Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Four Philosophy Textbooks by Popkin and Stroll

UCSD founding Philosophy Professors Avrum Stroll (1963-present; currently Emeritus Professor) and Richard Popkin (1963-1973) co-authored four important and widely used undergraduate textbooks.

The first was Philosophy Made Simple (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1956). It is still in print: Three Rivers Press; 2 Rev Sub edition (July 1, 1993); and available as a Random House electronic book. This was a monographic survey of the field, divided into seven sections: (I) Ethics; (II) Political Philosophy; (III) Metaphysics; (IV) Philosophy of Religion; (V) The Theory of Knowledge; (VI) Logic; (VII) Contemporary Philosophy. It happens to be a book that I have owned since childhood, and my mother read it about five years ago when I rediscovered it in our library after I had taken a job at UCSD and realized that its authors had developed it as a textbook for the department in which I would be working. She enjoyed it. Even if it is a bit outdated, it remains a classic synthetic survey of the field, a model of concision, and it continues to serve this purpose in the age of electronic books. In this way it resembles the picture of the ruined Parthenon on its cover.

The second was Introduction to Philosophy (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1961). It covers the same topics in greater depth and length, in a different order: (1) The theory of knowledge; (2) Metaphysics; (3) Political philosophy; (4) Ethics; (5) Philosophy of religion; (6) Contemporary philosophy. The logic section from Philosophy Made Simple has been dropped. The contemporary philosophy section of ends with J. L. Austin.

The political philosophy section of Introduction to Philosophy ends with two sections devoted to Marcuse: "Political Philosophy of Herbert Marcuse" (pp. 233-235) and "Criticism of Marcuse" (pp. 256-237). It is very interesting to think that these two UCSD Philosophers collaborated on a summary and criticism of the political philosophy of a third UCSD Philosopher, and put this as the finale of their introduction to political philosophy. I wonder to what extent the criticisms of Marcuse by his UCSD colleagues has been taken into account by Marcuse scholars. Andrew Feenberg or Douglas Kelner would be the right people to ask.

Introduction to Philosophy was later substantially revised and expanded (1972), and an accompanying sourcebook was developed and published. This was the third textbook on which Stroll and Popkin collaborated: an anthology of primary source translations entitled Introductory Readings in Philosophy (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1972). This work is stated to be a companion to the second edition of the Introduction to Philosophy, and divides into five sections corresponding to the five sections of that book: (I) Theory of Knowledge; (II) Metaphysics; (III) Political Philosophy; (IV) Ethics; and (V) Philosophy of Religion. Each section of the anthology contains English translations of about five classic excerpts, usually beginning with Plato or Aristotle, except the philosophy of religion section, which begins with Anselm. Descartes, Hobbes, Hume, and Spinoza are prevalent. For theory of knowledge and metaphysics, Hume and Kant. The section on ethics ends with A. J. Ayer; on political philosophy with Marcuse. Marcuse's most famous essay Repressive Tolerance (1965) is reprinted entirely.

These textbooks clearly provide insight into the lower-division undergraduate curriculum of UCSD philosophy in the early years, from 1963 for at least the next decade. They also show that there was a vibrant interaction of the faculty, collaborating and criticizing one another. Hopefully we are still living up to creating this kind of philosophy department.

The fourth book, published twenty years ofter the first edition of Introduction to Philosophy, was Skeptical Philosophy for Everyone (Prometheus Books, 2002). The book ends with an exchange of letters between Popkin the major scholar of skepticism and Stroll a major critic of skepticism. It is very interesting to see that they developed a method of teaching philosophy increasingly centered on skepticism in the course of their long, experimental, and highly influential collaboration.


Popkin, R. & A. Stroll, Philosophy Made Simple (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1956).
_Introduction to Philosophy (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1961).
_Introductory Readings in Philosophy (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1972).
_Skeptical Philosophy for Everyone (Prometheus Books, 2002).

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