Philosophy: Good primers and essential reading?

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Philosophy: Good primers and essential reading?

#1  Postby Astreja » Jul 07, 2010 4:22 am

I look at this sub-forum with great longing, wanting to participate but not really being all that conversant with the classics and some of the terminology.

Can you recommend any websites or smallish books that cover the basics of philosophical discourse without bogging down in minutiae?
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Re: Philosophy: Good primers and essential reading?

#2  Postby shh » Jul 07, 2010 4:26 am

Think by Simon Blackburn is a very good, brief intro.
Might be a good idea to specify what you're interested in, as the topic is so broad. I'd strongly advise against "50 philosophical ideas you should know" as the authors didn't seem to know any of the fifty.
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Re: Philosophy: Good primers and essential reading?

#3  Postby Mr.Samsa » Jul 07, 2010 4:52 am

There's a load of links and suggestions over at the now defunct RD.net: Philosophy Resources. There is some stuff for beginners as well as some more advanced resources, but generally the users who have submitted them have noted which are which.

I'm much too lazy to transfer them all over here though... :grin:
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Re: Philosophy: Good primers and essential reading?

#4  Postby Nocterro » Jul 07, 2010 11:50 am

I second "Think" by Simon Blackburn. I'm also going to recommend "Sophie's World" by Jostein Gaarder - a history of philosophy, in story form. Also, bookmark this for reference: http://plato.stanford.edu/
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Re: Philosophy: Good primers and essential reading?

#5  Postby UndercoverElephant » Jul 07, 2010 5:48 pm

Astreja wrote:I look at this sub-forum with great longing, wanting to participate but not really being all that conversant with the classics and some of the terminology.

Can you recommend any websites or smallish books that cover the basics of philosophical discourse without bogging down in minutiae?


Sophie's World is an excellent intro to philosophy.

ETA: I see it has already been recommended. That's two votes. It usually get slated here, but that might have something to do with the sort of people who post here...
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Re: Philosophy: Good primers and essential reading?

#6  Postby Comte de St.-Germain » Jul 08, 2010 7:38 am

Sophie's World is an excellent intro to philosophy.


Doesn't have Nietzsche. That said, it's better to not have him then to discuss him like Bertrand Wooster.
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Re: Philosophy: Good primers and essential reading?

#7  Postby Jef » Jul 08, 2010 8:11 am

UndercoverElephant wrote:

Sophie's World is an excellent intro to philosophy.

ETA: I see it has already been recommended. That's two votes.


Three votes. It's a fun introduction which will give you plenty of leads to follow up.
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Re: Philosophy: Good primers and essential reading?

#8  Postby UndercoverElephant » Jul 08, 2010 9:15 am

Comte de St.-Germain wrote:
Sophie's World is an excellent intro to philosophy.


Doesn't have Nietzsche. That said, it's better to not have him then to discuss him like Bertrand Wooster.


New philosophers should probably not be exposed to Nietzsche until they have already had their minds put through a cheese-grater by Kant and Hegel.
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Re: Philosophy: Good primers and essential reading?

#9  Postby Tsuyoiko » Jul 08, 2010 10:16 am

Plato's Gorgias, Protagoras and Meno are good introductions to the Socratic dialogues. They will introduce you to important methods (such as critical thinking) and issues (such as the nature of virtue) in philosophy in an entertaining way.
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Re: Philosophy: Good primers and essential reading?

#10  Postby Astreja » Jul 09, 2010 4:10 am

Thanks for all the recommendations! I'll be keeping an eye out for Think and Sophie's World, and then go for a romp through all the links.

As for my overall area of interest, I'd like to get a decent grounding in basic methods and three or four of the most contentious issues, then focus on one of them. I'm not sure which way I'll ultimately go, but ethics, epistemology and logic are going to be on the short list for sure.
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Re: Philosophy: Good primers and essential reading?

#11  Postby Comte de St.-Germain » Jul 09, 2010 8:02 am

There's also Maya, from the same author as Sophie's world, which deals more with eastern philosophy - perhaps UE can cover more of that, I didn't find that a terribly impressive book either.
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Re: Philosophy: Good primers and essential reading?

#12  Postby UndercoverElephant » Jul 09, 2010 9:31 am

Comte de St.-Germain wrote:There's also Maya, from the same author as Sophie's world, which deals more with eastern philosophy - perhaps UE can cover more of that, I didn't find that a terribly impressive book either.


I haven't read it. If I was going to recommend something in that vein it would probably be Aldous Huxley's collection "The Perrennial Philosophy."
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Re: Philosophy: Good primers and essential reading?

#13  Postby Tsuyoiko » Jul 09, 2010 12:00 pm

I'll suggest some works for each of the areas you mentioned, but you'll probably want to google for an overview of the ideas contained in them first, rather than jumping straight into the actual works.

Astreja wrote:ethics


On Liberty and Utilitarianism by John Stuart Mill
Anything by Peter Singer
The Socratic Dialogues
Modern Moral Philosophy by G Anscombe
Ethics Without Principles by Jonathan Dancy

Astreja wrote:epistemology


Problems of Philosophy by Bertrand Russell
Discourse on the Method by Rene Descartes
An Introduction to Contemporary Epistemology by Jonathan Dancy

Astreja wrote:logic


Organon by Aristotle
Concept Notation by Gottlob Frege
Principia Mathematica by Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead
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Re: Philosophy: Good primers and essential reading?

#14  Postby Comte de St.-Germain » Jul 09, 2010 8:03 pm

Tsuyoiko wrote:I'll suggest some works for each of the areas you mentioned, but you'll probably want to google for an overview of the ideas contained in them first, rather than jumping straight into the actual works.

Astreja wrote:ethics


On Liberty and Utilitarianism by John Stuart Mill
Anything by Peter Singer
The Socratic Dialogues
Modern Moral Philosophy by G Anscombe
Ethics Without Principles by Jonathan Dancy

Astreja wrote:epistemology


Problems of Philosophy by Bertrand Russell
Discourse on the Method by Rene Descartes
An Introduction to Contemporary Epistemology by Jonathan Dancy

Astreja wrote:logic


Organon by Aristotle
Concept Notation by Gottlob Frege
Principia Mathematica by Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead


With the exception of Aristotle and Frege, all shit.

Although UE's advice is solid on Sophie's World, I usually recommend people use wikipedia. There just isn't a proper general book on philosophy that isn't horribly biased one way or the other. From there, read primary works of authors - don't be afraid to read diagonal, skip chapters or not understand stuff. Go back later if you want more. Check out different authors, different viewpoints.
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Re: Philosophy: Good primers and essential reading?

#15  Postby The Black Jester » Jul 11, 2010 2:15 am

Comte de St.-Germain wrote:

With the exception of Aristotle and Frege, all shit.

Although UE's advice is solid on Sophie's World, I usually recommend people use wikipedia. There just isn't a proper general book on philosophy that isn't horribly biased one way or the other. From there, read primary works of authors - don't be afraid to read diagonal, skip chapters or not understand stuff. Go back later if you want more. Check out different authors, different viewpoints.


Intriguing advice. Forgive the intrusion, but I've been following this thread (and other Philosophy threads) with interest, and have appreciated your contributions. I've been looking for some advice on solid, introductory material myself, and have been frustrated by the offerings I've been finding thus far. Most that I've seen do seem to have a fairly obvious slant, particularly where introductions to Philosophy of Mind are concerned. I can't imagine introductory material in, say, Ethics would be any less biased.
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Re: Philosophy: Good primers and essential reading?

#16  Postby Comte de St.-Germain » Jul 11, 2010 10:33 am

The Black Jester wrote:
Comte de St.-Germain wrote:

With the exception of Aristotle and Frege, all shit.

Although UE's advice is solid on Sophie's World, I usually recommend people use wikipedia. There just isn't a proper general book on philosophy that isn't horribly biased one way or the other. From there, read primary works of authors - don't be afraid to read diagonal, skip chapters or not understand stuff. Go back later if you want more. Check out different authors, different viewpoints.


Intriguing advice. Forgive the intrusion, but I've been following this thread (and other Philosophy threads) with interest, and have appreciated your contributions. I've been looking for some advice on solid, introductory material myself, and have been frustrated by the offerings I've been finding thus far. Most that I've seen do seem to have a fairly obvious slant, particularly where introductions to Philosophy of Mind are concerned. I can't imagine introductory material in, say, Ethics would be any less biased.


I have been quite slanted in this thread, specifically to underline that. UE's advice is pretty solid because Jostein Gaardner is one of the few authors that does the introduction reasonably well. If you look at Bertrand Wooster Russell, you'll come out feeling pretty horrible if you have any regard for Post-Kantian German philosophy.

There are introductions into contemporary/modern/whatever ethics, but really, if you want to know the deal, read no further than Nietzsche, Levinas and MacIntyre (After Virtue). None of those books are introductions, however, and perhaps even impossible to read for someone who doesn't have a background in philosophy. Hence my recommendation of wikipedia. It's not entirely fair and balanced, but if you read multiple articles, you usually end up with a pretty good understanding.

For an understanding of Nietzsche, I would first recommend his own books, if that's impossible, the wikipedia pages on him and his works, and only then various introduction texts. The latter are always occupied with interpreting him in their own ideology.

Now, is my advice above on ethics biased. Sure. MacIntyre is a Thomist - a Christian - and I sincerely doubt anyone can believe what Levinas is selling, but I do believe that ethics is in quite a crisis. Mind you, I think the real interesting stuff on ethics is being done in the field of evolutionary psychology, and whoever wins that gets to do the rest (hence my involvement there :) ).
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Re: Philosophy: Good primers and essential reading?

#17  Postby katja z » Jul 11, 2010 12:26 pm

Comte de St.-Germain wrote:
From there, read primary works of authors - don't be afraid to read diagonal, skip chapters or not understand stuff.

:shock: You would recommend diagonal reading of philosophy? :scratch: I'd always been under the impression that I had to get everything the author was saying, and this can be slow and hard work*, especially with the more recent ones, with the whole cumulative history of the field behind them.

In fact, the more I think about it, the more it seems that "don't be afraid to not understand stuff" is probably the best advice that can be given to a beginner in philosophy. :thumbup:

*especially when you're desperately trying to make sense of things that don't necessarily make sense - that this can happen was a major revelation to me ;)

A quick note on reading philosophy in translation ... much depends on which translation you pick. A number of things may happen in translation that can affect your understanding of the text: the translator may put a slant on the text; or the translator may simply have misread certain bits, got the grammar wrong etc., and this can change the meaning of a sentence quite radically; it can also happen that a translation can be even more complicated and convoluted to read than the original, which can put you off an author, for entirely wrong reasons! English speakers are lucky in that many essential texts are available in more than one translation, so you can, in principle, cross-check passages that look confusing.

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Re: Philosophy: Good primers and essential reading?

#18  Postby The Black Jester » Jul 11, 2010 4:48 pm

Comte de St.-Germain wrote:If you look at Bertrand Wooster Russell, you'll come out feeling pretty horrible if you have any regard for Post-Kantian German philosophy.


:lol:

Is there truly no value in reading Russell's works, or merely no value in his History of Philosophy?

Comte de St.-Germain wrote:None of those books are introductions, however, and perhaps even impossible to read for someone who doesn't have a background in philosophy. Hence my recommendation of wikipedia. It's not entirely fair and balanced, but if you read multiple articles, you usually end up with a pretty good understanding.


I have suspected that my attempts to learn Philosophy would be ill-fated without more formal instruciton in the area (I have had some, but minimal). Indeed, it almost put me off the quest entirely. Sole reliance on my own faculties seemed foolish and deluded at best, and likely to lead me entirely astray at worst. It is comforting to know that Wikipedia has some actual useful information :P , that can perhaps rescue my endeavors. I will take your advice.

Comte de St.-Germain wrote:For an understanding of Nietzsche, I would first recommend his own books, if that's impossible, the wikipedia pages on him and his works, and only then various introduction texts. The latter are always occupied with interpreting him in their own ideology.


This strikes me as very wise. There always seems to be a desperate attempt to appropriate Nietzsche, or worse, to "rescue" him from certain implications by commentators on his works. But I am definitely fascinated by what I have encountered of his works - there is a strange gravitational pull about him for me.

katja z wrote: You would recommend diagonal reading of philosophy? I'd always been under the impression that I had to get everything the author was saying, and this can be slow and hard work*, especially with the more recent ones, with the whole cumulative history of the field behind them.


My initial reaction exactly. I read Philosophy terribly slowly as a result, making my attempts to learn anything in a particular area laborious and painful. But rewarding, nonetheless. It's encouraging to think I can give myself permission to "not understand."
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Re: Philosophy: Good primers and essential reading?

#19  Postby Comte de St.-Germain » Jul 11, 2010 11:51 pm

The Black Jester wrote:
Comte de St.-Germain wrote:If you look at Bertrand Wooster Russell, you'll come out feeling pretty horrible if you have any regard for Post-Kantian German philosophy.


:lol:

Is there truly no value in reading Russell's works, or merely no value in his History of Philosophy?


Hard to say. I think it has value into the mindset of colonial Britain, of which I find him to be the rather perfect incarnation. However, he has all the faults of that imperial mindset, and I would say that there are quite a few faults.

Comte de St.-Germain wrote:None of those books are introductions, however, and perhaps even impossible to read for someone who doesn't have a background in philosophy. Hence my recommendation of wikipedia. It's not entirely fair and balanced, but if you read multiple articles, you usually end up with a pretty good understanding.


I have suspected that my attempts to learn Philosophy would be ill-fated without more formal instruciton in the area (I have had some, but minimal). Indeed, it almost put me off the quest entirely. Sole reliance on my own faculties seemed foolish and deluded at best, and likely to lead me entirely astray at worst. It is comforting to know that Wikipedia has some actual useful information :P , that can perhaps rescue my endeavors. I will take your advice.


Coupled with what you say below, it may be good to read the articles on Nietzsche's books and see which you find more interesting.

Comte de St.-Germain wrote:For an understanding of Nietzsche, I would first recommend his own books, if that's impossible, the wikipedia pages on him and his works, and only then various introduction texts. The latter are always occupied with interpreting him in their own ideology.


This strikes me as very wise. There always seems to be a desperate attempt to appropriate Nietzsche, or worse, to "rescue" him from certain implications by commentators on his works. But I am definitely fascinated by what I have encountered of his works - there is a strange gravitational pull about him for me.


If there is such a pull, it might be sufficient to pull you through philosophy.. That is to say, start reading Nietzsche and see when you see a 'thread' -- when he mentions this philosophy or that individual -- follow it as far as you can. Start with wikipedia, then look at the relevant work, and expand. If you feel a pull towards Nietzsche, use it! :)

katja z wrote: You would recommend diagonal reading of philosophy? I'd always been under the impression that I had to get everything the author was saying, and this can be slow and hard work*, especially with the more recent ones, with the whole cumulative history of the field behind them.


My initial reaction exactly. I read Philosophy terribly slowly as a result, making my attempts to learn anything in a particular area laborious and painful. But rewarding, nonetheless. It's encouraging to think I can give myself permission to "not understand."


I can guarantee your understanding of Nietzsche will change in various readings. It's something that has to mature, and expecting everything to make sense is silly. Most other philosophers put in a book what can be written in a sentence. The rest is just introduction and discussion :P
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Re: Philosophy: Good primers and essential reading?

#20  Postby The Black Jester » Jul 12, 2010 12:10 am

@Comte de St.-Germain

Thank you very much for taking the time to reply, I greatly appreciate it!
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