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Philosophy: Recommended Reading

By Paul Newall (2005)

There can seem no end to the philosophers and their works. This reading list gives some suggestions for places to start and resources to help you.

The sheer number of philosophers and works of philosophy, together with commentaries on and critiques of both, make it an impossible task to recommend which volumes are the most important. Perhaps the best approach for a beginner is to tackle a history of philosophy, putting the development of ideas into historical context and seeing how different philosophers have taken the same age-old questions and tried to consider them from new angles. Richard H. Popkin's The Columbia History of Western Philosophy, Bertrand Russell's The History of Western Philosophy or Anthony Gottlieb's The Dream of Reason: A History of Philosophy from the Greeks to the Renaissance are all excellent, extensive tomes, going into detail on philosophies and philosophers alike. Objections were raised to Russell's account due to his dismissive treatment of ideas he did not agree with, but it is unlikely that any unbiased history can be written (of which more below). More recent histories include Roger Scruton's Modern Philosophy and Christian Delacampagne's A History Of Philosophy In The Twentieth Century.

To move beyond these, it makes sense to start with the Greeks. Kenneth Guthrie's The Greek Philosophers is a highly regarded coverage, but copies of the writings of Plato and Aristotle are almost essential. The Collected Dialogues of Plato, edited by Hamilton, Cooper and Lane, at 1776 pages, and The Basic Works of Aristotle, edited by Reeve and McKeon, at 1436, are gargantuan resources. Moving on, Medieval Philosophy is covered by The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Philosophy, edited by A.S. McGrade.

A discussion of which philosophers ought to be required reading could probably go on for a lifetime. Nevertheless, anyone wishing to pursue philosophy in any depth has to sooner or later make their way through Descartes' A Discourse on Method, Berkeley's A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, Hume's Enquiries Concerning Human Understanding and Concerning the Principles of Morals, Kant's Basic Writings, the Basic Writings of John Stuart Mill and The Basic Writings of Nietzsche. Two other exceptional books of note are John Rawl's Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy and Jerome B. Schneewind's The Invention of Autonomy: A History of Modern Moral Philosophy.

A resource available in the Manuscripts section of The Galilean Library is the ongoing Introductory Series, looking at the various areas of philosophy from a beginner's perspective and developing a basic grounding in the subject by building from the bottom up. A good way to expand on these, whether specific discussions or the whole thing, is to move on to a textbook - still at the introductory level but adding to the embryonic understanding already gained. The following list gives some suggestions:

Another aid for the novice or expert alike is a thorough dictionary to help with philosophical terms or ideas. Robert Audi's The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, Simon Blackburn's The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy and Thomas Mautner's The Penguin Dictionary of Philosophy are all excellent choices.


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