I am almost completely illiterate on the topic of philosophy and philosophers and I would like to change that. I of recognize the names but don't know a thing about most of them. I was perusing the 50% off bin at Barnes and Noble yesterday, found some books by authors I recognized but in the end didn't buy them because I assumed that if they are in the bargain bin there's a good chance they aren't the best works to start with.

Can anyone here help me out. I would like a good overview/history of philosophy book. Something that the average person can read and understand. There wasn't much in the store for overviews. I did see Stephen Law's Philosophy: History, Ideas... which caught my eye because I've read some of his blog. But I didn't want to take a chance on it. I guess I'm looking mainly for Western philosophy for now.

The irony of my asking this question is that my husband has a BA in Philosophy and yet doesn't have any suggestions for me.

Views: 1472

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

Once again, you two should take this elsewhere. Ultimately, how to approach philosophy, even for laypeople/amateurs/beginners, depends on what you think is ultimately important about being philosophical. And this question applies to the formal teaching of philosophy to undergraduates as it does to amateurs and informal self-edification. For example, are there eternal philosophical questions, or have some been practically eliminated or transformed through history? Does it make sense to continue to pose and address philosophical questions in the abstract, as if there were no history or positive knowledge to draw upon? Is amateur philosophy a meaningful endeavor or a waste of time? Is professional philosophy a wasted effort?

And there is a more basic question as to approach. Should a guide to philosophy sincerely attempt or feign neutrality or even-handedness, or should it take an explicit approach to the subject matter and presume to teach the student how to think about the subject?

Your dispute reflects the inherent biases in taking a position on how to approach the subject matter. What if it turns out, that the teaching of philosophy professionally AND popular introductions to the subject in our part of the world can be judged deficient from some other perspective? Perhaps one needs a different perspective from anything that is available in the bookstores?
A number of older works present great examples of the various structures of philosophical arguments, and reading some older works helps a great deal in getting familiar with the process of philosophical discourse.

Yes. This is true and it's also something you spent much effort attempting to refute.

Had you raised points like those, this discussion could have had some value.

In other words: After much self-contradiction, I finally admit my error. But as you didn't attack my dogmatic position and flawed argumentation appropriately, I still proclaim myself the victor. I'm taking my ball and going home.
And with that said, I'm out of here.

Sincerely glad that you decided to stay. We all learn from one another. Perhaps it's your choice of the word useless that's a stumbling block to some, myself included. Though subtle, there is a difference between something that's less useful and something that's mostly useless, IMO.
"Things" can mean anything, including literary value, etc.
(This post belongs just before John D's, above; I needed to fix up a few glitches in my prose, and the corrected post now appears out of place.)

Your self-satisfied justification of nearly every line in your own posts is unfortunate, but was, I'm afraid, entirely predictable.

Briefly, a comment such as "there certainly are many valuable things in older works," which seems a token gesture in light of the analogies you draw with the Hippocratic Canon and the bible, is indeed vague enough to mean just about anything, an ambiguity that allows you to project a meaning back onto the sentence that it may or may not have had to being with. Fortunately for your reader, you constrain the meaning of that sentence later in the same post with your list of "three reasons" to read the older works, so Davidsonian "charity" was unnecessary; and that list does not include anything about the continuing relevance of the ideas they contain, nor does it include anything about the “argumentation” of the earlier works.

The "flip-flop" charge in American politics is indeed irritating; it is as though we expect politicians never to change their views, even on mature deliberation. That is the not the problem here, however. You changed your views (or the expression of them, at any rate, the only thing a reader has to go on), and then refused to admit that you had done so. I don’t think that anyone will be fooled by your post facto rationalizations; indeed, more than one person has emailed me about the pomposity of your manner and the incoherence of the matter in your posts. Ultimately, readers get to decide on the merits of a given argument, not the writers themselves.

I should have given up trying to teach you anything a long while back, as you are obviously ineducable, at least in this area. As your chosen field is medicine, however, I can only hope that you do not bring the same spirit of smug dogmatism to your professional activities, as your refusal to admit errors as a doctor could cost people their lives.
Bargain bins means the store has to get rid of them; doesn't always indicate low quality. Durrant is an old popularization; I'd look for newer ones. Russell is biased against German philosophers and is untrustworthy. I did not like Sophie's World. I'm sure there are some good newer surveys; but I'll have to do some homework to ferret them out. You want to limit yourself to Western philosophy, but even within that realm, one must watch out for biases. And when it comes to the 20th century, the field is so vast, that most surveys will focus on what prominent figures in Anglo-American philosophy deem the most significant trends, and when they choose philosophers and philosophical schools from continental Europe, they still are rather selective. As for what the average person can read and understand . . . this is a tricky question, since a lot of demands will be placed on the average person in this field.
As you will note from the arguments here, philosophy is distinguished from other disciplines by radical disagreement on every count, not just appropriate methods and positions, but on the very nature and purpose of the discipline, what counts as legitimate and what counts as progress. Is there actually definitive progress; is there a perpetual recycling of the same questions? Is a historical sense endemic to philosophy or can one leave its past to historians and move on as the scientists do? There is radical disagreement on all of these questions.

You might like to check out these metaphilosophical questions. Here's a compendium of them:

Metaphilosophy Themes and Questions: A Personal List by Peter Suber (2000)

And where to begin?

The Problem of Beginning
by Peter Suber (2001)

In addition to reading hard copy books, you might wish to exploit the Internet in order to find appropriate materials. You can use my elementary web guide:

Links to Philosophical & Related Web Sites

I don't recall offhand where you will find the introductory materials to philosophy that you need, but you will find some useful guide on at least one of the links under the rubric "Resources/Research in Philosophy".

Pathways school of philosophy might help.
Thank you Ralph. I'm going to bookmark these links.

I just have to say, that after this thread I better understand why my husband couldn't simply give me a suggestion of where to start. ;-)
I have not read much philosophy but if you want some short bites that can definitely help you with your personal development and problems faced in day to day life, I can highly recomend Consolations of Philosophy. Very entertaining and insightful. Practical pop philosophy I suppose.
I lent it to someone (as you do when you read a great book) and never got it back, so got a review by Stephen C. Scheer here for you to look at. Botton also has his own site.

Alain de Botton's Consolations of Philosophy (in the plural) is more than a worthy successor to the "original" Consolation of Philosophy (in the singular), written by Boethius in 524 A.D.,
And it doesn't read like a typical philosophical text either. Rather, it reads the way we expect wisdom to read, with charm and whimsy and surprisingly illuminating insights that also tend to turn our thinking about things around (if not upside down).
The book consists of six meditations on how three ancient and three modern philosophers can help us overcome our perennial anxieties about unpopularity (Socrates), poverty (Epicurus), frustration (Seneca), inadequacy (Montaigne), heartbreak (Schopenhauer), and difficulties (Nietzsche).

Check it out, every home should have one!
I think you cannot go past a bit of modern philosophy with critical thinking skills also.
Check out embiggen books website (recomended), in the Skeptics section there is a good video by a guy called Peter Ellerton, who teaches the subject Philosophy and Reason in Australian schools. It gives a good intro to the subject, something which I believe should be compulsory learning for all school children. (sadly it is not)
He also has a website pactiss.org (philosophers and critical thinkers in senior schools) which is a wealth of information, articles, links and resources available for anyone with an interest in studying this or teaching it to their children.
It seems such a valuable skill, why arent we all learning this at school?
This is a new web site for me, thanks. Note that my philosophy web guide has a unit on critical thinking:


And see my bibliography on philosophy for children:


Otherwise, I suggest that D'Holbach and Thomas continue their debate elsewhere.
Thanks; thanks again; and I agree, its not very helpful is it.


Support Atheist Nexus

Donate Today



Help Nexus When You Buy From Amazon




Latest Activity

Tom Sarbeck replied to Christine's discussion What exactly is "sin" anyway??
9 minutes ago
Tom Sarbeck replied to Joan Denoo's discussion My gravesite inscription
10 minutes ago
Luara replied to Joan Denoo's discussion Eradicating the Faith Virus - A Conversation with Peter Boghossian
13 minutes ago
Tom Sarbeck replied to Sentient Biped's discussion Homosexuals are possessed by fart demons. in the group LGBTQI atheists, nontheists, and friends
25 minutes ago
Tom Sarbeck replied to Sentient Biped's discussion Homosexuals are possessed by fart demons. in the group LGBTQI atheists, nontheists, and friends
29 minutes ago
Tom Sarbeck replied to Pandarius's discussion When the solution is simple, God is answering. - Albert Einstein
34 minutes ago
Loren Miller replied to Sentient Biped's discussion Homosexuals are possessed by fart demons. in the group LGBTQI atheists, nontheists, and friends
49 minutes ago
Luara replied to Pandarius's discussion When the solution is simple, God is answering. - Albert Einstein
1 hour ago
Ted Foureagles replied to satyam dangi's discussion Do we need to change the entire spectrum of human civilization ?
1 hour ago
Luara replied to Sentient Biped's discussion Homosexuals are possessed by fart demons. in the group LGBTQI atheists, nontheists, and friends
1 hour ago
The Devian replied to John Jubinsky's discussion Why Does Prince George Have Brown Eyes? in the group ORIGINS: UNIVERSE, LIFE, HUMANKIND, AND DARWIN
2 hours ago
Ted Foureagles replied to Kalista Whitney's discussion Was there a particular event in your life that contributed to you becoming atheist?
2 hours ago

© 2014   Atheist Nexus. All rights reserved. Admin: Richard Haynes.

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service