This page contains a list of the nine best introductory books on metaphysics. Finding good introductory philosophy books can be difficult for two reasons. First, searching google for recommendations usually doesn’t bring up anything useful. Second, phrases like “best books on metaphysics” are ambiguous. One person may be looking for a short, beginner friendly introduction, someone else may want a comprehensive academic overview, a third person may be looking for classic works on metaphysics. This list tries to account for this ambiguity by recommending different types of books on metaphysics. Here are the best books on metaphysics in no particular order:
Metaphysics: A Very Short Introduction by Stephen Mumford
Category: Short Textbook | Length: 144 pages | Published: 2012
Publisher’s description: Metaphysics is traditionally one of the four main branches of philosophy, alongside ethics, logic and epistemology. It is an area that continues to attract and fascinate many people, even though it is generally thought to be highly complex and abstract. For some it is associated with the mystical or religious. For others it is known through the metaphysical poets who talk of love and spirituality. This Very Short Introduction goes right to the heart of the matter, getting to the basic and most important questions of metaphysical thought in order to understand the theory: What are objects? Do colors and shapes have some form of independent existence? Is the whole just a sum of the parts? What is it for one thing to cause another rather than just being associated with it? What is possible? Does time pass? By using simple questions to initiate thought about the basic issues around substance, properties, changes, causes, possibilities, time, personal identity, nothingness, and consciousness, Stephen Mumford provides a clear and down-to-earth path through this analytical tradition at the core of philosophical thought.
Riddles of Existence: A Guided Tour of Metaphysics by Earl Conee and Theodore Sider
Category: Short Textbook | Length: 218 pages | Published: 2007
Publisher’s description: The riddles of metaphysics are the deepest and most puzzling questions we can ponder. Riddles of Existence is the first book ever to make metaphysics genuinely accessible and fun. Its lively, informal style brings these questions to life and shows how stimulating it can be to think about them.
Earl Conee and Theodore Sider offer a lucid discussion of the major topics in metaphysics. What makes me the same person I was as a child? Is everything fated to be exactly as it is? Does time flow? How fast does it flow, and can one travel back in time, against the current? Does God exist? Why is there anything at all rather than nothing? If our actions are caused by things science can predict and control, how can we have free will? The authors approach these topics in an open-minded and undogmatic manner, giving readers a full sense of the issues involved. They don’t try to convince us of their point of view. Instead, they hope that, by reading this book, we will come to appreciate the importance of such problems and develop reasoned opinions of our own.
A Survey of Metaphysics by E. J. Lowe
Category: Comprehensive Textbook | Length: 416 pages | Published: 2002
Publisher’s description: A systematic overview of modern metaphysics, A Survey of Metaphysics covers all of the most important topics in the field. It adopts the fairly traditional conception of metaphysics as a subject that deals with the deepest questions that can be raised concerning the fundamental structure of reality as a whole. The book is divided into six main sections that address the following themes: identity and change, necessity and essence, causation, agency and events, space and time, and universals and particulars. It focuses on contemporary views and issues throughout, rather than on the history of metaphysics.
Metaphysics: The Big Questions by Peter Inwagen and Dean Zimmerman
Category: Anthology | Length: 654 pages | Published: 2008
Publisher’s description: This extensively revised and expanded edition of van Inwagen and Zimmerman’s popular collection of readings in metaphysics now features twenty-two additional selections, new sections on existence and reality, and an updated editorial commentary.
- Collects classic and contemporary readings in metaphysics
- Answers some of the most puzzling questions about our world and our place in it
- Covers an unparalleled range of topics
- Now includes a new section on existence and reality, expanded discussions on many classic issues, and an updated editorial commentary
Phaedo by Plato
Category: Classic | Published: ∼360 BC
Publisher’s description: The third edition of The Trial and Death of Socrates presents G. M. A. Grube’s distinguished translations, as revised by John Cooper for Plato, Complete Works. A number of new or expanded footnotes are also included along with a Select Bibliography.
Metaphysics by Aristotle
Category: Classic | Published: ∼350 BC
Publisher’s description: Joe Sachs has followed up his brilliant translation of Aristotle’s Physics with a new translation of Metaphysics. Sachs’s translations bring distinguished new light onto Aristotle’s works, which are foundational to history of science. Sachs translates Aristotle with an authenticity that was lost when Aristotle was translated into Latin and abstract Latin words came to stand for concepts Aristotle expressed with phrases in everyday Greek language. When the works began being translated into English, those abstract Latin words or their cognates were used, thus suggesting a level of jargon and abstraction, and in some cases misleading interpretation, which was not Aristotle’s language or style. These important new translations open up Aristotle’s original thought to readers.
Meditations on First Philosophy by René Descartes
Category: Classic | Published: 1641
Publisher’s description: This edition contains Donald Cress’s completely revised translation of the Meditations (from the corrected Latin edition) and recent corrections to Discourse on Method, bringing this version even closer to Descartes’s original, while maintaining the clear and accessible style of a classic teaching edition.
An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding by David Hume
Category: Classic | Published: 1748
Publisher’s description: A landmark of Enlightenment thought, Hume’s An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding is accompanied here by two shorter works that shed light on it: A Letter from a Gentleman to His Friend in Edinburgh, Hume’s response to those accusing him of atheism, of advocating extreme skepticism, and of undermining the foundations of morality; and his Abstract of A Treatise of Human Nature, which anticipates discussions developed in the Enquiry.
In his concise Introduction, Eric Steinberg explores the conditions that led Hume to write the Enquiry and the work’s important relationship to Book I of Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature.
Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics by Immanuel Kant
Category: Classic | Published: 1783
Publisher’s description: This edition of Prolegomena includes Kant’s letter of February, 1772 to Marcus Herz, a momentous document in which Kant relates the progress of his thinking and announces that he is now ready to present a critique of pure reason.
This list was created by following a method that I’ve found to be useful when searching for introductory philosophy books. It involves:
- browsing required reading lists on university course syllabi
- searching for books using the Open Syllabus Project
- browsing the bibliographies of articles on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- searching for recommendations on philosophy forums
The following sources were used to build this list:
University Course Syllabi:
If you’d like to learn more about Metaphysics, check out this collection of beginner friendly resources on Metaphysics.
And if you’d like to get more philosophy in your life, follow us on Facebook or Twitter or enter your email below to get a quote/passage from a classic work of philosophy delivered to your inbox each day. They include key passages from Plato’s Republic, Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics, Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil, and many more. Each passage is paired with a link to a beginner friendly article, video, or podcast, so you can easily learn more about that day’s idea. The goal is to make it easier for everyone to get a little bit more philosophy into their life.