Form and Content

In this mammoth task of presenting the main figures of philosophy from the Western tradition, as well as two from China, John J. Loeper devotes a chapter to each of the chosen individuals in turn. With only 115 pages of text, Loeper condenses a remarkable amount of information into Men of Ideas. He is not content merely to present the main ideas of the philosophers, as he also provides their life stories, impressions of the times in which they lived, and clues to their personalities and styles. Each chapter ends with some of the more famous quotes from the subject in question and is illustrated with a line drawing.

In three short pages on Socrates, for example, Men of Ideas mentions that he was born in Athens of poor parents, had a short army career, and then turned to teaching. Schools then were informal discursive affairs taking place in different houses or in the open air. Loeper describes the Socratic method of teaching, in which the teacher asks questions of the students and then guides them along certain pathways with critical answers and further questions. Loeper explains Socrates’ statements and ideas, summarized in “know thyself.” Socrates thought that an intelligent man should be infused with the spirit of inquiry because knowledge is happiness and ignorance is evil. His insistence on believing in one God angered the authorities, however, and they eventually forced his suicide, to the dismay of his students. Four quotes...

(The entire section is 530 words.)