19Feb

So You Want to Be a Philosopher? Here Are 9 Books You Must Read

For those who are aspiring to be a philosopher but have zero experience, it is absolutely crucial to start well. I often hear from people who took a philosophy class that they ended up being more confused than before. This is in part because they’re introduced to conflicting ideas but they’re not shown how to think about these ideas. Ideas are dangerous things; capable of destroying or creating societies. I’ll be honest, I do prefer the classical philosophers over the modern philosophers – which my list will reflect – but I think you can still benefit from it despite this bias by evaluating the ideas for yourself. Without further ado, here are the books that I would recommend reading in the following order:

1. Being Logical, A Guide To Good Thinking by D.Q. McInerny

This book starts off with some key logical concepts that are really just common sense ideas. This is important. Some people mistake philosophy for contrarian pseudo-intellectual ideas. I even met someone who thought the best way to do philosophy was to smoke weed.. That’s not philosophy; that’s either sophistry or stupidity. In my opinion it’s a good idea to start with common sense, or else we’ll end up with nonsense. The author’s lucid yet concise writing style is a role model for all philosophers.

2. Ancient Philosophy (Beginner’s Guides) by William J. Prior

It is crucial to start with the very beginnings of philosophy without being bogged down by technicalities and monotonous details as the more advanced books do. What better place to start than the very origins of philosophy itself? An aspiring philosopher needs to be introduced to ideas and the reasons for those ideas in order to prime their minds for philosophical reasoning.

3. Aquinas (A Beginner’s Guide) by Edward Feser

This book is an absolutely essential introduction to medieval / scholastic philosophy. You’ll become familiar with ideas like form and matter, the four causes, universals, five ways, etc. Personally, this book did the most to transform my philosophical perspective. I felt like a child who was seeing familiar things under a new light for the first time; it literally took my passion for philosophy to a new level. Feser does a great job of communicating the ideas clearly and diffusing common misconceptions that moderns have about Aquinas. 

4. A Short History of Modern Philosophy by Roger Scruton

Philosophy would not be complete without covering the moderns, who we have much to learn from. Scruton is known for skillfully communicating densely complex ideas into something readily intelligible to the common reader. After you finish reading this, congratulations, you now have a broad understanding of the history of philosophy. This will be very important toward the development of your own beliefs.

5.  Ten Philosophical Mistakes by Mortimer Adler

Whatever you thought about modern philosophy, I guarantee you that this book will wreck your confidence in their views or at the very least it will cause you to reflect more deeply. Adler wonderfully communicates the mistakes that all philosophers should avoid making, which is important because of how prominent these mistakes tend to be today. Essentially, moderns have a tendency (various exceptions exist) to deny common sense ideas like the reliability of our senses, the reality of causes, objectivity of morality, and the like.

6. Socratic Logic – Peter Kreeft

Now that you got the gist of the ideas in both classical and medieval philosophy, you’ll need to beef up your logical prowess to handle the upcoming books. Peter Kreeft is very lucid and provides plenty of exercises that will challenge your thinking process. You should start off with classical logic (as opposed to modern) because it it conforms closer to ordinary language and common sense. Modern logic, however, is very effective and powerful but it still requires a foundation in commonsense logic. This book will give you that foundation.

7. Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction by Michael Loux

Metaphysics is the lord of all philosophical branches; it influences epistemology, ethics, philosophy of mind, and every other branch. As such it is very important to start with metaphysics. Philosophers that tend to specialize in one field neglect the insights of metaphysics that apply to their own discipline, and their reasoning suffers as a result. Michael Loux does an excellent job of covering both analytic and classical positions by describing their responses and counter-responses. You’ll put the ideas you learned from the previous books into something systematic as opposed to something merely historical.

8. Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction by Edward Feser

After you have learned the philosophical landscape, I highly recommend reading this book. It provides you a beautiful system of thought that had been developed over centuries of time from the best thinkers in philosophy. It’s very systematic in that one idea follows after the other like a domino effect. Feser addresses some of the modern analytic challenges to scholastic philosophy very well, and even if you disagree in the end, your understanding will increase.

9. Philosophical Writing: An Introduction by  A. P. Martinich

Every philosopher has to write sooner or later, and now it is time for you do exactly that. Explain the ideas of the previous philosophers on paper and begin to critique or support their ideas. I would highly recommend finding a philosophy group on Facebook or Reddit because at least 70% of philosophy is a battle of ideas. You need to learn to defend or critique ideas. I have found that nothing else has improved my critical thinking skills than writing and debating. This book does a great job of introducing to how philosophers write.

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11 comments

  1. Your list is a little partisan toward Christianity, no? You disparage Modern Philosophy and ignore Postmodernity all together. You treat Scholasticism like it’s deserving of more than a footnote. The bias seems antithetical to the spirit of philosophy to me, like you’ve begun inquiry with your conclusions already fixed.

    • Hi Greg, thanks for your constructive feedback! I feel that you’re right, perhaps I came across too harshly against modern philosophy so I made some changes to the original article. Contrary to the impression I gave here, I am quite open to read and learn from modern thinkers. I just think there’s a great deal wrong when we compare it to classical thought. But that’s my opinion 🙂 As far as postmodernity, it seems more fitting that that should be read after these books. What books would you recommend be added then?

      • Hi there, I’m not the original person you responded to, but I would consider most of Foucault’s books, stuff by Deleuze and Guattari, Lyotard’s “Postmodern Condition”, and stuff by Derrida, Nietzsche to be starting points. I’m sure I’m missing major Structuralist and Poststructuralist, as well as Frankfurt School authors here. I actually don’t read too much Postmodernism, but I recognize the incredible value it has in contemporary philosophy.

        I would also consider adding some Existentialism. Sartre, Heidegger, Nietzsche, and Kierkegaard come to mind.

        Of course this is a concise list so you obviously can’t include all or even most of these, but I hope this helps!

        • I’m saddened to see that many of the commenters are missing the point; one asks why this is primarily Western Philosophy, another tries to suggest Lyotard, Foucault, Derrida & Nietzsche as “starters”. The very point of this list is to provide a general survey into the topics of lower-division Philosophy which in the United States tends to be a more Analytic. The first year of a Philosophy program also tends intensely focused on the Greeks, one can see why it is so problematic to begin with Nietzsche or Derrida, both of whom who reference Plato & Aristotle.

          Moreover, where to even begin with Heidegger? Are first year students to begin with “Being and Time” to be completely able to understand “actuality”, “dasein” and other nuances within the German language by reading primary texts right away? Should we then begin with his simpler, “Introduction to Metaphysics”, without an understanding of what metaphysics is? Perhaps then if that’s too difficult, beginning with Husserl?

    • Postmodernism is trash, plebeian. AND it’s leading implications suggest a return to grand narratives, such as Christianity and the themes expounded by scholastic philosophy.

    • Well not only that, but there is a good case to be made for the unreliability of our senses and other common sense ideas. How about a little of that “explaining opposing views” you mention in the lead-up? Common sense is just one way of viewing the world, and to dismiss opposing and well-argued views as obviously mistaken just means this list shows books what you must absolutely read to be in one of your classes, not what it takes to become a philosopher in general. Oh, and the list is missing any and all mention of non-western thought.

    • Greg, your comment is a little partisan toward Postmodernism, no? You disparage Modern Philosophy and ignore Christianity altogether. You treat Postmodernism like it’s deserving of more than a footnote. The bias seems antithetical to the spirit of philosophy to me, like you’ve begun inquiry with your conclusions already fixed.

    • Hi Greg, on a website called “Walking Christian” you expected a list of reading that wasn’t skewed towards the philosophy of religion? Not very analytical.

  2. Kathryn Victoria Birdwell

    Not one woman? Really? Anyone wishing to become a philosopher today should first recognize that men are not the sole creators of ideas. Just because there are not many works available by women because they had to risk their lives and families to write, doesn’t mean that from our modern vantage point we should continue to ignore their contributions. I find it ridiculous it the same old white men continue to shape our thoughts and lives.

    • The focus is on ideas, not what’s in their crotch. But I am very happy to read ideas from women as well. One of my favorite philosophers happens to be Eleonore Stump because of her ideas, not her sex. But her ideas are a bit difficult to include in a starter list like this one.

    • You’re being sexist. Who cares it the author is make it female… sexists that’s who. Not only that but men are women too nowadays so who are you to demand a list includes females or males… or anything.

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