Philosophical Books to Read in Your Lifetime
Suppose you want to read something that will make you think about life, the universe, and everything. In that case, you should try reading some philosophical books. These books can teach you about different viewpoints and ways of thinking.
Here are ten books that can help you start thinking deeply about different philosophical topics.
Quick Picks: Philosophical Books to Read in Your Lifetime
Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex (1949)
This number may seem daunting, but you don’t need prior knowledge to understand it. The author of this text will help you understand the ideas presented without needing the help of a tutor. It is a great resource that provides a historical survey of the difference between sex and gender.
Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1961)
German political theorist Arendt wrote about power, authority, and democracy. As a European Jew who fled to America during the Holocaust, she was interested in violence and how it related to the left and right. Her books are all good, but we would recommend Eichmann in Jerusalem, a study on whether evil is radical or thoughtless. This book is based on her reportage on Eichmann’s post-war trial.
Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil (1886)
Nietzsche’s book criticizes the idea of traditional morality. He argues that other moral philosophers are too dogmatic in their approach to morality. Nietzsche also believes that good and evil are different expressions of basic instincts. This book is good, even if you don’t agree with everything Nietzsche says. Check out Thus Spoke Zarathustra if you want more of the same.
Jean Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract (1762)
This book was written in late eighteenth-century France and argued against the divine right of the monarch to rule. It said that the people should be able to govern themselves. This book is still exciting today. It asks where legitimate political authority comes from and how it is regulated. It also suggests a democratic model that can work out legislation within the state.
Antonio Gramsci, The Prison Notebooks (1929-1935)
Gramsci was an Italian Marxist imprisoned by his country’s Fascist government in 1926. He wrote these notebooks while he was in jail. They are unorganized, but they cover many different topics such as Fascism, Fordism, Italian history, the French revolution, folklore, religion, and culture. He attacks capitalism in several ways, perhaps most notably with his takedown of the cultural hegemony that maintains it.
G.E.M. Anscombe, Intention (1957)
Anscombe wrote about mind, logic, language, and ethics. But her work on action theory is what made her most well-known. This three-volume work is about intention and how it relates to action and practical reasoning. It can be challenging reading, but she is considered a great philosopher, and her work is worth trying to understand.
Daniel Dennett, The Intentional Stance (1987)
It is a type of philosophy known as the philosophy of mind. In it, Dennett explains how we define and predict the actions and behaviors of others. We do this by taking different levels of abstraction into account. When we view something from the intentional stance, we assume it is acting with some level of belief or intent, rather than just mechanically.
Dennett’s books are a good read if you have never thought about these things. He is an exciting and entertaining writer, no matter his topic. If you have already tried Anscombe, this book will be easy to read.
Donna Haraway, A Cyborg Manifesto (1985)
It is an essay, not a book. The article is called “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century.” like de Beauvoir, she argues that there’s nothing innate about ‘being’ female because that’s a state that is deeply socially constructed. She uses the cyborg to reject rigid, essentialist boundaries – what it is to ‘be’ human or machine.
Jostein Gaardner, Sophie’s World (1991)
Finally, try this one if you want to think about philosophy but don’t want to read a long book. It’s about a young Norwegian girl who starts to learn about philosophy from an older man named Alberto Knox. He takes her back in time to see the great artists. But then they realize that Sophie’s reality is not objective. Could they get away? To find out, you’ll have to read the book.
The Best Philosophy Books
Some of the greatest thinkers in world history have lived in the field of philosophy. By studying the best philosophy books, we can try to understand how cultures before us created and understood meaning in their lives.
The culture heavily influences the ways we think and behave we are born. Philosophy can reveal to us the reasons behind how we act and, in doing so, help us to understand our inner selves and how we relate to the world around us.
Reading the top philosophy books allows us to delve into those hidden depths and gain a greater understanding of our thinking and conduct, assisting us in eliminating undesirable behavior.
Best Philosophy Books for Beginners
1. A History of Western Philosophy – Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Russel’s ‘A History of Western Philosophy has been revered since45. Comprehensive, erudite, and revealing; this is a survey and history of Western philosophy written by someone who would go on to become a regarded philosopher in his own right.
2.Sophie’s World – Jostein Gaarder
Over twenty million copies in print – this novel follows 14-year-old Norwegian girl Sophie Amundsen on a mystery of perplexing questions. Deeply entrenched and revealing of the Western philosophical canon, this is an excellent introduction to enjoyably explore some of the biggest questions asked as the basis of philosophy throughout Western history.
3. The Story of Philosophy – Will Durant
An excellent survey of philosophy from an outstanding writer. Durant is famous for his multi-volume history of the West, so a history of Western Philosophy is a natural topic for him. Durant begins with the Greek philosophers and works his way up to early 20th century American philosophers.
Top 3 Philosophy Books: Most Immediately Helpful and Applicable
1. Meditations – Marcus Aurelius
Stoicism has recently seen an enthusiastic revival, especially in entrepreneurial circles. Reading ‘Meditations’ is a defining work of stoicism, and it’s not hard to see why.
Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote meditations during his experiences administrating the Roman Empire and his life as a warrior. He outlines a timeless philosophy of commitment to virtue above pleasure, tranquility above happiness, and perhaps most importantly, a search for inner peace in the face of an endlessly changing and chaotic world. Highly practical for everyday life.
2. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – Robert M. Pirsig
With a slightly misleading title, this book asks big questions about how we live our lives. Set to a backdrop of America’s Northwest, it follows a father and young son on a cross-country motorcycle trip. Pirsig discusses the ideas of rhetoric, quality, the scientific method, technology, and many ideas of the Greeks in the search for a unifying truth.
3. Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor Frankl
Outlining Frankl’s theory of ‘logotherapy,’ he argues that human beings cannot avoid suffering in life. Still, we have the power to give it meaning and thus endure it with renewed purpose. He holds that our primary drive in life is not pleasure, as Freud maintained, but the discovery and pursuit of what we find meaningful.
All the more impactful for where it was written, Frankl tells the story of his time spent within Nazi extermination camps, including Auschwitz. At the same time, his parents, brother, and pregnant wife perished. Library of Congress found Man’s Search for Meaning among America’s ten most influential books.
Best Western Philosophy Books
1. The Dialogues (Gorgias, Meno, Theatetus, Sophist, Symposium, Phaedrus, Timaeus, The Republic) – Plato
“Plato, the greatest philosopher of ancient Greece, was born in Athens in 428 or 427 B.C.E. to an aristocratic family. He studied under Socrates, who appears as a character in many of his dialogues. He attended Socrates’ trial, and that traumatic experience may have led to his attempt to design an ideal society. Following the death of Socrates, he traveled widely in search of learning. After twelve years, he returned to Athens and founded his Academy, one of the earliest organized schools in western civilization. Among Plato’s pupils was Aristotle. Some of Plato’s other influences were Pythagoras, Anaxagoras, and Parmenides.
Plato wrote extensively, and most of his writings survived. His works include dialogues, where several characters argue a topic by asking each other questions. This form allows Plato to raise various points of view and let the reader decide which is valid. Plato expounded on a form of dualism, where there is a world of ideal forms separate from the world of perception. The most famous exposition of this is his metaphor of the Cave, where people living in a cave can only see flickering shadows projected on the wall of the external reality. This influenced many later thinkers, particularly the Neoplatonists and the Gnostics, and is similar to views held by some schools of Hindu dualistic metaphysics.”
2. Physics, Ethics, Poetics, Metaphysics, Categories, On Logic, On the Soul – Aristotle
Aristotle, like Plato, was one of the greatest intellectual figures in Western history. Even after the intellectual revolutions of the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment, Aristotelian concepts remained embedded in Western thinking.
Aristotle’s intellectual range was vast, covering most of the sciences and many of the arts. He was the founder of formal logic, devising a finished system that was regarded as the sum of the discipline for centuries. He pioneered the study of zoology. His writings continue to be studied, and his work remains a powerful stature.
3. The Essential Epicurus – Epicurus
Epicureanism is commonly regarded as the refined satisfaction of physical desires. Epicurus did not advocate excessive food or sex but rather a love of life and its preservation through the modest pleasures enjoyed daily. As a philosophy, however, it also denoted the striving after an independent state of mind and body, imperturbability, and reliance on sensory data as the true basis of knowledge.
Selected Best Modern Philosophy Books
2. Essays – Montaigne
Montaigne was a French Renaissance philosopher noted for his merging of casual anecdotes with intellectual insight. He published his massive volume, ‘essais, ‘which popularized and reinforced the essay as a literary genre. His philosophical influence was broad and included many of his contemporaries who appear on this list.
Essays are wide-ranging going from topics like leadership to raising children. Each essay stands alone, so it’s easy to pick it up and put it down one essay at a time.
3. Beyond Good And Evil – Nietzsche
Nietzsche’s ‘Beyond Good and Evil’ is one of his slightly more accessible, though he is not known for his accessibility! In Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche breaks down the paradoxes of conventional understandings of morality and, in doing so, sets the stage for much of the 20th-century thought that would follow.
Nietzsche is probably the most influential philosopher in my thinking, if only because he shattered many of my pre-existing beliefs and illusions.
4. Meditations on First Philosophy – René Descartes
Meditations on First Philosophy is made up of six meditations. Written in the style of a journal of a six-day course of meditation, he first discards all belief in things that are not certain and then tries to establish what can be known for sure. It is one of the most influential philosophical texts ever written and is widely read today.
5. The Prince – Niccolò Machiavelli
The Prince is sometimes regarded as one of the first works of modern philosophy, particularly contemporary political philosophy, in which the effective truth takes precedence over any abstract ideal. Machiavelli emphasized the need for realism, as opposed to idealism.
6. Being and Nothingness – Jean-Paul Sartre
In Being and Nothingness, Sartre writes with some debts to Heidegger to demonstrate the existence of a free will. He partly explains how man is captivated by the concept of “complete,” which Sartre refers to literally as “a being that causes itself” and which many faiths and thinkers identify as God. Being and Nothingness is considered Sartre’s most important philosophical work.
Best Eastern Philosophy Books
1. Tao Te Ching – Lao Tzu
The Tao Te Ching is the foundation of Taoism and has been the bedrock of Chinese thought and much of its spirituality for thousands of years. It teaches peace, harmony, and balance, ultimately describing a complete and fulfilling art of living that guides millions to this day.
2. The Art of War – Sun Tzu
One of the most influential books ever written, The Art of War, has applications in business, the military, and any situation involving strategy or people. It is composed of 13 chapters, each one describing a part of warfare, relating to tactics, and immediate application.
3. Analects – Confucius
The Analects has been one of the most widely read and studied books in China for the last 2,000 years and has massive influence over Chinese thought to this today. It is foundational to the development of Chinese and East Asian moral systems.
Confucius believed that a country’s flourishing depended on its people’s morals, beginning with its leaders. He educated his students to create ethically cultivated men who would carry themselves well, speak well, and demonstrate integrity in everything they did.
Best Middle Eastern Philosophy Books
1. The Book of Healing – Avicenna
A 1,000-year-old text at the foundation of modern medicine and biology. This is one of the best philosophy books in medical practice history and forms the foundation of our current understanding of human health and disease. It focused not just on symptoms and therapy but on uncovering fundamental causes of illness and disease through humoral diagnosis. It shows how Avicenna’s idea of humor fits directly with our understanding of proteins, lipids, and organic acids.
2. The Transcendent Philosophy of the Four Journeys of the Intellect – Mulla Sadra
The ‘Hikmat Al Muta’alyah fi-l-as far al-‘aqliyya al-arba‘a’ is a comprehensive work that chronicles many important issues discussed in Islamic philosophy. Necessarily entrenched and influenced by the Greeks, it nevertheless presents a unique philosophical thought beholden to Islam, yet also touching on a huge variety of schools of thought (and even a nascent form of existentialist thought)
10 Of The Best Philosophy Books You Must Read This Year
1. Meditations By Marcus Aurelius
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius is the first book I read about stoic philosophy after finding out about stoicism on the Internet. This is a book everyone should read since it provides simple solutions to huge problems we face every day. The three biggest lessons I learned from reading Meditations are:
- Managing your expectations saves you from a lot of unnecessary headaches.
- Always focus on the internal and ignore the external.
- Don’t worry about anyone else’s opinions about you.
Manage Your Expectations
If you were to rent a house for $1,000 per month, and your landlord told you that in exactly one year, he would increase your rent to $1,100, then after one year, you won’t be angry. Why? Because you expected him to raise your rent.
If he had not told you beforehand, then suddenly increased your rent, you would be furious.
That’s the power of expectation. Aurelius teaches us how to use expectation in our daily lives when putting effort into something and expecting a certain result. The practice can be useful in marriage, business, relationships, or fitness goals.
Instead of having high expectations, expect the worst possible result. This might seem scary initially, but it can do wonders for your long-term happiness.
Focus Only On The Internal And Ignore The External
Internal forces are fully in your control, while external forces are random. You set yourself up for a miserable life when you base your happiness on something out of your control.
An example of something internal is the hard work you put in at the gym. Only you can determine the number of reps and sets you can complete in one session and how many sessions you can get in weekly.
Focus on improving your lifting form, your diet, and the weight you lift. You’ll be far happier than the guy or girl who focuses on the external and looks at someone else, aiming to reach that person’s fitness level.
In this philosophy book, Aurelius speaks about ignoring everything that’s not in your control and focusing on what you can control.
Don’t Worry About Other People’s Opinions
A rule of thumb I like to follow is that if I don’t take advice from someone, I won’t take criticism from them.
If you think about it, it makes perfect sense. The only people who’re criticizing others are those who are unsuccessful and unhappy with their own lives. Why would you even value their opinion?
2. The Daily Stoic By Ryan Holiday
The Daily Stoic contains 366 different philosophical texts, each explained further by author and philosopher Ryan Holiday. He also gives practical advice on how you can implement these meditations into your daily life.
As philosophical books about life go, Holidays are quite accessible as it offers context to the curated ancient texts. I suggest starting slow and reading only a few philosophical texts per day. The two biggest principles I got out of this book are:
Amor Fati is a famous Latin term that directly translates to “love of fate.” A perfect example of someone displaying Amor Fati is Thomas Edison. In the nineteenth century, Edison discovered that his factory had burned down, and all the work he put in went up in flames. He told his son, who stood next to him, “Go get your mother and all her friends. They’ll never see a fire like this again.”
He realized he had no control over that fire. Instead of getting angry about it, he embraced it. He loved his fate.
That’s what Amor Fati is. When something bad happens that you have no control over, why get angry or depressed? Instead, accept it, and you’ll have an easier time loving your fate.
Remember Your Mortality
At any given time in the future, all this will be gone. Your concerns, dreams, desires, and fears will disappear; therefore, embrace death. Remember, Amor Fati.
When you realize your whole life can be over in a split second, you start appreciating the gift life is, and you focus only on important things. You ignore everything else.
I like comparing life and death to a vacation. When you first go on vacation, you don’t get depressed that it’ll be over in a few weeks. You know your vacation is limited, so you must make the most of it while it lasts. Practice the same attitude toward life.
3. A New History Of Western Philosophy By Anthony Kenny
This philosophy book is a must-read for anyone interested in western philosophy. It’s similar to the book A History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell, but it’s far easier to read. Kenny explains his ideas intelligently and in detail. He also defends his opinions by sharing his reasoning.
4. Republic By Plato
This book focuses on Plato and his ideas of the “perfect republic.” He tells stories about himself and writes a lot about the nature of justice and how he and his men aimed to enforce this justice.
Plato includes countless opinions of others about how an ideal republic should be governed. One of the first issues they discussed was true justice. Some said justice is returning favors to those who helped you while being a good person.
5. The Gulag Archipelago By Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
After reading The Gulag Archipelago, you’ll look at the world differently. In the modern world, many of us live comfortably and safely in our homes.
Our difficulties like not making enough money, feeling unhappy, and having social anxiety are nothing compared to the agony of the past.
6. Letters From A Stoic By Lucius Annaeus Seneca
The philosopher Seneca wrote this book, and anyone practicing stoicism must read it because it contains countless great experiences, lessons, and theories.
Letters From a Stoic teaches us several ideas we can use in our everyday lives to get more things done, live with less stress and make better decisions. My biggest takeaway, however, was to focus on one thing at a time.
7. Discourses Of Epictetus
Most ancient stoic philosophers like Aristotle, Kant, and Socrates came from the top of society; however, one of the most important stoics came from the opposite end of the spectrum.
Epictetus uses an extreme example of a man who was sentenced to death. Because his death wasn’t in his control, he never wasted time worrying about what he had control over, as if he was going to die miserable or with a smile.
“Wealth consists not of having great possessions, but few wants.”
8. Tao Te Ching By Lao Tzu
Tao Te Ching is an eastern philosophy book, so I started meditating. Lao Tzu believes everyone should meditate since it has countless benefits for your mental and emotional health.
Tzu doesn’t call the practice meditation. He calls it solitude, but the principles are the same.
“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”
9. Man’s Searching For Meaning By Viktor Frankl
Man’s Searching For Meaning is similar to The Gulag Archipelago, as it documents Viktor Frankl’s experiences in Auschwitz, an infamous Nazi concentration camp.
He was tortured, beaten, and worked to the brink of death every day for three years. His captors gave him little food and no clothes or shoes, which led to frostbitten toes and a laundry list of diseases. Death was a daily occurrence since inmates were starved, beaten, and executed for no reason.
10. Atlas Shrugged By Ayn Rand
Atlas Shrugged is a contentious novel since it compares socialism with capitalism, but Ayn Rand lived in both. Atlas Shrugged gives us a deeper understanding of the two philosophies than we’d get from reading a textbook.
Frequently Asked Questions About Philosophical Books
Books in the philosophy nonfiction genre are about understanding knowledge, reality, and existence as an academic discipline. These books also explore fundamental truths about oneself, the world, and relationships.
Studying philosophy will help you think critically. That means you will understand why you make your choices and want to achieve specific goals. You will be able to see how your life fits into a larger context.
Self-learning has many advantages. It is more affordable because you don’t have to pay for a degree at a university. You can learn at your speed, which means you can finish the course as much or as little time as needed.