A History of Philosophy (Copleston)

A History of Philosophy is a history of Western philosophy written by the English Jesuit priest Frederick Charles Copleston originally published in nine volumes between 1946 and 1975. As is noted by The Encyclopedia Britannica, the work became a "standard introductory philosophy text for thousands of university students, particularly in its U.S. paperback edition."[1] Since 2003 it has been marketed as an eleven volume work with two previously published other works by Copleston being added to the series.

A History of Philosophy
Cover of volume I
AuthorFrederick Copleston, S.J.
CountryUnited Kingdom
SubjectWestern philosophy
PublisherContinuum (Worldwide), Doubleday (US & Canada), Paulist Press (US & Canada)
Publication date
1946–1975 (volumes 1–9), 1956 (volume 11), 1986 (volume 10)
Media typePrint
Pages5,344 (volumes 1–11) (2003 Continuum editions)


The work provides extensive coverage of Western philosophy from the Pre-Socratics through to John Dewey, Bertrand Russell, George Edward Moore, Jean-Paul Sartre and Maurice Merleau-Ponty.

Originally conceived as a three volume work covering ancient, medieval and modern philosophy, and written to serve as a textbook for use in Catholic ecclesiastical seminaries, the work grew into nine volumes published between 1946 and 1975 and to become a standard work of reference for philosophers and philosophy students that was noted for its objectivity.[2][3][4]

A tenth and eleventh volume were added to the series in 2003 (after Copleston's death in 1994) by Continuum (which later became an imprint of Bloomsbury).[5][6] The tenth volume Russian Philosophy had previously appeared as Philosophy in Russia in 1986.[7][8] The eleventh volume Logical Postivism and Existentialism had previously appeared as the revised 1972 edition of Contemporary Philosophy (a essay collection first published in 1956).[9][10]

The series has been translated into Italian, French, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, Romanian, Polish and Persian.[11][12][13][14]

Volume summaries

The following is a summary of details (not a full table of contents) for the eleven volumes:

Volume 1: Greece and Rome

Originally published in 1946,[10] this volume covers:

As with others in the series, this volume would be made available by Image Books (Doubleday) in two parts, the first ending with Plato, the second beginning with Aristotle.[15][16] Gerard J. Hughes reports that in later years Copleston thought the first volume "deplorable" and wished that he had had the time to rewrite it.[11][2]

Volume 2: Augustine to Scotus

Originally published in 1950,[10] this volume, which has also borne the subtitle Medieval Philosophy,[17] covers:

Copleston also produced a work on Medieval Philosophy (1952) which, revised and expanded, became A History of Medieval Philosophy (1972).[18][19] This work covered some of the same subjects as the second and third volumes of his History. Copleston would also write Aquinas (1955) expanding on his treatment of the thinker in volume 2.[20][21]

Volume 3: Ockham to Suarez

Originally published in 1953,[10] this volume which has also borne the subtitle Late Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy,[22] covers:

Copleston also produced a work on Medieval Philosophy (1952) which, revised and expanded, became A History of Medieval Philosophy (1972).[18][19] This work covered some of the same subjects as the second and third volumes of his History.

Volume 4: Descartes to Leibniz

Originally published in 1958,[10] this volume, which has also borne the subtitle The Rationalists,[23] covers:

Volume 5: Hobbes to Hume

Originally published in 1959,[10] this volume, which has also borne the subtitle British Philosophy,[24] covers:

Volume 6: Wolff to Kant

Originally published in 1960,[10] this volume, which has also borne the subtitle The Enlightenment,[25] covers:

Volume 7: Fichte to Nietzsche

Originally published in 1963,[10] this volume, which has also borne the subtitle 18th and 19th Century German Philosophy,[26] covers:

Copleston also wrote separate works on two of the philosophers treated in this volume: Friedrich Nietzsche: Philosopher of Culture (1942), a work expanded in 1975, and Arthur Schopenhauer: Philosopher of Pessimism (1946). He was also interviewed by Bryan Magee on Schopenhauer for BBC Television in 1987.[27]

Volume 8: Bentham to Russell

Originally published in 1966,[10] this volume, which has also borne the subtitle Utilitarianism to Early Analytic Philosophy,[28] covers:

Volume 9: Maine de Biran to Sartre

Originally published in 1975,[10][29] this volume which has also borne the subtitle 19th and 20th Century French Philosophy[30] covers:

Volume 10: Russian Philosophy

Though (according to Gerard J. Hughes) a tenth volume of History on Russian philosophy had once been projected, Copleston's work in this area resulted in two books not part of that series: Philosophy in Russia (1986) and Russian Religious Philosophy (1988).[2] The former book (which the original publishers had claimed could "reasonably be regarded as a companion volume to the series”)[7] was added as Volume 10 by Continuum in 2003 (though it also continued to be sold under its original title to libraries as of 2019).[31] .

Volume 11: Logical Positivism and Existentialism

Included, from 2003, as Volume 11 in the Continuum edition, Logical Positivism and Existentialism is a collection of essays which (barring a first chapter rewritten for a 1972 republishing) had all been published in Copleston's Contemporary Philosophy (1956).[9][10] It covers Logical positivism and Existentialism.

Reception and legacy

Reviewing the first volume in 1947, George Boas remarked that: "None of [Copleston's Thomistic] interpretations will do much harm to the reader of this very scholarly book. Most of them are put in parentheses, as if they were inserted to warn the seminarists that they must not be taken in by the pagans. They could be removed, and a history of ancient philosophy ad usum infidelium[32] would result which would be head and shoulders above the usual histories. [...] He obviously knows the ancient literature well and, if he had not felt himself obliged to be a modern Eusebius, he had the knowledge to write a genuine history. On the other hand, he is too given to periodizing and generalizing. [...] One can have but the highest praise for Father Copleston's erudition; it is too bad that he could not have put it into writing a really original study of ancient philosophical ideas."

Regarding the objectivity of the work, Martin Gardner, echoing remarks he had made previously, noted: "The Jesuit priest Frederick Copleston wrote a marvelous multi-volume history of philosophy. I have no inkling of what he believed about any Catholic doctrine."[33][34]

Reviewing 1986's Philosophy in Russia (sold, from 2003, as of the tenth volume of the Continuum edition) Geoffrey A. Hosking noted that the author was "as fair to the atheist and socialist thinkers as he is to the religious ones, with whom, as a member of the Society of Jesus, he is presumably more in sympathy." And said that overall it was "a magisterially competent survey." But, he concluded: "I confess, though, to being slightly disappointed that Copleston's enormous experience did not generate a few more original insights, and in particular did not provoke him into examining the most important of all the practical questions that Russian philosophy poses."[8]

Writing in 2017, philosopher Christia Mercer credited the work as "a hugely ambitious and admirably clear study" but remarked that although the author includes "mystics like Master Eckhart (1260-1328) and prominent Jesuit scholastics like Francisco Suárez (1548–1617), he entirely ignores the richly philosophical spiritual writings of even the most prominent late medieval women, reducing the entirety of philosophy to a series of great men, each responding to the ones who went before."[35]

Philosopher and theologian Benedict M. Ashley compared A History of Philosophy to some of the most famous histories of philosophy as follows: "Some histories of philosophy, like the admirable one of Frederick Copleston, only attempt to give an accurate account of various philosophies in their general historical setting. Others, like Bertrand Russell in his absurd History of Western Philosophy or Etienne Gilson in his brilliant The Unity of Philosophical Experience proffer an argument for a particular philosophical position."[36]

The Washington Post: "Copleston's account of western philosophy has long been a standard reference, most familiar to students as a series of slender rack-sized paperbacks. Copleston writes with welcome clarity, but without the slight dumbing down of Will Durant's engaging Story of Philosophy or the biases of Bertrand Russell's provocative History of Western Philosophy. In other words, Copleston's volumes are still the place to start for anyone interested in following man's speculations about himself and his world."[37]

Gerard J. Hughes in The New Catholic Encyclopedia, described the work as "a model of clarity, objectivity, and scholarly accuracy, unsurpassed in its accessibility and balance."[11]

The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the Jesuits: "[A] monumental nine-volume [history][...] published between 1946 and 1974, for which [Copleston] would receive wide-spread acclaim. Described by The Times of London as “the best all-round history of philosophical thinking from the pre-Socratics to Sartre” (April 2, 1994), Copleston’s history became renowned for the erudition of its scholarship, the comprehensive scope of its content, and the relatively objective position from which it was written."[38]

The Review of Metaphysics: "(The) best known historian of philosophy in the English speaking world, and a man to whom many are indebted."[39]

Jon Cameron (University of Aberdeen): "To this day Copleston’s history remains a monumental achievement and stays true to the authors it discusses being very much a work in exposition."[40]

As of September 1979, The Washington Post reported that: "[Image/Doubleday's] best-selling multi-volume work, Frederick Copleston's "[A] History of Philosophy" (nine parts, 17 volumes) has collectively sold 1.6 million copies."[41]


  • Copleston, Frederick (2003). A History of Philosophy Vols 1-11. Great Britain: Continuum. ISBN 978-0826469489.
  • Copleston, Frederick (1962–1975). A History of Philosophy. New York, USA: Image Books (Doubleday).
  • Copleston, Frederick (2000–2004). Historia de la filosofía. Barcelona: Editorial Ariel. ISBN 978-84-344-8700-0.

See also


  1. "Frederick Charles Copleston | British priest". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2018-11-24.
  2. Hughes, Gerard J. (1995). "Copleston, Frederick Charles, 1907-1994" (PDF). 1994 lectures and memoirs. British Academy. Oxford: Published for the British Academy by Oxford University Press. pp. 279–280. ISBN 0197261620. OCLC 34544483.
  3. Haldane, John (2016-09-09). "Heythrop, Copleston, and the Jesuit Contribution to Philosophy" (PDF). Philosophy. 91 (4): 559–589. doi:10.1017/S0031819116000383. hdl:10023/9222. ISSN 0031-8191. Copleston’s nine volume History of Western Philosophy was a first and in many cases last work of reference for two or three generations of philosophers and philosophy students across the English-speaking world. It was viewed as reliable both because the author evidently knew a great deal about his subjects and because his method was one of impartial presentation, not favouring or disfavouring figures or ideas because he was either keen or hostile towards them. Readers of Copleston were not only absorbing information about philosophers and their ideas but acquiring a conception of how the history of philosophy should be done.
  4. Copleston, Frederick (2003-06-01). "Preface". History of Philosophy Volume 1: Greece and Rome. A&C Black. pp. v. ISBN 9780826468956.
  5. Bloomsbury.com. "History of Philosophy Volume 10". Bloomsbury Publishing. Retrieved 2018-11-25.
  6. Bloomsbury.com. "History of Philosophy Volume 11". Bloomsbury Publishing. Retrieved 2018-11-25.
  7. Copleston, Frederick Charles (1986). Philosophy in Russia : from Herzen to Lenin and Berdyaev. Internet Archive. Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England : Search Press ; Notre Dame, Ind., USA : University of Notre Dame.
  8. Hosking, Geoffrey A. (1987-03-01). "Philosophy in Russia: From Herzen to Lenin and Berdyaev by Frederick C. Copleston SJ (Search/University of Notre Dame: $29.95; 445 pp.)". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2018-11-24.
  9. Copleston, Frederick Charles (2003-01-01). Logical Positivism and Existentialism. A&C Black. pp. vii. ISBN 9780826469052.
  10. "Frederick C. Copleston: An 80th Birthday Bibliography". The Heythrop Journal. 28 (4): 418–438. 1987. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2265.1987.tb00104.x. ISSN 0018-1196.
  11. Hughes, G. J. (2003). "Copleston, Frederick C." New Catholic Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2018-11-24 via encyclopedia.com.
  12. "Istoria filosofiei Vol 2 Filosofia medievala - Frederick Copleston". www.all.ro (in Romanian). Archived from the original on 2018-11-24. Retrieved 2018-11-24.
  13. Storia della filosofia. Vol VII - Frederick Copleston - Claudiana - Libro Claudiana editrice (in Italian). ISBN 9788839401175.
  14. PlanetadeLibros, ©. "Frederick Copleston | Planeta de Libros". PlanetadeLibros (in Spanish). Retrieved 2018-11-24.
  15. Copleston, Frederick Charles (1962). A History of Philosophy: Volume I, Greece & Rome Part I. Internet Archive. Garden City, N.Y., Image Books. p. 8.
  16. Copleston, Frederick Charles (1962). A History of Philosophy: Volume I, Greece & Rome Part II. Internet Archive. Garden City, N.Y.,: Image Books. p. 6.
  17. Copleston, Frederick (2003-06-12). History of Philosophy Volume 2: Medieval Philosophy. A&C Black. ISBN 9780826468963.
  18. S.J, Frederick C. Copleston (1990-01-30). "Foreword". A History of Medieval Philosophy. University of Notre Dame Pess. ISBN 9780268161057.
  19. McNamara, Brian (1976). "Review of A History of Medieval Philosophy". Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review. 65 (259): 265–266. ISSN 0039-3495. JSTOR 30089981.
  20. Veatch, Henry (1957). "Review of Aquinas". Speculum. 32 (1): 152–154. doi:10.2307/2849260. ISSN 0038-7134. JSTOR 2849260.
  21. Corbishley, T. (1957). "Review of Aquinas". Philosophy. 32 (120): 86–87. doi:10.1017/S0031819100029247. ISSN 0031-8191. JSTOR 3748547.
  22. Copleston, Frederick (2003-01-01). Late Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy. A&C Black. ISBN 9780826468970.
  23. Bloomsbury.com. "History of Philosophy Volume 4". Bloomsbury Publishing. Retrieved 2019-09-22.
  24. Copleston, Frederick (2003-01-01). British Philosophy: Hobbes to Hume. A&C Black. ISBN 9780826468994.
  25. Copleston, Frederick Charles (2003-01-01). The Enlightenment: Voltaire to Kant. A&C Black. ISBN 9780826469007.
  26. Copleston, Frederick Charles (2003-01-01). 18th and 19th Century German Philosophy. A&C Black. ISBN 9780826469014.
  27. Bryan Magee Talks to Fredrick Copleston About Schopenhauer, retrieved 2019-09-22, The Great Philosophers BBC 1987, (on YouTube)
  28. Copleston, Frederick Charles (2003-01-01). Utilitarianism to Early Analytic Philosophy. Continuum. ISBN 9780826469021.
  29. Warnock, Mary (1976). "Review of A History of Philosophy, Volume IX: Maine de Biran to Sartre. (A History of Philosophy, vol. IX.)". The Journal of Theological Studies. 27 (1): 266–267. ISSN 0022-5185. JSTOR 23957523.
  30. Copleston, Frederick Charles (2003-01-01). 19th and 20th Century French Philosophy. A&C Black. ISBN 9780826469038.
  31. Bloomsbury.com. "Philosophy in Russia". Bloomsbury Publishing. Retrieved 2019-09-19.
    • for the use of the unbelievers
  32. GARDNER, MARTIN (2000-08-06). "True Confessions". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 2019-09-24. Retrieved 2019-09-24.
  33. Gardener, Martin (1998-04-12). "Sincerely Yours". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 2019-09-24. Retrieved 2019-09-24. Father Frederick Copleston was the Jesuit author of a splendid multi-volume history of philosophy [...] When he died in 1994, no one had the slightest notion of what he believed about any major dogma of his faith.
  34. Mercer, Christia. "Opinion | Descartes Is Not Our Father". The New York Times. Retrieved 2018-11-24.
  35. Ashley, Benedict M. (2003). "The Four Ages of Understanding: The First Postmodern Survey of Philosophy from Ancient Times to the Tum of the Twenty-First Century by John Deely (review)". The Thomist: A Speculative Quarterly Review. 67 (1): 133–137. doi:10.1353/tho.2003.0041. ISSN 2473-3725.
  36. "New in Paperback". The Washington Post. 1993-04-11. Archived from the original on 2018-11-25.
  37. SJ, Armstrong, Megan and Corkery, James , SJ, and Fleming, Alison and Worcester, Thomas SJ Prieto, Andrés Ignacio Shea, Henry. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the Jesuits. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781108508506.
  38. "Frederick C. Copleston, S.J. (1907-1994). - Free Online Library". www.thefreelibrary.com. Retrieved 2018-11-24.
  39. "Frederick Charles Copleston". The Gifford Lectures. Retrieved 2018-11-24.
  40. "HYPE, HYPE, HOORAY!". Washington Post. 1979-09-16. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2018-11-24.
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.