Frederick Copleston, S.J. (April 10, 1907 - February 3, 1994) was a Jesuit scholar who wrote the highly respected 9 volume History of Philosophy. Born and raised in England as an Anglican, Copleston converted to Catholicism shortly after he turned 18 years of age.
In 1930, Copleston became a Jesuit and was ordained a Jesuit priest while at Heythrop College in 1937. After a brief stay in Europe, Fr. Copleston returned just prior to the outbreak of war to teach the history of philosophy at Heythrop.
It was while at Heythrop that Fr. Copleston began work on his massive History of Philosophy, intended as a textbook for Jesuit students and only completed in 1975. Along the way, he also wrote works on Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, and St. Aquinas, but it is for his History that Copleston is mostly remembered and esteemed, not only among Catholic students and scholars, but students adhering to other religions as well as secular students of philosophy.
In 1987, Copleston was featured on a television program with Bryan Magee discussing the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer.
History of Philosophy
Copleston's magnum opus is his History of Philosophy (actually a history of western philosophy mainly) in 9 volumes, published between 1946 and 1975. Written in order to supply Catholic ecclesiastical seminary students with a complete history of philosophy "somewhat more detailed and of wider scope" than the text books then in usage, this work has become the gold standard of histories of philosophy.
Written unashamedly from the Thomist (the reference is to St. Thomas Aquinas) point of view, Copletston remarks in the Preface to Volume I: "To mention a 'point of view' at all, when treating of the history of philosophy, may occasion a certain lifting of the eyebrows; but no true historian can write without some point of view, some standpoint, if for no other reason than he must have a principle of selection, guiding his intelligent choice and arrangement of fact."
The work has gained critical acclaim not from Catholic and religious readers but also from secular critics for its scholarly and objective presentation of the views of all the important philosophers and philosophical viewpoints throughout history. Here follows a summary of the contents:
- Volume I Greece and Rome (Pre-Socratic philosophy, the Socratic period, Plato, Aristotle, post-Aristotelian philosophy)
- Volume II Medieval Philosophy (Patristic period, Augustine, John Scotus Eriugena (Duns Scotus), Anselm, Bonaventure, Aquinas, )
- Volume III Late Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy (Ockham, speculative mystics, revival of Platonism, Scholasticism of the Renaissance)
- Volume IV Modern Philosophy (Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz)
- Volume V Modern Philosophy: the British Philosophers (Hobbes, Locke, Berkeley, Hume)
- Volume VI Modern Philosophy (French Enlightenment to Kant)
- Volume VII Modern Philosophy (Post-Kantian idealists, Johann Fichte, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Marx, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche)
- Volume VIII Modern Philosophy (Empiricism, Idealism, and Pragmatism in Britain and America)
- Volume IX Modern Philosophy (From the French Revolution to Sartre, Camus, and Levi-Strauss)
Selected writings of Frederick Copleston
- Nietzsche (1942)
- Schopenhauer (1946)
- History of Philosophy (1946-1975)
- Aquinas (1955)
- A History of Medieval Philosophy (1972)
- Religion and Philosophy (1974)
- Philosophers and Philosophies (1976)
- On the History of Philosophy (1979)
- Philosophers and Culture (1980)
- Religion and the One (1982)
- Philosophy in Russia (1986)