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Social Philosophy |OT| where to begin?

Breakage

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I decided to make this thread after reading strange headache strange headache 's recent thread on Douglas Adams.
So I've read bits and pieces over the years by various philosophers, but I've long wondered how to go about getting a wider view of philosophy -- without studying it at university.
When I have participated in discussions on the web, I notice how posters will introduce the ideas (or quotes) of a philosopher into their arguments and end up wondering how they manage to effortlessly weave something Plato or Descartes said into the points they made.
Do they read all the works by each individual philosopher? Is there a single comprehensive book out there that describes the main ideas of ancient and current philosophers? Or do such people just have access to a really good education and memorisation techniques?

These are questions I often ask myself when I attempt to learn philosophical ideas. I just don't know where to begin: there are so many philosophers each with their own collection of works -- I wish there were some kind of authoritive structured book that I could start with or some kind of proven learning strategy to follow.

So I thought I'd throw the question out to GAF. Where should I begin?

Any suggestions welcome.
 
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Ar¢tos

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There is a book that gives an overview of the main philosophers teachings, written in romance form. I was struggling with philosophy in high school (we all were! My class was a science class, but philosophy was mandatory for 2 years) so my teacher recommended us all to read Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder. It's not a manual or anything like that, it tells the story of a girl that starts receiving postcards for someone else, then small "philosophy" lessons and things start to get weird from there (good weird). I really enjoyed the book (but I was a bookworm at the time, so I might be biased).
 

DunDunDunpachi

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I will give a long answer but your next step is very simple. All the detail is just for extra edification if you're interested.

Dirty secret: before the internet there were plenty of compendiums such as Dictionary of Quotations by Bergen Evans. These aren't substitutes for reading the authors, but it's nice to look up a familiar phrase if you are wondering how you can "effortlessly weave" it into posts. When you learn enough philosophy, you gain a very broad understanding of authors like "oh, I remember Socrates said something interesting about this topic" and then you can Google some keywords or look it up in your book of quotations. Don't cheat yourself, though. Beware wisdom gained effortlessly. It's not about memorizing a bunch of clever quotes.

Individual books are best. If you want to learn Spinoza, read Ethics. If you want to learn Nietzsche, read Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Do not shy away from tackling authors head-on. Don't waste time with summaries and third-party interpretations of "what they really meant". Philosophers are referencing one another all the time and offering different takes on one another's works. If you want outside opinions on Aristotle, you can read Descartes, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, etc etc etc and gain plenty of outside opinions. I guess what I'm saying is don't bother reading "Cliff Notes: Immanuel Kant 101 by random University Prof" when you can just... read a bunch of well-regarded philosophers who openly gave their opinions on Kant. The "raw axioms" and proposals in philosophy are only a piece of the whole: a lot of philosophy is rebutting, affirming, and refining what other philosophers said. So it's like reading a really epic debate, taking place over 1,000s of years.

It's quite cool.

And if that isn't enough, modern prints of philosophy books are very charitable to new readers. They usually have thorough introductions that go over the history of the author and the context in which they wrote. Read those introductions! Do not skip introductions in philosophy books. If you must read a summary or third-party interpretation, the 20-page intro in front of any decent philosophy book will suffice.

Philosophy is a puzzle. With every book, you pour more pieces on the table. The puzzle is constructed in your head. Some pieces fit perfectly. Some pieces you will choose to discard. You continue to build a clearer picture but as your picture expands, so do the unfinished edges of your puzzle. Some pieces will not fit at all.

So here's your short answer. The way to read philosophy is so painfully simple: continue reading it. And if I can offer a second piece of advice, re-read it. Introduce yourself to new thinkers and don't shrink back from new ideas. Read, read, read. Wrestle with God until you limp like Israel, as the story goes. If you read philosophy enough, you will definitely come across one or two writers that you feel have just solved it all. Don't fall in love with that feeling. It's okay to agree with a philosopher, but don't let them lead you around by the nose. Writers like Hegel and Nietzsche offer internally-consistent philosophies that basically explain everything, but instead of saying "oh wow! This explains everything" you must drill deeper and ask yourself if you agree with their core axioms.

You will also surprise yourself by how much you can comprehend: when I wanted to start reading Kant, I picked up a copy and dove in. I felt really good about myself because I was able to understand it by slowing down and just paying attention. There may be terms or concept that you have to go look up later, and that's fine. All this information is out there. All the terms, all the propositions, everything. It'll all be available either for free or for a couple bucks.

Do they read all the works by each individual philosopher?
That's up to you. Nowadays I tend to read "clusters" of authors from the same time period or who discuss the same topic. The back-and-forth debate offers a wealth of nuance, far beyond what you'd get by reading distant authors on disparate topics.

This is nothing special or difficult. Just Google "philosophers who talked about eternity" or "philosophers who were nihilists" or whatever and you'll get a nice list, probably with pictures to. All the good stuff is right at your fingertips. There are almost no bad choices. Just keep reading.

Example: I wanted to learn more about the philosophy behind communism, so I read a bunch of Marx, Engels, Nietzsche, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Ruskin, and Bonhoeffer. This ended up being a very different experience compared to (for instance) reading a single work by Plato then jumping to a few chapters of the Upanishads then jumping to a single work by Wittgenstein.

Sometimes you'll want to read more books by an individual author. Go for it. That's good too.

Is there a single comprehensive book out there that describes the main ideas of ancient and current philosophers?
My opinion is that you should avoid these, for reasons explained earlier. There's absolutely no reason to rush it. Summaries will hold you back in the long run.

Or do such people just have access to a really good education and memorisation techniques?
In my case, neither. I am a college dropout. Not even a nice university or anything: I flunked out of local community college. I did learn some good memorization techniques growing up. However, I don't really "memorize" whole quotes if that's what you think is necessary. It isn't. Like I mentioned above, as you read more philosophy you start to build a scaffolding in your brain, a little library of who spoke about what and why you liked their opinion. If you really need an exact quote, that'll be enough of a clue to either Google it, look it up in the book itself, or find it in your book of quotations.
 
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Greco-Roman, but there's an excellent book by Dr. Stephen Hicks called "Explaining Postmodernism" that gives a decent, biased(as anything else) view of how the ideas therein.(seriously good book though)
After that you make your way through the Renaissance period. My favorite the enlightenment period as that's what I identify most with. Man's reckless pursuit of truth to understand the world through reason is inspiring to me.
I would caution you that when you read German Counter Enlightenment authors not to become to attached. We can demonstrably affect reality so regardless of whether we can reach a complete and true understanding of it, we CAN act within it. We can simulate more and more with mathematics everyday and regardless of whether the model is truly what is occurring we have predictive validity to fall back upon and that can be used to affect change reliably. Denial of man's ability to reach an understanding of reality was used as a safeguard for criticism of the Church at the time, noble in some ways, but what it goes on to spawn is hellish nihilism.
Easy to get trapped in nihilism ahead, from Kant to Hegel, we get to Nietzsche, Kierkegaard and others. The land marks of a new era was Heidegger. The beginning of Postmodernism where nothing is real, there is no truth, and the subjective experience trumps any notion of an Objective reality, and we see the makings of the modern left in conjunction with Karl Marx' works(who can't be overstated as having a huge influence upon thinkers even today).
In the absence of truth, there is only a power struggle. Thinkers like Focault, Rorty, to a lesser extent Derrida came to prominence in the mid 20th century. Their impacts are felt mightily in Universities today.

You don't have to read all of this though, a little philosophy goes a long way, but too much is poison. Many of these authors have several hundred page books and their later works might contradict their former works.

One final thought is that Neo-Marxism depends upon Postmodern thought to survive and avoid scrutiny. The proof that Socialist, especially Communist thoughts are responsible for widespread death is inescapable, but imagine a world where the are no objective measures by which to measure a failure and everything is equal by default since everything is equally meaningless. That's how postmodernism keeps Marxism alive.
 

ArchaeEnkidu

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Philosphy is something that has always interested me, but I have never been able to really read much about it. Would love to see others posts on where to start as well!

So far I have picked up Discourses and Enchiridion by Epictetus alongside Art of War and other Eastern Thoughts from Barnes and Nobel. I read Art of War years ago, but I really need to re-read it. Couldn't understand much back when I was 14 ;D
 

Guileless

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Like DunDunDunpachi says, there's no substitute for reading (and re-reading) yourself. But if you're just getting started, also check out your local library or Audible for the various The Great Courses lecture series on philosophy.

Great Minds of the Western Intellectual Tradition is a good one.
 

strange headache

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So I thought I'd throw the question out to GAF. Where should I begin?
(my education sucked - I hunger for knowledge)
Would love to see others posts on where to start as well!
I really appreciate the interest, unfortunately I don't have much time right now. I'll make sure to come back to this topic soon enough and post a basic guide for the most fundamental ideas and theories sorted by different philosophical disciplines and authors. Mind you, philosophy is thousands of years old so it will be nothing more than an incomplete overview, but hopefully one that will allow people to diver deeper of they wish so.

In the meantime I can recommend Bertrand Russel's excellent book:
A History of Western Philosophy
 
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I think chronological study definitely helps, because a large part of being a philosopher is alluding to, referencing, or refuting previous philosophers' work. There's a sort of genealogy to philosophy, if that makes sense. As such, this podcast is a great way to start:

http://philosophizethis.org/

If you go to episode 1, it starts at the very very very very very beginning of documented philosophy, and goes all the way to modernity (and post-modernity). And it's still active, so you have more material to look forward to.

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/philosophize-this/id659155419?mt=2
Google*: https://play.google.com/music/m/Iszi3nzoe3p22hsxpoe3i2jmxxy?t=Philosophize_This

* sorry, I mean Google Play Music Podcasts eyeroll
 

iconmaster

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Begin at the beginning, with Plato. Alfred North Whitehead said “The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”

Specifically, I’d start with the trial and death of Socrates, as they make a nice narrative. That’s four “dialogs”: Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, and Phaedo.
 

petran79

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I had read all of Plato's dialogues, including the fakes, and found them as the culmination of philosophy. Though he touches other subjects like politics too. But it was presented in a simple manner. But if you want to learn more about Socrates, read also Xenophon's account of Socrates' Apology, who perhaps might have been more faithfull to his teachings.

Subsequent philosophers repeat the same things in a more complex way.
 
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Breakage

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I will give a long answer but your next step is very simple. All the detail is just for extra edification if you're interested.

Dirty secret: before the internet there were plenty of compendiums such as Dictionary of Quotations by Bergen Evans. These aren't substitutes for reading the authors, but it's nice to look up a familiar phrase if you are wondering how you can "effortlessly weave" it into posts. When you learn enough philosophy, you gain a very broad understanding of authors like "oh, I remember Socrates said something interesting about this topic" and then you can Google some keywords or look it up in your book of quotations. Don't cheat yourself, though. Beware wisdom gained effortlessly. It's not about memorizing a bunch of clever quotes.
Thanks for the very informative post DunDun -- I read every word. On reflection, I think I came across in my OP as someone who wants to learn quotes and ideas for the sake of showing off in web discussions -- that is not my intention. I want to learn is because I am at a stage where you begin to question the monotony of everyday life and start to think more deeply about things that normally pass by in a blur.
I think these days when people feel this way, they are often encouraged to turn to the realm of modern psychology ie a therapist or a similar professional. I, however, feel the explanations I am seeking are more likely to be found within the realm of literature and philosophy.

Individual books are best. If you want to learn Spinoza, read Ethics. If you want to learn Nietzsche, read Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Do not shy away from tackling authors head-on. Don't waste time with summaries and third-party interpretations of "what they really meant". Philosophers are referencing one another all the time and offering different takes on one another's works. If you want outside opinions on Aristotle, you can read Descartes, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, etc etc etc and gain plenty of outside opinions. I guess what I'm saying is don't bother reading "Cliff Notes: Immanuel Kant 101 by random University Prof" when you can just... read a bunch of well-regarded philosophers who openly gave their opinions on Kant. The "raw axioms" and proposals in philosophy are only a piece of the whole: a lot of philosophy is rebutting, affirming, and refining what other philosophers said. So it's like reading a really epic debate, taking place over 1,000s of years.
I'll bear this in mind. I've already got a couple of books (Descartes' Meditations and Plato's collection) on my Kindle.

So here's your short answer. The way to read philosophy is so painfully simple: continue reading it. And if I can offer a second piece of advice, re-read it. Introduce yourself to new thinkers and don't shrink back from new ideas. Read, read, read. Wrestle with God until you limp like Israel, as the story goes. If you read philosophy enough, you will definitely come across one or two writers that you feel have just solved it all. Don't fall in love with that feeling. It's okay to agree with a philosopher, but don't let them lead you around by the nose. Writers like Hegel and Nietzsche offer internally-consistent philosophies that basically explain everything, but instead of saying "oh wow! This explains everything" you must drill deeper and ask yourself if you agree with their core axioms.
Just keep reading. Got it. This is really reassuring. Up until now, I thought I might be missing out on some kind of secret learning technique in regard to studying philosophy.
But from what you say, it all just comes down to hard reading and re-reading.


In my case, neither. I am a college dropout. Not even a nice university or anything: I flunked out of local community college. I did learn some good memorization techniques growing up. However, I don't really "memorize" whole quotes if that's what you think is necessary. It isn't. Like I mentioned above, as you read more philosophy you start to build a scaffolding in your brain, a little library of who spoke about what and why you liked their opinion. If you really need an exact quote, that'll be enough of a clue to either Google it, look it up in the book itself, or find it in your book of quotations.
I am also a [university] dropout. That's why I was concerned that I was missing out on something which would make it easier for me to learn. But from the sound of things it just takes time and commitment to grasp the ideas.

Many thanks again for your post. It's given the confidence to approach philosophy in a more relaxed manner. It's very tempting, as a newbie, to try to consume too much at once.

Greco-Roman, but there's an excellent book by Dr. Stephen Hicks called "Explaining Postmodernism" that gives a decent, biased(as anything else) view of how the ideas therein.(seriously good book though)
After that you make your way through the Renaissance period. My favorite the enlightenment period as that's what I identify most with. Man's reckless pursuit of truth to understand the world through reason is inspiring to me.
I'm sure I've got that book sitting in my Kindle library (I think I purchased it a while ago after Jordan Peterson mentioned it). I'll definitely take a look. Thank you for the great suggestions.

I really appreciate the interest, unfortunately I don't have much time right now. I'll make sure to come back to this topic soon enough and post a basic guide for the most fundamental ideas and theories sorted by different philosophical disciplines and authors. Mind you, philosophy is thousands of years old so it will be nothing more than an incomplete overview, but hopefully one that will allow people to diver deeper of they wish so.

In the meantime I can recommend Bertrand Russel's excellent book:
A History of Western Philosophy
No problem strange, whenever you have time is fine. Thanks for the book recommedation.
 
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DunDunDunpachi

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Thanks for the very informative post DunDun -- I read every word. On reflection, I think I came across in my OP as someone who wants to learn quotes and ideas for the sake of showing off in web discussions -- that is not my intention.
I didn't take what you said that way at all, but because I offered something (Dictionary of Quotes) that can easily be abused, I threw my extra on the end for any others who might read and take the advice.

I want to learn is because I am at a stage where you begin to question the monotony of everyday life and start to think more deeply about things that normally pass by in a blur.
I think these days when people feel this way, they are often encouraged to turn to the realm of modern psychology ie a therapist or a similar professional. I, however, feel the explanations I am seeking are more likely to be found within the realm of literature and philosophy.

I'll bear this in mind. I've already got a couple of books (Descartes' Meditations and Plato's collection) on my Kindle.
Have nothing against therapy -- I had to go through plenty of that growing up -- but you are correct when you say that certain explanations cannot be found by someone sitting you down and talking you through it.

Just keep reading. Got it. This is really reassuring. Up until now, I thought I might be missing out on some kind of secret learning technique in regard to studying philosophy.
But from what you say, it all just comes down to hard reading and re-reading.
There's no trick. Philosophy is so intimidating from the outside but surprisingly understandable once you invest the time.

There will be plenty of challenging things you come across, but you won't know what those are until you encounter them. Strong grasp of the written language and the patience to stop and look something up when you don't understand takes you about 90% of the way.

Do you consider yourself a contemplative person, and/or do you reflect upon past actions or past thoughts? If not, philosophy will hone that skill. And believe me, it is not something most people have naturally. Contemplation is a skill. You will juggle all sorts of fascinating ideas in your head which leads to fascinating conclusions, but these conclusions may be wrong. A bit of humility and contemplation go a long way. Like putting that puzzle together. Or a carpenter slowly etching away the last few ribbons of wood on a carving.

I am also a [university] dropout. That's why I was concerned that I was missing out on something which would make it easier for me to learn. But from the sound of things it just takes time and commitment to grasp the ideas.

Many thanks again for your post. It's given the confidence to approach philosophy in a more relaxed manner. It's very tempting, as a newbie, to try to consume too much at once.
Yep, commitment is the biggest piece plus humility. You have to be willing to admit you're wrong, and even when you read something really profound, you may have to admit later that you were wrong about that, too.

There's nothing wrong with trying to consume too much at once. Do it. By all means, do exactly that. Just give each work the attention it is due and try to not burn yourself out. Reading too much philosophy won't be your problem, I guarantee you. It'll be the temptation to stop reading philosophy and go play preacher.
 
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cormack12

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I really appreciate the interest, unfortunately I don't have much time right now. I'll make sure to come back to this topic soon enough and post a basic guide for the most fundamental ideas and theories sorted by different philosophical disciplines and authors. Mind you, philosophy is thousands of years old so it will be nothing more than an incomplete overview, but hopefully one that will allow people to diver deeper of they wish so.

In the meantime I can recommend Bertrand Russel's excellent book:
A History of Western Philosophy
I second this recommendation because it has a chronology that will help you understand the history and formative years based on elements etc. Also be prepared to branch out on theology, science and war/politics as they shaped the era's that these great thinkers arrived at their thoughts. Pay attention to the geography as well. Philosophy is often just seen as critical thinking but it covers such a broad range of topics.

However if you want to dive in I'd recommend finding 3/4 philosophers to concentrate on. The Oxford very short introductions are good for this:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Very_Short_Introductions

You get an overall feel for them before committing to specialising. Some ones that may be worth starting with:

Jung, Hegel, Kant, Nietzsche, Descartes, Rousseau, Locke, Kierkegaard, Schopenhauer, Aquinas, Heidegger.
 

strange headache

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As DunDunDunpachi DunDunDunpachi already explained, there is no real trick to accessing philosophy. The best approach is to just read, like a lot, and then keep reading some more. After a while you'll find that certain ideas and notions just stick with you while slowly sedimenting to the bottom of your mind, condensing into your own philosophical stance. Don't expect to understand everything at first glance, let the thoughts simmer. Sooner or later you'll stumble upon another philosopher who makes things clearer to you through his perspective. Most of all, philosophy needs time.

If you want to dip your toes, I think it's best to start with a problem or question that you want to explore deeper. Philosophy isn't a unified science, meaning that there is no one true answer and that it is mostly comprised of different disciplines. Those disciplines are usually centered on one fundamental question. Within these disciplines are different schools, because philosophy may be best understood as a debate between different points of views.

So if you want to get into philosophy, just (1) start with a question, (2) pick the corresponding discipline and (3) read up on the different schools of thought. The list below is far from being complete but may help you in making your first steps.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Presocratics
The Presocratics were all the Greek thinkers who lived before Socrates and are considered to be the very first philosophers. They are known for breaking with mythological tradition and regarded natural phenomena as something that can be explained through rational inquiry (logos). They sought the 'first principle' (arche) which they thought would explain the origin of of World. Thus laying the foundation for modern science as we know it today.

Thales of Miletus
Notions: Thales' Theorem / water as a first principle
Works: Most of his works were lost to time, but you can read about his ideas in Aristotle's Metaphysics

Democritus
Notions: Atomism / Materialism
Works: The Little World Order, Cosmography, On the Planets

Parmenides
Notions: Ontology / Metaphysics
Works: On Nature (a poem)

Zeno of Elea
Notions: Dialectics / Paradoxes
Works: None of his works have survived, but his ideas can be found in Aristotle's works

Classical Philosophy
What most people would consider the ensemble of ancient Greek philosophy, most notably Socrates, his pupil Plato and Plato's disciple Aristotle. Their intellectual output was insanely vast but for those interested in dipping their toes here are my recommendations.

Socrates
Notions: Maieutics / Apology
Works: Socrates didn't write so you're best reading Plato's accounts

Plato
Notions: Allegory of the Cave / Cardinal Virtues / Res Publica
Works: Republic / Gorgias / Parmenides / Phaedo / Symposium

Aristotle
Notions: Four Causes / Eudaimonia / Logic / Golden Mean
Works: Nicomachean Ethics / Organon

Ethics
The study of moral principles is a vast field and best navigated by making the simple distinction between teleological and deontological ethics. Teleological theories focus on the goal of the ethical action, while deontological theories emphasize the guiding principle behind an action.

John Stuart Mill/ Jeremy Bentham
Notions: Utilitarianism / Greatest Happiness Principle
Works: Mill's Utilitarianism or Bentham's An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation

Kant
Notions: Duty / the Categorical Imperative
Works: Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals

Schopenhauer
Notions: Compassion, Malice and Egoism
Works: On the Basis of Morality

Epicurus
Notions: Ataraxia / Hedonism
Works: On the Nature of Things (by Lucretius)

Zeno of Citium
Notions: Stoicism
Works: Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers (by Diogenes)

Marcus Aurelius
Notions: Practicable Stoicism - View from above / Negative Visualization / Voluntary Discomfort
Works: Meditations

Diogenes
Notions: Cynicism / Obscenity
Works: Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers

William James
Notions: Pragmatism
Works: Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking

Adam Smith
Notions: morality, ethics, individual rights
Works: The Theory of Moral Sentiments

Political Philosophy
Political philosophy studies the nature of society, the organization of states and the essence of governmental power. It's another vast field of knowledge, but I find the natural progression form Athenian Democracy, over absolute monarchy in the Middle-Ages to modern Democracy a useful guideline.

Hobbes
Notions: The State of Nature / Absolutism
Works: Leviathan

Rousseau
Notions: The social contract
Works: On the Social Contract; or, Principles of Political Rights

Constant
Notions: Liberalism / Direct Democracy & Representative Democracy
Works: The liberty of ancients compared with that of moderns

Montesquieu
Notions: The Separation of Powers
Works: The Spirit of the Laws

Machiavelli
Notions: Machiavellianism / Opportunism
Works: The Prince

Strauss
Notions: Natural right / Legal Positivism
Works: Natural Right and History

Bastiat
Notions: Individual rights / Natural law
Works: The Law

Habermas
Notions: Deliberative Democracy
Works: The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society

Epistemology
Epistemology is the study of knowledge. It is mostly characterized by the never-ending philosophical debate between rationalists and empiricists. That is until Kant came along and developed his critical approach (criticism) in order to unify both standpoints.

Descartes
Notions: Rationalism / Cartesian doubt / Cogito ergo sum / Deduction / a priori
Works: Discourse on the Method (of Rightly Conducting One's Reason and of Seeking Truth in the Sciences)

Hume
Notions: Empiricism / Perceptions, Impressions, Ideas / Induction / a posteriori
Works: An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding

Sextus Empiricus
Notions: Scepticism
Works: Outlines of Pyrrhonism

Kant
Notions: Copernican Revolution / Noumenon, Phenomenon / Categories / Antinomies / German idealism
Works: Critique of Pure Reason / Prolegomena

Kuhn
Notions: Paradigm Shift
Works: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

Popper
Notions: Critical Rationalism / Falsifiability
Works: The Logic of Scientific Discovery & The Open Society and its Enemies - Critical rationalism

Religious Philosophy
The study of faith, religion and God. Not to confuse with theology since religious philosophy keeps the question about the existence of God deliberately open. I find the arguments for the existence of God to be most intriguing because of their deductive methodology and their logical consistency. While they may be valid in form, they are notably false in content as evidence by later philosophers such as Bertrand Russell. They are nonetheless a prime example of deduction reasoning.

Aristotle
Notions: The Unmoved Mover
Works: Metaphysics Book 12

Feuerbach
Notions: God as a projection of the human mind
Works: The essence of Christianity

Thomas Aquinus
Notions: The teleological & cosmological argument
Works: Summa Theologica

Anselm of Canterbury
Notions: The ontological argument
Works: Proslogion

Bertrand Russell
Notions: Mostly a refutation of the above mentioned arguments
Works: Why I’m not a Christian

Dawkins
Notions: Atheism / Humanism
Works: The God delusion

Anthropology
The study of man is another impossibly vast field to properly conceptualize. The (in)difference between animal and man and whether said differences are of quantitative or qualitative nature are probably the most practicable and approachable problems if you want to delve deeper into this.

Nietzsche
Notions: The meaning of suffering / Nihilism
Works: Untimely Meditations, On the Genealogy of Morals, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

Gehlen
Notions: Man the deficient being
Works: Man, his nature and place in the world

Aristotle
Notions: Zoon politikon
Works: Politics

Hannah Arendt
Notions: Vita Activa
Works: The human condition

Modern Philosophy: Existentialism, Phenomenology & Analytic philosophy
17th to 20th century philosophy centered on the the individual and its experiences. Analytic philosophy on the other hand could be viewed as the counter-argument to existentialist ideas as it focuses on clarity, formal logic and the analysis of language.

Kierkegaard
Notions: Existentialism - Anxiety / Angst / Inwardness
Works: Fear and Trembling

Husserl
Notions: Phenomenology - Bracketing / Consciousness
Works: The Essential Husserl

Heidegger
Notions: Phenomenology - Dasein ('being there') / Authenticity
Works: Being and Time

Wittgenstein
Notions: Analytical philosophy - Language and reality
Works: Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

Ayer
Notions: Empiricism / logical positivism
Works: Language, Truth, and Logic
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The list above is a work in progress. If time allows, I may come back to it and refine it accordingly, give more explanations if needed and add more or better sources. Much of the original literature can be found online by simply googling the titles of the works in question.

If people feel like adding to the list or proposing changes, feel free to mention me in your comments and I will update the list accordingly.
 
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DunDunDunpachi

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Bravo to strange headache strange headache for putting in the work! I recommend adding Ayer to the section with Wittgenstein. Language, Truth, and Logic is the bumping post at the end of logical positivism's rail (Wittgenstein was the train).

As a footnote to his epic post I wanted to hammer this part home:
philosophy may be best understood as a debate between different points of views.
Yep.

Your initial goal, therefore, isn't to "learn all of the philosophies" as if that's a prerequisite to debating philosophy. Scrub that idea from your brain. You merely need to jump into that ongoing debate. Hume said something? What do you think? Heidegger said something? What do you think? If they are referring to another philosopher, look up what that philosopher said. If you don't understand, read more. Read and reflect and act.
 

RoyBrown7777

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I think chronological study definitely helps, because a large part of being a philosopher is alluding to, referencing, or refuting previous philosophers' work. There's a sort of genealogy to philosophy, if that makes sense. As such, this podcast is a great way to start:

http://philosophizethis.org/

If you go to episode 1, it starts at the very very very very very beginning of documented philosophy, and goes all the way to modernity (and post-modernity). And it's still active, so you have more material to look forward to.

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/philosophize-this/id659155419?mt=2
Google*: https://play.google.com/music/m/Iszi3nzoe3p22hsxpoe3i2jmxxy?t=Philosophize_This

* sorry, I mean Google Play Music Podcasts eyeroll
It sucked at launch but post AH removal the game is fucking sweet.

This, I listen to it on Spotify. It's fantastic.
 
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DunDunDunpachi

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Since strange headache strange headache brought up Aquinas and since a lot of philosophers are going to be found in the Western Christian tradition (I mean... it is 2,000 years old), here are three non-Christian philosophers from Aquinas' general period of history and topic who are just as crucial as Aquinas when it comes to our shift away from monism into dualism (and into Enlightenment and Science):

Avicenna Adbaallah Idn-Sina -- Islamic philosopher, wrote Demonstrations and Affirmations and The Healing. Argued for the necessary existence of God which lays the foundation for concepts like the thing-in-itself and causality. He also wrote a book on medicine that was used for centuries.

Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (Maimonides) -- Jewish philosopher, wrote Guide to the Perplexed. He argued for something very important: the separation between God and His creation through God's establishment of rational laws. Science would be impossible without the admission that the natural and supernatural are distinct.

Madhvacharya -- Hindu philosopher. A History of the Dvaita School of Vedanta and Its Literature (plus a copy of the Upanishads if you can manage it) would be the best way to read him. His "five differences" argued for a distinction between God and the soul, God and matter, souls and matter, individual souls and other souls, and each material thing and other material things.

Read Wittgenstein and save yourself some time =P
Wittgenstein revealed the lower boundaries of science and reason, not the upper boundaries of philosophy, if that's why you're bringing him up as a be-all-end-all. He's good, but especially in the context of Godel and Heidegger, Wittgenstein feels like yet another hand-slap against logical positivism creeping its way into philosophy. Worth reading to keep yourself humble, not as a one-and-done to dismiss the rest of philosophy. :p
 
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Singular7

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Ecclesiastes covers 99% of philosophical arguments, and is significantly less bloated than the above works which are mostly expounding-on or counter-arguing it's contents.

Your mind's engagement is required though; the "bloat" of Hume / Heiddegger / Kant (etc, etc) are attempting to elucidate each step of the thought process.
 
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DunDunDunpachi

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C.G. Jung (in Aion) offers guidance to beginners:

As already said, the fact that metaphysical ideas exist and are believed in does nothing to prove the actual existence of their content or of the object they refer to, although the coincidence of idea and reality in the form of a special psychic state -- a state of grace -- should not be deemed impossible, even if the subject cannot bring it about by an act of will. Once metaphysical ideas have lost their capacity to recall and evoke the original experience they have not only become useless but prove to be actual impediments on the road to wider development.

One clings to possession that have once meant wealth; and the more ineffective, incomprehensible, and lifeless they become the more obstinately people cling to them. Naturally it is only sterile ideas that they cling to; living ideas have content and riches enough, so there is no need to cling to them. Thus in the course of time the meaningful turns into the meaningless. This is unfortunately the fate of metaphysical ideas.

Today it is a real problem what on earth such ideas can mean. The world -- so far as it has not completely turned its back on tradition -- has long ago stopped wanting to hear a "message"; it would rather be told what the message means.
 

strange headache

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I recommend adding Ayer to the section with Wittgenstein. Language, Truth, and Logic is the bumping post at the end of logical positivism's rail (Wittgenstein was the train).
Will do. Any particular notions in mind? Maybe also a source where people can get a quick overview would be nice.

Strange Headache essentially summarized everything, but if someone wants, i can chip in tomorrow?
Please do. Also if you have anything to add to the list, I'd be happy to do so.
 
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Nymphae

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I highly recommend this book for a beginner



When I was in high school I found this book in a friend's aunt's garage I was helping to clean, and she let me keep it lol. It's a great overview of everything from the greek philosophers right up into the modern era. It covers the big names and movements chronologically, and is fairly easy to follow. As the name implies, the first half is the history of philosophy, and the second half is selected readings from the most influential philosophers. Excellent reference book.
 

DiscoJer

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I highly recommend this book for a beginner



When I was in high school I found this book in a friend's aunt's garage I was helping to clean, and she let me keep it lol. It's a great overview of everything from the greek philosophers right up into the modern era. It covers the big names and movements chronologically, and is fairly easy to follow. As the name implies, the first half is the history of philosophy, and the second half is selected readings from the most influential philosophers. Excellent reference book.
You're making me feel old because that is the textbook for a philosophy class I took in college. Still have it someplace. But it is an excellent book.
 
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God Enel

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Isnt the Matrix a good start to philosophy? I have one friend who’s studying philosophy because of this movie
 
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WaterAstro

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I tried reading the Perennial Philosophy by Aldous Huxley some time this year. Holy shit, this guy's language is so complicated to read in this book that I could not wrap my head around the things he said unless I re-read the lines 10 times.

Just taking an excerpt:
For example, the being of a child is transformed by growth and education into that of a man ; among the results of this transformation is a revolutionary change in the way of knowing and the amount and character of the things known.
Took me a dozen reads to finally get what he was saying because his wording is complex.
 

strange headache

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What are your thoughts on Discourses and Enchiridion by Epictetus?
I've only read his Discourses, so I can only comment on that. It's good stuff, but decided to go with Zeno because it reflects the main tenets of stoicism much clearer than Epictetus. Especially considering that Epictetus' philosophy ultimately leads to a cynic position in the vein of Diogenes.

The historical models to which Epictetus reverts are Diogenes and Socrates. But he frequently describes an ideal character of a missionary sage, the perfect Stoic—or, as he calls him, the Cynic. This missionary has neither country nor home nor land nor slave; his bed is the ground; he is without wife or child; his only mansion is the earth and sky and a shabby cloak. He must suffer stripes, and must love those who beat him as if he were a father or a brother.
He basically describes human action as the result of 3 different motivators - desire, choice and assent:

There are three fields of study in which people who are going to be good and excellent must first have been trained. The first has to do with desires and aversions, that they may never fail to get what they desire, nor fall into what they avoid; the second with cases of choice and of refusal, and, in general, with duty, that they may act in an orderly fashion, upon good reasons, and not carelessly; the third with the avoidance of error and rashness in judgement, and, in general, about cases of assent.
Which is very reminiscent of Plato's Allegory of the Charioteer:



Each part of the human soul (reason, desire, emotion) must be guided by virtue. Our desires need to be limited by temperance, our emotions guided by courage and our reason must ultimately steer them through wisdom. Only if all these parts work together in harmony can we truly attain a life of justice.

The underlying principle is the same for both Plato and Epictetus. The difference being that Epictetus considers the absolute freedom from all worldly desires and restraints the ultimate goal of philosophical enlightenment, which is basically what stoicism is all about. Plato would never go so far as to condone such an ascetic way of life. According to Plato desires need only be tempered not eliminated.

The stoics make an important point though: don't give into desires that aren't ultimately yours to commandeer. Don't be saddened by the simple fact, that in life you just can't have it all. Unfortunately for our rather hedonistic and pleasure-oriented society, it's a message that falls on deaf ears. Especially the younger generations who live a life in unprecedented abundance and never really had to learn in practice to let their desires go.

Ultimately life doesn't owe you sh*t and things don't always go your way. You can try of course, but ramming your head through a brick wall isn't healthy either. Epictetus was basically the Rolling Stone of his time ;)

 

Redneckerz

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Please do. Also if you have anything to add to the list, I'd be happy to do so.
Well i did some look ups (At late night, doggone it!) but the book i was referring to is called Guidebook of Philosophy by Matthias Vogt.
However, it is only available in Dutch and in German (Where it is known as Philosophie - Von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart.) I have this book and it pretty much gives every philosopher a short story and their most important books, and it also deals with Eastern philosophy aswell.

This is how it looks (Mines has a different cover):



And how one of the pages looks:



Now here is what i read so far on Philosophy in additional to the above book (Which really, i can't stress enough is very detailed yet compact):
  • Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality Among Men: By Jean Jacques Rousseau, one of my fave philosophers. Discourse on Inequality presents the notion that moral inequality is unique to the Western Society. I also liked how the concept of private property was summarized: "The first person who, having enclosed a plot of land, took it into his head to say this is mine and found people simple enough to believe him, was the true founder of civil society". In general, i am fond of Rousseau, most importantly on his notion that ''man is born free, but he is everywhere in chains'', from The Social Contract which i am still dying to read but no library in the near vicinity has it. Maybe this Winter i get a hold of it.
  • Dialogues: by Plato. Alfred North Whitehead already said it as much: ''The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.'' Plato is something i can always return upon due to the story-like structure of his books with noted wordsmith Socrates. Dialogues is one of the finer works. I also went a long head with Politea, his political book on how the ideal governmental body should look like, but i didn't had time to finish it, being 2/3rds in. Plato is incredibly common, i know that much, but not everyone reads all his dialogues or his political books.
  • Jung: I am also a big fan of Jung and Freud. I read of these: Letters: Freud and Jung (which is a very lengthy correspondence between Sigmund Freud and Jung), Archetypes and Individu: Chances of Survival for Humanity. These book go in further on how humans behave to a certain master type, called an archetype according to Jung, and Individu is more about oneself. It has been a while since i read these since i can't remember that much, but Jung is an excellent eyeopener to philosophical psychology as he made it.
  • The Jefferson Bible: by Thomas A. Jefferson, President of the United States. Far less a true philosophical book, i had my interest in reading the Bible (Being raised without faith but hailing from a religious family) but i was not fond of the mystiques that are omnipresent in the book and stories. Thomas Jefferson, also philosopher, created his own version of the Bible, removing the mystique and the resultant book being more grounded in reality. This was a great read for me to get to know more with the Biblical underpinings and values without going into unrealistical territories. It also contains a series of alinea's Jefferson wanted to save and he deemed important. It is a great book imo.
There, i hope this is proving to be a valueable post. :)
I should note however that we have a show called The Passion where the story of Christ is told each year in an interactive stage drama. I thoroughly enjoy this because the stage drama does not speak of Christ that much in general, but rather, presents universal values derived from it to communicate with the viewers.
 
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DunDunDunpachi

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I've only read his Discourses, so I can only comment on that. It's good stuff, but decided to go with Zeno because it reflects the main tenets of stoicism much clearer than Epictetus. Especially considering that Epictetus' philosophy ultimately leads to a cynic position in the vein of Diogenes.



He basically describes human action as the result of 3 different motivators - desire, choice and assent:



Which is very reminiscent of Plato's Allegory of the Charioteer:



Each part of the human soul (reason, desire, emotion) must be guided by virtue. Our desires need to be limited by temperance, our emotions guided by courage and our reason must ultimately steer them through wisdom. Only if all these parts work together in harmony can we truly attain a life of justice.

The underlying principle is the same for both Plato and Epictetus. The difference being that Epictetus considers the absolute freedom from all worldly desires and restraints the ultimate goal of philosophical enlightenment, which is basically what stoicism is all about. Plato would never go so far as to condone such an ascetic way of life. According to Plato desires need only be tempered not eliminated.

The stoics make an important point though: don't give into desires that aren't ultimately yours to commandeer. Don't be saddened by the simple fact, that in life you just can't have it all. Unfortunately for our rather hedonistic and pleasure-oriented society, it's a message that falls on deaf ears. Especially the younger generations who live a life in unprecedented abundance and never really had to learn in practice to let their desires go.

Ultimately life doesn't owe you sh*t and things don't always go your way. You can try of course, but ramming your head through a brick wall isn't healthy either. Epictetus was basically the Rolling Stone of his time ;)

But what is stoicism without duty?

At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: ‘I have to go to work – as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for – the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?’
Marcus Aurelius's Meditations always struck me as the more-easily-quotable overview of stoicism, though that's not meant to be disrespectful of him or his predecessors.

I agree with the full post. I'd like to add/expound that the stoic's goal of curbing desires isn't merely asceticism. It is for the purpose of carrying out your duty. Desires interfere with your ability to lead a just life, but you still must step forward and live a just life. I think this is an important innovation to the original idea. Instead of the contemplative resignation of the Greek philosophers, Aurelius's stoic must act.

Well i did some look ups (At late night, doggone it!) but the book i was referring to is called Guidebook of Philosophy by Matthias Vogt.
However, it is only available in Dutch and in German (Where it is known as Philosophie - Von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart.) I have this book and it pretty much gives every philosopher a short story and their most important books, and it also deals with Eastern philosophy aswell.

This is how it looks (Mines has a different cover):



And how one of the pages looks:



Now here is what i read so far on Philosophy in additional to the above book (Which really, i can't stress enough is very detailed yet compact):
  • Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality Among Men: By Jean Jacques Rousseau, one of my fave philosophers. Discourse on Inequality presents the notion that moral inequality is unique to the Western Society. I also liked how the concept of private property was summarized: "The first person who, having enclosed a plot of land, took it into his head to say this is mine and found people simple enough to believe him, was the true founder of civil society". In general, i am fond of Rousseau, most importantly on his notion that ''man is born free, but he is everywhere in chains'', from The Social Contract which i am still dying to read but no library in the near vicinity has it. Maybe this Winter i get a hold of it.
  • Dialogues: by Plato. Alfred North Whitehead already said it as much: ''The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.'' Plato is something i can always return upon due to the story-like structure of his books with noted wordsmith Socrates. Dialogues is one of the finer works. I also went a long head with Politea, his political book on how the ideal governmental body should look like, but i didn't had time to finish it, being 2/3rds in. Plato is incredibly common, i know that much, but not everyone reads all his dialogues or his political books.
  • Jung: I am also a big fan of Jung and Freud. I read of these: Letters: Freud and Jung (which is a very lengthy correspondence between Sigmund Freud and Jung), Archetypes and Individu: Chances of Survival for Humanity. These book go in further on how humans behave to a certain master type, called an archetype according to Jung, and Individu is more about oneself. It has been a while since i read these since i can't remember that much, but Jung is an excellent eyeopener to philosophical psychology as he made it.
  • The Jefferson Bible: by Thomas A. Jefferson, President of the United States. Far less a true philosophical book, i had my interest in reading the Bible (Being raised without faith but hailing from a religious family) but i was not fond of the mystiques that are omnipresent in the book and stories. Thomas Jefferson, also philosopher, created his own version of the Bible, removing the mystique and the resultant book being more grounded in reality. This was a great read for me to get to know more with the Biblical underpinings and values without going into unrealistical territories. It also contains a series of alinea's Jefferson wanted to save and he deemed important. It is a great book imo.
There, i hope this is proving to be a valueable post. :)
I should note however that we have a show called The Passion where the story of Christ is told each year in an interactive stage drama. I thoroughly enjoy this because the stage drama does not speak of Christ that much in general, but rather, presents universal values derived from it to communicate with the viewers.
AFAIK there is quite a lot of philosophy and theology still locked behind the German and Dutch languages (German in particular).

I've only read snippets of Rousseau so I'll have to nab both of the books you referenced. I've been on a "political/social philosophy" kick over the past year and that sounds right up my alley.

My recommendation would be to read Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, and James if one wishes to read the Bible for its philosophical statements without having to read the entire thing. James in particular contains one of my favorite pieces of wisdom:

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
And on that note, reading Job and then C.G. Jung's Answer to Job offers quite a thrust into the world of philosophy for such a short investment of your reading-time. You get one perspective from antiquity and the other from modern times, including Jung's brilliant analysis of the transition from pre-Christian religions to Christianity itself. My favorite philosophical Jung book has to be either Aion or The Red Book, though.
 

lawrenceofdetroit

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I decided to make this thread after reading strange headache strange headache 's recent thread on Douglas Adams.
So I've read bits and pieces over the years by various philosophers, but I've long wondered how to go about getting a wider view of philosophy -- without studying it at university.
When I have participated in discussions on the web, I notice how posters will introduce the ideas (or quotes) of a philosopher into their arguments and end up wondering how they manage to effortlessly weave something Plato or Descartes said into the points they made.
Do they read all the works by each individual philosopher? Is there a single comprehensive book out there that describes the main ideas of ancient and current philosophers? Or do such people just have access to a really good education and memorisation techniques?

These are questions I often ask myself when I attempt to learn philosophical ideas. I just don't know where to begin: there are so many philosophers each with their own collection of works -- I wish there were some kind of authoritive structured book that I could start with or some kind of proven learning strategy to follow.

So I thought I'd throw the question out to GAF. Where should I begin?

Any suggestions welcome.
Aristotle's Nichomachean ethics is a good place to start. After that I'd recommend Nietzsche's Geneology of Morals and Consolation of Philosophy (Boethius)
 

strange headache

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Well i did some look ups (At late night, doggone it!) but the book i was referring to is called Guidebook of Philosophy by Matthias Vogt.
Thanks for the suggestion, I'm gonna pick this up. Philosophy is such a vast field, you cannot ever have enough guidebooks ;)

by Thomas A. Jefferson, President of the United States.
I'm not American so maybe I'm romanticizing a little bit, but I always admired some of your greatest presidents who helped lay the foundation of modern democracy. They were philosophers and thinkers first and rulers only second. It saddens me greatly to see this great tradition being lost to time.


Instead of the contemplative resignation of the Greek philosophers, Aurelius's stoic must act.
You're right about Marcus Aurelius, but from a classical point of view Stoics don't act, they endure.
 
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Redneckerz

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Thanks for the suggestion, I'm gonna pick this up. Philosophy is such a vast field, you cannot ever have enough guidebooks ;)
Be aware though its only in Dutch and German, i havent found an English equivalent!

I'm not American so maybe I'm romanticizing a little bit, but I always admired some of your greatest presidents who helped lay the foundation of modern democracy. They were philosophers and thinkers first and rulers only second. It saddens me greatly to see this great tradition being lost to time.
Not an American either. ;) but i share your impression that statemens from times past where more than the Party Parrots of today. The Founding Fathers is a name you say with honor and respect - These people were indeed founding, through their curiosity, their interest for the arts, and for the future.

Basically they were the
of their time, by comparison, today's statemens/womans are the equivalent of
 
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strange headache strange headache

Okay, so... I want to _respectfully_ offer the point that the list provided is, in its structure and selections, highly focused on English philosophy and the generally self-serving view of the tradition that comes with it, to the great detriment of all the other strands in play.

And I truly mean "respectfully," because the amount of content and the presentation is lovely. And it's not even wrong, per se, just not the tradition towards which I would ever guide a student. And anyone who puts down their own "list" is placing cards on the table as to their understanding of the past, so any one of us would be open to critique after having done so.

The main problem behind it is the tendency to group authors or books by certain sub-problems as if these are distinct disciplines. So we get, e.g., "ethics" as a discipline of debates terminating more of less in American-style pragmatism, all along the way kept separate from epistemology or presumed side-problems like aesthetics or theology. Someone like Husserl shows up in a separate section from epistemology, even though he was dealing with its very foundations, and Heidegger becomes an existentialist rather than the most profound critic of the entire project of separating epistemology from a complete ontology.

Merely looking at Kant's body of work as an example, we can see just how deficient it is to split up the tradition by discipline as if these problem areas are ever independent: Kant's "epistemological" work (1st Critique) is informed by a prior moral perception of our duty to discipline the proper (given to us, appropriate, natural) use of each faculty with which we are endowed, which is also his ethical concept of maturity (see: his reading of his era and historical moment; Enlightenment as a uniquely Western cultural attainment of mature balance and self-sufficiency, a victory over the backwards confusions of Eastern mysticisms, etc); ultimately he cannot even contain the conversation there in the 1st Critique nor can he leave the 2nd Critique alone as a sufficient work of ethics, and ends up uniting the strands (how are we ethical and yet determined? composed of bounded faculties yet acting as if there is a transcendent order to it?) in his 3rd major work, which spends its time on aesthetics. In a sense, it's clear by that point that a particular understanding of freedom within art / creativity (based in the imagination as the one faculty that overreaches all the others, engages them to play at their bounds) was also inseparable from his project from the outset, along with a set of pseudo-theological readings of the proper role of teleology and harmony between nature and our faculties. In short, in Kant, there is no real separation between these problems at all, despite his outward suggestion--which points to the insufficiency of any ordered philosophical system that tries to escape its indebtedness to history, and Hegel of course rightly takes him to task on this point (no Hegel in the list??).

So I mainly just want to be sure that a new arrival to the discipline of philosophy doesn't come to believe that any one list like this one is neutral, and that they begin to realize how much the "first science" of philosophy isn't even epistemology at all, but _history_. History is where one grasps the trajectories of tradition and makes them into a frame through which we read the next horizon, and it's the primary battleground for even grasping the embattled origins of the basic words we use like "self", "rational", or "truth" in the first place. None of these inherited terms are self-evident or neutral, nor do they escape historical debt for a moment.

But enough being a contrarian... I'm too lazy to create such a beautifully formatted list myself, so I'll just throw a few random additions in off the top of my head:

- Heidegger doesn't belong with existentialism, but with a different, radical trajectory of thought that stretches out in two directions in the 20th century: one half of the fork funnels into Derrida and poststructuralism ("deconstruction" is essentially a play on Heidegger's historical "destruktion" anyway), and the other half points into another take on history and language, in hermeneutics (see: Gadamer (Truth and Method is an unskippable text), Ricoeur). One must touch on authors between these bounds as well (some inspired more by Marx, eg. Foucault, and others that flow from psychoanalysis, a tradition that needs some recognition here, although my preferred author Lacan is too inaccessible to make an intro list; maybe Zizek if you can stomach him). Theology is also in play, so someone like Rene Girard fits perfectly in this spot; later works by Heidegger are also very often theological in a complicated way.

- Speaking of philosophy of religion, terminating in the likes of Bertrand Russel and Dawkins is... criminal, in my mind. But I'll be open in admitting that I consider the former a borderline charlatan, and the latter not even worthy of a footnote in the ongoing body of philosophy. Allow me to at least add someone like David Bentley Hart (The Experience of God is a good choice), and as mentioned prior, Rene Girard, who challenged the very foundations of the category of myth. If we're really trying to suggest that Russel was the termination point of classical arguments for God, let's add a contemporary Thomist like Edward Feser, who is much more faithful to articulating the depths of these old concepts that are badly attenuated to cartoon-level strawmen by the likes of Dawkins, etc. And someone with a more critical historical reading of our secular era is necessary, so we need Charles Taylor on here.

- For ethics, we need at least some recent virtue ethics, like MacIntrye. But I don't like the notion of ethics as sub-problem or discipline, and I think that overall contributes to more confusion than anything.

I'm sure I'll have additional irritated ramblings later. But my main point to the newcomer is that one must be very careful about philosophy as a professionalized discipline of distinct problems (mimicking science, much to its detriment), rather than as a meeting point of many different problems (aesthetic, historical, theological) that cannot ever be taken off the table. My graduate work in philosophy was at an institution with a more historical and non-English bent, and I consider that invaluable.
 
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Let me add that Plato--carefully read, with an eye to drama, rhetoric, and irony--is probably still the best starting point, mainly because he demonstrates how inseparable all the problem areas of philosophy are. Look closely at his epistemological formulations, and you'll see how intertwined they are with an ascent towards the Good, a kind of reorientation of our eye towards the transcendent, which is the very pull upwards (via beauty, etc) that makes any knowledge possible.
 

DunDunDunpachi

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Speaking of hermeneutics...

That's mandatory. Maybe not at the start, but if you aren't aware of the discussions within hermeneutics then it is difficult to hop between schools of thought, to better "play gracefully with ideas" without losing your center.

I think -- for anyone, whether religious or atheist or in-between -- that the feeling of losing your center creates a fear inside of you. This happens when confronted by ideas that go against your core beliefs in a way that you do not have an immediate answer for. Maybe cognitive dissonance is the term but I don't think that's quite right.

Existential terror?

Anyway, everyone suffers from this and it makes us fearful of honest discussion.

Hermeneutics is about the methodology of interpretation and a meta-discussion about how all this philosophy stuff should be properly consumed. Exegesis is specific to the written word. Why should I interpret the phrase this way instead of that way? Why should we be internally consistent with our phrasing and terminology? When you say the author meant such-and-such, can you indicate in other texts where they took that standpoint? When the author said [phrase], is he implying such-and-such when he later says "and [phrase] will be cut up and thrown to the dogs"?

These methods and questions help us to view our material more passively. Science didn't come up with this notion of an objective observer; religion and philosophy did. Some religions even worship the Objective Observer. ;)

We all know at least a few of the 'logical fallacies', right? Of course we do. We're on the internet. Strawman. Ad Hominem. Red herring. etc. Generally, we know these terms because we know these are bad ways to argue and so we reject arguments when they make these blunders.

Hermeneutics is... kind of like that. An application below:

Pleb: "You want proof God isn't real? Lol read Nietzsche he said God is dead"
Patrician: "Actually, I disagree with that interpretation. When Nietzsche said 'God is dead' he also points out 'And we have killed him'. Why would he include that? If you read the rest of the passage, you'll notice..."


This was an area of scholarship where I was truly blessed by my parents and my schooling. Biblical exegesis is a discipline that carries over into many areas of life, outside of any spiritual or moral lessons learned. The concepts apply to other areas of philosophy, science, mathematics, literature, etc.

Also known in the internet age as "hyperlinking".
 

Jae Mara

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Nov 14, 2016
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Thanks for the thread op. I have been slowly absorbing bits and pieces myself over the years without fully diving into specific subjects, so hoping to get a little structure out of this myself. I am appreciating everyone's input.

Edit: While this is no way meant to replace reading source material I really enjoy this podcast and is what got me into philosophy.
https://verybadwizards.fireside.fm/episodes
Just two professors, one in philosophy the other in psychology, irreverently talking about philosophical topics and sometimes movies. They mention themselves that the podcast is not there as a source to learn anything but I find it useful to hear the back and forth of discussion and debate. Since the topic is timeless you can easily go back to earlier episodes or just pick topics you are interested in.
 
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strange headache

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Okay, so... I want to _respectfully_ offer the point that the list provided is, in its structure and selections, highly focused on English philosophy and the generally self-serving view of the tradition that comes with it, to the great detriment of all the other strands in play.
Quite obviously no list can ever hope to represent Philosophy in all its myriad aspects. I've clearly highlighted the fact that my list is far from being complete, which is the reason why I've invited people to add to the list if they wish to do so. As I've explained in the introduction, the beauty of Philosophy is the freedom of being able to develop your own philosophical identity.

I respectfully reject your usage of the notion "English Philosophy" though. Quite evidently I've listed many French, German, Roman and ancient Greek philosophers too. Quite evidently I could have also branched out into Asian philosophy, but their epistemological approach is far removed from what most people would consider as philosophy in the classical sense.

And I truly mean "respectfully," because the amount of content and the presentation is lovely. And it's not even wrong, per se, just not the tradition towards which I would ever guide a student. And anyone who puts down their own "list" is placing cards on the table as to their understanding of the past, so any one of us would be open to critique after having done so.
Your critique is reasonable and therefore welcomed.

The main problem behind it is the tendency to group authors or books by certain sub-problems as if these are distinct disciplines. [...] Merely looking at Kant's body of work as an example, we can see just how deficient it is to split up the tradition by discipline as if these problem areas are ever independent...
Despite the innocuous sounding title of this topic, we've been tasked with a very difficult thing to do which is to guide somebody into the field of philosophy. There are innumerable ways to approach this. When I created the list, I was very well aware that it would never be the ultimate guide to philosophy. Many have tried and equally failed in their approach and I never intended it to be understood as such.

That being said, I borrowed my methodological approach from Kant himself. In his Critique of Pure Reason, he argues that all philosophy ultimately aims at answering four fundamental questions:
  1. What can I know? (epistemology)
  2. What should I do? (ethics)
  3. What may I hope? (metaphysics)
  4. What is the Human Being? (anthropology)
I never made the claim that these fundamental questions exist independently from each other. Researching one question sooner or later leads you to the other questions as well and none can be answered without the other. Be that as it may, I consider that methodological approach better than no approach at all.

As mentioned above, feel free to add to the list and I'll be happy to oblige.

So I mainly just want to be sure that a new arrival to the discipline of philosophy doesn't come to believe that any one list like this one is neutral...
From an etymological point of view Philosophy simply means "the love (philos) of wisdom (sophia)". But sophia also means "to taste". In that sense, one could consider Philosophy an "acquired taste" and as such it requires trying out different flavors in order to develop your own sense of taste.

Allegorically speaking, if you want to develop an infant's taste, you don't start with the most spicy food. You start with something simple, even bland like oatmeal and work your way from there. Philosophy has lots of exotic flavors, but in order to fully savor them, you need to start with the more fundamental ones.
 
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Jan 9, 2018
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It's enjoyable to engage on this, so I hope that my old contentious tone is understood as part of the fun of it for me. I recall telling someone who was taken aback by another student's serious critique of their paper once in a class: if they engage at that level of attack, it means they respect you. No one cares to engage an interlocutor who is simply boring or adding nothing.

I respectfully reject your usage of the notion "English Philosophy" though. Quite evidently I've listed many French, German, Roman and ancient Greek philosophers too. Quite evidently I could have also branched out into Asian philosophy, but their epistemological approach is far removed from what most people would consider as philosophy in the classical sense.
True; but my critique of it as an English reading is essentially that it (for the most part) reads the history of the tradition from a distinctly English perspective (one shared more or less by analytic philosophy; American philosophy of mind; pragmatism; etc).

The key pivot & tell for me--other than the grouping by problem areas as sub-disciplines, that I have already ranted about--is that Kant's appearance is immediately followed by a leap forward to figures like Kuhn and Popper, as if the foundations of scientific knowledge were the primary or even pivotal question left after Kant's work. That's just a very English way of understanding things, reducing the recent tradition to epistemological epochs and generally passing over the really radical ones that didn't present themselves so plainly. On the "Continental" side (I really dislike the term, and I'm talking about something broader anyway), to read Kant as simply a formulation of epistemology means ripping his work out of its most crucial context, that of the development of German Idealism, in which wrestling with Hegel's critiques (and Fichte, etc) is absolutely fundamental to even grasping Kant rightly; and then this moves into the space of the radical challenges to Hegel that formed the backdrop for authors like Nietzsche and, later, many of the French authors like Derrida--who are absolutely engaging in fundamental projects at the epistemological level themselves.

That being said, I borrowed my methodological approach from Kant himself. In his Critique of Pure Reason, he argues that all philosophy ultimately aims at answering four fundamental questions:
  1. What can I know? (epistemology)
  2. What should I do? (ethics)
  3. What may I hope? (metaphysics)
  4. What is the Human Being? (anthropology)
Sure, and I should probably be more accommodating of starting points. My main issue here is that someone like Heidegger--who is essential to grasping intellectual developments in the 20th century, more than any figure on the list--successfully challenged the notion that epistemology could come prior to a kind of philosophical anthropology in which we ask what kind of thing we are, how we face a world at all, and how we are pulled (ethically, even theologically) into a certain inescapable relationship with it that predates even our first grasp of an object in a factual way as a piece of data.

Allegorically speaking, if you want to develop an infant's taste, you don't start with the most spicy food. You start with something simple, even bland like oatmeal and work your way from there. Philosophy has lots of exotic flavors, but in order to fully savor them, you need to start with the more fundamental ones.
But much like our ability to even hear different subtle pronunciations is formed early by the first language in which we speak, and makes it extremely difficult to escape those bounds once we're shaped by them, I want to be sure that a new student to philosophy isn't shaped by the tradition I personally find to be misleading in its retconning of the tradition.

I'm being lazy, though. Later I really need to take some of the authors I've listed and write little list items for them so that they can be added.
 
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Breakage

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Thanks to strange headache strange headache DunDunDunpachi DunDunDunpachi and all the other incredible contributions in this thread. Sorry I couldn't get back to you sooner -- I have had technical problems with my internet connection for the past few days, which meant I couldn't get online at all (I have no mobile internet).
Lots of stuff to look through in this thread. I didn't expect this much, but it's great. I'll be looking through it all from today now that I'm back online.
Many thanks again.
 
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