This article is for anyone who loves reading philosophy and wants to learn more about it and its beginning. There are so many worth reading philosophy books, but these are some of the classics you need to read. Click the book title or image to order one of them.
Socrates – Plato’s Apology of Socrates
Socrates (470/469 – 399 BC) was a classical Greek (Athenian) philosopher. He is stated to have in part (together with Plato and Aristotle), or exclusively, laid the foundations of Western philosophy. He is an enigmatic figure known chiefly through the accounts of classical writers, especially the writings of his students Plato and Xenophon and the plays of his contemporary Aristophanes. Plato’s dialogues are among the most comprehensive accounts of Socrates to survive from antiquity, though it is unclear the degree to which Socrates himself is “hidden behind his ‘best disciple’, Plato”.
Although Socrates himself wrote nothing, he is depicted in conversation in compositions by a small circle of his admirers—Plato and Xenophon first among them. Plato’s Apology of Socrates purports to be the speech Socrates gave at his trial in response to the accusations made against him (Greek apologia means “defense”). Its powerful advocacy of the examined life and its condemnation of Athenian democracy have made it one of the central documents of Western thought and culture.
Plato – The Republic
Plato was a classical Greek philosopher born 428-7 B.C.E and died in 348-7 B.C.E. Plato along with Socrates (his teacher) and Aristotle (his student) laid the fundamentals of Western philosophy. Along with being a mathematician he was a also a philosopher and a founder of an Academy in Athens, which was first institute which imparted higher end education to students. Socrates has a large influence of his thinking and teachings.
Plato’s Republic is a Socratic dialogue, written by Plato around 380 BC, concerning the definition of justice, the order and character of the just city-state and the just man, reason by which ancient readers used the name On Justice as an alternative title.
It is Plato’s best-known work and has proven to be one of the most intellectually and historically influential works of philosophy and political theory. The Republic is unparalleled in its coverage of all areas of life. While Plato addresses metaphysical issues, he does so with language and analogies that most people can grasp with studious reading. But Plato talks about much more than metaphysics. Marriage, music, war, kings, procreation and more are all topics of discussion for Plato’s dialog.
Aristotle – The Nicomachean Ethics
Aristotle was born at Stagira in northern Greece in 384 B.C. His father, Nicomachus, was a physician at the court of Philip of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great. In 367, Aristotle moved to Athens, which was the intellectual and cultural center of ancient Greece. He joined Plato’s Academy in Athens and remained there until the age of thirty-seven. His writings cover many subjects – including physics, biology, zoology, metaphysics, logic, ethics, aesthetics, poetry, theater, music, rhetoric, linguistics, politics and government – and constitute the first comprehensive system of Western philosophy. Shortly after Plato died, Aristotle left Athens and, at the request of Philip of Macedon, tutored Alexander the Great between 356 and 323 BCE.
The Nicomachean Ethics is Aristotle’s best-known work on ethics. The work, which plays a pre-eminent role in defining Aristotelian ethics, consists of ten books, originally separate scrolls, and is understood to be based on notes from his lectures at the Lyceum, which were either edited by or dedicated to Aristotle’s son, Nicomachus.
The theme of the work is the Socratic question which had previously been explored in Plato’s works, of how men should best live. In his Metaphysics, Aristotle described how Socrates turned philosophy to human questions, whereas Pre-Socratic philosophy had only been theoretical. Ethics, as now separated out for discussion by Aristotle, is practical rather than theoretical, in the original Aristotelian senses of these terms.
Epicurus – The Essential Epicurus
Epicurus was an ancient Greek philosopher as well as the founder of the school of philosophy called Epicureanism. Only a few fragments and letters of Epicurus’s 300 written works remain. Much of what is known about Epicurean philosophy derives from later followers and commentators.
For Epicurus, the purpose of philosophy was to attain the happy, tranquil life, characterized by ataraxia—peace and freedom from fear—and aponia—the absence of pain—and by living a self-sufficient life surrounded by friends.
The Essential Epicurus is a collection of Epicurus’ writings. His philosophy rests on an atomistic (material, not metaphysical) foundation. One is born, one dies. That’s it. So the focus is on how we live and how we ought to live. We live he says by pursuing pleasure and avoiding pain.
Epicureanism is commonly regarded as the refined satisfaction of physical desires. As a philosophy, however, it also denoted the striving after an independent state of mind and body, imperturbability, and reliance on sensory data as the true basis of knowledge.
Confucius – The Analects
Confucius (551–479 BC) was a Chinese teacher, editor, politician, and philosopher of the Spring and Autumn period of Chinese history. The philosophy of Confucius emphasized personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice and sincerity. His followers competed successfully with many other schools during the Hundred Schools of Thought era only to be suppressed in favor of the Legalists during the Qin Dynasty. Following the victory of Han over Chu after the collapse of Qin, Confucius’s thoughts received official sanction and were further developed into a system known as Confucianism.
Confucius’s principles had a basis in common Chinese tradition and belief. He championed strong family loyalty, ancestor worship, respect of elders by their children and of husbands by their wives. He also recommended family as a basis for ideal government. He espoused the well-known principle “Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself”, an early version of the Golden Rule.
The Analects, also known as the Analects of Confucius, is a collection of sayings and ideas attributed to the Chinese philosopher Confucius and his contemporaries, traditionally believed to have been written by Confucius’ followers. It is believed to have been written during the Warring States period (475 BC–221 BC), and it achieved its final form during the mid-Han dynasty (206 BC–220 AD).
René Descartes – Meditations on First Philosophy
Descartes lived from 1596 to 1650, and today he is referred to as “the Father of Modern Philosophy.” He created analytical geometry, based on his now immortal Cartesian coordinate system, immortal in the sense that we are all taught it in school, and that it is still perfectly up-to-date in almost all branches of mathematics.
Analytical geometry is the study of geometry using algebra and the Cartesian coordinate system. He discovered the laws of refraction and reflection. He also invented the superscript notation still used today to indicate the powers of exponents.He advocated dualism, which is very basically defined as the power of the mind over the body: strength is derived by ignoring the weaknesses of the human physique and relying on the infinite power of the human mind.
Descartes’s most famous statement, now practically the motto of existentialism: “Je pense donc je suis;” “Cogito, ergo sum;” “I think, therefore I am.” This is not meant to prove the existence of one’s body. Quite the opposite, it is meant to prove the existence of one’s mind. He rejected perception as unreliable, and considered deduction the only reliable method for examining, proving and disproving anything.
Meditations on First Philosophy is a philosophical treatise by René Descartes first published in 1641. The book is made up of six meditations, in which Descartes first discards all belief in things which are not absolutely certain, and then tries to establish what can be known for sure. The meditations were written as if he was meditating for 6 days: each meditation refers to the last one as “yesterday”.
Voltaire – Candide
François-Marie Arouet (21 November 1694 – 30 May 1778), known as Voltaire, was a French Enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher famous for his wit, his attacks on the established Catholic Church, and his advocacy of freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and separation of church and state.
Voltaire was a versatile writer, producing works in almost every literary form, including plays, poems, novels, essays, and historical and scientific works. He wrote more than 20,000 letters and more than 2,000 books and pamphlets. As a satirical polemicist, he frequently made use of his works to criticize intolerance, religious dogma, and the French institutions of his day.
Candide is the story of a gentle man who, though pummeled and slapped in every direction by fate, clings desperately to the belief that he lives in “the best of all possible worlds.” On the surface a witty, bantering tale, this eighteenth-century classic is actually a savage, satiric thrust at the philosophical optimism that proclaims that all disaster and human suffering is part of a benevolent cosmic plan. Fast, funny, often outrageous, the French philosopher’s immortal narrative takes Candide around the world to discover that — contrary to the teachings of his distringuished tutor Dr. Pangloss — all is not always for the best. Alive with wit, brilliance, and graceful storytelling, Candide has become Voltaire’s most celebrated work.
Jean Jacques Rousseau – The Social Contract
Jean-Jacques Rousseau was one of the most influential thinkers during the Enlightenment in eighteenth century Europe. His first major philosophical work, A Discourse on the Sciences and Arts, was the winning response to an essay contest conducted by the Academy of Dijon in 1750. In this work, Rousseau argues that the progression of the sciences and arts has caused the corruption of virtue and morality.
Rousseau remains an important figure in the history of philosophy, both because of his contributions to political philosophy and moral psychology and because of his influence on later thinkers.
The Social Contract is about the best way to establish a political community in the face of the problems of commercial society, which he had already identified in his Discourse on Inequality (1754). The Social Contract helped inspire political reforms or revolutions in Europe, especially in France. The Social Contract argued against the idea that monarchs were divinely empowered to legislate; as Rousseau asserts, only the people, who are sovereign, have that all-powerful right.
Immanuel Kant – The Critique of Pure Reason
Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) is the central figure in modern philosophy. He synthesized early modern rationalism and empiricism, set the terms for much of nineteenth and twentieth century philosophy, and continues to exercise a significant influence today in metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, political philosophy, aesthetics, and other fields. He argues that the human understanding is the source of the general laws of nature that structure all our experience; and that human reason gives itself the moral law, which is our basis for belief in God, freedom, and immortality.
The Critique of Pure Reason was published in 1781. Kant’s primary aim is to determine the limits and scope of pure reason. That is, he wants to know what reason alone can determine without the help of the senses or any other faculties. Metaphysicians make grand claims about the nature of reality based on pure reason alone, but these claims often conflict with one another. Furthermore, Kant is prompted by Hume’s skepticism to doubt the very possibility of metaphysics.
Arthur Schopenhauer – The World as Will and Representation
Arthur Schopenhauer was a German philosopher best known for his book, The World as Will and Representation, in which he claimed that our world is driven by a continually dissatisfied will, continually seeking satisfaction. He was influenced by Eastern philosophy and he was also an atheist.
At age 25, he published his doctoral dissertation, On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, which examined the four distinct aspects of experience in the phenomenal world; consequently, he has been influential in the history of phenomenology. He has influenced many thinkers, including Friedrich Nietzsche, Richard Wagner, Otto Weininger, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Erwin Schrödinger, Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Otto Rank, Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, Leo Tolstoy, Thomas Mann, and Jorge Luis Borges, among others.
The World as Will and Representation (Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung) is the central work of the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. Volume 1 of the definitive English translation of one of the most important philosophical works of the 19th century, the basic statement in one important stream of post-Kantian thought.
Nietzsche – Beyond Good and Evil
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (15 October 1844 – 25 August 1900) was a German philologist, philosopher, cultural critic, poet and composer. He wrote several critical texts on religion, morality, contemporary culture, philosophy and science, displaying a fondness for metaphor, irony and aphorism.
Nietzsche began his career as a classical philologist—a scholar of Greek and Roman textual criticism—before turning to philosophy. In 1869, at age twenty-four, he was appointed to the Chair of Classical Philology at the University of Basel, the youngest individual to have held this position. He resigned in the summer of 1879 due to health problems that plagued him most of his life.
In 1889, at age forty-four, he suffered a collapse and a complete loss of his mental faculties. The breakdown was later ascribed to atypical general paresis due to tertiary syphilis, but this diagnosis has come into question. Re-examination of Nietzsche’s medical evaluation papers show that he almost certainly died of brain cancer.
Nietzsche lived his remaining years in the care of his mother until her death in 1897, after which he fell under the care of his sister Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche until his death in 1900.
In Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche’s philosophical and literary powers are at their height: with devastating irony and flashing wit he gleefully dynamites centuries of accumulated conventional wisdom in metaphysics, morals, and psychology, clearing a path for such twentieth-century innovators as Thomas Mann, André Gide, Sigmund Freud, George Bernard Shaw, André Malraux, and Jean-Paul Sartre, all of whom openly acknowledged their debt to him.
Jean Paul Sartre – Being and Nothingness
Jean-Paul Charles Aymard Sartre (21 June 1905 – 15 April 1980) was a French philosopher, playwright, novelist, screenwriter, political activist, biographer, and literary critic. He was one of the key figures in the philosophy of existentialism and phenomenology, and one of the leading figures in 20th-century French philosophy and Marxism.
His work has also influenced sociology, critical theory, post-colonial theory, and literary studies, and continues to influence these disciplines. Sartre has also been noted for his open relationship with the prominent feminist theorist Simone de Beauvoir.
He was awarded the 1964 Nobel Prize in Literature but refused it, saying that he always declined official honors and that “a writer should not allow himself to be turned into an institution”.
Being and Nothingness is one of the most significant philosophical books of the 20th century. The central work by one of the century’s most influential thinkers, it altered the course of western philosophy. Its revolutionary approach challenged all previous assumptions about the individual’s relationship with the world. Known as ‘the Bible of existentialism’, its impact on culture & literature was immediate & was felt worldwide, from the absurdist drama of Samuel Beckett to the soul-searching cries of the Beat poets.
This is a truncated, edited version of an article found on Thinking Humanity CC 3.0 Licence