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"A Fine Literary Feast of Dietary Samplings",
a review by Carroll Quigley in The Washington Sunday Star, March 31 1963,
of a book:
by William Barrett and Henry D. Aiken.
New York: Random House, 1963


"A Fine Literary Feast of Dietary Samplings"


PHILOSOPHY IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY edited by William Barrett and Henry D. Aiken.
Random House, 4 volumes, boxed; $16.95.


   Six years ago, Simon & Schuster published "The World of Mathematics" in four volumes, edited by our Chevy Chase neighbor, James R. Newman. Since then, in original, book club, and paperback versions, about a quarter million sets of that wonderful book have been sold. Undoubtedly many of these stand in unread neglect on their owners' shelves, but they were sold, and publishers, for five years, have made unsuccessful efforts to find some similar work in another field. In this boxed, four volume "Philosophy in the Twentieth Century," edited by William Barrett of New York University and Henry D. Aiken of Harvard University, Random House offers a candidate, not to replace Newman, but to balance the other end of that book shelf.

Twenty-Seven Thinkers

   Here, in four attractive volumes, are 91 selections from twenty-seven philosophers of the last seventy years, introduced by commentary from the two editors. Ten of these thinkers are represented by a single selection; these range from a 64 page extract from Wittgenstein's "Blue Book" to 22 page selections from Royce, Bradley, Quine, Buber, Gilson and the French trio of Marcel, Sartre, and Camus. The longest selection is the Wittgenstein, while the shortest (3 pages) is from Santayana. The latter also has the largest number of selections (15), William James coming next with seven.

   These 91 selections are organized into six parts, demonstrating pragmatism, analytical philosophy, positivism, phenomenology and existentialism, philosophy of history, and neo-orthodoxy. The first two of these have a volume each, while the last four have half as much each.

   The commentary consists of eight passages, totaling 205 pages, almost three-tenths of the whole. This whole of only 719 pages, is rather slim fare for binding into four volumes, but this is undoubtedly one case where quality is dominant over quantity.


   There are no commentaries for individual selections; this is different from Newman and is probably a drawback. The introductions to the six sections seek to define each of the major movements and to place each writer in the appropriate movement by giving some biographical information and an indication of his salient characteristics. The selections don not always demonstrate these characteristics, which the editors admit in most such cases.

   As a whole, this is smorgasbord, but inevitably so; Newman, in his “World of Mathematics” had a double advantage over Barrett and Aiken. Mathematicians are in general agreement on most of their subject so that it has objective, accepted features which can be presented to a student.

   Moreover, portions of mathematics, especially proofs, can be presented in brief and elegant fragments which have significance as isolated entities. Philosophy lacks both of these features.

   Philosophers agree on almost nothing significant, and each philosopher’s “system” is a boundless and subjective whole from which no brief fragments can be detached without violating the spirit of the whole.

   This personal and subjective nature of a man’s “philosophy” is so true that each of the present editors had to write his own introduction to the work as a whole. They could agree on the introductions to the six parts but could not see eye to eye on the 20th century as a whole since this could be judged only in terms of the total outlook of each editor. Ergo: two general introductions.

   Approached in this way, as smorgasbord -- that is samples of styles and attitudes which do not attempt to present the "philosophy" of the writers selected -- a work such as this has its function. Like a feast with dietary samplings from all parts of the world, it creates impressions of varied intensity and duration and may arouse interest in a people or area without pretending to present the cuisine of any people as a whole.

   In such a philosophic smorgasbord a concise and accurate guide to the menu is needed. This is provided here in the editorial commentary, or, on a lesser scale, in Professor Aiken's paperback rehearsal for these volumes called "The Age of Ideology" (Mentor).

-- Carroll Quigley



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