The Twenty Greatest Philosophy Books (Book from 2006)

This is one of the 305 lists we use to generate our main The Greatest Books list.

  • The Republic by Plato

    "The Republic" is a philosophical text that explores the concepts of justice, order, and character within the context of a just city-state and a just individual. It presents the idea of a utopian society ruled by philosopher-kings, who are the most wise and just. The dialogue also delves into theories of education, the nature of reality, and the role of the philosopher in society. It is a fundamental work in Western philosophy and political theory.

    The 142nd Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle

    This philosophical work focuses on the concept of ethics, specifically virtue ethics, and how it relates to a person's character and happiness. The author argues that happiness is the highest good and the end goal of life, and that it is achieved not through pleasure, but through virtuous actions. The book also explores the nature of practical reasoning, the different kinds of virtues, the importance of friendship, and the role of luck in human welfare.

    The 497th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Meditations on First Philosophy by Rene Descartes

    "Meditations on First Philosophy" is a philosophical treatise that introduces the concept of radical doubt as a foundational element of knowledge. The book is known for the famous philosophical statement, "I think, therefore I am," which the author uses to establish the existence of the self as a necessary truth. The author also presents arguments for the existence of a benevolent God and the immortality of the soul, while examining the differences between the mind and the body, the nature of reality, and the limits of human understanding.

    The 582nd Greatest Book of All Time
  • Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes

    "Leviathan" is a seminal work of political philosophy that presents an argument for a social contract and rule by an absolute sovereign. The author argues that civil peace and social unity are best achieved by the establishment of a commonwealth through social contract. He suggests that without a strong, central authority to impose law and order, society would descend into a state of nature, characterized by perpetual war and chaos. The book is divided into four parts: Of Man, Of Commonwealth, Of a Christian Commonwealth, and Of the Kingdom of Darkness.

    The 339th Greatest Book of All Time
  • An Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke

    This philosophical work explores the concept of human understanding, proposing that all knowledge is derived from experience. The author argues against innate ideas, suggesting instead that the mind is a blank slate at birth, filled over time through sensory and reflective experiences. The book covers a wide range of topics, including language, memory, identity, and the limits of human knowledge, and is considered a foundational text in empiricism.

    The 735th Greatest Book of All Time
  • A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge by George Berkeley

    This philosophical work challenges the idea of materialism, arguing that objects only exist as a perception of the mind. The author asserts that we can only directly know sensations and ideas of objects, not the objects themselves. He also discusses the role of God, suggesting that our perceptions are dependent on the will of a higher power. The text is a significant contribution to the field of metaphysics and epistemology, offering a unique perspective on the nature of human knowledge and perception.

    The 3400th Greatest Book of All Time
  • An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding by David Hume

    This philosophical work explores the nature of human knowledge, arguing that all of our understanding comes from experience rather than innate ideas. The author challenges the idea of causality, suggesting that our belief in cause and effect is based on habit rather than logical reasoning. The book also discusses the limitations of human understanding, including the inability to fully comprehend the concept of God or the soul, and the impossibility of certain knowledge. The author's skepticism about traditional philosophical concepts has had a significant influence on later philosophers and the field of epistemology.

    The 977th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau

    "The Social Contract" is a philosophical work that discusses the concepts of sovereignty and the social contract. The author argues that all men are born free, but everywhere they are in chains, suggesting that society and its rules are a form of enslavement. However, he also posits that a social contract, where individuals come together to form a collective or a society, is necessary for the preservation of their freedom. This contract allows for the creation of a sovereign that is made up of the collective and expresses the general will, which is always right and tends towards the public utility.

    The 533rd Greatest Book of All Time
  • Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant

    This philosophical work delves into the nature and limits of human knowledge, proposing that while our knowledge begins with experience, it doesn't necessarily arise out of experience. The author argues that pure reason itself has the ability to contribute to our knowledge and understanding of the universe. He further explores the concept of metaphysics, asserting that while it is possible, it is also severely limited by the human mind's ability to comprehend it.

    The 395th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Phenomenology of Mind by G. W. F. Hegel

    This profound philosophical work delves into the evolution of consciousness, examining the stages it goes through from simple sensory awareness to the complexities of ethical life and self-awareness. The author argues that the mind does not exist in isolation, but rather develops through interpersonal relationships and societal interactions. The book also presents the concept of dialectical reasoning, suggesting that truth is not static but evolves over time through a process of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis.

    The 1423rd Greatest Book of All Time
  • The World as Will and Idea by Arthur Schopenhauer

    This philosophical work posits that the world is driven by a continually dissatisfied will, continually seeking satisfaction. The book is divided into four parts, with the first addressing the world as representation, the second detailing the world as will, the third discussing art and beauty as the only way to transcend the painful human condition, and the fourth discussing ethics and the ascetic ideal. The author argues that the will is the underlying reality of the world, beyond mere appearances, and that it is characterized by ceaseless striving and suffering.

    The 1163rd Greatest Book of All Time
  • Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels

    This influential political pamphlet advocates for the abolition of private property, the rights of the proletariat, and the eventual establishment of a classless society. The authors argue that all of history is a record of class struggle, culminating in the conflict between the bourgeoisie, who control the means of production, and the proletariat, who provide the labor. They predict that this struggle will result in a revolution, leading to a society where property and wealth are communally controlled.

    The 196th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Utilitarianism by John Stuart Mill

    This philosophical work is a foundational text in the theory of utilitarianism, which argues that the best action is the one that maximizes utility, generally defined as that which produces the greatest well-being of the greatest number of people. The text elaborates on the concept of utility, addressing common misconceptions and criticisms of utilitarianism. It emphasizes the importance of justice and individual rights, arguing that they are essential components of the overall utility. The author also discusses the qualitative differences between pleasures, advocating for a hierarchy of pleasures based on their intrinsic value. This work is crucial in ethical and moral philosophy, offering insights into the balance between individual happiness and the general good.

    The 5517th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Thus Spake Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche

    This philosophical novel explores the idea of the √úbermensch, or "Overman," a superior human being who has achieved self-mastery and created personal meaning in life. The protagonist, Zarathustra, descends from his solitary life in the mountains to share his wisdom with humanity. Through a series of speeches and encounters, he challenges traditional beliefs about good, evil, truth, and religion, and advocates for the transcendence of man into a higher form of existence. The book is noted for its critique of morality, its poetic and often cryptic language, and its exploration of complex philosophical concepts.

    The 282nd Greatest Book of All Time
  • Pragmatism by William James

    The book in question is a seminal work in the philosophical tradition of pragmatism, which argues that the truth of ideas is measured not by their correspondence to an objective reality, but by their practical effects and utility. The author challenges the notion of fixed, absolute truths, proposing instead that beliefs should be seen as tools for action and that their validity depends on their success in solving problems and guiding experiences. Through a series of lectures, the text explores the implications of this philosophy for various fields, including religion, metaphysics, and science, ultimately advocating for a more flexible, open-ended approach to thinking and a tolerance for diverse perspectives in the pursuit of knowledge and understanding.

    The 624th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus by Ludwig Wittgenstein

    "Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus" is a seminal work in analytic philosophy that presents a comprehensive picture of reality and our knowledge of it. The book outlines a logical structure for all scientific discourse, arguing that language and its logical structure are the primary tools for understanding and representing the world. It proposes that all philosophical problems arise from misunderstandings of the logic of language, and that all meaningful propositions are pictures of states of affairs in the world. The book concludes with the famous line "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent," suggesting that things that cannot be spoken about logically should not be spoken about at all.

    The 587th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Language, Truth, And Logic by A.J. Ayer

    This philosophical work is a cornerstone of logical positivism, presenting a rigorous critique of metaphysics and a fervent advocacy for the verification principle as the only meaningful way of establishing the truth value of statements. The author argues that statements are only meaningful if they can be empirically verified or are tautological in nature, thereby dismissing a vast swath of traditional philosophy as nonsensical. Through this lens, the book explores the implications of this viewpoint for ethics, theology, and the arts, ultimately asserting that many of the questions these fields grapple with are not just unsolvable, but fundamentally flawed in their premises.

    The 3004th Greatest Book of All Time
  • Being and Nothingness by Jean Paul Sartre

    This philosophical work delves into the concept of existentialism and phenomenology, offering an in-depth analysis of human consciousness and existence. The author argues that we are all essentially free and responsible for our actions, and that we construct our own identities through our actions and interactions with others. The book also explores the idea of 'nothingness' and 'bad faith', suggesting that we often deny our freedom and hide from the responsibility of our actions, leading to a life of inauthenticity.

    The 630th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir

    This influential work explores the treatment and perception of women throughout history, arguing that women have been repressed and defined only in relation to men. The author presents a detailed analysis of women's roles in society, family, work, and in the creation of their own identities. She discusses the concept of 'the other' and how this has been used to suppress women, while also examining the biological, psychological, and societal impacts of this oppression. The book is a seminal text in feminist theory, challenging traditional notions of femininity and calling for equality and freedom for women.

    The 130th Greatest Book of All Time
  • The Logic of Scientific Discovery by Karl Popper

    This book is a significant work in the philosophy of science, proposing a methodology for scientific discovery that challenges traditional inductive reasoning. The author argues that scientific theories can never be proven definitively, but can only be corroborated or falsified through empirical testing. He introduces the concept of falsifiability as the key criterion for distinguishing scientific theories from non-scientific ones. The book also delves into the problems of induction, demarcation, and the relationship between theory and observation in scientific practice.

    The 1525th Greatest Book of All Time
About this list

James Garvey, 20 Books

The essential guide to the top twenty greatest books in philosophy for those who have just never quite found the time to read them.

In this witty and engaging book, James Garvey offers an introductory account of the must-read books from the whole history of philosophical writing. From Plato to Popper, Descartes to Wittgenstein, the greatest books in philosophy have had a huge impact on the development of contemporary society, politics, economics and culture. This entertaining and intelligent guide introduces the philosophical questions central to these books that are of genuine interest to the general reader and opens up often complex and challenging ideas for wider debate.

James Garvey is the Managing Director of the Royal Institute of Philosophy and the Editor of The Philosophers' Magazine

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