Jones, W. T., History of Western Philosophy, Keep Me Company

Divorcing, I’ve been going back to a lot of material from my earlier life, especially my teenage years when what other people said didn’t matter to me so much; in a marriage, or at least in mine, you are constantly having to compromise, appease, and betray yourself.

One thing worthwhile I salvaged from my teenage interest in the noxious ideas of Ayn Rand is the W.T. Jones History of Western Philosophy series. Jones was a philosophy professor at Caltech, and his otherwise little-known five-volume set became a bit more popular outside academia after Rand’s followers promoted the books.

W.T. Jones History of Western Philosophy

  • Volume 1: The Classical Mind. Second Edition (1969).
  • Volume 2: The Medieval Mind. Second Edition (1969).
  • Volume 3: Hobbes to Hume. Second Edition (1969).
  • Volume 4: Kant and the Nineteenth Century. Second Edition, Revised (1975).
  • Volume 5: The Twentieth Century to Quine and Derrida. Third Edition, with Robert J. Fogelin additions (1997).

I read them initially in high school: the late nineties. I understood it through about Volume 3. Sometime in the early 2000s I read it again on my own while studying philosophy in college, and I understood it through most of the 4th volume. Now I’m hoping to walk away with the whole thing understood.

All this philosophizing about life, on my and Jones’s parts, and I don’t even know who this guy is! I tried to read up on him tonight, but found little online. A retirement bulletin from Caltech explains helpfully that he specialized in world views, taught at Pamona College prior to Caltech, wrote seven books, and received several honors: he was a Rhodes Scholar, a Guggenheim Fellow, a Lippincott Fellow, a Proctor Fellow, a Ford Faculty Fellow, and a Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar. The bulletin also quotes him as writing in 1977 that “One of the great aims of education should be to help students learn how to enjoy — enjoy, not merely tolerate — cognitive dissonance, cognitive ambiguity.” Very wise indeed.

A Seattle Post-Intelligencer article from 1986 reveals that his son, Jeff Jones, is a playwright. Jeff Jones wrote a collage-like play built from beach movies, Bible movies, Plato, and Latvian folk music. The article calls it a “beach biblical ancient Greek Latvian epic,” and it is part of a series the younger Jones titled, with apparent impishness, “A History of Western Philosophy.” (He also mentions going to therapy.)

I’ve been (re-)reading the elder Jones’s History of Western Philosophy almost every night just before turning off my iPhone flashlight. Aristotle definitely helps me fall asleep. Once I wanted to read the Copleston eleven-volume History of Philosophy — Copleston was a Jesuit priest — but in that series there are no translations for the plentiful Greek. Although I know some koine, Copleston’s Greek was still … Greek to me. An acquaintance has been asking why I’m wasting my time reading a history of western philosophy that isn’t Bertrand Russell’s. Because I’ve been told Russell is very opinionated in his presentation, whereas Jones quotes primary sources extensively and provides good context and what seems to be fair and only a little analysis.

Volume 1: The Classical Mind, by my bedside

There is really not much online about Jones, and little of his personality in his very objective, mostly humorless history. However, sometimes Jones reveals himself with his examples:

But is Plato’s psychological analysis of human nature correct? Is his account of the form “man” adequate? It seems clear that people who suffer from hangovers should not drink to excess and that people who have a tendency toward indigestion should not overeat. But one hardly needs to be a philosopher to discover this. How is Plato’s theory to deal with the man with a cast-iron stomach who prefers lobster to lyrics, boogie-woogie to Bach, and sitting in the sun to differential equations? We may agree that such a man is not living a well-rounded life, but are we justified in telling him that he is less happy than the man who lives a well-rounded life?

We could say, of course, that the man who prefers boogie-woogie to Bach simply doesn’t understand Bach. This line of argument is not without force. Bach is difficult; where the untrained ear hears only noise, the musically educated ear hears “exquisite harmonies.” Hence it is not surprising that a great many people prefer boogie-woogie. If, however, they were to study music, they might find that an increased musical appreciation repaid them for their trouble. But suppose that, after devoting some time to Bach, the man who prefers boogie-woogie says, ‘Well, I still don’t see anything in classical music.” We might be tempted to reply, “If you don’t, then so much the worse for you.”

This retort discourteous is, of course, not conclusive, and Plato would not have wanted to rest his case merely on the possibility of cultivating one’s taste. He wanted to maintain that the nature of man really is what he described it to be and that the man who doesn’t find it so is mistaken, not merely deficient in taste.

“Boogie Woogie” performed by Count Basie’s Blue Five:

Bach Prelude & Fugue no. 3 in C# Major, Well-Tempered Klavier Book 1, performed by Glenn Gould:

I’m going to read W.T. Jones’s History of Western Philosophy and sit in the sun at the same time!

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Jones, W. T., History of Western Philosophy, Keep Me Company by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license? Email me:


#1 gabriel on 06.13.13 at 8:43 am

I’m reading them.for the first time now! Thanks for the info on Jones. It WAS hard to find anything on him

#2 Jamie Jones on 02.18.14 at 8:39 pm

W.T. Is my late grandfather. If there is anything I could help you learn or know about him I would love to help…

#3 danson thuo on 01.27.15 at 1:32 am

definition of philosophy according to w.t jones

#4 Joe Annunzio on 07.31.15 at 1:17 pm

I too am reading the five volume series by Possessor Jones having already read Bertrand Russell, Will Durant, Jacob Bronowski and several other on this subject. I and am very much enjoying the treatment by Professor Jones, especially the treatment in Volume II of the how the classical period ended and the really dark part of the ‘Dark Ages’ began. Surprised there is no discussion of Hypatia and the destruction of the Library at Alexandria by the Christian fanatics in 415 CE. I also could find little about Professor Jones online and appreciate the information that you posted here.

#5 Gordon Babst on 10.15.17 at 10:21 pm

I worked for W T and Molly Jones for several years while they lived in Mt. San Antonio Gardens retirement community in Claremont, California, before he passed away and Mrs. Jones moved away. He was far from colorless, but amiable, super smart, intensely curious, and always in good cheer – enjoying life and the company of a great variety of people.

#6 David on 06.02.18 at 10:26 am

How are Rand’s ideas of reason and freedom “noxious”?

#7 &#8212 Oops I missed week 8 on 03.01.20 at 9:38 pm

[…] ago, when I read primary source excerpts of St. Augustine, contextualized by WT Jones, I always kind of liked reading St. Augustine, for whatever […]

#8 Thomas Damers on 09.18.20 at 7:19 am

I am strangely thrilled to have found a site that has W.T. Jones as a topic. Such a great philosophy teacher as Professor Jones remains, through his works, might remind me that specific physical calculations make zero metaphysical progress–that nothing of any similarly specific or observable nature regarding inner progress W.T. Jones has wrought upon the earth, actually exists. Despite this divide/limitation, however, I do feel at this moment of being able to express it among others who are also admirers of W.T. Joness (apostrophe keys busted) incredible accomplishment that the incalculable also exists. Through language; through the truth that The History of Western Philosophy volumes I through VI was labored over mightily and brought into existence for others by Doctor W.T. Jones.
Well I should close because I am raving. This great professor has been invaluable to a kind of three-pronged linguistic rehabilitation project of mine; and that I am getting through his fifth volume for a second time and just learned there is a sixth, might be causing some giddiness. I am glad and not surprised to have found out all these cool, understated great qualities he had in life listed above. I felt i had a sense of that person from being so involved with his work agreed that no means-end relationship could possibly spit out a calculation of what his genius, and what I would have to imagine was his incredible industriousness and devotion to his subject as a writer/teacher, have meant to my own work. I have no idea myself of that yet. But will enjoy being able to return to this site on occasion to write about some of the things his examinations and explications of specific philosophers work have taught me.

#9 Tim Martin on 03.06.21 at 2:21 am

What was attitude and relationship to the Hegelian inspired Marx – and the social interpretation of thought and action?

#10 George JP Jacobs on 05.23.21 at 4:26 pm

I, too, have enjoyed revisiting Prof Jones’ History. Perhaps I am blessed to have the whole text in the original single volume. I bought the book in 1966 and it sits on a shelf where I can grab the hardcover and its delicate pages to revisit his summaries. He doesn’t cover everything, but it’s a great place to start.
I often wish they would reissue this wonderful book – even if ‘updated’ by another, hopefully sympathetic, philosophy teacher. Sadly Nozick is unavailable.

#11 Ezequiel Manzella on 09.09.21 at 9:16 pm

Saludos… Tengo en mi poder “the medieval mind” y realemente no se hablar ingles ni leerlo, por ello no le puedo dar ninguna utilidad. Mi pregunta es ¿Existe mercado para el libro?¿Cual seria su valor? Muchas gracias al que pueda ayudarme en este asunto. Saludos

#12 Anonymous on 05.02.23 at 12:31 pm

I too read W T Jones during my college philosophy ‘experience.’ Among his faulty suggestions was that Christianity had not made inroads by the time of Diocletian. According to other writers Diocletian, Constantius and others struggled with Christianity in their own families. Constatine himself had difficulty managing the different sects spread across the empire. WT was simply lying

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