A Little History of Philosophy
Goodreads ratings
4.12 / 5

"A Little History of Philosophy" Summary

By Nigel Warburton

philosophy | 252 pages | Published in 2011

Philosophy begins with questions about the nature of reality and how we should live. These were the concerns of Socrates, who spent his days in the ancient Athenian marketplace asking awkward questions, disconcerting the people he met by showing them how little they genuinely understood. This engaging book introduces the great thinkers in Western philosophy and explores their most compelling ideas about the world and how best to live in it.In forty brief chapters, Nigel Warburton guides us on a chronological tour of the major ideas in the history of philosophy. He provides interesting and often quirky stories of the lives and deaths of thought-provoking philosophers from Socrates, who chose to die by hemlock poisoning rather than live on without the freedom to think for himself, to Peter Singer, who asks the disquieting philosophical and ethical questions that haunt our own times.Warburton not only makes philosophy accessible, he offers inspiration to think, argue, reason, and ask in the tradition of Socrates. A Little History of Philosophy presents the grand sweep of humanity's search for philosophical understanding and invites all to join in the discussion.


Estimated read time: 4 min read

One Sentence Summary

A concise and accessible overview of the major ideas and thinkers in the history of philosophy.


"A Little History of Philosophy" by Nigel Warburton is a compact and accessible introduction to the world of philosophy. The book takes readers on a journey through the evolution of philosophical thought, from the ancient Greeks to the present day. Warburton's engaging narrative style makes complex ideas easy to understand, making this book an excellent starting point for anyone interested in exploring the fundamental questions of existence, knowledge, and ethics.

Brief Synopsis

Plot Overview and Setting

The book is divided into forty short chapters, each focusing on a different philosopher or philosophical movement. Warburton skillfully weaves together biographical details, key ideas, and historical context to create a compelling narrative that brings the world of philosophy to life. From Socrates and Plato to Descartes, Kant, and beyond, "A Little History of Philosophy" offers a panoramic view of the major figures and ideas that have shaped the way we think about the world.

Main Characters

SocratesInfluential Greek philosopher known for his contributions to the field of ethics.
PlatoStudent of Socrates and the founder of the Academy in Athens.
René DescartesFrench philosopher, mathematician, and scientist known for "Cogito, ergo sum."
Immanuel KantGerman philosopher whose work profoundly impacted epistemology and ethics.

Chapter Summary

Chapter 1: The Beginning

The book opens with the ancient Greeks and their pioneering approach to philosophy. It introduces readers to the ideas of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, laying the foundation for Western philosophical thought.

Chapter 10: The Rise of Modern Science

Warburton explores the intersection of philosophy and science, particularly during the Enlightenment period. The chapter delves into the contributions of thinkers such as Galileo, Newton, and Descartes.

Chapter 20: The Idealists

This chapter introduces the philosophical movement of Idealism, focusing on key figures like George Berkeley and Immanuel Kant. It examines the nature of reality and the relationship between the mind and the external world.

Chapter 30: Existentialism

The book delves into the existentialist movement, highlighting the works of thinkers like Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Sartre. It discusses themes of individual freedom, authenticity, and the search for meaning in a seemingly indifferent universe.

Main Events

The book covers a wide range of philosophical developments, including the emergence of rationalism and empiricism, the impact of the scientific revolution, the rise of existentialism, and the ongoing debates in ethics and political philosophy. Each chapter presents a concise yet comprehensive overview of the key events and ideas that shaped the course of philosophical history.

Themes and Insights

Warburton skillfully uncovers the recurring themes that have preoccupied philosophers throughout the ages. Themes such as the nature of reality, the existence of God, the foundations of knowledge, the nature of the self, and the principles of morality are explored in a way that encourages readers to engage with these timeless questions.

Reader's Takeaway

"A Little History of Philosophy" offers readers a captivating journey through the evolution of human thought. By presenting complex ideas in an accessible and engaging manner, Warburton invites readers to ponder the fundamental questions that have inspired philosophers for centuries. The book serves as an excellent entry point for those seeking to explore the rich tapestry of philosophical thinking and its profound impact on human civilization.


In conclusion, "A Little History of Philosophy" is a compelling and illuminating exploration of the major figures, movements, and ideas in the history of philosophy. Nigel Warburton's skillful storytelling and clear explanations make this book an invaluable resource for anyone curious about the origins of philosophical thought and its enduring relevance in today's world. Whether you're a newcomer to philosophy or a seasoned enthusiast, this book offers an engaging and enlightening overview of the quest for wisdom that has shaped human intellectual history.

A Little History of Philosophy FAQ

  1. What is 'A Little History of Philosophy' about?

    A Little History of Philosophy provides an accessible and engaging introduction to the major philosophical ideas and thinkers throughout history. It covers a wide range of topics such as ethics, metaphysics, and political philosophy.

  2. Who is the author of 'A Little History of Philosophy'?

    The author of 'A Little History of Philosophy' is Nigel Warburton, who is a renowned philosopher and writer known for making complex philosophical ideas understandable to a general audience.

  3. What makes 'A Little History of Philosophy' different from other philosophy books?

    A Little History of Philosophy stands out for its concise and accessible approach to presenting the history of philosophy. It is written in a conversational style, making it a great starting point for those new to philosophy.

  4. Is 'A Little History of Philosophy' suitable for beginners in philosophy?

    'A Little History of Philosophy' is highly suitable for beginners in philosophy. It provides a foundational understanding of key philosophical concepts and thinkers without overwhelming the reader with technical jargon.

  5. Does 'A Little History of Philosophy' cover modern philosophical ideas?

    Yes, 'A Little History of Philosophy' covers modern philosophical ideas and thinkers, offering insights into contemporary philosophical thought alongside historical perspectives.