A C Grayling has carved out a niche not only as a lucid and accessible interpreter of philosophy for the general reader but also as a passionate advocate for the role that it can and should play in our lives. Above all, he has argued (in The Good Book, The God Argument and The Age of Genius) that philosophy offers an antidote to religion, which he sees as befuddling the wits and rendering us vulnerable to manipulation by the malign. Fans see him as a defender of rationality in an age of intellectual confusion; critics accuse him of an obsessive animus against religion and of buying too readily into an outmoded mythology of the Enlightenment. I doubt anyone has ever charged him, however, with fence-sitting, dullness or excessive diffidence. The History of Philosophy, with its echo of Hegel’s Lectures on the History of Philosophy, joins a roster of similarly boldly titled books on similarly bold themes.
Despite the title’s imperious definite article, Grayling is well aware that the world’s philosophies could never be shaped into a single, definitive historical narrative: ‘Philosophy’s history … is a retrospective construct. It is chosen from the wider stream of the history of ideas in order to provide today’s