As a human being, it is natural to wonder why we are here, what our purpose in life is, and how we might better understand ourselves and our surroundings. Philosophical inquiries on these questions can help us better understand the world around us. For a discipline that has been around for millennia, it can be a challenge figuring out which books to read and which to avoid. Each of these books has a brief synopsis and a list of the philosophical themes it explores.
This article is divided into three sections: classic works in philosophy, modern writings in philosophy, and overviews of philosophical movements or notions. For those just beginning their studies in philosophy, you can rest assured that they will discover what they are looking for. Start here if you’re looking for books that explain philosophical concepts to kids.
Classic Philosophy Books
The Analects by Confucius, Translated by D.C. Lau
As a Chinese philosopher, Confucius spent much of his life in the 6th century BC. Confucianism, a philosophy recognized for its emphasis on morals, education, and family, was founded on his teachings.
Many of Confucius’ well-known quotations, gathered by his disciples after his death, can be found in the Analects.
The Republic by Plato, Translated by Maria Helena da Rocha Pereira, Desmond Lee, and Benjamin Jowett
As a pupil of Socrates and an associate of Aristotle, Plato was well-versed in the philosophy of the time (his student).
The Republic, his best-known work, is a series of dialogues between Socrates and three other characters. Plato tries to answer issues concerning the ideal person and community through these theoretical talks.
Selected Writings by Hildegard of Bingen, Translated by Mark Atherton
Selected Writings is a wonderful place to start if you’re interested in medieval philosophy. As a poet, mystic, and Benedictine nun, Hildegard of Bingen was among the most highly acclaimed of her day. This book comprises a sample of her songs, visionary works, and philosophical correspondence.
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft
Revolutions in France and the United States in the late 18th century inspired Mary Wollstonecraft to advocate for the rights of men. Defining women’s rights and calling for the abolition of societal roles assigned to them, she responds to the criticism. This book is regarded one of the first modern feminist writings since it outlines a road to equal rights for women, including greater education and professional opportunities.
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
Author Viktor Frankl was a Holocaust survivor and a psychiatrist who wrote a memoir on the horrors he witnessed in Nazi concentration camps. He noticed that individuals who were able to find a purpose in their lives were able to persevere.
According to Viktor Frankl, we are all driven by a desire to discover our true identity and purpose in life. However, he argues that meaning can assist us in coping and moving forward.
Modern Philosophy Books
Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde
Audre Lorde’s late twentieth-century speeches and essays are collected in Sister Outsider. Among other things, she argues for the importance of underprivileged women sharing their experiences and efforts against repression in order for them to learn from one other. Intersectional feminism and the power of community are equally important to her.
What We Owe to Each Other by T.M. Scanlon
Author T.M. Scanlon tries to solve a number of problems about ethics in this work, which was made famous by the NBC show The Good Place. To what extent does one’s conduct determine whether it is morally acceptable or not? Doing things that benefit others rather than harming them is what makes a person a good person. When we think about notions like fairness and morality, how do our answers to the previous questions influence our perceptions?
Beast and Man: The Roots of Human Nature by Mary Midgley
Many thinkers divide the natures of humans and animals while contemplating human nature. Mary Midgley, on the other hand, believes that human and animal behavior is more complex than previously thought. He claims that humans and animals are more alike than different in his book, Beasts and Man, arguing that our similarities are more important than our differences.
Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice by Shunryu Suzuki
For those who want to learn more about Zen Buddhism, this novel is a good place to start. It focuses on both the physical and metaphysical aspects of meditation, such as proper body alignment and proper breathing patterns, in this book. Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind is a succinct and moving introduction to the Zen Buddhist philosophy that will appeal to both newcomers and seasoned readers.
All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks
The documentary All About Love examines the importance of rethinking traditional conceptions of love and human connection. Bell Hooks uses stories from her own life and personal observations to redefine love, ranging from self-love to respecting other forms of love.
Philosophical Overview Books for Beginners
At the Existentialist Cafe by Sarah Bakewell
Paris, the year 1933. In a cafe in Paris, three young philosophers—Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Raymond Aron—are inspired in a way that would change modern existentialism by the time they finish their drinks. She narrates the tale of existentialism from its inception to its most modern incarnations in this novel, written by Sarah Bakewell.
Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder
Sophie Amundsen, a 14-year-old girl, begins getting letters from a strange person in her mailbox. Her notes teach her something new about the history of philosophy and how she might employ the concepts she learns from them. A surprising twist occurs when letters to a different female appear in the mail. Sophie will need to utilize her knowledge of philosophy in the real world to solve this riddle.
Everyday Ubuntu: Living Better Together, the African Way by Mungi Ngomane
All humans are connected by a universal tie, according to the South African ideology of Ubuntu. Seeing and treating others with compassion is emphasized throughout the book. Mungi Ngomane offers 14 teachings in this book to assist others live their lives according to the Ubuntu principle. Working to overcome divisions and acknowledge the inherent value of each person is its overarching goal
Singing in the Fire: Stories of Women in Philosophy by Linda Martín Alcoff
Sexist attitudes toward women in philosophy have been prevalent throughout the discipline’s history. This collection of essays by well-known philosophers explores the history of women in philosophy, the progress that has been accomplished recently, and the best ways to ensure that this development continues for future generations.
How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life by Massimo Pigliucci
Stoicism is a Roman school of thought that emphasizes the importance of remaining calm and collected in the face of adversity. Massimo Pigliucci, a contemporary Italian philosopher, reinterprets this philosophy for the present world. Using stoicism, Pigliucci teaches readers how to keep their emotions in check and deal with difficult situations calmly.