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allen_o's avatar

What are the best books to buy if I'm interested in doing a degree in philosophy?

Asked by allen_o (1490points) July 8th, 2008 from iPhone

I am considering doing an open university course in philosophy but would like to research the subject before I decide, any tips?

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19 Answers

shrubbery's avatar

Try Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder. Fantastic introduction to most of the great philosophers and their thoughts in an easy and accessible manner. That being said, it still does take a while to get through, but it is a very enjoyable and thought provoking book.

tinyfaery's avatar

Philosophy is a broad discipline. Try collections dealing with the different branches, or if you are interested in a certain branch, try collections based on these. A book I’m currently reading, The Human Touch, by Michael Frayn, is a great “lay persons” guide to current philosophical inquiries. Have fun. I’m a former philosophy student, and a current buff.

allen_o's avatar

I just ordered sophie’s world from, it was listed as 1p plus p&p.

The branches of philosophy that interest me most are metaphysics and ethics. I already have a degree in psychiatric nursing but I want to keep learning.

mirza's avatar

Instead of reading books about philosophy, why not read books with that have a huge philosophical meaning like

- No Exit by Jean-Paul Satre
– The Stranger by Albert Camus
– The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
– Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Diaries by Robert M. Pirsig

tinyfaery's avatar

@mizra. Yes, but without a context of understanding, like existential theory, No Exit will not make a lot of sense. You’ll definitely get an impression, but not necessarliy deep understanding.

And why all the Ayn Rand fans? I always found her to be a nihilist and an elitist. But that’s just me.

arnbev959's avatar

Philosophy = most beneficial and crucial thing to study.
Philosophy in an academic setting = eh.

Unless you know that an actual degree in philosophy will do you some good, I’d stay away from studying it for a grade. There are plenty of classes you can take outside of a university which might be better.

Mirza’s suggestion is really good. You might do as well to study independently and come to your own conclusions about the world without hearing other people’s conclusions first.

gailcalled's avatar

Respectfully, I disagree with Mirza’a suggestion…too hit-or-miss. And discussion is paramount in this arena.

Here’s a comprehensive bibliography with subgroups for metaphysics and ethics.

And: “David Denby, New York city movie critic and journalist, re-entered Columbia University in 1991 (having graduated in 1961) to take the university’s famous course in Great Books.

This is the course that, in preserving the notion of the western canon without apology to multiculturalists and feminists, has been an unlikely focus of America’s culture war in recent years. Where other universities have caved in…..Columbia’s course has remained intact.

Denby’s intention as a writer and protagonist in the culture war was to record the experience and the personal impact of the course. He has produced a cry from the heart in favor of the classics of western civilization…”

gailcalled's avatar

I read the Denby book and it sent me back to many of the classics I hadn’t thought about in decades. He’s a funny, self-deprecating and clever writer.

tinyfaery's avatar

@gailcalled You just described the main reason I chaged my major from philosophy to women’s studies, with 5 courses left to complete. The idea of the western philosophical tradition is not only elitist, but completely irrelevant to contemporary life. What about Derrida and Foucault? They have pointed out every major flaw within the traditional practice of philosophy; most notably those surrounding “alternative” processes of understanding.

Even post-modern philosophy, which by your definition, would be entirely excluded in that Columbia Univ. class, is dated. Philosophy must change with the times, or it will become useless. This makes comments like petthepothead’s understandable.

Philosophy is a great academic discipline. There is no better major for understanding the ideology behind every facet of human thought and action.

gailcalled's avatar

I’m no expert…or perhaps to be more truthful, I am a philosophical dunderhead. And I find Derrida incomprehensible…And your reasoning is based on experiences that I haven’t had so I can’t or don’t dare argue.

Best of luck to you in your Women’s Studies concentration. We each can know only so much, I find.

tinyfaery's avatar

Thanks gail. But that was awhile ago and I’m already settled with an MA.

gailcalled's avatar

In Women’s Studies also? Do you teach?

lifeflame's avatar

Actually, I didn’t like Sophie’s World. I got annoyed by the story—I wasn’t compelled by it, it was too obvious an attempt to “hook” people in and didn’t seem to have integrity of its own.
I would recommend instead the “for Beginners…” series:
e.g., Philosophy for Beginners

They provide a great overview, especially for philosphers like Hegel which are really rich but are really convuluted to read! ,

I think philosophy is about learning how to think, so I’d actually second mirza’s list; and learn to read and think critically. And if you want a framework, hit the ”... for Beginners” series and then go on to read the philosophers you like. It’s really important though to read the original text, and you’ll have to do this in university.

(I’d also consider going to the local library instead of buying all these books!)

mirza's avatar

@tinyfaery: i find it a lot more useful to derive the meaning of existentialism from a book then reading some book explaining existentialism. As for why ayn rand – she represents objective philosophy to me. Honestly, I like self-righteous egoistic elitist people a lot better then banal beings preaching equality,

I would rather come up with my definition of a particular philosophy then accept what an author explains it to be. Also if you want to check out on some prelude on philosophy before reading these books, I would recommend these series of books that describe particular philosophies in 60 minutes like Nietzche in 60 Minutes

shrubbery's avatar

I agree with you lifeflame on the story in Sophie’s world, I didn’t like the ending, but I still think it’s a great way to learn about each of the different philosophers and philosophies.

tinyfaery's avatar

@mizra Wow! Never thought of rationalizing and theorizing equality as banal. And judging for yourself is one thing, but the study and practice of philosophy is rigid and structured. If you cannot produce theory behind the practice, or use the correct jargon, you have not produced a philosophical essay/text. Sartre would not have written No Exit without an encyclopedic knowledge of philosophy and philosophers. In a sense, all philosophy is, is reaction to, and building upon, other ideas and works that have preceded. If you have no background, this is impossible.

And no one can understand all of Nietzsche in 60 minutes. If one wants the cliff’s notes version, I guess that would suffice.

shrubbery's avatar

You could try listening to the philosophy podcast you can find on iTunes :)

nina's avatar

Try ‘When Nietzsche Wept’ and ‘The Schopenhauer Cure’ by Irvin Yalom. These are novels about philosophy written by a practicing psychotherapist. Illuminationg!

shrubbery's avatar

Sorry, one more from me, I’d also recommend The Philosophy Gym by Stephen Law.

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