Philosophy is one of those subjects that can seem really daunting for beginners. There are so many philosophers and so many philosophies! Where do you start? In this blog post, we will recommend our picks for the 11 best philosophy books for beginners.
Each book is chosen for a different reason – some are easy to read, others introduce important philosophical concepts, and still, others are just plain fascinating! We hope this list will help you get started on your philosophical journey!
- 11 Philosophy Books Perfect For Beginners
- When you think of beginning philosophy…
- How to choose the best book to read
- What will a good philosophy book help you achieve?
- Which sort of philosophy interests you?
- Final Thoughts On These Best Philosophy Books For Beginners
11 Philosophy Books Perfect For Beginners
The first book on our list is Plato’s Republic. This is one of the most important works of philosophy, and it introduces some of the most enduring ideas in Western thought. It can be challenging to read, but it is definitely worth the effort!
It is a Socratic dialogue that covers a wide range of topics, including the nature of justice, the structure of the ideal city-state, and the nature of the human soul.
The book begins with a discussion between Socrates and his friend Glaucon. Glaucon challenges Socrates to prove that justice is actually worth pursuing. Socrates does this by first proposing the analogy of the cave, which is a thought experiment that explores the nature of human knowledge.
Next, Socrates outlines the structure of the ideal city-state. He describes the three main classes of citizens: the guardians, who are the rulers; the auxiliaries, who are the soldiers; and the producers, who are the workers. Each class has its own distinct role to play in the city-state, and Socrates argues that the city-state will only be just if each class fulfills its role.
Finally, Socrates turns to the topic of the human soul. He argues that there are three parts to the soul: the appetitive, the spirited, and the rational. The appetitive part is responsible for our desires, the spirited part is responsible for our courage and anger, and the rational part is responsible for our reason and wisdom. Socrates argues that the just person is the one who has harmoniously ordered these three parts of the soul.
The Republic is a complex and challenging book, but it is also an immensely rewarding one. It is crammed full of philosophical insights and arguments, and it is sure to stimulate and provoke thought in anyone who reads it. For these reasons, this text is #1 on our best philosophy books for beginners list.
The Art of War
Philosopher: Sun Tzu
The Art of War is a book that has been around for centuries, and it’s still as relevant today as it was when it was first written. It is a military treatise that was written by a Chinese general named Sun Tzu. It’s divided into 13 chapters, and each chapter is devoted to a different aspect of warfare.
The book is written in a very straightforward and practical manner, and it’s filled with valuable information that can be applied to any situation. It starts off with a discussion of the importance of knowing your enemy. Sun Tzu emphasizes the importance of gathering information and intelligence before going into battle. He also stresses the importance of knowing yourself and your own capabilities.
The book then goes on to discuss different strategies and tactics that can be used in warfare. Sun Tzu covers topics such as the use of spies, the element of surprise, and the importance of having a good plan. He also discusses the different types of terrain and how to use them to your advantage.
The Art of War is an essential read for anyone interested in military history or strategy. It’s full of useful information that can be applied to any situation. A great read for anyone interested in philosophy or the art of war.
The City of God
Philosopher: Augustine of Hippo
The City of God is a book by Augustine of Hippo, written in Latin between 13 and 20 AD. The book is a theological and philosophical work, that discusses the nature of the city of God and the earthly city. It is one of Augustine’s most influential works and has been praised by many thinkers, including Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin.
The City of God is divided into 22 books and is structured as a dialogue between Augustine and his friend Marcellinus. The first 10 books discuss the fall of the Roman Empire, and the last 12 books discuss the nature of the city of God. Augustine begins the work by talking about the fall of the Roman Empire, which he attributes to the abandonment of true religion.
He then goes on to discuss the nature of the city of God, which he sees as a spiritual community that is not subject to the changes and vicissitudes of this world. The CITY OF GOD is a community of love, where the members are united by their common love for God.
In the last 12 books, Augustine discusses the nature of the earthly city, which he sees as being in opposition to the city of God. The earthly city is characterized by pride, self-love, and a thirst for power, while the city of God is characterized by humility, love, and a desire for truth.
Augustine’s work is important because it provides a foundation for Christian thought on politics and ethics. It is also significant for its early recognition of the importance of religious toleration.
Selected Writings of Aquinas
Philosopher: Thomas Aquinas
Thomas Aquinas is one of the most famous theologians (a philosopher of religion) in Western thought. He did not discard the old way of thinking by ancient pagans like the Greeks but rather brought their ideologies into his own synthetic blend.
What is the relationship between faith and reason? If you’ve ever had this debate with friends or family, perhaps you can find more food for thought with this curation of writings from Thomas Aquinas. It sure beats wading through a sea of ornate ink letters trapped between leatherbound shores.
The Guide for the Perplexed
Maimonides’ Guide for the Perplexed is a classic work of Jewish philosophy that is still studied and admired by scholars today. The book was written in the 12th century as a response to the many questions that Jews had about their faith. Maimonides was a highly respected rabbi and philosopher, and his work was highly influential in shaping Jewish thought.
The Guide for the Perplexed is divided into three main sections. The first section is an exposition of the nature of God and the universe. Maimonides argues that God is absolutely perfect and that the universe was created by God for a purpose. He also discusses the nature of human beings and their place in the universe.
The second section of the book is devoted to a discussion of Jewish law. Maimonides discusses the reasons for the commandments and the different interpretations of the law. He also provides guidance on how to live a virtuous life.
The third section of the book is a defense of the Jewish faith against the criticisms of philosophy. Maimonides argues that philosophy can actually help to clarify and deepen one’s understanding of the Jewish faith. The Guide for the Perplexed is a remarkable work of philosophy that is still relevant today. Maimonides’ insights into the nature of God, the universe, and human beings are as profound as ever.
The book is essential reading for anyone who is interested in Jewish thought or philosophy in general. A prime candidate for anyone’s best philosophy books for beginners reading list.
The Prince is a political treatise by the Florentine writer Niccolò Machiavelli, originally published in 1532. The book is dedicated to Lorenzo de Medici, and it explains how to acquire and maintain political power.
The work is not particularly theoretical; instead, it focuses on the practical application of power. Machiavelli wrote The Prince as a practical guide for rulers. He did not believe in ideal republics or imaginary utopias, as many political writers of his time did. He was a realist who believed that rulers must be intelligent and cunning in order to maintain their power.
The Prince caused a great deal of controversy when it was first published. Many people were shocked by Machiavelli’s frank discussion of how to acquire and maintain power. His ideas were seen as amoral and even dangerous. Despite the controversy, The Prince was a very popular book. It was widely read by rulers and statesmen, and it continues to be studied by students of politics.
AI Art – Famous Philosophers
Using text-to-image artificial intelligence models, I’ve generated some interesting pictures of famous philosophers of the past and present. A fun experiment!
Candide is an outlandishly humorous, far-fetched tale by Voltaire that critiques the ideas of the philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz. The main character, Candide, experiences a series of highly unlikely events that Voltaire uses to point out the flaws in Leibniz’s optimist philosophy, which stated that this world is the best of all possible worlds.
Candide begins his journey in the German province of Westphalia, where he grows up in the castle of Baron Thunder-ten-Tronckh. He is tutored by the learned philosopher Dr. Pangloss, who teaches him that all is for the best in this, the best of all possible worlds. Candide is banished from the castle after he is caught kissing the Baron’s beautiful daughter, Cunegonde. He joins the army of the Bulgars and fights in the Seven Years’ War.
After being captured by the enemy, he is sold as a slave in Turkey. He eventually escapes and makes his way back to Westphalia, where he is reunited with his beloved Cunegonde. However, the reunion is short-lived, as the castle is destroyed by a band of robbers, and Candide is once again separated from Cunegonde.
He sets sail for the New World in search of her, but his ship is attacked by pirates and he is enslaved once again. He eventually ends up in the South American city of Eldorado, where he lives a life of luxury for a time. However, he becomes homesick and sets out once again to find Cunegonde. After enduring a series of further mishaps, Candide finally arrives at the castle of Baron Thunder-ten-Tronckh, only to find that Cunegonde has married someone else.
Discouraged but not deterred, Candide and his friends settle down on a farm to cultivate their own garden, where they live happily ever after. In Candide, Voltaire satirizes Leibniz’s optimist philosophy by having his main character experience one misfortune after another.
Candide’s constant suffering serves to highlight the absurdity of the belief that this world is the best of all possible worlds. Voltaire’s biting satire and humor make Candide a timeless classic that is as relevant today as it was when it was first published.
Philosopher: Henry David Thoreau
The American transcendentalists were a granola-loving group who ditched the city and headed out into the woods to live the simple life (not the one with Paris Hilton). While they were there, they reflected on truth, beauty, nature, and the meaning of life.
Thoreau took the call of the wild quite seriously and moved out into a log cabin. Walden is the story of his woodland journey, without some creepy dude playing the banjo. Instead, Thoreau looks uses the four seasons as a metaphor for human development, while crafting a real bible of self-reliance and simple living.
One of the best philosophy books for beginners? You bet!
A History of Western Philosophy
Philosopher: Bertrand Russell
Our range of recommendations has spanned the timeline from ancient Greece and China to Medieval Europe to the backwoods of the United States…but as you can guess, there is still more we didn’t cover. If you want to get a brief survey of everything going on, and further zone in on what intrigues you, check out this book.
A History of Western Philosophy is a book by the philosopher Bertrand Russell. It was first published in 1945.
The book is divided into three parts: Ancient Philosophy, Medieval Philosophy, and Modern Philosophy. In the first part, Ancient Philosophy, Russell discusses the Pre-Socratics, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics. He then moves on to the Epicureans and the Skeptics.
In the second part, Medieval Philosophy, Russell covers the period from Augustine to Thomas Aquinas.
In the third and final part, Modern Philosophy, Russell discusses René Descartes, Baruch Spinoza, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, John Locke, George Berkeley, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, and G. W. F. Hegel. Overall, Russell provides a clear and concise history of Western philosophy.
He covers all of the major philosophers and schools of thought and does so in a way that is both accessible and interesting. This book is an excellent introduction to the history of philosophy and would be a great choice for anyone looking to learn more about this fascinating subject.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Philosopher: Robert M. Pirsig
This recent is a best-seller that’s taken the world by storm. It’s about a father-son road trip, but along the way, they talk about science, philosophy, the nature of knowledge, and the intersection of emotions and ethics.
If you want a story-based “lighter” dose of philosophy, and Candide is still a little too old-school for you, here’s something that wasn’t written by a dude in a powdered wig. Interestingly, the format of the philosophical discussion is similar to Plato’s Republic: discovery through conversation.
Robert M. Pirsig’s book, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, is a treatise on the nature of quality. The book is written as a fictionalized autobiography and follows the narrator and his son as they travel across America on a motorcycle. Along the way, the narrator reflects on his past, and on the philosophical concepts of quality and Zen. Pirsig’s writing is dense and often difficult to follow, but it also rewards close attention.
The book is divided into three parts: the first is a relatively straightforward account of the motorcycle trip; the second is a more philosophical discussion of quality; and the third is a return to the story of the trip, now interwoven with the narrator’s reflections on quality. Pirsig’s concept of quality is based on the work of the Greek philosopher Aristotle.
For Aristotle, quality was an objective property of things, something that could be measured and compared. This is in contrast to the modern understanding of quality, which is more subjective. We might say that something is “of good quality” if we like it, or if it meets our needs.
Pirsig argues that the Aristotelian concept of quality is more useful and that we should strive to measure quality in an objective way. He suggests that quality is a function of how well something performs its intended purpose. This is similar to the concept of “functionality” in engineering.
Pirsig’s book is an interesting and thought-provoking read. It is not an easy book, but it is well worth the effort.
Wisdom Of Native Americans
Philosopher: Kent Nerburn
Our survey of philosophical books would not be complete without including an indigenous voice. While everyone thinks about powdered wigs and togas when it comes to the meaning of life, how many of us think about the treasure trove of wisdom offered by native peoples?
In Wisdom, Kent Nerburn draws on stories and wisdom from a wide range of Native American tribes to create a beautifully written and inspiring book. Nerburn begins by exploring the Native American concept of the Great Mystery, which is at the heart of all their spiritual beliefs.
He looks at the importance of nature in Native American life, and how their respect for the natural world informs everything they do. The book also contains a wealth of wisdom on such topics as family, friendship, love, and death.
Nerburn expertly weaves together these different threads to create a book that is both informative and deeply moving. Native American Wisdom is a book that will stay with you long after you have finished reading it. It is a book that will make you think about the world in a new and different way. Highly recommended.
When you think of beginning philosophy…
…there are a few images that probably come to mind.
For one, you may envision that statue of a man sitting down with his chin on his fist, contemplating life.
Is he waiting for the bus? Is he dropping a deuce? Has he lost his iPhone, and—unable to check Instagram—resorted to metaphysical contemplations?
The statue, by the way, is called “The Thinker,” by French artist Auguste Rodin.
Perhaps you think about a bunch of balding, white-bearded men in togas, engaged in some lively discussion about what toppings to order on the pizza. One man, emphatically insisting on anchovies, points his finger into the air.
Or perhaps they are debating the meaning of life…who knows?
How to choose the best book to read
Are you interested in reading some philosophy books but not sure where to start? Choosing the best one can be difficult, especially if you’re a beginner. I’ve recommended a book for each situation.
Here are three tips to help you on your journey:
Look for an introductory book. A lot of philosophy books are dense and challenging, so it’s best to start with an introductory one that will give you a basic overview of the major ideas. A History of Western Philosophy is a great introductory book.
Find a book that covers the topics you’re most interested in. If you’re particularly interested in ethics, for example, City of God is a great starting point.
Read reviews (like this one) to get an idea of how readable and understandable the book is. You don’t want to get bogged down in a difficult book, so make sure to find one that is well-written and accessible. I recommend Plato’s Republic to anyone who wants to get started with philosophy.
REMEMBER: there’s no wrong place to start reading Philosophy
What I said above was secretly a tautology: You’ll never go wrong with these books because there is no wrong way to go.
Reading philosophical texts isn’t a test! Put all those worries aside. It’s not a test (unless you’re in class, I suppose!), and unless you can never change your mind once made up, your understanding of the texts will evolve as you read and reread them. For most philosophical works, rereading is a prerequisite.
By following these tips, you’ll be able to choose the best beginner’s philosophy book for your needs and interests.
What will a good philosophy book help you achieve?
Let’s start with “what is philosophy?”
Philosophy is essentially the study of life’s biggest questions:
- What are we doing here?
- What is our purpose?
- What is good?
- What is evil?
And so on…you can really get in-depth with the subject, reading book after book and traveling down multiple wormholes to new planets of inquiry…boldly going where no man has gone before. Or have they?
Philosophy covers so many topics and exists in different forms all over the world. While almost everyone has heard of ancient Greek celebrities like Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates, there are also French philosophers like Voltaire, Descartes, and Sartre. There are Asian philosophers like Sun Tzu and Confucius.
And then there is the homeless dude standing outside of McDonald’s, who probably has some philosophy to offer you on your way out.
KEY POINT: By reading and understanding philosophy, you can develop your own personal philosophy on life. This will help you to better understand the world around you and make better decisions in your own life.
Philosophy can also help you think critically about important issues and develop logical arguments. As a result, an understanding of philosophy can be extremely helpful in achieving success in all areas of your life.
Which sort of philosophy interests you?
When deciding on works to read, consider these:
What kind of questions piques your interest, and what kind of discussions address you personally? Depending on how you answer, you may want to start somewhere different.
Are you interested in the nature of knowledge and justification? Maybe it would be helpful to start with current discussions on knowledge as justified, true belief, and their challenges.
Or perhaps you’re more concerned with ethics and how to live a good life? Maybe you would be better served than reading Nietzsche’s “Genealogy of Morals” than anything on this list.
At the end of the day, reading the philosopher who interests you in their original language can open new meanings and uncover crucial but often hidden subtleties. It is by no means a requirement that you know ancient Greek to read Plato, or even to understand him. But the texts have a different texture in other languages, so I do recommend it for the experience alone.
Final Thoughts On These Best Philosophy Books For Beginners
You may be wondering what the point of all this inquiry and discussion is. True, it all seems ungrounded and cerebral, until you consider how philosophy has shaped world events like the American and French Revolutions, and the World Wars.
As broad as it is in terms of historical and geographical scope, one can be at a loss for where to begin. Never fear as this list of best philosophy books for beginners has at least one book that will get your thoughtful juices flowing.