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Recommended Reading and Resources

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Recommended Reading

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 showing how different philosophers have taken the same age-old questions and tried to consider them from various 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). Modern 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. 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 Rawls' 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 site 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.

Online resources:

There are many sites that provide links to philosophical pages, works or references. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is easily the most comprehensive available, with in-depth articles and links to further reading. Written by experts, it is the best to refer to when either supporting an argument/summary or looking for more information. Another possibility is the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The Meta-Encyclopedia of Philosophy is comprised of seven different dictionaries that may be used to compare definitions of important terms and hence appreciate the subtleties of philosophical concepts, while the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy has many free essays, in addition to the wealth of material available if you are prepared to register.

Philosophy Pages is a site providing several useful resources, including a dictionary of philosophical terms, an history and timeline of philosophical development and key thinkers, and a study guide. The Philosophy RefDesk is a gateway to some of these and others, while Episteme Links is also a huge resource containing thousands of links to philosophical sites, all catalogued for ease of navigation and use. In particular, many of the most famous philosophical works can be read online - try the Gutenberg Project, the EServer site or go via the Episteme electronic texts front page.

A detailed history of philosophy can be found at the Friesian site, from the Ancient Greeks through to modern times. What Would Plato Do? is a new site for both serious philosophy students and complete beginners, incorporating discussion fora, essays and articles. Utilitarianism is discussed at length here, along with critiques.

Lastly, Pathways to Philosophy is a distance learning program that provides the chance to ask questions of philosophers, get a grasp of why philosophy is important or even study philosophy online and gain a qualification. There are many similar courses available at local colleges or universities that, in conjunction with the introductory series and some of the recommended reading above, should provide anyone with the background to start questioning.

Please contact me if you have any further suggestions for recommended reading.

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