This page contains a list of the best introductory books on philosophy. Just to be clear, there is no single best book on philosophy. The best book for you will depend on your preferred learning style and the amount of time that you want to spend reading about philosophy. An 800-page scholarly overview is unlikely to be best for someone looking for a short beginner-friendly introduction, for example. This list aims to take this ambiguity into account by featuring three different kinds of introductory books. The first three books on this list are aimed at the general reader as opposed to students or aspiring academic philosophers. These are the easiest and most beginner-friendly books on this list. The next two books are more academic, i.e., books you might expect to find on a university course syllabus. The final three books are for beginners who want to dive right in an start reading classic works of philosophy. As far as classic texts go, these are relatively beginner friendly. Hopefully one of these books suits what you’re looking for.
Publisher’s description: Both entertaining and startling, The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten offers one hundred philosophical puzzles that stimulate thought on a host of moral, social, and personal dilemmas. Taking examples from sources as diverse as Plato and Steven Spielberg, author Julian Baggini presents abstract philosophical issues in concrete terms, suggesting possible solutions while encouraging readers to draw their own conclusions:
Lively, clever, and thought-provoking, The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten is a portable feast for the mind that is sure to satisfy any intellectual appetite.
Publisher’s description: In this cogent and accessible introduction to philosophy, the distinguished author of Mortal Questions and The View From Nowhere sets forth the central problems of philosophical inquiry for the beginning student. Arguing that the best way to learn about philosophy is to think about its questions directly, Thomas Nagel considers possible solutions to nine problems–knowledge of the world beyond our minds, knowledge of other minds, the mind-body problem, free will, the basis of morality, right and wrong, the nature of death, the meaning of life, and the meaning of words. Although he states his own opinions clearly, Nagel leaves these fundamental questions open, allowing students to entertain other solutions and encouraging them to think for themselves.
Sophie’s World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy – Jostein Gaarder
Publisher’s description: A page-turning novel that is also an exploration of the great philosophical concepts of Western thought, Sophie’s World has fired the imagination of readers all over the world, with more than twenty million copies in print.
One day fourteen-year-old Sophie Amundsen comes home from school to find in her mailbox two notes, with one question on each: “Who are you?” and “Where does the world come from?” From that irresistible beginning, Sophie becomes obsessed with questions that take her far beyond what she knows of her Norwegian village. Through those letters, she enrolls in a kind of correspondence course, covering Socrates to Sartre, with a mysterious philosopher, while receiving letters addressed to another girl. Who is Hilde? And why does her mail keep turning up? To unravel this riddle, Sophie must use the philosophy she is learning―but the truth turns out to be far more complicated than she could have imagined.
Think: A Compelling Introduction to Philosophy – Simon Blackburn
Publisher’s description: Here at last is a coherent, unintimidating introduction to the challenging and fascinating landscape of Western philosophy. Written expressly for “anyone who believes there are big questions out there, but does not know how to approach them,” Think provides a sound framework for exploring the most basic themes of philosophy, and for understanding how major philosophers have tackled the questions that have pressed themselves most forcefully on human consciousness.
Simon Blackburn, author of the best-selling Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, begins by making a convincing case for the relevance of philosophy and goes on to give the reader a sense of how the great historical figures such as Plato, Hume, Kant, Descartes, and others have approached its central themes. In a lively and accessible style, Blackburn approaches the nature of human reflection and how we think, or can think, about knowledge, fate, ethics, identity, God, reason, and truth. Each chapter explains a major issue, and gives the reader a self-contained guide through the problems that the philosophers have studied. Because the text approaches these issues from the gound up, the untrained reader will emerge from its pages able to explore other philosophies with greater pleasure and understanding and be able to think–philosophically–for him or herself.
Philosophy is often dismissed as a purely academic discipline with no relation to the “real” world non-philosophers are compelled to inhabit. Think dispels this myth and offers a springboard for all those who want to learn how the basic techniques of thinking shape our virtually every aspect of our existence.
A New History of Western Philosophy – Anthony Kenny
Publisher’s description: The individual volumes of Sir Anthony Kenny’s acclaimed History of Western Philosophy have been hailed as “wonderful, authoritative, hugely rewarding” (Times Higher Education Supplement) and “genial and highly accessible” (London Review of Books). Now these four splendid books have been combined into one magnificent volume, providing a continuous sweeping account of the great thought of the Western world. Here readers will find not only an authoritative guide to the history of philosophy, but also a compelling introduction to every major area of philosophical inquiry. Kenny tells the story of philosophy chronologically, his lively narrative bringing the great philosophers to life and filling in the historical and intellectual background to their work. Kenny also looks closely at each of the main areas of philosophical exploration: knowledge and understanding; science; metaphysics; mind and soul; the nature and content of morality; political philosophy; and God. A New History of Western Philosophy is a stimulating chronicle of the intellectual development of Western civilization, allowing readers to trace the birth and growth of philosophy from antiquity to the present day.
The Trial and Death of Socrates – Plato
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.
Meditations – Marcus Aurelius
Publisher’s description: Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (a.d. 121–180) succeeded his adoptive father as emperor of Rome in a.d. 161—and Meditations remains one of the greatest works of spiritual and ethical reflection ever written. With a profound understanding of human behavior, Marcus provides insights, wisdom, and practical guidance on everything from living in the world to coping with adversity to interacting with others. Consequently, the Meditations have become required reading for statesmen and philosophers alike, while generations of ordinary readers have responded to the straightforward intimacy of his style. In Gregory Hays’s new translation—the first in a generation—Marcus’s thoughts speak with a new immediacy: never before have they been so directly and powerfully presented.
Meditations on First Philosophy – René Descartes
Descartes’s Meditations on First Philosophy, the fundamental and originating work of the modern era in Western philosophy, is presented here in Donald Cress’s completely revised edition of his well-established translation, bringing this version even closer to Descartes’s original, while maintaining its clear and accessible style.
The following sources were used to build this list:
University Course Syllabi:
- Introduction to Philosophy – Rutgers University
- Introduction to Philosophical Inquiry – Lander University
- Introduction to Philosophy – University of British Columbia
- Nigel Warburton recommends the best Introductions to Philosophy
- I’m interested in philosophy – where should I start? What should a beginner read?
- Any suggestions for a good intro philosophy book?
- Looking for beginner philosophy books to read
- What are some good, easy to read, books on philosophy?
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If you’d rather dive right in and start reading classic works of philosophy, check out my free eBook: The Philosophy Handbook: Practical Readings and Quotations on Wisdom and the Good Life. It features short, beginner-friendly readings from some of history’s greatest philosophers, including Plato, Seneca, Bertrand Russell, and more. It’s an ideal collection for anyone looking to get started learning about philosophy.