From beginner-friendly introductions to classic books on human nature, this page features books to suit any learning style. It’s worth noting that there is no single best book on the philosophy of human nature. The best book for you will depend heavily on your preferred learning style and the amount of time/energy you’re willing to spend reading. For example, if you tend to find classic works of philosophy difficult to understand, you might want to start with a short, beginner-friendly introduction. If you prefer more depth, you can choose a more comprehensive introduction or pick up one of the classics.
It’s also worth noting that it is not a list of personal recommendations. Personal book recommendations tend to be highly subjective, idiosyncratic, and unreliable. This list is part of a collection of over 100 philosophy reading lists which aim to provide a central resource for philosophy book recommendations. These lists were created by searching through hundreds of university course syllabi, internet encyclopedia bibliographies, and community recommendations. Links to the syllabi and other sources used to create this list are at the end of the post. Following these links will help you quickly find a broader range of options if the listed books do not fit what you are looking for.
Here are the best philosophy books on human nature in no particular order.
Thirteen Theories of Human Nature – Stevenson et al.
Publisher description: Over six previous editions, Twelve Theories of Human Nature has been a remarkably popular introduction to some of the most influential developments in Western and Eastern thought. Now titled Thirteen Theories of Human Nature, the seventh edition adds a chapter on feminist theory to those on Confucianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Plato, Aristotle, the Bible, Islam, Kant, Marx, Freud, Sartre, and Darwinism. The authors juxtapose the ideas of these and other thinkers and traditions in a way that helps students understand how humanity has struggled to comprehend its nature. …
Who Are We? Theories of Human Nature – Louis P. Pojman
Publisher description: What is our nature? What is this enigma that we call human? Who are we? Since the dawn of human history, people have exhibited wildly contradictory qualities: good and evil, love and hate, strength and weakness, kindness and cruelty, aggressiveness and pacifism, generosity and greed, courage and cowardice. Experiencing a sense of eternity in our hearts–but at the same time confined to temporal and spatial constraints–we seek to understand ourselves, both individually and as a species.
In Who Are We? Theories of Human Nature, esteemed author Louis P. Pojman seeks to find answers to these questions by exploring major theories in Western philosophy and religion, along with several traditions in Eastern thought.
Arguing About Human Nature: Contemporary Debates – Stephen M. Downes
Publisher description: Arguing About Human Nature covers recent debates–arising from biology, philosophy, psychology, and physical anthropology–that together systematically examine what it means to be human. Thirty-five essays–several of them appearing here for the first time in print–were carefully selected to offer competing perspectives on 12 different topics related to human nature. The context and main threads of the debates are highlighted and explained by the editors in a short, clear introduction to each of the 12 topics. Authors include Louise Anthony, Patrick Bateson, David Buller, John Dupre, Paul Griffiths, Sally Haslanger, Richard Lewontin, Ron Mallon, and E.O. Wilson. Contributors Rachel Cooper, Nancy Holmstrom, Kim Sterelny, and Elizabeth Cashdan provide brand new chapters in these debates. …
The Republic – Plato
Publisher description: The revised edition of Grube’s classic translation follows and furthers Grube’s noted success in combining fidelity to Plato’s text with natural readability, while reflecting the fruits of new scholarship and insights into Plato’s thought since publication of the first edition in 1974. A new introduction, index, and bibliography by Professor Reeve are included in this new rendering.
Nicomachean Ethics – Aristotle
Publisher description: Terence Irwin’s edition of the Nicomachean Ethics offers more aids to the reader than are found in any modern English translation. It includes an Introduction, headings to help the reader follow the argument, explanatory notes on difficult or important passages, and a full glossary explaining Aristotle’s technical terms.
The Third Edition offers additional revisions of the translation as well as revised and expanded versions of the notes, glossary, and Introduction. Also new is an appendix featuring translated selections from related texts of Aristotle.
Leviathan – Thomas Hobbes
Publisher description: Written during the turmoil of the English Civil War, Leviathan is an ambitious and highly original work of political philosophy. Claiming that man’s essential nature is competitive and selfish, Hobbes formulates the case for a powerful sovereign—or “Leviathan”—to enforce peace and the law, substituting security for the anarchic freedom he believed human beings would otherwise experience. This worldview shocked many of Hobbes’s contemporaries, and his work was publicly burnt for sedition and blasphemy when it was first published. But in his rejection of Aristotle’s view of man as a naturally social being, and in his painstaking analysis of the ways in which society can and should function, Hobbes opened up a whole new world of political science. …
The Descent of Man – Charles Darwin
Publisher description: In The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin refused to discuss human evolution, believing the subject too ‘surrounded with prejudices’. He had been reworking his notes since the 1830s, but only with trepidation did he finally publish The Descent of Man in 1871. The book notoriously put apes in our family tree and made the races one family, diversified by ‘sexual selection’ – Darwin’s provocative theory that female choice among competing males leads to diverging racial characteristics. Named by Sigmund Freud as ‘one of the ten most significant books’ ever written, Darwin’s Descent of Man continues to shape the way we think about what it is that makes us uniquely human. …
Human Nature after Darwin – Janet Radcliffe Richards
Publisher description: Human Nature After Darwin is an original investigation of the implications of Darwinism for our understanding of ourselves and our situation. It casts new light on current Darwinian controversies, also providing an introduction to philosophical reasoning and a range of philosophical problems.
Janet Radcliffe Richards claims that many current battles about Darwinism are based on mistaken assumptions about the implications of the rival views. Her analysis of these implications provides a much-needed guide to the fundamentals of Darwinism and the so-called Darwin wars, as well as providing a set of philosophical techniques relevant to wide areas of moral and political debate.
The lucid presentation makes the book an ideal introduction to both philosophy and Darwinism as well as a substantive contribution to topics of intense current controversy. It will be of interest to students of philosophy, science and the social sciences, and critical thinking.
The following sources were used to build this list:
University Course Syllabi:
- Philosophy of Human Nature – Marquette University
- The Philosophy of Human Nature – New York Institute of Technology
- Human Nature – University of Oregonh
- Philosophy and Science of Human Nature – Yale University
You might also be interested in the following reading lists:
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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.