#1 Posted by Rittsy (91 posts) -

Hey kids,

So I've got a lot of time on my hands this semester with only one subject at uni and a job where I can get away with doing next to nothing, so I thought I'd do some reading. Rather than tackling another novel or book about why the UN/corporations/environmentalists/social networks etc. suck/are wrong, I figured I'd try something a little thought provoking.

I've studied a little Philosophy at school, although most of it was just a quick overview and have decided to revisit it more specifically. So I'm calling out to all those who studied/have an interest in topics such as free-will, ethics, culture etc. at a philosophical level to spit some books, lectures and readings that are worth taking a look. These can range from Thus Spoke Zarathustra to a Big Think talk.

A blessing on all those who can help me out on my quest to kill a little time this year.

#2 Edited by Dagbiker (7022 posts) -

Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, and its sequels. while not very serous, it has a lot of good ideas, and intresting point of views. ( such as Talking cows that feel bad when you refuse to eat them, or the final thoughts of a wale falling to his death )

Also, Alice in Wonderland, and Through the Looking Glass. ( written by a mathematician who wanted to show what he thought the world would be like with imaginary numbers )

#3 Posted by TruthTellah (9632 posts) -

Ever read Sophie's World? That's a pretty fun little introductory book of philosophical perspectives. :)

Not sure how technical you want to get.

#4 Posted by believer258 (12712 posts) -

Uh... Watch Ergo Proxy, it's chock full of philosophy.

#5 Edited by HistoryInRust (6586 posts) -

Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling is a pretty powerful reading whose insight has taken rather significant hold in pop-philosophy as of late.

But for someone just broaching the subjects, you actually might end up being better off eyeballing one of those ______ and Philosophy books--a series of books that use pop culture touchstones to segue into more specific philosophical discussions, ideas, and paradigms. I owned, at one point, The Matrix and Philosophy, which was cool for me as a teen-aged Matrix fan who also happened to discover a bent toward all things postulated.

It can be tricky, though. Philosophy is sometimes one of those things that's hard to research further if you're not willing to just swan dive into the deep end. You need to know what subjects interest you before you read about them further, and you need to read about them further to know if a subject interests you. But stick with it. Ask a lot of questions. Maybe take a class about the fundamentals of logic to learn the ins and outs of rudimentary syllogisms. Don't be afraid of getting lost.

EDIT: Or maybe just start plugging away at some old literature? Not even related specifically to philosophy? Go for a journey with Ahab and Ishmael in Moby Dick or spend some time drinking away your unrequited love with Hemingway in The Sun Also Rises.

#6 Edited by Brodehouse (10490 posts) -

Honestly I think you're better off with the literature.

#7 Posted by Dagbiker (7022 posts) -

You can really find depth in everything if you look hard enough.

Such as Borderlands 2, a satire about internet culture today.

But the Prince is pretty good, its basically a huge list of why this king sucks, that this guy sent to the king, written in such a way that the king didn't really get that it was about him.

#8 Edited by Daneian (1306 posts) -

The amazing thing about philosophy is that every topic in the world touches on its two core studies of metaphysics and epistemology. From genetics to art, from astronomy to architecture, politics and sports, everything is either about revealing the nature of the world or giving us access to the nature of how we as people learn and engage with it.

Every story deals directly with philosophy as well, with some movies, like the Matrix or Inception, surfacing the philosophy it ascribes to more obviously than others. Even Legally Blonde acknowledges systems in reality, just in a way you are already familiar with, so it doesn't seem profound.

Basically what @brodehouse said:

Honestly I think you're better off with the literature.

#9 Edited by EXTomar (5027 posts) -

Philosophy is a bit different from other literature where depending on when it was written it can be written in a thesis style structure (abstract, research, explain, conclusion, next chapter). It can get rather dry especially those 18th and 19th century writers.

You do have to be careful with "pop philosophy" stuff like Ayn Rand where they might be based on some philosophical idea but they are bent into fiction. That would be like reading Harry Potter as a scholastic study on class society and race. Enjoy those books and stories as entertainment, recognize the philosophical ideas but don't take them as serious let alone rigorous.

#10 Edited by Dagbiker (7022 posts) -

A lot of things get better if you think of them as commentaries or satire.

Such as mentioned above, Borderlands 2. also Spiderman(2002), a movie all about lies and deception, just count how many times some one lies, or misleads someone else in that movie.

#11 Edited by Tylea002 (2382 posts) -

Along the lines of some of this thread: Bayonetta is a game about identity, and whether we can truly know who we are.

#12 Posted by ajamafalous (12393 posts) -

Philosophy and all it is lovers

I dunno, I used to be mildly interested in philosophy in late middle/early high school, until I realized that everyone I ever talked to about it that was into it was one of those pseudo-intellectual types of people that think everything they're saying is mindblowing to you.

#13 Edited by gkhan (538 posts) -

It depends a little bit on how nerdy you are, but if you're looking for a thought-provoking first book of philosophy, I heartily recommend Gödel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter. On one level, it's a book-long explanation and examination of Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem, but it's much more than that. It's also about art and music (hence "Escher" and "Bach") and ultimately a examination of the nature of consciousness.

That makes it sound like a really heavy and hard-going book, but it's really not. It's also really fun and delightful. Between each chapter there are whimsy dialogs (the main characters being Achilles and a tortoise) doing some sort of examination of each chapters themes (my favorite is probably the Crab Canon, a dialog that works both forward and backwards), and the book is chock-full of wordplay and things like that. Lewis Carroll is a major inspiration for the book.

However, if you are the kind of person that faints at the first sign of anything that looks like mathematics, you should know that there is some amount of it in this book (it is, after all, about the Incompleteness Theorem). It's nothing that is especially advanced, and you need no previous mathematical training (everything is explained in detail), but you will have to parse some propositional logic and stuff like that. It's not exactly extremely hard, but if you've got a phobia against if from high school or whatever, know that going in.

#14 Posted by Video_Game_King (36566 posts) -

@dagbiker said:

Also, Alice in Wonderland, and Through the Looking Glass. ( written by a mathematician who wanted to show what he thought the world would be like with imaginary numbers )

I wouldn't put too much faith in that interpretation. The ending makes it clear that Wonderland is still ultimately based in the real world.

#15 Posted by Kaibar (89 posts) -

@rittsy: Getting into philosophy can be a bit daunting, but I strongly encourage it since it can be really rewarding. Judging from the topics you named (free will, ethics etc.) you might be most interested in the practical branch of philosophy. If you want to start from the beginning, most of Plato's early dialogues are easy to understand and don't really require any previous knowledge about philosophy. Another classic and one you really can't get around if you're seriously studying philosophy is Immanuel Kant. His Groundworks of Metaphysics of Morals is pretty interesting and also not too hard to understand. A personal favorite of mine is J.S. Mill's Utilitarianism. I think it's a bit misunderstood as far as moral philosophy goes, as it really is more humanistic and optimistic than people made it out to be.

Now, if you really wanna go off the deep end, most modern philosophy is in the field of philosophy of language. In my opinion, the most interesting studies in recent times have been by philosophers in that field. There's Ludwig Wittgenstein, who's enigmatic and hard as fuck to understand, but he might just be the most important philospher of the 20th century. There are also a lot of American philosophers, whose writing style is a bit more traditional. I can wholeheartedly recommend Donald Davidson, who you should know anyway if you're American, since he arguably shaped the American philosophical tradition more than anyone else. Then there's Richard Rorty, whose Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature is not only smart and takes care of some of philosophy's oldest problems, but is also very well written, with hints of irony and humor. His most accomplished student, Robert Brandom, is also one to look out for.

As far as Europeans go, I would say start with Martin Heidegger, and take him as a basis for a lot of great French philosophy. Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus wrote some awesome existentialist short-storys, like the Wall and the Fall. Honestly, I don't know much about the rest, but Michel Foucalt and Jacques Derrida are probably the most noteworthy post-existentialist French philosophers. I'm not too fond of post-WW2 German philosophy myself, but if you are, I'd recommend Jürgen Habermaß. Don't bother with T.W. Adorno.

Now, that's just a brief overlook of Western philosophy. Maybe even more interesting is the philosphy of cultures you're not born into. I'm currently looking into Japanese philosophy. If you're into that, maybe read Fukuzawa Yukichi, he's been called the great enlightenment-philosopher of Japan, and probably rightly so. For a more critical cultural study I'd recommend Masao Maruyama, although he's more a sociologist than a philosopher. For deep, metaphysical examinations of the history of philosophy in Asia and how it relates to modern Western philosophy, various writers of the so-called Kyoto School are woth looking into.

Ok, I'll stop now. You're bound to find something that interests you, that's one of the great things about philosophy, there's so much of it!

#16 Posted by leebmx (2322 posts) -

@rittsy Bertrand Russell: The Problems of Philosophy.

Its pretty short but it was a real eye (mind?) opener for me and lead to me to do a philosophy degree about which I can remember close to nothing.

Philosophy doesn't really bring you any answers in the end, but it does make you ask questions and look much more critically at the world and the opinions we are presented with. The way it has been useful to me is in making me better at logically understanding the basis and construction of other's opinions. It has been good at providing me with a system of thought rather than lots of answers about the world.

You are right to try and get some basic philosophy into your life, it is something everyone should have a grounding in as it helps people argue from logic and reason rather than instinct and prejudice.

Happy reading!

#17 Edited by Donkeycow (568 posts) -

If you are interested in political philosophy reading John Locke is sort of a must, because he is basically the father of modern liberal thought. If you are getting in at the ground floor you should read the ancients because latter thinkers mostly build off of or directly contest ideas formed by Plato and Aristotle.

#18 Posted by Ravenlight (8057 posts) -

Any book by Dr. Seuss. Seriously. They're deeper than you think.

#19 Edited by casper_ (915 posts) -

I'd suggest reading Bertrand Russel's "A History of Western Philosophy"

hes a brilliant philosopher himself and it covers a lot of intellectual movements going back to ancient greece. he makes his own judgements but they aren't really obtrusive or anything and like i said he's very smart and has a way with words.

#20 Posted by deadmoscow (286 posts) -

I'm going to echo a lot of the sentiment already posted here - philosophy texts are not easy reading by any stretch of the imagination. A lot of writers tend to veer towards complete incomprehensibility if you're not willing to spend a lot of time unpacking each sentence and decoding all of the jargon.

Regardless, I'd recommend watching the film Waking Life. It's easier to digest than your average Kierkegaard volume, and the crazy rotoscoping animation is pretty neat.

#21 Posted by thomasnash (647 posts) -

I'm going to go against the grain and say don't listen to the people telling you reading philosophy texts is too hard. The only way it's going to get any easier is if you dive in! Sure, if you want to really understand it you're going to have to read, reread, and really think hard about it a lot of the time, but that's true of any text, really. Learning how to read philosophy, and getting a grounding in its historical arc, during my postgrad has honestly been one of the most life-changing things I've done, both because it's really changed the course of my life, but also because it's just really changed the way I think. Not necessarily what I think, but certainly how.

I suppose I would say that some philosophy is harder than others, but you just have to be prepared for what you are reading I suppose. Analytic philosophy can be very dry, but usually has a sensible, step-by-step structure that benefits from paying very close attention to it the first time through. Continental philosophy, and critical theory, tends to be a bit more dense, and the worst thing you can do is try to go through it with a fine-toothed comb the first time, as the shape of it is usually never really clear until the end, so it benefits more from just powering through once, making notes on what is unclear, and then a couple more readings trying to see how it fits together.

So anyway, I'm just going to dump a bunch of stuff that I've found interesting, and I'll try and group them sensibly and put them in an order that has some kind of through-line.

It's pretty valuable to look at some foundational philosophical texts, I think. Not necessarily classical texts, although Plato's Republic has pretty long fingers, particularly in the sphere of literature and art, although he touches on almost everything at some point. If you're interested in his view on art, then Ion is also interesting. Also worth looking at, just for it's silliness, is the Phaedo, just because it isthe most distilled example of the problems with Plato's dialogues.

But western Philosophy proper can probably be said to begin with Descartes, in particular his Meditations on First Philosophy and Principles of Philosophy. As well as containing his most famous quote, these texts are pretty much the first to lay down some kind of general method for undertaking philosophy. I think there's a lot of value in examining this because a lot of the principles in this debate have had a huge impact on our own era, with the ways in which science/technoology is becoming a very dominant force in our lives. Other interesting texts in this vein are John Locke's A Treatise Concerning Human Understandingwhich is probably more important, as it is a foundational text of empiricism. I've got a real soft spot for Hume's Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding which has interesting things to day about cause and effect.

As well as being interesting for the ways in which they shaped philosophy, what all these texts have in common are interesting takes on what we, as people, are. Ranging from a religious dualism to something approaching an evolutionary psychologists view with Hume's bundle theory. Other texts of interest in this debate are Rousseau's Discourse on the origin of Inequality... which nestled in with it's questions about property and contract law, contains an attitude to the truth of history which pops up in other places, notably Nietzche's Genealogy of Morals which also contains a celebratory denial of free will which is hard to wrap one's head around.

This way of interpreting history is really key to understand if you want to look at literary/critical theory in the twentieth century, particularly Foucault who writes in a very similar fashion. But since the move to literary theory marks a move from thinking about the self to thinking about art and culture, I'll just skip back a bit to recommend Kant's Critique of Judgment which is not the easiest text to read, and you might find problematic for a lot of reasons. Personally I've found it a very enlightening book in a variety of ways, but it may be all bollocks. It's probably mostly of interest for it's role bridging the gap between Pure and Practical reason, both of which might be worth a read as well, but it's also a good place to start thinking about what you believe art to be, so to speak, not in a "is x art" way, but in a "what am I looking at when I look at an artwork" way. You can pick this up again with Heidegger's The origin of the work of art (essay), which is a bit more explicit about those questions. It's also quite an enjoyable read. Also of value in this debate is Benjamin's The Work of Art in the age of Mechanical Reproduction which is as interesting for the assumptions he makes about the nature of artworks as it is for the central premise.

I was going to go into some more literary theory stuff, but it might be a little bit outside of your interest areas? The stuff I've put here is all, I think, related to ethics, free-will or culture. Critical Theory could probably be said to be interested in culture but I don't know how interesting it would be to you really. I will still recommend Roland Barthes' Mythologies which is a really easy-reading introduction to semiotics, and also Foucault's History of Sexuality Volume 1 (I don't think there are any more volumes) which is interesting because it shows how his attitude to history fits with Rousseau and Nietzsche, and also because it has a view of the sexual revolution that is a bit against the grain (and quite convincing to my mind). Perhaps instead of recommending any specific texts of literary theory, I'll recommend Clare Connors' Introduction to literary Theory, which is a really great book both because it relates everything back to literature (although theory is not always related strictly to literature, it's roots will always be literature), but also because it's a very friendly book that doesn't require a lot of specialist knowledge, but doesn't talk down to anyone who has it.

Anyway, sorry for the long post, but I do hope you find some interest in it.

#22 Posted by Rittsy (91 posts) -

Thanks everyone for your input. I do already read a lot so just thought I'd try jumping into something more specific, although it seems the main consensus here is to stick with literature as opposed to reading philosophers outright. I'll check out some of the books mentioned and see which ones perk my interest and go from there.

Also, yes I know about the grammar mistake in the title. It hurt me more than it hurt you.

You're a good bunch.