Learning German for Philosophy? A Deutsch Bertrand Russell's History?
June 19, 2017 6:55 AM   Subscribe

Betrand Russell's "A History of Western Philosophy" is not a great book, but it is a bit of a classic introduction to western philosophy for the English speaking student. Is there a German Language equivalent text? i.e. a particularly canonical history of philosophy in german that most students in Germany have read?

I am learning German specifically for reading philosophy and thought that some such "Einfürung der Geschichte der Philosophie" would be a useful for a number of reasons.
1. Practice - I need to start reading German texts more
2. Vocabulary - I need to familiarise myself with the usual german equivalent terms to key philosophical concepts and this seems like a good way to do that.
posted by mary8nne to Education (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I am not aware of such a book but I am not a Philosophy major. Starting to read philosophy in a new language is a very challenging task!

This being said, Nietzsche may be a good start.

1. Very difficult to translate his ideas in my opinion.
2. Often you need to have a solid understanding of philosophy to understand what he is talking about or why he is criticizing somebody.
3. Language. May be one of the highest level of language achieved in German. Often, it is not language, but closer to "music".
posted by yoyo_nyc at 9:16 AM on June 19

Karl Jaspers' Die großen Philosophen, maybe?
posted by phrontist at 9:23 AM on June 19 [1 favorite]

This may be the first and only question I am really qualified to answer on here, given that I am both German and finishing my MA in Philosophy.

Unfortunately, almost all books of the "Einführung in die Philosophie" type are really horrible. I am of the mind that they do more harm then good, for they teach some pretty horrible distortions, especially when it comes to certain philosophers, such as Plato.

There is also no standard book all German philosophy students must read. Every department here is very different, but students are mostly asked to read a major philosophical text in their first semester without any secondary or introductory literature.

That being said, there are two types of works I can recommend. One is the Kleines Werklexikon der Philosophie, which a few professors have recommended to me over the years. Something else I can recommend is good introductory books to certain philosophers, of which there are a few. If you'd like I'd be happy to give some more specific recommendations.

A part from introductory works, I find books by Günther Anders to be very enjoyable to read. As far as I can tell they are also written in fairly plain German, given that Anders worked as a journalist for a time, after finishing his PhD with Husserl. I would especially recommend "Die Antiquiertheit des Menschen II". Hans Blumenberg's book "Schiffbruch mit Zuschauer" is also very amusing, as it recounts, amongst other things, famous philosophers' encounters with the sea. Last and probably least, Markus Gabriel's book "Warum es die Welt nicht gibt" was wildly popular, by philosophy book standards, when it came out in Germany two or so years ago. The book is written for a non-academic audience, whilst still trying to lay out the basic arguments of Gabriel's philosophy. Gabriel is the youngest ever professor of Philosophy in Germany and something of a "superstar", again, by philosophy standards. All these books are, I believe, not translated into English, so that may give you some motivation to actually read them.
posted by 3zra at 2:46 PM on June 19 [4 favorites]

I asked my former Ph.D supervisor, Ken Westphal, (German-speaking, professor of philosophy) and he recommended Windelband as the best equivalent of Russell.

Are you on the PhilosL mailing list? You can post questions like this and get answers from philosophers around the world.
posted by teaspoon at 11:22 PM on June 19

Thanks for the tips. I should have mentioned I am a UK Philosophy PhD student working on Political Theology, so Hans Blumenberg's "Legitimacy of the Modern Age" is something I was intending to read (but probably in English translation).

I'm on the Philos-L list but thought it was more for official posts rather than conversational questions.

I was thinking of reading Hegel's lectures on the History of Philosophy - but I think he probably discusses it in "translation" into his own system.

I was considering buying this:
"Einführung in die Geschichte der Philosophie" (2006) von Reiner Ruffing

Windelband's "Lehrbuch der Geschichte der Philosophie", is probably up on gutenberg or somewhere so that might be a cheap place to start.
posted by mary8nne at 12:46 AM on June 20

I acquired a PhD in philosophy in Belgium (for which I read lots of primary texts in German, mostly Husserl and Heidegger), and as undergraduates we did have a recommended introductory text to the history of philosophy. It was Hans-Joachim Störigs Kleine Weltgeschichte der Philosophie (we read it in a Dutch translation, however). As with all general introductions to any subject, it has its limitations and it can be dry at times, but all in all it is still a good read and seems to fit what you're looking for, i.e. a secondary source that is introductory in nature.

There are lots of other interesting authors that come to mind, some of which have been mentioned already. I really like the work of Rüdiger Safranski. Blumenberg is very interesting, but his German is (while beautiful) very complex - you might be right in sticking to a translation or at least having one available. Also somewhat matching your topic, there's Karl Löwith and, obviously, Jürgen Habermas. Jaspers is indeed a great and pretty accessible author, as is Gadamer. I personally love Peter Sloterdijk, too. While not his best work, Philosophische Temperamente is an (idiosyncratic) introduction to some major thinkers.

The list could go on. Enjoy exploring!
posted by Desertshore at 3:31 AM on June 20

All these books are, I believe, not translated into English

Warum es die Welt nicht gibt has been published in English
posted by thelonius at 6:27 AM on June 20

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