From beginner-friendly introductions to classic books on philosophy, this page features books to suit any learning style. It’s important to note that there is no single best introductory 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 dense academic 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 and 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.
Category: Pop Non-fiction | Length: 320 pages | Published: 2006
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.
Category: Short Introduction | Length: 112 pages | Published: 1987
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
Category: Pop Non-fiction | Length: 544 pages | Published: 2007
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
Category: Longer Introduction | Length: 320 pages | Published: 2013
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. …
A New History of Western Philosophy – Anthony Kenny
Category: History | Length: 1058 pages | Published: 2012
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
Category: Classic | Length: 58 pages | Published: ∼370 BC
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
Category: Classic | Length: 256 pages | Published: 167 C.E.
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
Category: Classic | Length: 72 pages | Published: 1641
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.
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University Course Syllabi:
- Introduction to Philosophy – Rutgers University
- Introduction to Philosophical Inquiry – Lander University
- Introduction to Philosophy – University of British Columbia
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A History of Western Philosophy in 500 Essential Quotations – Lennox Johnson
Category: Reference | Length: 145 pages | Published: 2019
Publisher’s Description: A History of Western Philosophy in 500 Essential Quotations is a collection of the greatest thoughts from history’s greatest thinkers. Featuring classic quotations by Aristotle, Epicurus, David Hume, Friedrich Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell, Michel Foucault, and many more, A History of Western Philosophy in 500 Essential Quotations is ideal for anyone looking to quickly understand the fundamental ideas that have shaped the modern world.