Professor Robinson and The Great Courses for finally giving me the chance to sit down in one of those very comfortable Oxford wing chairs, have a cup of strong tea, and a good think.
Date published: 2014-11-22
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Don't skip over the reviews lightly.... ..because there is some truth in all of them, from the 5's to the 0's. Yes, the professor is engaging, erudite, and clearly has a deep depth and breadth of knowledge of the subject. BUT I had to drag myself through each lecture. For starters there is too much information and no summary to each lecture. Much of the information given is of little relevance to the core ideas of the philosopher in question. I asked myself after each lecture, what one thing have I learned today? The answer was always "nothing that I can recall specificaly," except the creeping belief that philosphy REALLY IS all about "how many angels can dance on the head of a pin" Second, there is far too much name-dropping, citing obscure other philosophers to buttress one point or another, which is wasted if you don't know this particuar reference (and you won't). Third, the man's vocabulary is far above that of the the average college educated person (and I was an English major), and he makes up some of the words. At the least, this is very pretentious . Does he talk like this in real life? He should review the dictum,"eschew obfuscation" Fourth, if you do listen , do not think you can do it while driving in your car, as I did. If you pay attention to the driving for even a second, you will lose the train of thought. Fifth, and most distressing, he spends the last lecture defending his belief in God. The defense boils down to "either you can choose to believe all the accumulated scientific evidence that our universe is merely a physical (and therefore 'dead' - his word) entity with no purpose or promise, or you can choose to believe that it is someething wonderful, living, and hopeful, created by a divine someone; and here I quote: "I choose to believe the latter." That is literally his last sentence of the course. OMG. If this is what philosophy and logic comes to, spare me! Save your sheckels for some other course.
Date published: 2014-08-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from AN ALMOST MAGICAL EXPERIENCE Wise and erudite, cheerful and passionate, coupled with a broad and deep grasp of the subject matter, we have in Dr. Robinson the always brilliant and often lyrical style of a most gifted teacher. More importantly, he is broadly educated, often dipping into related fields of study for information to further illuminate our journey in the history of western philosophy. Never boring or dull, he excites the imagination and stimulates the mind. He translates the often difficult ideas of such notables as Plato, Aristotle, Hume, Kant and many others in plain English, implicitly ever reminding us that the philosopher's essential task is to think as clearly as possible about the nature of thinking itself. For, as he points out, in the end we are all philosophers as we wonder what we know, how we know it, and what to do with knowledge once we have it. The delightful thing for me was that while reviewing key lectures-- often several times-- I felt like a diver searching for buried treasure, as inevitably each successive exploration netted additional discovery. For example, after years of trying I have finally come a bit closer to understanding Kant and now have the courage to give him another try. Likewise, Dr. Robinson's lecture on THE FEDERALIST PAPERS alone is worth the price of admission. As with any great teacher, his genius lies in no small part in his ability to stretch our mental muscles ever so gently as he coaxes us into unknown territory. And, for someone like me who has never had a formal philosophy course but who has spent much of his life inquiring into the history of ideas-- and with the inevitable gaps in experience that entails-- he gave me both peace and confidence in my ability to understand through both his own clarity of thought and eloquence in style, secure as I was in his grasp of the subject. Even as I often found myself at sea in some waters and balked at others, Dr. Robinson gave me confidence that he, the captain of my ship, would lead me safely to port. And this captain always did. Thank you, Teaching Company, for the experience!
Date published: 2014-06-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb! Enlightening! A whole new world! What IS the good life? Well, I can tell you that listening to these cd's every morning over coffee is certainly a part of it. Dr. Robinson is a wonderful speaker. I would dearly love to travel to Oxford to sit in on one of his lectures...and even to meet him. What a treat that would be. Given that my career was engineering, this course was truly an eye opener for me. While it may be somewhat basic for those with a liberal arts background, I wish it had been required at engineering school. The lectures from Newton to Kant were especially enlightening for me. I will say that I am glad that 10 more lectures were added to the series...though I do continue to go back to the one about the good life...
Date published: 2014-05-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Serious Course This is a wonderful survey of philosophy, especially Western thought. However, this course is a serious adventure and requires the listener to be fully engaged. Although I generally enjoyed the lectures while driving, I found repeating sections was necessary. Professor Robinson has a wonderful voice and clearly enjoys teaching and introducing students to a wide variety of intellectual history and thought. I also appreciated his subtle sense of humor and compassion for all beings. Highly recommended but be prepared to be lost in deep thought.
Date published: 2014-05-04
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointing I bought this hoping to get a clear, basic history of philosophical thought in the Western world. I found the professor overly erudite, to the point of distraction, as if he was trying too hard to sound ostentatiously learned. Also seemed he assumed a fair amount of knowledge about the various philosophers, rather than giving the basics of each's contribution. And the course pretty much ignored the existential philosophers of the 20th century.
Date published: 2014-04-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great intro to philosophy This course covers the main areas of philosophy in an organized, chronological fashion at the right level of detail. Professor Robinson's vocabulary is deeper than what I normally experience & the content is complex at times, so I had to rewind & really think about some areas. I have listened to the entire course three times now & plan to do it again every year or so (it made that much of an impact). I am a big fan of Professor Robinson, & I have used the lectures as a framework for my continuing reading & study of philosophy.
Date published: 2014-01-22
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Don't waste your time Biased! If you do decide to give it a try, listen to the last lecture first and decide if this is what you are looking for in regard to bias and intellectual rigor.
Date published: 2014-01-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I learned so much I don't have formal training in philosophy but greatly enjoyed the thorough discussion of the ideas presented. The lectures were challenging, and I enjoyed listening to many of lectures more than once.
Date published: 2013-11-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Simply the best. This is, without a doubt the best overview course of its kind I have ever encountered. Topics are well organized, and flow well from lecture to lecture. Subjects are explored in sufficient depth to inform while whetting the appetite for further in depth study. Prof. Robinson's delivery is polished and engaging. I recieved a copy as a gift and am now buying another copy to pass on to my son as a gift. This is a course which must be listend to several times in order to pick up all of the tightly packed nuance and subject matter.
Date published: 2013-11-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from New Insights? My academic education was minimal and I have been playing catch up most of my life. I waited as each section of Dan's course loaded from Aristotle to the end. He is a most erudite presenter and as someone stated, he doesn't talk to down to the listener. I certainly learnt about the background of each identity in the course and sometimes was confused by an explanation of their philosophy however then realised that it was a "building" process as each philosopher countered the previous argument. I guess anybody who buys a course like this has long ago asked the fundamental questions that are considered in this course. Well you will walk away slightly disappointed. Not because the answers are not attempted but more so the ambivalence of some conjectures and the downright ignorance of others that had resonance for many years. I think Dan did an excellent job however I walked away less than satisfied through no fault of Dan
Date published: 2013-10-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Affable Polymath on Display! Somehow, with a Ph.D. in Psychology, Robinson manages to teach a series of excellent courses on topics as diverse as the American Revolution, the History of Philosophy, and the History of Psychology. One wonders how he does it! For example, the Western Intellectual Tradition course requires several different professors to handle the wide variety of material, but Robinson manages to cover more or less the same territory on his own and in a much more appealing way. Throughout, he maintains a pleasant, avuncular style of presentation, so that the listener feels as though he or she is enjoying an entertaining conversation with a wise friend rather than enduring a condescending lecture. Some minor objections can be made to his course, however. Occasionally he is digressive and repetitious, and sometimes the organization of the lecture is unclear. Many of his ideas could be disputed. He also postpones until near the end of the course explaining why he mixes both high culture/history of ideas lectures with ordinary philosophy lectures, and his defense is not entirely convincing. But still, these criticisms pale in comparison with what is, overall, both a stimulating and entertaining coruse.
Date published: 2013-03-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from eye-opening / mind-expanding I have been a haphazard self-taught student of history and metaphysics for many years. This course has awakened me to the connection between history and philosophy; I now realize that one cannot understand one without knowledge of the other. The interaction with mathematics has also intrigued me. However, in lecture 49, Alan Turing and the Forest of Knowledge, it is stated that Xn + Yn = Zn cannot be solved when n is greater than 2. In about 15 minutes, using an Excel spreadsheet, I solved it. That is, unless I do not understand the problem. By using the simple formula =(Zn)=((X*n)+(Y*n)), I get the correct answer every time. What am I missing here? BTW, I have not studied mathematics beyond high school algebra I so excuse me if I have simplified this down to my level of understanding.
Date published: 2013-03-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An absorbing survey of philosophy and philosophers It is difficult to write a short review of a sixty lesson survey course that covers philosophy from ancient times to current philosophical dilemmas. Dr. Robinson has a deep, vast knowledge of philosoophy, and is able to present each lesson in a clear, understandable way. He uses philosophical terms--some unfamiliar--but he defines terms so as not to interrupt flow of thought of the listener. There are several areas of philosophy and several philosophers that he selects for emphasis. Aristotle warrants three lessons (10% of the course). Scientific discovery and mathematical reasoning flow throughout the course as these discoveries change philosophical understanding. Social interactions--law, charity, social discourse and government--receive emphasis as socities change. Finally, there is emphasis on theology and religion as it has been understood in light of scientific discovery and in light of oppressive and open forms of government. Dr. Robinson concludes the course with discussion of current philosophical, moral issues: warfare, end-of-life medical care, interpretation of law, aesthetics, and the reality of God. His answer to the question of the existence of God is the best I have heard. I encourage those interested in philosophy to hear his answer to this queston by investing time in this erudite, stimulating course.
Date published: 2013-03-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fast paced and well presented Great style of presentation; very engaging and humorous. Old-school educator who does not talk down to his audience, and assumes intelligence and some background knowledge.
Date published: 2013-02-09
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