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The Great Conversation

Volume I: Pre-Socratics through Descartes

Eighth Edition

Norman Melchert and David R. Morrow

Publication Date - September 2018

ISBN: 9780190670627

464 pages
7-1/2 x 9-1/4 inches

This historically organized introduction treats philosophy as a dramatic and continuous story: a Great Conversation


Tracing the exchange of ideas among history's key philosophers, The Great Conversation: A Historical Introduction to Philosophy, Eighth Edition, provides a generous selection of excerpts from major philosophical works and makes them more easily understandable to students with lucid and engaging explanations. Extensive cross-referencing shows students how philosophers respond appreciatively or critically to the thoughts of other philosophers.

The Great Conversation, Eighth Edition, is also available in two separate volumes to suit your course needs:

The Great Conversation: Volume I: Pre-Socratics through Descartes, Eighth Edition

The Great Conversation: Volume II: Descartes through Derrida and Quine, Eighth Edition

New to this Edition

  • Streamlined chapters that provide more accessible and focused content
  • Three new chapters on the beginnings of philosophical conversations in India and China: Chapter 3, "Appearance and Reality in Ancient India"; Chapter 5, "Reason and Relativism in China"; and Chapter 10, "Confucius, Mencius, and Xunzi: Virtue in Ancient China"
  • A new chapter devoted entirely to philosophy in the Islamic world: Chapter 14, "Philosophy in the Islamic World: The Great Conversation Spreads Out"
  • A section on Hildegard of Bingen in a chapter on medieval thought, new Sketches of Hypatia and Margaret Cavendish, and a Profile of Émilie du Chåtelet


  • Presents philosophy as an ongoing conversation among philosophers about people's deepest concerns and questions
  • Provides historical and cultural context for the philosophical ideas being presented throughout, especially in Chapter 1, Before Philosophy: Myth in Hesiod and Homer; Chapter 14, Philosophy in the Islamic World: The Great Conversation Spreads Out; and Chapter 16, From Medieval to Modern Europe
  • Cross-referencing enables students to see how various thinkers built off of one another's ideas and diverged or agreed on particular topics
  • Includes a generous, well-selected array of excerpts from major philosophical works
  • The excerpts and the authors' discussion complement each other to provide historical and cultural context for the philosophical ideas
  • Review questions follow key passages and facilitate classroom discussions
  • Each chapter ends with two types of exercises--"Basic Questions" and "For Further Thought"--for use in small group discussions or papers
  • A "How to Read Philosophy" section in the preface lets students know what to expect
  • A "Writing a Philosophy Paper" section in the appendix offers much-needed pointers for writing in this genre
  • A free, open-access Companion Website provides students with essential points and self-quizzes

About the Author(s)

Norman Melchert is Selfridge Professor of Philosophy Emeritus and a former Acting Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Lehigh University. He is the author of Who's to Say? A Dialogue on Relativism (1994) and numerous journal articles.

David R. Morrow is a Visiting Fellow at the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy at George Mason University. College. He is the coauthor of A Workbook for Arguments, Second Edition (2015) and numerous papers in applied ethics.


"The Great Conversation is the best introductory text I have come across in twenty-five years of teaching. It's an extremely useful and insightful book with a particularly appropriate balance of depth and breadth. The writing style is easily accessible without sacrificing clarity and specificity."--Douglas Howie, North Lake College

"Both my students and I enjoy the integration of philosophy outside of typical Western thought. The writing is easily understood by introductory students who normally don't have a background in the material."--Susan M. Mullican, University of Southern Mississippi, Gulf Coast Campus

"The Great Conversation is a solid introduction. More than other texts, it takes the time in plain English to flesh out important concepts. It also tells a tight story, with the chapters building on one another, which is useful for introducing students to philosophical thinking."--Eric Boynton, Allegheny College

"The chapters on classical Chinese philosophy, with selections from numerous texts and figures, are a welcome addition. Giving students exposure to non-Western traditions of thought at the introductory level provides them with a more expansive sense of the range and possibility of philosophical thought."--Hagop Sarkissian, Baruch College and The City University of New York Graduate Center

Table of Contents

    *=New to this Edition
    A Word to Instructors
    A Word to Students
    1. Before Philosophy: Myth in Hesiod and Homer
    Hesiod: War among the Gods
    Homer: Heroes, Gods, and Excellence
    2. Philosophy before Socrates
    Thales: The One as Water
    Anaximander: The One as the Boundless
    Xenophanes: The Gods as Fictions
    Sketch: Pythagoras
    Heraclitus: Oneness in the Logos
    Parmenides: Only the One
    Zeno: The Paradoxes of Common Sense
    Atomism: The One and the Many Reconciled
    The Key: An Ambiguity
    The World
    The Soul
    How to Live
    * 3. Appearance and Reality in Ancient India
    * The Vedas and the Upanisads
    * The Buddha
    * The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Noble Path
    * Right View
    * Non-Self and Nagasena
    * The Brahmanical Schools
    * Vaisesika
    * Nyaya
    * The Great Conversation in India
    4. The Sophists: Rhetoric and Relativism in Athens
    The Persian Wars
    The Sophists
    Physis and Nomos
    Athens and Sparta at War
    Aristophanes and Reaction
    * 5. Reason and Relativism in China
    * A Brief History of Ancient China
    * Mozi
    * The School of Names
    * The Later Mohists
    * Zhuangzi
    * Sketch: Laozi
    6. Socrates: To Know Oneself
    Is Socrates a Sophist?
    What Socrates "Knows"
    We Ought to Search for Truth
    Human Excellence Is Knowledge
    All Wrongdoing Is Due to Ignorance
    The Most Important Thing of All is to Care for Your Soul
    7. The Trial and Death of Socrates
    Translator's Introduction
    The Dialogue
    Commentary and Questions
    Translator's Introduction
    The Dialogue
    Commentary and Questions
    Translator's Introduction
    The Dialogue
    Commentary and Questions
    Phaedo (Death Scene)
    Translator's Introduction
    The Dialogue
    Commentary and Questions
    8. Plato: Knowing the Real and the Good
    Knowledge and Opinion
    Making the Distinction
    We Do Know Certain Truths
    The Objects of Knowledge
    The Reality of the Forms
    The World and the Forms
    How Forms Are Related to the World
    Lower and Higher Forms
    The Form of the Good
    The Love of Wisdom
    What Wisdom Is
    Love and Wisdom
    The Soul
    The Immortality of the Soul
    The Structure of the Soul
    The State
    Problems with the Forms
    9. Aristotle: The Reality of the World
    Aristotle and Plato
    Logic and Knowledge
    Terms and Statements
    Reasons Why: The Syllogism
    Knowing First Principles
    The World
    The Four "Becauses"
    Is There Purpose in Nature?
    First Philosophy
    Not Plato's Forms
    What of Mathematics?
    Substance and Form
    Pure Actualities
    The Soul
    Levels of Soul
    Soul and Body
    The Good Life
    Virtue or Excellence (Areté)
    The Role of Reason
    The Highest Good
    * 10. Confucius, Mencius, and Xunzi: Virtue in Ancient China
    * Confucius
    * The Way of Confucius
    * Ritual Propriety
    * Good Government
    * Differentiated Love
    * Xunzi
    * The Confucians' Legacy
    11. Epicureans, Stoics, and Skeptics: Happiness for the Many
    The Epicureans
    The Stoics
    Profile: Marcus Aurelius
    The Skeptics
    12. Jews and Christians: Sin, Salvation, and Love
    The Meaning of Jesus
    13. Augustine: God and the Soul
    Wisdom, Happiness, and God
    God and the World
    The Great Chain of Being
    * Sketch: Hypatia of Alexandria
    Human Nature and Its Corruption
    Human Nature and Its Restoration
    Augustine on Relativism
    The Two Cities
    Augustine and the Philosophers
    Reason and Authority
    Intellect and Will
    Epicureans and Stoics
    * 14. Philosophy in the Islamic World: The Great Conversation Spreads Out
    * A Sea Change in the Mediterranean Basin
    * Al-Kindi, the "Philosopher of the Arabs"
    * Al-Farabi, the "Second Master"
    * Religion as Subordinate to Philosophy
    * Emanation and the Active Intellect
    * Sketch: The Celestial Spheres
    * Certitude, Absolute Certitude, and Opinion
    * Avicenna, the "Preeminent Master"
    * Existence and Essence
    * The Necessary Existent, God
    * The Soul and Its Faculties
    * Al-Ghazali
    Sketch: Maimonides (Moses ben Maimon)
    * The Great Conversation in the Islamic World
    15. Anselm and Aquinas: Existence and Essence in God and the World
    Anselm: On That, Than Which No Greater Can Be Conceived
    The Transfer of Learning
    Thomas Aquinas: Rethinking Aristotle
    Sketch: Averroės, the Commentator
    Philosophy and Theology
    From Creation to God
    The Nature of God
    Humans: Their Souls
    Humans: Their Knowledge
    Humans: Their Good
    Ockham and Skeptical Doubts--Again
    16. From Medieval to Modern Europe
    The World God Made for Us
    Reforming the Church
    Skeptical Thoughts Revived
    Copernicus to Kepler to Galileo: The Great Triple Play
    The Counter-Reformation
    17. René Descartes: Doubting Our Way to Certainty
    The Method
    Meditations on First Philosophy (each Meditation is followed by Commentary and Questions)
    Meditation I
    Meditation II
    Meditation III
    Meditation IV
    Meditation V
    Meditation VI
    What Has Descartes Done?
    A New Ideal for Knowledge
    A New Vision of Reality
    The Place of Humans in the World of Nature
    The Mind and the Body
    God and the Problem of Skepticism
    The Preeminence of Epistemology
    Appendix: Writing a Philosophy Paper