The Great Ideas of Philosophy, 2nd Edition

Rated 5 out of 5 by from The beginning of your intellectual quest I’ve been listening to the Great Courses for 15 years now. And it all began with this course taught by Prof Daniel Robinson. I had an email correspondence with him years ago, and I have to say, to this day, he’s still the most pleasant person I’ve ever virtually chatted with via email. As for the course itself, it’s still my favorite course of all time. Mind you, this was before the Great Courses went all teleprompter style, so the course doesn’t sound scripted or stilted. Add that with Dr. Robinson’s engaging and pleasant style, this courses makes for a very conversational and entertaining immersion into the Great Ideas of Western Civilization. To sum up Dr. Robinson as an intellectual — he was a brain. A brilliant man. It saddened me when I heard he had passed away, as the world lost a great contributor to the great ideas of humankind. I still recall those days, 15 years ago, as a senior in high school, driving to work and listening to this course enthralled at what I was learning. Even today, the Great Ideas of Philosophy is a course I’ll randomly pop on and listen to over and over. RIP Dr. Robinson and thank you for starting my intellectual journey.
Date published: 2020-11-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Tough course, graduate vocabulary, buy it anyway You have to pay close attention to the lectures, have the guide book handy, and be prepared for a graduate level vocabulary. I am not sure if the professor intended this as an introduction for the novice on the subject (me) or a survey of 3000 years of philosophy for the already initiated. The Prof. definitely uses a graduate level vocabulary. And for the novice; you will probably be looking up a lot of terms in a dictionary or on the internet. My 4-star rating is based on the fact the presentation is not as clear as it could be. I've purchased many TGC offerings. Some Profs. are just better at explaining things than others. Professor Robinson, in my opinion, is just not as good at his explanations than some other Profs. But that critique is a function of your previous knowledge of the subject. As a novice you may find yourself repeating lectures and accessing other sources to get a good understanding of any particular philosopher or philosophy. Three-thousand years in about 30 hours is always a daunting task. However, if you want a broad introduction to an immense field of study it will give it to you. If you are a novice in the subject it is worth taking. Just be prepared for a tough slog through some complicated arguments.
Date published: 2020-10-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great professor! I know nothing about philosophy. But figured that in the time of Covid, it might be a good idea. The professor is a brilliant mixture of information insight, and humor, which is perfect for this type of course. Well done.
Date published: 2020-09-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A brilliant and insightful course For me, this course alone justifies the whole enterprise of The Great Courses. Professor Robinson is a very insightful, eloquent and knowledgeable teacher. The courses are rich with the kind of anecdotes and side stories the really give the the big picture of, not just the Great Ideas, but the context of the person and cultures from which they sprouted. I had a minor in philosophy, so some background. But, this course added such depth to that knowledge. I really cant recommend it enough. The professor has a background in psychology, history and philosophy. He treats his subjects with both with and reverence and manages to reveals the insight and beauty inherent in the ideas that shaped history. I have only had the audio version and did not feel that I had missed anything. If you only ever buy one course from the Great Courses (and I have had over 50) this would be the one.
Date published: 2020-08-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great teacher Very well done, The professor is erudite, articulate and thoroughly knows his subject matter. His enthusiasm for the curriculum makes for a very enjoyable experience and leads one to want to learn more about philosophy. Much different experience then the one i had at school, wish he would have been my professor back then.
Date published: 2020-05-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The intro I wish had I have seen the description for Daniel Robinson's The Great Ideas of Philosophy, 2nd Edition, nearly since it came out in 2004. I have long hesitated because my introduction to philosophy in the 1983-1984 school year was something short of incompetent. My first impression from the first 12 lectures: This is the introduction that I wish my undergraduate education had included. Professor Robinson obviously loves his subject and has honed his lectures over a 30+ year career. I have probably found another course that deserves extensive followup reading. One small quirk (that does not interfere with his lectures): he rarely looks at the camera. The course does remind me of one of the limitations of the video class format: it is not possible to ask a question.
Date published: 2020-05-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another favorite! So full of insightful and educational information that I will be watching it for a third time and possibly again after that. I have taken notes like almost all the other courses that have taught me so much about the world and life. The quotes I have from this Professor, I continually refer to over the years as valuable tools that inspire me to think for myself AND also to remember that I am human and should be thoughtful and careful - not only for my own sake, but for others as well... "The Philosopher doesn't enter the arena of philosophy as one devoid of belief, values, hopes and aspiration - No - all of that is in place for it goes with the territory. But, there are those rare moments when we say this... No matter how much this means to me, no matter how centered my being is on this pattern of beliefs - no matter how close I am personally and emotionally and even romantically to those who hold such convictions, I must reserve the right to question and to doubt. I will retain this skeptical bias as an obligation owed to my own rationality, my own integrity. I am prepared to follow the golden cord leading me out of the labyrinth, no matter how many twists and turns there are. Because once I let go of that my intellectual life is not my own." AND... "So we are always quite confident in our science, in our religion, and in our philosophy... When your confidence has reached a really high level in these regards, particularly everything that can be learned experimentally, by reason, by direct observation, by analytical, by linguistic analysis, by consultation with cultural historians and anthropologist, so that you are absolutely certain that you've got the thing nailed down. Then what I would urge as a therapy, is to move in front of a mirror and say... I may be wrong... I may be gravely wrong.... I may be hopelessly, irretrievably wrong... And in that... you may very well be right." This is but a minute sampling of the insightful and thoughtful lessons contained in this course by a Professor who is most assuredly a philosopher in his own right. Who at the very end, the very last of this series astounded me with a view point in which I could not agree, nor ever shall, though many years ago he might have tempted me to believe. Yet, the education contained here I would not trade for anything and will watch again and again.
Date published: 2020-04-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Ideas of Philosophy Ever since I bought it I have not been able to stop listening to the lectures. These lectures are very challenging and provoke a new manner of viewing every day life in a different light. I highly recommend this course.
Date published: 2020-04-07
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The Great Ideas of Philosophy, 2nd Edition
Course Trailer
From the Upanishads to Homer
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....

31 min
Philosophy-Did the Greeks Invent It?
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?...

31 min
Pythagoras and the Divinity of Number
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?...

30 min
What Is There?
4: What Is There?

How many kinds of stuff make up the cosmos? Might everything, in fact, be reducible to one kind of thing?...

31 min
The Greek Tragedians on Man's Fate
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....

29 min
Herodotus and the Lamp of History
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....

30 min
Socrates on the Examined Life
7: Socrates on the Examined Life

Rhetoric wins arguments, but it is philosophy that shows us the way to our humanity....

31 min
Plato's Search For Truth
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....

31 min
Can Virtue Be Taught?
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....

31 min
Plato's Republic-Man Writ Large
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....

31 min
Hippocrates and the Science of Life
11: Hippocrates and the Science of Life

Hippocratic medicine did much to demystify the human condition and the natural factors that affect it....

29 min
Aristotle on the Knowable
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?...

31 min
Aristotle on Friendship
13: Aristotle on Friendship

If true friendship is possible only between equals, how equal must they be-and with respect to what?...

30 min
Aristotle on the Perfect Life
14: Aristotle on the Perfect Life

What sort of life is right for humankind, and what is it about us that makes this so?...

31 min
Rome, the Stoics, and the Rule of Law
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....

31 min
The Stoic Bridge to Christianity
16: The Stoic Bridge to Christianity

The Jewish Christians, Hellenized or Orthodox, defended a monotheistic source of law....

29 min
Roman Law-Making a City of the Once-Wide World
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....

29 min
The Light Within-Augustine on Human Nature
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....

30 min
19: Islam

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"?...

31 min
Secular Knowledge-The Idea of University
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....

31 min
The Reappearance of Experimental Science
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....

30 min
Scholasticism and the Theory of Natural Law
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....

30 min
The Renaissance-Was There One?
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....

30 min
Let Us Burn the Witches to Save Them
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....

31 min
Francis Bacon and the Authority of Experience
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....

30 min
Descartes and the Authority of Reason
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....

30 min
Newton-The Saint of Science
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....

30 min
Hobbes and the Social Machine
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....

30 min
Locke's Newtonian Science of the Mind
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?...

30 min
No matter? The Challenge of Materialism
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....

30 min
Hume and the Pursuit of Happiness
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....

31 min
Thomas Reid and the Scottish School
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....

30 min
France and the Philosophes
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....

31 min
The Federalist Papers and the Great Experiment
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....

30 min
What Is Enlightenment? Kant on Freedom
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....

30 min
Moral Science and the Natural World
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)....

30 min
Phrenology-A Science of the Mind
37: Phrenology-A Science of the Mind

In founding the now-discredited theory of phrenology, Franz Gall nevertheless helped define today's brain sciences....

31 min
The Idea of Freedom
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....

31 min
The Hegelians and History
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....

31 min
The Aesthetic Movement-Genius
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....

30 min
Nietzsche at the Twilight
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....

29 min
The Liberal Tradition-J. S. Mill
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....

30 min
Darwin and Nature's "Purposes"
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....

30 min
Marxism-Dead But Not Forgotten
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....

31 min
The Freudian World
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....

31 min
The Radical William James
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....

30 min
William James's Pragmatism
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....

30 min
Wittgenstein and the Discursive Turn
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....

29 min
Alan Turing in the Forest of Wisdom
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....

31 min
Four Theories of the Good Life
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....

32 min
Ontology-What There "Really" Is
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....

28 min
Philosophy of Science-The Last Word?
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....

30 min
Philosophy of Psychology and Related Confusions
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....

31 min
Philosophy of Mind, If There Is One
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....

29 min
What makes a Problem "Moral"
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....

29 min
Medicine and the Value of Life
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?...

30 min
On the Nature of Law
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....

30 min
Justice and Just Wars
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....

30 min
Aesthetics-Beauty Without Observers
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?...

30 min
60: God-Really?

We consider various theological arguments for and against belief in God, including those of Thomas Aquinas, Thomas Reid, and William James....

30 min
Daniel N. Robinson

Developments in philosophy are chiefly in the form of greater clarity, an ever more refined sense of just what makes the problem problematic. If ignorance is not thereby totally overcome, at least it is exposed.


City University of New York


Philosophy Faculty, Oxford University; Distinguished Professor, Emeritus, Georgetown University

About Daniel N. Robinson

Dr. Daniel N. Robinson (1937–2018) was a member of the philosophy faculty at Oxford University, where he lectured annually since 1991. He was 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 PhD in Neuropsychology from City University of New York. He was president of two divisions of the American Psychological Association: the Division of History of Psychology, from which he received the Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Division of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology, from which he received the Distinguished Contribution Award.

Professor Robinson was the author or editor of more than 40 books, including Wild Beasts & Idle Humours: The Insanity Defense from Antiquity to the Present, An Intellectual History of Psychology, The Mind: An Oxford Reader, and Aristotle's Psychology. He was the editor of the Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology. He also published widely on the constitutional history of the US and its philosophical foundations, with original research appearing in the International Journal of Constitutional Law and The American Journal of Jurisprudence. He was coeditor of The American Founding: Its Intellectual and Moral Framework (London: Continuum, 2012).

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