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This book has been designed to make as clear as possible the principal theoretical ideas of more than one hundred great thinkers of the Western world- thinkers from philosophy, theology, the physical sciences, the social sciences, psychology, and religion.

The descriptive and explanatory ideas generated by these creative thinkers have profoundly affected the character and course of world history and have definitively influenced the Western perspective, mind, and spirit. The ideas may not all be true--certainly many of them are inadequate, if not false or misleading--but they have all been influential, and they have all contributed to the building of the modern mind.

However, the concentration on Western thinkers is not intended to suggest that the thinking of the Eastern world--particularly the contributions of China, India, and Japan--is not also of profound importance because of its distinctively creative contributions to philosophical, scientific, and ethical thought. But the editorial decision was made to concentrate on the Western thinkers in this book, partly because we were not sure we could competently do both East and West in a single volume and partly because we think that for Western readers it is especially helpful if we first of all understand and appreciate the Western ways of thinking. Unless we know what the great thinkers of the West, with their reliance on experience, reason, and logic, have produced, we are hardly in a position to grasp and appraise ways of thought that involve for their understanding an appreciation of Oriental cultures and the recognition of ways of understanding-- intuitive, paradoxical, and aesthetic--that are in many respects dif ferent, at least in emphasis and the manner of their employment, from our own.

No one can be knowledgeable in every field or even, to any significant degree of thoroughness, in any one. But we would all like to grasp as a matter of general knowledge the fundamental theories-- explanatory or descriptive ideas-that have advanced human understanding and the appreciation of the human condition and its creative possibilities. By drawing upon scholars from the various areas in which the great thinkers have exercised their genius and by making the effort to explain the major lines of thought without being superficial or pedantic, we have worked to provide a substantial guide for the general reader.

The articles are arranged chronologically, from Parmenides to Albert Camus, so that readers who choose to browse through the book can to some degree recognize and appreciate the development of ideas from the early Greeks through the first half of the twentieth century. The book also provides an alphabetical index of thinkers, making it a ready reference to the ideas of thinkers about whom the reader is especially inquisitive at any given time.

Great Thinkers of the Western World, then, is a guide and, for some readers, an introduction to the great ideas and works that the most creative and influential thinkers of the Western world have produced. Our book cannot make anyone an expert in any of the fields the book covers, but it can, we hope, provide a foothold on--or a mind-gasp of-- the illuminating theories and perspectives that have shaped the modern mind and left their traces in the history of human accomplishments.

In closing, I want to thank my fellow contributors not only for their enthusiasm, cooperation, and careful work but also for their invaluable suggestions during the early phases of the project when we had to decide which thinkers to include and which to leave out. We have tried to include the most original, creative, and influential thinkers, of course, but we have also recognized the importance of representing the diversity of significant Western thought, even though the result may be that some thinkers that deserve to be regarded as great have been left out, while others that might not be universally regarded as "great" have been included.

As usual, Jean H. Faurot, Professor of Philosophy Emeritus, my colleague in the Department of Philosophy at California State University, Sacramento, has been an informed and conscientious adviser to me, and his suggestions have certainly influenced the book for the better. My only regret is that ill health prevented him from joining our staff of contributors; his articles surely would have been like the many others he has written--scholarly, lively, and perceptive.

I appreciate also the very helpful suggestions given me by Professor Gene Barnes of the Department of Physics, California State University, Sacramento; he was particularly resourceful in commenting on and adding to the list of scientific thinkers to be included.
COPYRIGHT 1999 COPYRIGHT 1992 Ian P. McGreal
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Author:McGreal, Ian P.
Publication:Great Thinkers of the Western World
Article Type:Biography
Date:Jan 1, 1999
Previous Article:Albert Camus.
Next Article:PARMENIDES.

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