Saturday, April 22, 2006

Must-read philosophy books

While I'm in the mood for lists, let me ask: what "must read" books would you most highly recommend to all advancing philosophy students? Here are my picks...

1. Derek Parfit, Reasons and Persons
2. Frank Jackson, From Metaphysics to Ethics : A Defence of Conceptual Analysis
3. Saul Kripke, Naming and Necessity
4. Dave Chalmers, The Conscious Mind : In Search of a Fundamental Theory
5. David Lewis, On the Plurality of Worlds

Honourable mention: Michael Smith, The Moral Problem

And what philosophy books would you recommend to non-philosophers? J.S. Mill's On Liberty stands out for me, and perhaps Dennett's Consciousness Explained (so long as the reader remains sufficiently skeptical of the title's claim). And the lessons of Plato's Euthyphro haven't been sufficiently recognized in our broader culture, of course. (Though modern readers might get more out of a secondary text, e.g. James Rachels' The Elements of Moral Philosophy.) Any other suggestions?

(For some related lists, see last year's Top 5 Philosophers and Book Meme.)


  1. Philosophical analysis in the 20th century by Scott Soames, a two volume set none greater than which can be conceived.

  2. Parfit and Kripke, definitely! The Dennett book would be "Darwin's Dangerous Idea," not the one on consciousness. Searle's "Speech Acts" definitely. Putnam or Davidson would be a final choice.

  3. The only list of mine that Rawls is getting on would be for "most overrated philosophers" :-p (Though I suppose one could argue that the fact that everyone else rates him so highly makes him necessary to read, regardless of the intrinsic merits of his work.)

    Nagel's good though. I really should read more of him.

  4. I would recommend Ray Monk's "Wittgenstein, The Duty of Genius. It is a biography, true, but Monk has something both very interesting and very important to say about philosophy, and that is that we cannot understand a philosopher unless we understand why they work on certain problems -- and the why is usually some sort of hidden psychological reason, not the formal one they give in their books. To understand the hidden wellsprings of a philosopher's work is to see it in a completely different light -- and learn about something both bigger and more important than philosophy itself: namely, life.

  5. great call on reasons and persons!

    i think wittgenstein's tractatus logico-philosophicus would also be a good one.

    and perhaps decartes' meditations on first philosophy for non-philosophers?


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