What Does It All Mean?
BY THOMAS NAGELView on Amazon
Philosophy literally means ‘love of wisdom’, but defining it beyond this becomes a little tricky. In a nutshell, philosophy concerns itself with deep, fundamental questions: from how best we should live our lives, to the basic nature of the worlds we live in. But within this nutshell resides a whole universe of feeling, reason, and meaning. Considering such mammoth subject matter, it's difficult to know where to start.
But fear not! This reading list contains the best general introductions to philosophy. Each book discusses the enduring questions philosophers have tackled throughout history — questions you have probably wondered about yourself. You know the ones. Why are we here? What's the right thing to do? What's the meaning of life?
The aim of philosophy is not necessarily to give you the answers to these questions, but rather to equip you with the right tools to perform your own investigation — and discover the answers for yourself. By introducing the approaches of philosophy's best minds, the books on this list set you on that path.
Thomas Nagel is the brilliant contemporary philosopher behind Mortal Questions and The View From Nowhere. Written in 1987, Nagel’s What Does It All Mean? is a lucid and accessible introduction to philosophy, setting forth the central problems of philosophical inquiry for beginners. A slim book at just over 100 pages, Nagel covers free will, right and wrong, death, language, the meaning of life and other core topics in clear, illuminating language that anyone interested in philosophy would strongly benefit from reading.
Bertrand Russell was a towering figure of the 20th century. Though The History of Western Philosophy is perhaps his better-known work for the general reader, Russell wrote The Problems of Philosophy in 1912 as a short, accessible introduction to the subject. He presents philosophy in engaging and relevant ways that ignite the curiosity of the reader. This book can be enjoyed in an evening, and — spoiler alert — you’ll never look at desks the same way again.
Published in 1999, this wonderfully-written book begins with contemporary philosopher Simon Blackburn's rallying cry for the study of philosophy, before diving into discussion of the key philosophical themes and thinkers throughout history. The most in-depth entry on this list, each chapter of Think acts as a self-contained guide on subjects ranging from skepticism and ethics, to self-identity and God. You can thus take it all in in bitesize chunks, issue by issue, chapter by chapter.
According to philosopher Stephen Law, “there is no better short introduction to philosophy” than Nigel Warburton’s Philosophy: The Basics. First published in 1992, and now in its fifth edition, Warburton’s book gently eases the reader into the world of philosophy, touching all the big issues like God, science, art, and morality through easy-to-understand and powerful analogies. It’s the most accessible item on this list, and ideal for complete beginners.
Essential Philosophy Books by Subject
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