Philosophy Books for Beginners

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jgweed
 
Reply Wed 21 Oct, 2009 12:38 pm
@Fernando phil,
If one wants to actually learn philosophy, there is generally no better way than to read the original text; it is there that the presentation and arguments for the position or idea is presented in the author's own words. A student of philosophy reads a text from two perspectives, I would suggest:
1. What does the philosopher actually MEAN? This implies a very close---and at least initially sympathetic--- reading of the text, often with the aid of secondary sources and later perspectives.
2. How does the philosopher philosophize? This means, among other things, how does he structure his arguments, how does he employ rhetoric, style, and even paragraphing to make his thinking clear?

A teacher of mine once remarked, not merely in a joking vein, that there are two paragraph and there are three paragraph thinkers. Descartes and Mill were careful about presenting themselves, of painting a picture of themselves to the reader, before they began their strictly philosophical discussions; Plato is well-known for the literary artistry of many of his dialogues, and this had a purpose. Heidegger, especially in his later works or lectures, had a very individual style of beginning very generally, and with each subsequent chapter (or lecture) reviewing the previous one and then meditively deepening the original topic. Aquinas used a very structured methodology of presenting the opposing views in the best light possible, then stating his position, and then refuting each of the opposing arguments one by one.
Learning these different techniques is, I think, an important part of doing and writing philosophy, because it allows a reader to more closely and personally enter into a thoughtful dialogue with the philosopher being read.
 
Catchabula
 
Reply Wed 21 Oct, 2009 03:07 pm
@Fernando phil,
Waw, so many learned people here ;-) . Why not simply Jostein Gaarder? "The World of Sophy" is translated in fifty languages.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Wed 21 Oct, 2009 07:45 pm
@Emil,
Emil;95175 wrote:
Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus is probably a better idea. It may be just as incomprehensible, but at least it is fairly short.

(Yes, I am joking. No beginner should read any of three books.)


The point is that you need some background knowledge in order to read any primary text with comprehension. So, it would be better to get an introductory book that provides you with some background knowledge. I recommend, An Introduction to Western Philosophy by Anthony Flew. Or Bertrand Russell's Introduction to Philosophy.
 
longknowledge
 
Reply Thu 22 Oct, 2009 12:06 am
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;99135 wrote:
The point is that you need some background knowledge in order to read any primary text with comprehension. So, it would be better to get an introductory book that provides you with some background knowledge. I recommend, An Introduction to Western Philosophy by Anthony Flew. Or Bertrand Russell's Introduction to Philosophy.


Oh, No! Not Russell again!
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Thu 22 Oct, 2009 12:48 am
@jgweed,
jgweed;99048 wrote:
If one wants to actually learn philosophy, there is generally no better way than to read the original text; it is there that the presentation and arguments for the position or idea is presented in the author's own words. A student of philosophy reads a text from two perspectives, I would suggest:
1. What does the philosopher actually MEAN? This implies a very close---and at least initially sympathetic--- reading of the text, often with the aid of secondary sources and later perspectives.
2. How does the philosopher philosophize? This means, among other things, how does he structure his arguments, how does he employ rhetoric, style, and even paragraphing to make his thinking clear?

A teacher of mine once remarked, not merely in a joking vein, that there are two paragraph and there are three paragraph thinkers. Descartes and Mill were careful about presenting themselves, of painting a picture of themselves to the reader, before they began their strictly philosophical discussions; Plato is well-known for the literary artistry of many of his dialogues, and this had a purpose. Heidegger, especially in his later works or lectures, had a very individual style of beginning very generally, and with each subsequent chapter (or lecture) reviewing the previous one and then meditively deepening the original topic. Aquinas used a very structured methodology of presenting the opposing views in the best light possible, then stating his position, and then refuting each of the opposing arguments one by one.
Learning these different techniques is, I think, an important part of doing and writing philosophy, because it allows a reader to more closely and personally enter into a thoughtful dialogue with the philosopher being read.


I think myself that very few beginners are prepared to read original texts "cold". They are unlikely to know, for instance, whom the author is "answering" and every author has some predecessor in mind he is replying to. Locke to Descartes; Descartes to Aquinas; Plato to the Sophists;Kant ot Hume; and so on. To know why the author is saying what he is saying you need to know who his predecessor was. Who is troubling him. What the issues are he is addressing, and why. How is the beginner to know that? Some kind of mentor or guide is needed. Some good secondary sources. Otherwise, original texts can easily turn the beginner off. I tried to read Kant's first Critique cold. I had no idea what he was talking about. What the hell is a synthetic a priori, and why is its possibility a matter of life and death for philosophy? Huh?
 
Emil
 
Reply Thu 22 Oct, 2009 01:12 am
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;99135 wrote:
The point is that you need some background knowledge in order to read any primary text with comprehension. So, it would be better to get an introductory book that provides you with some background knowledge. I recommend, An Introduction to Western Philosophy by Anthony Flew. Or Bertrand Russell's Introduction to Philosophy.


Right.

I haven't read either of those. It is has been some time since I was "introduced to philosophy".

---------- Post added 10-22-2009 at 09:15 AM ----------

kennethamy;99159 wrote:
I think myself that very few beginners are prepared to read original texts "cold". They are unlikely to know, for instance, whom the author is "answering" and every author has some predecessor in mind he is replying to. Locke to Descartes; Descartes to Aquinas; Plato to the Sophists;Kant ot Hume; and so on. To know why the author is saying what he is saying you need to know who his predecessor was. Who is troubling him. What the issues are he is addressing, and why. How is the beginner to know that? Some kind of mentor or guide is needed. Some good secondary sources. Otherwise, original texts can easily turn the beginner off. I tried to read Kant's first Critique cold. I had no idea what he was talking about. What the hell is a synthetic a priori, and why is its possibility a matter of life and death for philosophy? Huh?


Good point. I recall that when I read Hume 'cold', I had no idea why he spent so much time dealing with the 'necessary connection' (i.e. logical connection) between causes and effects. I didn't know that (some) rationalists believed that the relation between those were logical.
 
VideCorSpoon
 
Reply Thu 22 Oct, 2009 09:21 am
@Fernando phil,
Fernando;95092 wrote:
Just started to hear about philosophy and wanted to get some books that aren't to harsh but that would get me an idea in what im getting into thanks a lot


One of the best introductory books I have come across when I was an undergraduate was Twenty Questions: An introduction to Philosophy by Bowie, Michaels, and Solomon. I have the 6th edition, and I also got the instructors edition, which has additional reference information. Essentially, Twenty Questions gives you prevalent philosophical issues, like "does religion give my life meaning" or "what does science tell me about the world." From within the context of that question, the authors produce four page essays for each topic citing about a dozen primary articles. So if you wanted to read up on the question "What is the meaning of death," you could read the essay (which are very well written and extremely cogent for beginners), and then read the supplementary material they used to prove their points. So within the previous question, you could read Plato's The Death of Socrates, Chuang-Tzu's A Taoist on Death, etc. etc. etc. The list goes on in that particular question, ranging from classical works to bio-ethical questions raised only in the last few years. But go look at the table of contents on amazon.com, an impressive list of primary questions.

For people with a slightly more familiar sense of basic questions in philosophy, pick up any companion series. I am very fond of Blackwell companions. I collected about half of the series, and I have never been unsatisfied with anything any of the contributors have had to say. Take for example one of my favorite Blackwell books, A Companion To Ancient Philosophy by Gill and Pellegrin
 
longknowledge
 
Reply Thu 22 Oct, 2009 10:34 am
@VideCorSpoon,
They were being facetious. I'm currently trying Aristotle's Metaphysics after giving up on Heidegger.
 
VideCorSpoon
 
Reply Thu 22 Oct, 2009 11:03 am
@longknowledge,
Aristotle's Metaphysics is great. You definitely need to have a copy of Categories around for reference though because Aristotle references a lot of previously determined concepts, like the fundamental values of generation that come in in Zeta 7-9. Also, watch out for the translations you get, because they are not all created equal. Richard Hopes translations are very vague, especially as far as relations to earlier texts. David Bostock offers probably the best translation as far as readability and coherency. Keep in mind that Aristotle's Metaphysics in its true, un-translated form is not a book but a collection of notes taken during his lectures by his students (simply, Aristotle did not write the Metaphysics the way Socrates did not write anything in Plato). The gluing together and organization of Metaphysics has been the topic of HUGE debate in the past 50 years. Most notably, there has been controversy surrounding Aristotle's most accomplished book in Metaphysics, Zeta, where the inclusion of 7-9 (on generation) have little to do with substantial ontology and being qua being, leading many to believe it should be pushed into the early parts of book Eta (the proceeding book).

It would be great to have a discussion on the Metaphysics when you are done with it. Unfortunately, not many people have read it on the forum well enough to have a conversation on it.
 
longknowledge
 
Reply Thu 22 Oct, 2009 03:33 pm
@VideCorSpoon,
Thanks VideCorSpoon for the guidance. Have you seen my threads on Ortega on Aristotle? Comments?
 
VideCorSpoon
 
Reply Thu 22 Oct, 2009 06:56 pm
@longknowledge,
being as far as Aristotle is concerned, primarily insofar as substantial ontology goes. But your points looked very good.
 
jgweed
 
Reply Thu 22 Oct, 2009 07:41 pm
@Fernando phil,
Moderator Note:
Although this particular subforum is not designed for prolonged discussions, in this case the subject matter and the quality of responses seems to demand that it continue.
From the replies to this thread, it is our hope to cull a list of your recommendations, along with brief annotations, and to pin it in Phil. 101 as a useful guide for beginners.
My personal thanks for everyone who has, or will, contribute their considered recommendations to the thread.

I hope the discussion will continue with further reading suggestions.

John
Forum Administrator
 
onetwopi
 
Reply Mon 19 Apr, 2010 10:20 pm
@Catchabula,
Catchabula;99077 wrote:
Waw, so many learned people here ;-) . Why not simply Jostein Gaarder? "The World of Sophy" is translated in fifty languages.


Yes!! I'm glad I wasn't the only one who thinks Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder is a great introduction into philosophy and gives a good overview so that a potential student can see which areas of philosophy interest him or her.
 
TuringEquivalent
 
Reply Fri 23 Apr, 2010 04:27 pm
@onetwopi,
search for metaphysics in here Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
 
longknowledge
 
Reply Fri 23 Apr, 2010 09:52 pm
@TuringEquivalent,
TuringEquivalent;155821 wrote:
search for metaphysics in here Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Or here: The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
 
TuringEquivalent
 
Reply Sat 24 Apr, 2010 12:02 am
@longknowledge,
longknowledge;155952 wrote:


Yes. I suggest anyone to read, and understand everything there. Metaphysics is after all the foundation of all fields of western philosophy.
 
Citia
 
Reply Sun 16 May, 2010 04:53 pm
@Catchabula,
Catchabula;99077 wrote:
Waw, so many learned people here ;-) . Why not simply Jostein Gaarder? "The World of Sophy" is translated in fifty languages.


That was the book that got me interested in philosophy. Compared to other intro's, it's a fun and ligh book to read. I really enjoyed it Smile
 
longknowledge
 
Reply Sun 16 May, 2010 09:19 pm
@Fernando phil,
The Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset once pointed out the ridiculousness of the name "Philosophy" and characterized it jokingly as "The Love of Sophie."
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Sun 16 May, 2010 09:25 pm
@longknowledge,
longknowledge;165130 wrote:
The Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset once pointed out the ridiculousness of the name "Philosophy" and characterized it jokingly as "The Love of Sophie."


The name, "Sophie" of course derives from the same root as the term, "philosophy". "Sophia" in ancient Greek means wisdom or understanding.
 
longknowledge
 
Reply Sun 16 May, 2010 10:05 pm
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;165132 wrote:
The name, "Sophie" of course derives from the same root as the term, "philosophy". "Sophia" in ancient Greek means wisdom or understanding.

Gee, thanks Mr. Amy, I didn't know that.

:flowers:
 
 

 
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