Socrates’ Children
Thinking and Knowing in the Western Tradition
  • Publication Date: August 6, 1997
  • ISBN: 9781551110936 / 1551110938
  • 356 pages; 6" x 9"

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Socrates’ Children

Thinking and Knowing in the Western Tradition

  • Publication Date: August 6, 1997
  • ISBN: 9781551110936 / 1551110938
  • 356 pages; 6" x 9"

How do Humans Think? How should we think? Almost all of philosophy and a great deal else depends in large part on the answers that we provide to such questions. Yet they are almost impossible to deal with in isolation; notions about nature of thought are almost bound to connect with metaphysical notions about where ideas come from, with notions about appropriate arenas for certainty, doubt, and belief, and hence with moral and religious ideas.

The Western tradition of thinking about thinking takes shape with Socrates; among the other important strands covered in this book are Descartes’ recipe for discovering truth through systematic doubt, Hume’s notion that all our ideas are copies of sense impressions, Wollstonecraft’s introduction of the perspective of gender into such questions, and Wittgenstein’s claim that much of the traditional terrain of Western philosophy should be thought of as the proper domain only of linguistic assertion, possessing no content beyond the words.

With each philosopher and school of thought dealt with, Govier shows how ideas about thinking connect to the other elements of the particular philosophy, and brings to life the social and intellectual context that the ideas spring from. Socrates’ Children is thus not only an investigation of notions of thinking and knowing in Western culture; it is a selective general history of much of Western philosophy, from a unique and fascinating perspective.


“…the exposition is consistently good, with much of it being insightful and illuminating.” — Canadian Book Review Annual

“a delightful book, a lively and thoroughly engaging survey of what some of the great Western philosophers have said about the nature, aims, and proper conduct of thought … a unique and worthwhile introduction to the philosophical enterprise.” — Dialogue

Socrates’ Children is philosophically astute and written in the lively and accessible style for which Trudy Govier is justly esteemed.” — Frank Cunningham, University of Toronto


1 Socrates, the Sting Ray of Athens

  • Thinking, Questioning, and Arguing
    Discovering That We Do Not Know
    The Quest for Definition
    Observations: The Legacy of Socrates

2 Plato: The Shadows, the Cave, and the Dazzling Sun

  • Paradox and Recollection
    The Divided Line
    Dialectic and Thinking
    The Sun and the Cave
    Myth, Imagination, and Play

3 Aristotle: Finding the Golden Mean

  • Forms in the World
    Aristotle and Plato
    Practical Knowledge and Deliberation
    Strategies for Thinking
    Logic, Argument, and Dialectic
    The Syllogism
    The Principles of Non-Contradiction and the Excluded Middle
    Demonstration and the Complete Science

4 Descartes: Are There Rotten Apples in that Basket?

  • The Method of Doubt
    Cogito Ergo Sum: I think, therefore I am.
    Proofs of God’s Existence
    The Problem of the Cartesian Circle
    Thinking, Error, and Free Will
    Mind and Matter
    Observations: Cartesian Thought, Cartesian Problems

5 Hume: Custom, the Cement of the Universe

  • Hume the Empiricist
    Hume’s Perplexing Arguments
    The External World
    The Self
    Hume on Scepticism, Belief, and the Will
    Practical Implications
    Observations: Hume’s Problems

6 Wollstonecraft: The Oak that Braved the Storm

  • A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
    Thought and Reason
    Enlightenment and Romanticism; Reason and Emotion

7 Kant: The Starry Skies and the Moral Law

  • Rationalism, Empiricism, and Kant’s Theory of Knowledge
    Kant’s Arguments
    Two Distinctions
    Are Synthetic A Priori Judgements Possible?
    Space and Time
    The Categories
    Kant on Thinking
    Observations and Criticisms

8 Hegel: Negation and Progress

  • Absolute Idealism
    Hegel on the History of Philosophy
    The Hegelian Dialectic
    What is Hegel’s Dialectic
    Dialectic in the History of Philosophy and Elsewhere
    Some Qualifications
    Examples of Dialectical Development in The Phenomenology of Spirit
    Observations: Reflections on the Hegelian Dialectic After Hegel

9 Beauvoir: More than Kings and Conquerors

  • Existentialism
    Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir
    Beauvoir’s Existentialist Essays
    The Second Sex
    Fiction and Philosophy
    Observations: Applying Philosophy

10 Wittgenstein: Duck-rabbits and Talking Lions

  • The Early Philosophy of the Tractatus:
    Propositions and Pictures
    Saying and Showing
    The Mystical
    Thinking, According to the Tractatus
    The Vienna Circle and Logical Positivism
    Wittgenstein’s Later Philosophy
    A Sceptical Problem and its Resolution
    Private Language and the Egocentric Predicament
    What is Thinking?
    How Wittgenstein Makes Us Think
    Wittgenstein on the Nature of Philosophy

11 Contemporary Voices

  • Artificial Intelligence
    The Informal Logic — Critical Thinking Movement
    Feminist Epistemology
    Concluding Comments


Trudy Govier is the author of one of the most popular books on critical thinking, A Practical Study of Argument (Wadsworth: 4/e 1995. Also Available from Broadview is her God, The Devil and the Perfect Pizza (Broadview, 1989), a unique introduction to a selection of the core questions of philosophy through stories and dialogues.