Monday, December 06, 2004


Reader Bleg: Philosophy Books.

Readers, I could use your help (I guess this is my first bleg! Yay!).

I'm looking for a single book on philosophy, one that hits the high points of Western philosophy from Greek and Roman times to at least the mid-20th Century. No real reason; it's just that I'm so far removed from undergraduate poli sci, I'd like to reacquaint myself with a few thousand years of Western thought. That, and my subscription to Highlights for Children just ran out.

I'm not really looking for a textbook (I've got some of those, gathering dust on my shelf). I'm looking for something more populist in writing style. If anything, readability and accuracy are more important than completeness; if the book puts me to sleep, it won't matter how "good" it is.

Anyways, your suggestions are much appreciated. Just leave me a comment below.

Well, off the top of my head I'd reccomend "The History of Political Philosophy," edited by Strauss and Cropsey. If you're looking for something that deals with the less political side of philosophy (assuming such a thing exists), Coppleston's History of Philosophy volumes are alright.

For metaphysics, I can't recommend highly enough Robert E. Wood's "A Path Into Metaphysics." Between that and his "Placing Aesthetics," you'll cover most of the ground you'd want to cover. In fact, on reflection, I might even see forget Coppleston and go for the Strauss/Cropsey volumes and Dr. Wood's books.
see=say. Sorry. Ergh.
I was a college textbook sales rep before I became a bad actor. I know what the book is that you seek.

Seriously, I used to work for a small college textbook company, Mayfield, that was swallowed up by McGraw Hill. We used to publish soft-side texts, IOW non-sciency stuff (apart from Archaeology).

We had a really cool text called, Does the Center Hold by Donald Palmer. I just searched for it and found that McGrawHill has kept it alive for several editions. It is an all-purpose Intro / primer text to Western Philosophy and it couldn't be more user friendly. (The original text was completely handwritten... sorta funky cool vibe it had going.)

You might be able to fine a used copy at Amazon or eBay. Here's the current page.
There's always Philosophy for Dummies. It was useful for me, but then I'm a certified Dummies, you're probably not. I bought my copy on ebay.
Did JLRB use this
to find his Philosophy book?
(I posted a similar comment here last night but don't see it, so let me try again.)

There's no short road to making philosophy part of your intellectual makeup, and survey-type books do more harm than good.

I'd suggest starting with the original writings of Plato and Aristotle, and avoiding derivitive work (books about what someone else said about philosophy.) Leave Hegel and Kant for much later. To switch gears between all the heavy going, read authors who had a substantial philosophical motive, like Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot and the ancient Greek playwrites.

To break the ice, you might with profit read "Liberal Education" by Mark Van Doren. It's highly motivating. In relatively few pages he explains how philosophy arrives in many forms and by many means, and what it contributes to us.
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