If you have decided to learn about philosophy, then you might want to start by reading some of the greatest philosophy texts. It will often be a good idea to read supplemental books along with the classic texts to help you understand them. Many philosophers have written their own interpretations of the classic texts in order to help us make sense out of them. Here are eight fairly enjoyable philosophy texts that I recommend:
1. John Searle’s Minds, Brains, and Science
Some arguments involving philosophy of mind using simple language. Searle argues that many other philosophers want to “explain away the mind” rather than try to genuinely understand it. Searle argues that the mind is a special physical domain of reality.
2. Pierre Hadot’s What is Ancient Philosophy?
This might help you make sense out of Ancient Philosophy in general, and it argues that ancient philosophy was a “way of life” rather than just arguments that tell us what to believe.
3. Nietszche’s Pre-Platonic Philosophers
Based on his lecture notes, but makes sense out of pre-platonic philosophy without being overly complected. Pre-Platonic philosophers paved the way for philosophy and introduced just about every major approach one could take in life. I also recommend Nietzsche’s Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks, which is also about pre-Platonic philosophy. (Robin Waterfield’s The First Philosophers: The Presocratics and Sophists is probably also worth a look.)
4. Epictetus’s Handbook (i.e Enchiridon)
When life gets hard, the Handbook is here to save the day. He suggests that we can change our emotions by changing our thinking.
5. Plato’s Euthyphro
A dialogue that asks us, Are things good only because we like them?
6. Plato’s Republic
Tries to answer many important questions, such as What is Justice? And, Why do philosophy?
7. Laurence Lampert’s Nietzsche’s Task: An Interpretation of Beyond Good and Evil
Supplemental book to help make sense of Nietszche. (Nietzsche’s Teaching is Lampert’s interpretation of Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra.)
8. Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil
What is most important in life, and how does this relate to our moral systems? (I also recommend Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathusra, which can be read like a novel, but it would probably be a good idea to read it with Lampbert’s Nietzsche’s Teaching.)
After you are familiar with philosophy, there are many other “classic” texts that you might want to read. Here are 20 more books that I recommend to every philosophy enthusiast:
- Philosophy as a Way of life – Pierre Hadot
- The Inner Citadel – Pierre Hadot
- Meditations – Marcus Aurelius
- Therapy of Desire – Martha Nussbaum
- Essays on Moral Realism – edited by Geoffrey-Sayre-McCord
- Free Will – Gary Watson
- A Theory of Justice – John Rawls
- Responsibility and the Moral Sentiments – R. Jay Wallace
- Rationality in Action – Searle
- Foucault Reader – edited by Paul Rabinow
- Concept of the Political – Carl Schmitt
- Incompleteness – Rebecca Goldstein
- Individuals – P. F. Strawson
- Causation – edited by Ernest Sosa an Michael Tooley
- Causation and Counterfactuals – Edited by John Collins, Ned Hall, and L. A. Paul
- Utilitarianism – J. S. Mill
- Critique of Pure Reason – Immanuel Kant
- Treatise of Human Nature – David Hume
- Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals – Immanuel Kant
- Leviathan – Thomas Hobbes
Of these twenty additional books, the first four are the most enjoyable, and the rest are best for the “initiated.” The final four books are older classics, so they are, in my opinion, a lot harder to read than usual.
No matter what you end up reading, you will probably want to make heavy use of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, a free internet resource found at plato.stanford.edu.
It can also be a good idea to get ahold of one or two introductory philosophy textbooks that summarize many of the arguments the major philosophers give. For example, Looking at Philosophy by Donald Palmer can be helpful.