T Nation

Philosophy Books


Basic and Additional

If you had to make up a required philosophy list for basic reading what would it be...I'll start with my basic Ancient Philosophy Books (bonus, I'll put my additional reading list, as well).

What are you basic Ancient Philosophy Books?
- Solomon, Ecclesiastes (cf. Peter Kreeft, Three Philosophies of Life)
- Plato, Meno and Apology
- Plato, Republic, excerpts (if you use the W.H.D. Rouse translation (Great Dialogues of Plato) and mentally divide each book into 3 parts, A, B and C, you could cover Book I, IIA, VB through 7A, 9C, and Rouse's helpful summary of the rest.
- Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, select your own excerpts, but be sure to cover Books I and VIII
- Plotinus, On Beauty

What are your additional Ancient Philosophy Books?
- Parmenides' poem
- The rest of Plato's Republic
- Plato, Gorgias
- The rest of the Nicomachean Ethics
- A secondary source summary of Aristotle, either Mortimer Adler's Aristotle for Everybody (easy) or Sir David Ross's Aristotle (intermediate)


I would recommend some Ken Wilber on the modern philosophy front.

You have often stated your distaste for Ayn Rand, but I would still make her required reading.

I'll post more after greater thought.


I don't get how folks don't become a virtue theorists they understand how Eudaimon ethics fit into Nichomachean.

Virtue theory and the understanding of fear will change your life.

Virtue theory is the Westside Barbell template of Ethics.

Organized Religion is 24 hour fitness of Ethics.



There is actually a great book called 'Aristotle for Everybody' and I recommend that for those who want the basics of Aristotle without trying to suffer through the lingo and the mind bending explanations Aristotle gives in his original manuscripts. It's a good book on it's own, it's an easy read or it makes a great companion book if you are studying Aristotle in detail.
Like most philosophers Aristotle is taking you through his process as he's figuring it out and he justifies each point in excruciating detail. Since you are mostly familiar with his concepts already, as it is the basis for most western thought, this book lays out his concepts and theories without the fluff. So I like it.


On a serious note, there are some very good video's by Martha Nussbaum on Aristotle. Few have a mastery of these particular subjects parallel to her own..


Section 5 is great, really gets down to why Aristotle was so different.


Because he showed why Socrates provided a single God before anyone believed on monotheism besides the Jewish folk over in Israel?


Distaste is no excuse for a lack of understanding. I'd consider her contemporary, so I'll put that list after my modern list.

My modern philosophy section is quite bare (probably for most people).

Modern basic list:

  • Machiavelli, The Prince
  • Renes Descartes, Discourse on Method
  • David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding
  • Immanuel Kant, Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals

Additional list
- Rene Descartes, Meditations
- Gottfried Leibnitz, Monadology
- Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, excerpts
- Blaise Pascal's Pensees (if you are so inclined, mostly because it is on the contemporary list).


Contemporary book shelf:

  • Blaise Pascal Pensees (or Peter Kreeft's Christianity for Modern Pagans)
  • Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism and Human Emotions
  • William James, "What Pragmatism Means? and "The Will to Believe"
  • Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto
  • C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man

Additional (I show my impartiality by putting one of the greatest books Orthodox on my additional list while one of the most destructive books I've ever read "The Communist Manifesto" on my primary shelf, it after all is more influential than the former):

  • John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism
  • Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy
  • Alfred Jules Ayer, Language, Truth and Logic
  • Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus
  • G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy


I believe that reading the Great Books is the best education any contemporary citizen can give himself.

These books should give one an understanding of proper thought and thought of their modern man to discern for himself what others are talking about. I find myself to have a myopic medieval mindset (St. Augustine). Though I would say my tone is definitely contemporary and inclusive...even modernist. But, that is my education coming out.


The problem is jumping into these books without some sort of formalized understanding of the lingo and concepts behind them. In many respects you will read the page and have no clue what you just read.
And Kant? Oh, he is flat fucking torture to read. I mean pull your eyeballs out and hit them with hammers torture. It's not that his concepts were bad, he just had no means of saying it. Good concepts, worst writer in the history of philosophy. Seriously, you're better off with a book about Kants concepts rather than subject yourself to his writings. You may actually learn more about Kant's arguments from other people than Kant himself. I have never known anybody to "enjoy" his work.


Sorry, this award goes to Heidegger. In fairness, I haven't read his stuff in German, and its been about 20 years, but I suspect its basically gibberish in his native tongue as well.


The point of Great Books is to read the Great Books.


I haven't read all that much philosophy. and most of what I HAVE read was a long time ago.


It's more than that, it's to understand them. There's no point in reading it if you don't understand it.
In reality, you study these works more than read them.


You may be right, I haven't had the need to expose my self to his works. I know Kant is a terrible writer. Hume on the other hand was brilliant.


No, it's about the simple approach. Rather than having rigid rules about morality, how to specifically act in given situations and then having to have amendments to those rules when they fail, you figure out how to simply be a good, flourishing human being, which is virtuous.

A virtuous human being is a very moral one, independently moral who doesn't need to worry about rules, but at the end of the day probably follows most of the rules a dogmatic book simply by being a virtuous person. Someone like this would lead a good life and be a person worthy of admiration.


Kant is one of those guys most people need an interpreter for. His writing is almost Shakesperian, differing interpretations of his works are still coming out to this day. You want Kant, Epifanio Elizondo is a great guy to read.. http://www.academia.edu/3323897/Research_Overview

Hume, scary stuff for most Theists :smiley:
An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding is THE book to read from Hume.



No, Hume is not a scary thing for theists. His analysis on causation was brilliant, but it did not do anything to cosmology. Some of his ideas were way off, like his 'third element of causation' but that doesn't mean his insights weren't genius.
If anything Hume did more to destabilize the the ability for scientists to establish causation. He basically discovered that you cannot prove causal relationships by observation. You can only establish correlation. If 'A' then 'B' cannot be fully established unless you know all the instances of 'A'. Since you cannot know all the instances of 'A', you can only infer that 'A' causes 'B'. You can establish the likely hood of 'B' as a result of 'A', but you cannot prove it beyond the shadow of a doubt.
This is a problem for empiricism, not for deductive reasoning. A priori deals in absolutes. And because that can only be established in metaphysics, it's not a problem. It's not a reliance on observation, its reliant on pure reason. Hume was a hardcore empiricist and his empirical insights were genius. Way smarter than Kant. Actually, if not for Hume, there would not have been a Kant.

But Leibniz was smarter than both put together. His ideas in monadology were so ahead of their time, people thought he was a nut. Except now we are figuring out, he was right. Like there is no such thing as empty space. If a space exists, something is in it. So that space is a factor of stuff.


Depends on what subject you are touching on. Cosmological argument? Argument from Design? Miracles? Problem of Evil? These are all things Hume went out of his way to touch on, and in damaging ways to common religious beliefs at the time. It's famously all over his works. What's amazing is how he was able to avoid getting into trouble.

As far as intelligence goes, one needed the other. There had to be guys that went out made postulations that were accepted or at least put out there in order for people to build onto, tear down and rebuild ideas. You saw Leibniz do it with Descartes, Hume do it with Leibniz, and Kant do it with Hume. It's a normal hashing out of ideas, to say one guy is smarter than the other is more subjective and probably has to do with who moved you most. I suspect Leibniz complex understanding of physics which allows for the existence of God is appealing to you. He was indeed an awesome Philosopher with major, major balls to kick monadology off during such dogmatic times. You realize why he was considered strange right? His ideas were an abomination to most theists of the time, his concepts were obviously influenced by Plato's pure forms. Still monadology is a strange lense to understand the world by. Souls.. Souls.. Which he was trying to explain above all else..

My favorite of the four above is Kant, and that's purely subjective and based on my ideas that his ideas about how to live life by rules is the most acceptable one to me, and I love the categorical imperative and complexities of morality that distinguish half assed goodness to real goodness.

Duty vs. goodness that comes about easily and conveniently. Like donating to a cause because it makes you feel good, vs. donating because it's the right thing to do.

Doing something because it's the right thing to do + fear, vs. Doing the right thing by virtue of being an incredible person.

They are all incredible Philosophers in their own right and in their own subjects.

Leibniz, rescuer of religion in a sense he offered a view of religion that worked with physics which means a lot today.. But his ideas during the time had most theists and lightweight scholars pointing the finger and calling him a moron.


Correct. In fact the cosmological argument was his main focus, but his main counter claim was that there was a third element to the cause- effect relationship. Something he was never able to prove. However, it was through the process of trying to counter these things are where his brilliance lies. His insight to causal relationships, the fact that you could reliably make predictions with a small subset of data, and things that did not fit the mold, had him postulating another element of causation, intervening between cause and effect, that must explain all of it.
It didn't. And again, he was a hard core empiricist. What he did not analyze was causal relationships that exist by definition, he dealt mainly with physical matter. His biggest problem was that effects followed their cause. So to him there was plenty of opportunity for another intervening factor.
Hume was a fearless philosopher, honest to a fault, and never had an issue painting himself into corners. But he made some very interesting observations with long lasting reach. It effects science the most, though.
He tried to disprove the thing you mentioned, he did not succeed at that, but he succeeded at other things in the process.

Monadology was considered strange by everybody. That everybody of space is occupied by something tiny, indivisible and permeates everything is a concept we are just warming up to now. Because, by all measures, he's right. There is always something, never nothing.

All metaphysics is the result of plato's forms. As much as I don't really like Plato, that gave birth to metaphysics. It was one of two things Plato was actually right on.

I am not attracted to a philosopher based on their religiousocity. Hume is one of my favorites of all time and he was an atheist. I am attracted to the ideas. Berkeley is also a particular favorite of mine, not because he was a theist, but because of his works on ontology.

I give Kant his respect, but never was a huge fan. His works on morality are important, but I always felt he liked to over complicate the issues. However, his ability to break things down, particular moral events are important.

Religion was never in danger. Aquinas did most of the heavy lifting and basically girded religious philosophy against the notion that science or anything else for that matter, could disprove God. He also was the one that realized the rule of nature, does not violate religion, in fact they are complimentary. Leibnez, expounded on those ideas, but Aquinas came up with them first.
It's Leibnez's scientific observations that interested me the most. I am less concerned about what he thought monads were than I am about the notions such an idea brought forth.