Ab Ovo

Frederick Copleston | Penguin Random House
Frederick Copleston, S.J.

Ab Ovo means ‘from the very beginning.’ I first ran into this phrase while reading the introduction to Copleston’s History of Philosophy – Volume I.

The first subheading to the introduction is ‘why study the History of Philosophy?’

One of the reasons cited is as follows:

“To him especially who does not set out to learn a given system of philosophy but aspires to philosophise ab ovo, as it were, the study of the history of philosophy is indispensable, otherwise he will run the risk of proceeding down blind alleys and repeating the mistakes of his predecessors, from which a serious study of past thought might perhaps have saved him.”

In essence then one of the chief reasons for a serious study of philosophy, and more specifically the history of philosophy, is to keep from reinventing the wheel.

I want to expand this suggestion beyond the scope of the history of philosophy, and of philosophy in general, to all thought, to all permutations of cognition, and disciplines arising therefrom.

In so doing I’m not really saying anything new. Simply, highlighting the time honored wisdom of education. Not the education of the diploma mill but the education of engaged examination.

Perhaps, a more elegant way to say all this would be that all explanations, thoughts, and systems, are the beginnings of philosophy, if not philosophies outright.

And thus to have as free and robust a range of options for understanding the world and acting upon it – it behooves us to know if we’re on a road that has already been travelled, and where exactly it lies.

Therefore having digested a history of philosophy from studying volumes like the one Copleston wrote, the writings of various philosophers, and general history is indispensable for someone who values their time.

Speaking of which…

I am as always horrifically pressed for time, in part due to a mild neurosis, and in part due to regular and sudden responsibilities. I hope that this has been a sufficient tidbit and thank you for reading.

I will continue to read through both Russell’s and Copleston’s Histories of Philosophy and discussing what I find. As time permits.

Best wishes,



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