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.

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There is a growing movement to have this taught in Australian state schools, Queensland has done so for many years, and Western Australia and Victoria have implemented it in some schools.
Despite being an atheist i have sent my son to a private school, you only have state run or religous here (anglican, they are very moderate) for the superior academic environment they provide.
They are being accredited as an International Baccalaureat school at the moment and one of the senior subjects is Theory of Knowledge.
You have to admire a religous based institution for teaching that!
That's terrific! I wish that we could get organized enough to start such a movement here in the States; unfortunately, we can't even get organized enough to improve our health care system.
I found this site for Teaching children philosophy a short time ago. I really like how it gives ideas for using children's books to help kids think critically.
Russell's History of Western Philosophy and Garder's Sophie's World were my starting points as well, but if you're interested in Ethics I'd suggest checking out Simon Wiesenthal's The Sunflower: On the Ethics of Forgiveness (as well as his various novels) and Lawrence Hinman's Ethics: A Pluralistic Approach as a starting point. Hinman in particular gives a pretty good grounding in the various ethical theories, if I recall correctly, and he's pretty accessible as well. You could also check out the Standford Online Encyclopedia of Philosophy, though they have a tendency to use highly technical terms in some areas. Hope that helps!
Dawn, I don't know if you are interested in audio books but I recently downloaded a series by Paul Strathern . They are a collection of a 90 minute treatments of a variety of philosophers. Kant, Aristotle, Spinoza and many more. There is also a series by an outfit called The Teaching Company. I got these through BitComet torrents using Pirate Bay. You can also download a number of e-books in text and PDF format. I rather enjoy listening to the audio when I'm traveling or when going to bed. The e-books are also good because if you have vision problems (I have some impairment due to medication) you can increase the size of the print. I agree with the assessment of Bertrand Russell as a good place to start.
Have fun with an exciting pursuit!
Reading Ayn Rand's garbage is the worst place to start reading philosophy. In any case, it's not an introduction to the subject matter. Someone else brought up this topic on this site; I don't recall where offhand.
What's the enthusiasm and addiction people have in regards to going back, back, and further back over and over again (aside from making a buck) to old fiction-based, supposed value-based mind-control teachings?

A man/woman wrote the stuff. People past-present and future use it as a value based mechanism (in reality only society makes values) ... Instead of making green-energy networks folks are debating feelings...

and on and on
not sure where the muse of it all is going
guess I'm jaded from childhood turn-off's
A man/woman wrote the stuff.

No one has stated otherwise.

I don't think anyone here worships their favorite philosopher. In many cases, study of philosophy isn't about finding answers to questions as much as it is finding a worldview that is consistent with one's own experiences and observations on life.

It's healthy to seek to examine life in a way that is consistent with reality. Delving into philosophy can reveal to the student where inconsistency exists in his/her own worldview, the reasons for it can be considered and it can then be properly extracted, allowing for greater clarity of vison. For the individual that desires to live as free from illusion as possible, it's a neverending exercise.

...old fiction-based, supposed value-based mind-control teachings...

(in reality only society makes values)...


As I undertand it, philosophy provides a useful mechanism for challenging "old fiction-based, supposed value-based mind-control teachings" and the values embraced by a given society.
Try Stephen Fry's "The Philosophy Gym".
Start with buying a philosophy dictionary. Then work from plato forward. So Much of anything that came after the geeks presupposes that you read it. EX. In order to get anything out of sarte, i suggest reading Aristotle, then Descartes, then Kierkegaard, then Hegel, then Heidegger, then Sartre. Check the date of what every you want to read, understand the topics discussed in the book, then go through the time line of authors start at the beginning and work forward.

Like all disciplines awareness of a subject progresses along a learner's ability to see relationships at increasing levels of abstraction. At its most concrete level Philosophy consists of beliefs about areas of human understanding such as ethics or aesthetics. The first level of abstraction is epistemology where you analyze what those beliefs are based on. As in any abstract set of relationships you are looking for similarities and differences.

Different ways of understanding would include idealism, rationalism and empiricism. I would say you are not being Philosophical until you are operating at this first level of abstraction. For this reason I don't consider Rousseau a Philosopher since he is unaware of an abstract level of human understanding and merely operates at the concrete level. A Philosophy student should, at the very least, be able to operate at the first level of abstraction. Plato was very concerned with epistemology and gives detailed explanations on what ideas are based on. DesCartes is considered one of the founders of Rationalism. For Empiricism I would recommend Locke and Bacon.

The second level of abstraction looks at the historical development of epistemology and shows how developments in epistemology have been a process of human psychology accommodating a material universe. Philosophers who operate at this level of abstraction would include Diderot and Russell. As the editor of the Encyclopedia, Diderot spent a quarter of a century becoming a connoisseur of knowledge. I probably enjoyed reading Diderot more than any other Philosopher. He has clarity at very abstract levels.

I hope this gives you a general framework from which you can pick your first readings. I hope you find some strings of thought that interest you.

Bertrand Russell's History of Western Philosophy is certainly a good choice, but it is a secondary source. That is to say, you are reading someone else's interpretation of what philosophers said.

Sooner or late you want to read primary sources and form your own opinions.Some of the dialogues of Plato are a good start. The dialogue form is easy to digest— the argument develops slowly as in a play. The four dialogues I recommend are Meno, Phaedo, Phaedrus, and the Symposium.

Descartes' Discourse on Method was one of the first philosophy books I read and it still attracts me. Descartes starts by doubting everything to find what he must accept as the foundation of truth.

Pascal's Pensées are also good because they consist of short pieces collected together in a book.

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