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Old 11-11-2017, 03:38 PM   #1
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Philosophy Books

Is anyone interested in philosophy? It's one of the subjects I most enjoy reading about, particularly ancient and mediaeval philosophy, so I thought it might be of interest to have a thread for recommendations of, and discussions about, philosophy books.

If I had to pick one book to recommend, it would be Bertrand Russell's magnificent, idiosyncratic, flawed, but wonderfully witty and well-written "A History of Western Philosophy", the book which was largely responsible for his award of the Nobel Prize for Literature a few years after its publication. You can love it or hate it (and opinion in the academic world is split 50:50), but you can't ignore it. If you only ever read one philosophy book, this should be the one!

Somewhat more "balanced" surveys of the subject are Anthony Kenny's four-volume "A New History of Western Philosophy" (the title a homage to Russell), whose four volumes deal with ancient, mediaeval, pre-modern, and modern philosophy respectively, and Anthony Gottlieb's "The Dream of Reason" (the Greeks to the Renaissance) and "The Dream of Enlightenment" (the rise of modern philosophy). All great reads.

As far as reading the actual writings of philosophers go, I'm very much stuck in the ancient world, and my two favourites are THE two ancient masters: Plato and Aristotle. Fortunately both were liked by early Christian theologians, so, unlike most ancient writers, we have a great deal of their work. We have probably everything that Plato wrote, and much (but not all) of Aristotle. Plato wrote flowing dialogues, but what we have of Aristotle is probably the lecture notes he used for teaching in his philosophical school in Athens, so it's rather terse and challenging.

Anyone else interested in this topic, or am I alone in finding the subject fascinating?
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Old 11-11-2017, 09:18 PM   #2
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I used to read a fair bit back when I was young and full of questions and energy. It's too much effort for me today.

I especially loved Nietzsche's works, as translated by R.J. Hollingdale or W. Kaufmann. I found Nietzsche's use of aphorisms to be much more accessible and engrossing than the mathematical logic of most philosophers since the Renaissance.
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Old 11-12-2017, 03:22 AM   #3
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I, too, find the subject fascinating, but I find many of the books overwhelming. One of my problems is that I have the long ingrained habit of reading one thing at a time, and philosophy tends to be too dense a subject for that to work very well (you don't get the best out of the book, and it still takes a very long time to get through it).

I recently read "Every Time I Find the Meaning of Life, They Change It", by Daniel Klein (2015). This is a very light way to get a peek at many different schools of the thought. In some respects it's too light, it often leaves you wishing for more depth, but because it is this light it is more accessible than many other works, and it gives you enough that you can go looking for more on areas of interest.

Another fairly recent read was "Unto This Last And Other Essays On Political Economy" by John Ruskin (1862). Difficult, but I found it to be a rewarding read. I have studied some economics and accounting, and it was interesting to find a contrasting view of how economics might work - one based on an entirely different philosophy. (I came to this after reading that Gandhi was influenced by the "Unto This Last" essay, which I found intriguing.)

...

The other thing I might suggest is that many readers are closet philosophers, whether they realise it or not. One of the joys (for me) of Terry Pratchett's work are the deep thoughts that lie behind the humour. And I'm currently reading "Lamb" by Christopher Moore, which is as funny as I expected but also much more serious than I expected - often in the same line. The book is much more thoughtful than the tagline or blurb would have you believe. (I suspect this talent is why I've seen Moore compared to Pratchett.)

It can be easier, more accessible, to be confronted with the big questions in a narrative - something that Plato tried to achieve with his dialogues. ... Of course, the reader is subject to the whims of the author in this case. (This is partly true in dedicated philosophy books, too, but in a fictional narrative it is easier for the author's whims and prejudices to hide behind the dictates of the story.)
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Old 11-12-2017, 04:19 AM   #4
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Among the survey books, my favorites are by Peter Adamson: Classical Philosophy: A History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps, Volume 1; Philosophy in the Hellenistic and Roman Worlds: A History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps, Volume 2; and Philosophy in the Islamic World: A History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps, Volume 3.

Last edited by rhadin; 11-19-2017 at 04:05 AM. Reason: The Islamic World book should have been listed as volume 3, not volume 2
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Old 11-12-2017, 04:32 AM   #5
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Thanks, Richard. I've seen these, but not read them. I'll add them to my list. It's always interesting to read different opinions on philosophy.
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Old 11-12-2017, 10:28 AM   #6
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I've got the Bertrand Russell book. Have you tried Roger Scruton's philosophy books? An Intelligent Person's Guide to Philosophy and A Short History of Modern Philosophy? I like his Understanding Music: Philosophy and Interpretation book as well.
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Old 11-12-2017, 10:30 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by HarryT View Post
Is anyone interested in philosophy? It's one of the subjects I most enjoy reading about, particularly ancient and mediaeval philosophy, so I thought it might be of interest to have a thread for recommendations of, and discussions about, philosophy books.

If I had to pick one book to recommend, it would be Bertrand Russell's magnificent, idiosyncratic, flawed, but wonderfully witty and well-written "A History of Western Philosophy", the book which was largely responsible for his award of the Nobel Prize for Literature a few years after its publication. You can love it or hate it (and opinion in the academic world is split 50:50), but you can't ignore it. If you only ever read one philosophy book, this should be the one!

Somewhat more "balanced" surveys of the subject are Anthony Kenny's four-volume "A New History of Western Philosophy" (the title a homage to Russell), whose four volumes deal with ancient, mediaeval, pre-modern, and modern philosophy respectively, and Anthony Gottlieb's "The Dream of Reason" (the Greeks to the Renaissance) and "The Dream of Enlightenment" (the rise of modern philosophy). All great reads.

As far as reading the actual writings of philosophers go, I'm very much stuck in the ancient world, and my two favourites are THE two ancient masters: Plato and Aristotle. Fortunately both were liked by early Christian theologians, so, unlike most ancient writers, we have a great deal of their work. We have probably everything that Plato wrote, and much (but not all) of Aristotle. Plato wrote flowing dialogues, but what we have of Aristotle is probably the lecture notes he used for teaching in his philosophical school in Athens, so it's rather terse and challenging.

Anyone else interested in this topic, or am I alone in finding the subject fascinating?
Thanks for the recommendation of the Kenny books. Just picked up volume I.
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Old 11-12-2017, 08:57 PM   #8
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I'd like to throw Spengler's Decline of the West (2 volumes) in the pot.
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Old 11-12-2017, 09:30 PM   #9
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There's also Isaiah Berlin, described as both philosopher and historian because of his focus on the history of ideas.

His best known work is probably Russian Thinkers, on the emergence of the 19th century Russian intelligentsia (the basis of Tom Stoppard's Coast of Utopia trilogy). This includes his most famous essay, The Hedgehog and the Fox, which takes off from Tolstoy's philosophy of history and delves into the oppostion of monistic (hedgehog, "single central vision ... universal, organising principle") vs pluralistic (fox) thinkers.


"The new history is like a deaf man replying to questions which nobody puts to him […] the primary question […] is, what power is it that moves the destinies of peoples? […] History seems to presuppose that this power can be taken for granted, and is familiar to everyone, but, in spite of every wish to admit that this power is familiar to us, anyone who has read a great many historical works cannot help doubting whether this power, which different historians understand in different ways, is in fact so completely familiar to everyone."
(Tolstoy, War and Peace, epilogue, part 2, chapter 1)

"Tolstoy was by nature not a visionary; he saw the manifold objects and situations on earth in their full multiplicity; he grasped their individual essences, and what divided them from what they were not, with a clarity to which there is no parallel. Any comforting theory which attempted to collect, relate, ‘synthesise’, reveal hidden substrata and concealed inner connections, which, though not apparent to the naked eye, nevertheless guaranteed the unity of all things, the fact that they were ‘ultimately’ parts one of another with no loose ends – the ideal of the seamless whole – all such doctrines he exploded contemptuously and without difficulty.

"His genius lay in the perception of specific properties, the almost inexpressible individual quality in virtue of which the given object is uniquely different from all others. Nevertheless he longed for a universal explanatory principle; that is, the perception of resemblances or common origins, or single purpose, or unity in the apparent variety of the mutually exclusive bits and pieces which composed the furniture of the world. Like all very penetrating, very imaginative, very clear-sighted analysts who dissect or pulverise in order to reach the indestructible core, and justify their own annihilating activities (from which they cannot abstain in any case) by the belief that such a core exists, he continued to kill his rivals’ rickety constructions with cold contempt, as being unworthy of intelligent men, always hoping that the desperately-sought-for ‘real’ unity would presently emerge from the destruction of the shams and frauds – the knock-kneed army of eighteenth-and nineteenth-century philosophies of history."
(Berlin, Hedgehog and the Fox)


Historicism or the Philosophy of History was a frequent subject of his as was the Counter-Enlightenment and the Romantics, and their evolution into nationalism.

For those looking for a more general approach to Berlin, a selection of his essays has been published as The Proper Study Of Mankind.
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Old 11-18-2017, 06:53 AM   #10
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I'm currently reading a very enjoyable book:

Philosophy for Life: And other dangerous situations, by Jules Evans

Amazon description:

Quote:
In his engaging book, Jules Evans explains how ancient philosophy saved his life, and how we can all use it to become happier, wiser and more resilient. Jules imagines a dream school, which includes 12 of the greatest and most colourful thinkers the world has ever known.

Each of these ancient philosophers teaches a technique we can use to transform ourselves and live better lives. These practical techniques are illustrated by the extraordinary stories of real people who are using them today - from marines to magicians, from astronauts to anarchists and from CBT psychologists to soldiers. Jules also explores how ancient philosophy is inspiring modern communities - Socratic cafes, Stoic armies, Platonic sects, Sceptic summer camps - and even whole nations in their quest for the good life.
An interesting and thought-provoking read.
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Old 11-19-2017, 04:12 AM   #11
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I just bought in hardcover (new through the B&N Marketplace for $2.50) Jacob Needleman's Why Can't We Be Good?. (The link is to the Nook ebook version.) This is the description of the book:

Quote:
The widely respected social philosopher embarks on his most gripping and broadly appealing work, asking the ultimate question of human nature: Why do we repeatedly violate our most deeply held values and beliefs?

After nearly forty years of weighing humanity's deepest dilemmas-working in settings ranging from university and high school classrooms to corporate offices and hospitals-bestselling author, philosopher, and religious scholar Jacob Needleman presents the most urgent, deeply felt, and widely accessible work of his career.

In Why Can't We Be Good? Needleman identifies the core problem that therapists and social philosophers fail to see. He depicts the individual human as a being who knows what is good, yet who remains mysteriously helpless to innerly adopt the ethical, moral, and religious ideas that are bequeathed to him.
I haven't started the book yet (I have a lot of other books ahead of it in the TBR pile), but every time I see it in the TBR pile it is calling me to start reading it.

The question the title poses particularly struck me as being an appropriate question in light of recent events -- the Trump election, the sexual harassment charges, the Trump approach to world problems, among others. I don't know what answer Needleman provides, but it will be fascinating to find out.
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Old 11-19-2017, 04:37 AM   #12
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Hah! Why didn't the blurb just give out the answer? There's your answer.
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Old 11-19-2017, 06:59 AM   #13
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I'm currently reading a very enjoyable book:

Philosophy for Life: And other dangerous situations, by Jules Evans



An interesting and thought-provoking read.
Thank you for mentioning this one. Just bought it.
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Old 11-20-2017, 10:09 PM   #14
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I'd like to add American Philosophy: A Love Story by John Kaag -- a quirky paean to both classic American philosophers and to libraries.

http://https://www.amazon.com/American-Philosophy-Story-John-Kaag/dp/0374537208/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1511229875&sr=8-1&keywords=american+philosophy+a+love+story
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Old 11-21-2017, 11:20 AM   #15
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I'm currently reading a very enjoyable book:

Philosophy for Life: And other dangerous situations, by Jules Evans
That was a very interesting read. It's essentially a "self-help" book, using the different schools of ancient Greek philosophy as a guide to how we can lead a better life. It's well established in the practice of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) that we can use our reason to examine our unconscious beliefs and habits, by practice change those beliefs, and thus consciously change undesirable patterns of behaviour. What this book examines is what the different schools of philosophy - Stoics, Epicureans, Cynics, Platonists, Pythagoreans, Aristoteleans, etc - believed was the best way to live, and what the good points of each philosophical tradition are that we could usefully adopt in the modern world.

Highly recommended.
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