Philosophy does more than just present you with information or knowledge. It gives you an understanding of the way our world works, questions about how it should work, and tools for finding solid answers to your own thought-provoking questions.
Not only does philosophy stimulate thought, but this subject is the foundation of science and learning as we know it. Philosophers from Ancient Greece wrote about topics that have since changed names but remain central to humanity, such as music theory, biology, politics, and logic.
Even the topic of physics was discussed, but was known as Natural Philosophy at the time. During this period, when even the concept of science was fresh and new, the work of philosophers created and contributed to what is now known as the scientific method.
In other words, you have to first wonder about the way things work to discover anything of value. Then you must find information about it, exchange it with others doing the same, and use what you find to create suitable methods for gathering knowledge.
The Foundation of Philosophy
This is how all great wisdom and information is found and imparted, and this is the foundation of philosophy. As you can see, this topic of study (and general way of reasoning) is responsible for nearly everything of value in our society.
Philosophy is, essentially, the art of thinking, and gives the studier a better-rounded ability to reason and exist within the world. It teaches you to analyze your thoughts critically and closely, to question in a thorough manner, and to think and write meticulously.
Studying this subject, whether formally or informally, makes you a more valuable prospect to colleges and career paths because it gives you the advantage of innovative creativity. Most people who officially study the subject don’t move on to become professors of philosophy, but they often end up following fulfilling career paths such as business, medicine, and law.
This subject matter is fascinating, and not only teaches you actionable skills that will help you in life, but teaches you to develop your character and intellect on a personal level. While other subjects seek to teach facts or unchanging knowledge, philosophy aims to impart you with a deep wisdom and understanding that goes beyond the surface.
This includes an understanding of one’s own mind, the world in general, and how each of us fits into it. People who choose to gain an interest in philosophy take part in reasoning, evaluating, questioning, and answering difficult, yet meaningful questions about life. Many of these questions deal with what it means to be human, living and dying, or how the mind functions.
Getting to the Root of Existence
Some questions of philosophy ask about which way of living is the best, or what happiness is made up of and how to reach it. Philosophy asks how we can balance our personal rights, needs, and desires in a way that doesn’t hurt others, and considers what it means to be a good person.
It may question the afterlife, the deepest aspects of human nature, the nature of time, and the subject of God. As you can see, philosophy isn’t afraid to dive deep or go where others might be afraid to go.
In essence, philosophy seeks to find the truth, whatever that may look like on an individual level. When you study this subject, you are giving yourself the chance and permission to wrestle with deep and (sometimes) difficult questions. You are taking it upon yourself to follow the paths of great thinkers from the past and to tread entirely new ones.
Whether your personal interest in the subject has to do with morality, questions about technology and science, or the progress and course of history, philosophical thought is a great way to approach it.
This gives you the chance to enhance your capability to organize issues and ideas, improve your problem-solving abilities, and learn how to tell what is necessary and what isn’t. You also gain the ability to see life from unlimited points of view instead of only one, in order to find common ground and a resolution within them.
All human beings are subject to biases, but philosophy can teach you to examine your own, and those of others, in a more objective way. Not only will you learn how to understand difficult and advanced material, but you’ll be able to explain it to others more easily and recognize when others are trying to manipulate your opinion.
Studying this subject teaches you how to develop clear analytical and comparative arguments and gain improved skills in descriptive writing that will help you deliver your ideas with an impact.
Philosophy gives you the tools needed to approach any subject with any interpretive or critical capacities that you may need. As you can see, following this path can change the way you live for the better. The best place to start is with an introductory book on the subject.
What to Look for in a Philosophy Book for Beginners
- Straightforward language: Philosophy is seen, by some, as a complicated, dense, or even confusing subject of study, but it doesn’t have to be this way. When an author truly understands a subject, they can explain it in a simple way that is understandable to most laymen. Reading a book that is full of jargon and confusing terms will only put you off the subject of philosophy before you even have a chance to get started, so find one that has a simple and enjoyable format. The more entertaining and straightforward the guide is, the easier it will be to absorb and learn from.
- Questions to ponder: At the center of philosophy is questioning, so a suitable beginner’s philosophy guide will give you plenty of example questions to think about. Although philosophy should teach you how to think instead of what to think, it’s helpful to find a guide that also gives some existing example answers to life’s greatest questions. These include questioned topics such as love, life, death, time, justice, the existence of a God, and more. By the time you’re done reading your introductory philosophy guide, you should feel prepared to start coming up with your own questions and exploring them.
- An overview of common philosophical concepts: Philosophy is just a simple term that actually encompasses a lot of smaller subjects. Some philosophers were famous for focusing solely on the subject of reason, while others were more concerned with morality. Perhaps you are mostly interested in exploring the idea of finding meaning in the world, or of pondering life after death. A useful and helpful introductory book for philosophy will have sections for differing topics, along with the thinkers who focused on them. This will help you to find the topics that interest you most and reference them in the future.
- Resources for further reading: A book for beginners is only meant to serve as a basic introduction, and if you choose to continue with the subject of philosophy, you will need access to more reading material. However, one only has to perform a quick Google search to find out that there is a dizzying overabundance of books on the topic of philosophy. Try to find a book for beginners that points you in the right direction as far as finding other books and authors, so you can discover that which is most relevant to you and your interests or study needs.
- Timelines: With a subject as old and vast as philosophy, it’s helpful to learn about how it all fits together in the bigger picture. A timeline that shows which thinkers existed during which time periods and where they lived, along with what they contributed to existing knowledge, will help you to do this. You can then decide if there’s a particular time period that interests you more than others and pursue further information accordingly. You might, for example, find that philosophical material from Ancient Greece is much more exciting to you than the ideas of thinkers from the 1800s. Detailed timelines within your book will help you narrow this down.
Here are the best philosophy books for beginners, based on how well they offer overviews, straightforward explanations and easily break down philosophical concepts.
- The Big Questions: A Short Introduction to Philosophy
- Philosophy 101: From Plato and Socrates to Ethics and Metaphysics
- The Philosophy Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained
- The Story of Philosophy: The Lives and Opinions of the World’s Greatest Philosophers
The Big Questions: A Short Introduction to Philosophy
Robert C. Solomon, the author of The Big Questions: A Short Introduction to Philosophy was a lecturer and teacher in philosophy who taught at multiple universities throughout his career, including the University of Texas, the University of California, and Princeton.
Kathleen M. Higgins, the co-author of this book, received her Ph.D. at Yale and now teaches at the University of Texas.
Now in its 9th edition, Higgins and Solomon’s engaging guide goes over the central ideas of philosophy in a manner that is both approachable and accessible to readers. The subject of philosophy can be a bit confusing to grasp for someone who has never thought much about it before, but this book provides a great explanation for what the point of the subject is, and shows how it matters in day to day life.
This is suitable as an introduction because it acknowledges that carefully articulating your own thoughts lies at the center of philosophy, and that you, as the reader, should dive right in and try it out as you read through some of the questions it gives.
Higgins and Solomon introduce the classic questions and ideas that philosophers have always wondered about, give a few traditional perspectives for them, and most importantly, show the reader how to examine their own opinions based on the questions.
Among the topics in this guide are the classic “big mysteries” we all wonder about, including justice, humanity, morality, beauty, freedom, and God, giving you the necessary context for understanding these subjects on a personal level. The book also gives questions about the nature and meaning of life, the qualities of reality, and what ideas such as “truth” or “the self” really mean.
The book does not provide clear answers for the questions it gives. Rather than telling you what to think about these topics, it provides you with the confidence necessary to find and establish a unique perspective about these questions on your own.
Some argue that philosophy is not relevant to the modern lifestyle or that there isn’t much of a point to listening to people who existed so long ago. This guide throws the reader right into the mix of philosophy and proves why it still matters and gives the reader useful data for finding further resources on the subject.
Philosophy 101: From Plato and Socrates to Ethics and Metaphysics
Paul Kleinman lives in New York City and graduated with a degree in Communication Arts from the University of Wisconsin. Textbooks have a way of making even the most fascinating subjects sound tedious and boring, but this book is an exception.
Philosophy 101 aims to do something entirely different by cutting out the exhausting details of methodology and instead focusing on keeping the reader engaged as it covers the history of inquisition and human thought.
Along with the subjects of metaphysics, free will, Heidegger, and Aristotle, this guide is full of thought puzzles, illustrations, and unique entertainment that is found in no other philosophy book out there.
Perhaps you are determined to get to the bottom of existentialism’s deepest mysteries, or just have an interest in the reasoning habits of Voltaire. Either way, this book will give you a wide array of answers to your existing questions, and the ones you didn’t realize you had.
This book delivers its concepts and principles in bite sized sections that won’t overwhelm you, instead keeping you fascinated and interested enough to keep reading. This is a great format for stimulating intellectual curiosity, whether it’s your first time trying to do so, or an old habit you are trying to find your way back to.
This guide serves as a quality introduction to the greatest philosophical problems and the thinkers who have offered up solutions and answers. For each philosopher in the book, there is a bit of background for them, along with a short biography to help you get a fuller understanding of each thinker.
Every chapter of the book is designed to be succinct and last only a few pages, providing the reader with only useful and essential information for each topic or person. In the middle of the book you will find glossy, full sized pages of photos covering topics from Ethics to Socrates.
The Philosophy Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained
Will Buckingham is a philosopher, lecturer, and novelist based in the United Kingdom. He writes philosophy, fiction, and even does some writing for children. The Philosophy Book is a thorough introduction to the thinking, concepts, and history of philosophy.
This guide aims to demystify what some see as a dense and daunting topic and make it accessible to a wider audience.
Some may wonder if the ideas of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, or Rene Descartes are still useful to us today, or how existentialism, rationalism, and feminism have influenced philosophy. The Philosophy Book goes over these ideas along with the writings of more than 100 great thinkers from history, from the Ancient Greek times to present day.
Covering Confucius to Socrates, this book explains and simplifies complex topics with unique pop-up graphics accompanying attractive typography.
This book thoroughly covers the history of man’s way of thinking, complete with an introduction about the way humans in the past have tried to explain the world and life. It goes over science, religion, politics, and morality and even explains the Dharma Wheel.
This guide cuts through the confusion of academic philosophy and untangles complex concepts to show the reader how our ethical, political, and social ideas have come to be.
It presents information in a comprehensive way as it pertains to specific time periods, methods, and thinkers. The book also comes with an accompanying vocabulary glossary, philosopher directory for quick reference needs, and clear, easy-to-understand language.
It’s no secret that philosophy can be an esoteric subject, but this book does a great job of explaining the subject with simple pictures, diagrams, and time lines of philosophers and their ideas. Philosophy is something that everyone engages in, whether they are aware of it or not. A book such as this, that explains philosophical ideas free from complicated jargon, is helpful for making the process of philosophy more accessible to the average person.
Philosophy by Kevin Perry aims to bring the reader through an introductory tour of the bigger questions of life, and to a lasting interest in exploring ideas. This includes the subjects of doubt, free thinking, uncertainty, and knowledge.
In addition, this book explains what it is to question everything, and examines what the experts of philosophy have said about God, art, language, death, and life.
The author has created a useful reference guide for the famous personalities that are associated with philosophy. Written in a simple format suitable for the average layman, this book encourages readers to get familiar with these philosophers based on their subjects of interest, including free will, the self, love, time, and more.
Along with this, you will find biographical information on the more familiarly known and historical philosophers in addition to some of the lesser known ones.
This book presents each individual philosopher with a general overview and encourages you to look further into the people that interest you, giving a list of key works at the close of every section. Each chapter introduction is written thoughtfully and informatively and comes with a timeline for your personal reference.
The small biographies included for each philosopher allow you enough information to determine whether you want to look further into them or not and are short enough so that you don’t become bored as you read. The format of this guide is similar to a textbook, but since each section is only a few pages long, it isn’t tedious and serves as a great resource to come back to time and time again.
This book explains topics such as language’s effect on understanding, the way ideas influence actions, how we should approach the subject of death, and what it means to love something or someone. You will also find interesting facts and tidbits, perfect for those who aren’t sure whether or not they are interested in philosophy yet but want to find out.
This guide is great for someone who doesn’t have a lot of free time to read, wants to absorb short sections of information at a time, but still wishes to gain useful information.
The Story of Philosophy: The Lives and Opinions of the World’s Greatest Philosophers
In his book, The Story of Philosophy, Durant starts with Socrates and ends with John Dewey, summarizing the influence and lives of famous philosophers in between, while adding his own unique perspectives throughout. This book was first printed over 70 years ago and remains a classic to this day.
This concise, brilliant account of philosophy’s greatest ideas and thinkers, including Nietzsche, Kant, Spinoza, Aristotle, and more, is readable to all, regardless of existing knowledge of the topic. Durant provides insight with a witty edge that captivates, providing an overview of the development and history of philosophical concepts in the West.
Although many philosophical collection style books aren’t detailed or cohesive enough, this is an exception. It has the flow of a narrative rather than a collection. The Story of Philosophy aims not only to give an overview of philosophers, but to help you understand how they all fit together into one story.
He serves this purpose well by providing a range of philosophers from the Ancient days of Greece to modern day. He provides fascinating insights and deep analysis and proves his knowledge and understanding of classic thinkers and their nuances.
The book is organized into sections with specific philosophers, direct quotes from their material, and Durant’s analysis next to it. This allows the reader access to both thoughtful analysis and original, traditional material, bringing diverse concepts into one cohesive blend.
The book gives an overview of careful comparisons, thought-out contrasts, and represents each philosopher in reference to others, giving a full picture. Each thinker written about is discussed within a bigger context that goes beyond just their own personal writing. The author draws parallels between them and shows their significance within a historical context.
This is suitable for both complete beginners in philosophy or experienced studiers who would like a new point of view on familiar material. Many people think that philosophy is only suitable for certain people, or deals solely with complicated theorizing. However, this book proves those assumptions wrong.
Rather than reading like a dry textbook, this guide presents a full story, complete with characters being brought to life. You may find yourself getting as absorbed in this as you have in works of fiction. As soon as you’re done reading this book, you’ll likely see the world in an entirely different way. It’s no easy task to summarize 2000 years-worth of philosophical thought into a readable and simple format, but Durant does this impeccably.
How to Get the Most out of Reading Philosophy
Philosophy is often written in a complicated and technical style that isn’t easy to absorb, at first. This is especially true when the material is old and has stylistic differences in grammar and flow. When it comes to reading philosophy, it’s more difficult for beginners than other subjects are, but this is a skill that gets better as you practice and is worth your efforts.
When you are trying to absorb philosophical ideas from a book, you will want to do so in the most efficient way possible. Although there is no “one size fits all” method for this, the following tips will help you gain a fuller understanding of what you read.
Read and re-read: You might find it helpful, especially at first, to read written philosophical material repeatedly. The first time, try to get a feel for the piece’s general tone and idea, without trying to absorb every single detail. Ask yourself what the author appears to be addressing, which conclusion they are defending, and how they are defending it.
Depending on what you’re reading, you might find some help with this in the book’s introduction, but remember that you should only take the editor’s summary as a hypothesis and form your own opinions after reading it yourself.
Take notes: You will likely find it useful to take some notes on the concepts or terms you aren’t sure about. If it’s your own book and you don’t mind writing in it, you can place a small asterisk next to unfamiliar words, or underline them with a highlighter.
If you don’t want to leave marks in your book, just write the terms down on a separate sheet of paper for later review. During your first time reading, however, you don’t have to focus too much on this since the goal is only to get a general idea of the text.
Come back to the material: Now you should set the book aside for a little while and return to it a few hours later, or the next day. Your second time reading should entail trying to discover deeper detail in the text than you did the first time. Now is a good time to look up some of the concepts or terms you marked to find out what they mean.
Some books have a glossary at the back for this, or you can search online, but make sure you use a philosophical dictionary since ordinary dictionaries often won’t have what you need. You can also underline some sections or take notes that seem relevant to the argument being presented.
Review: Now it’s time to go over what you’ve just read and see if you can answer the questions listed in the first step. What is the author addressing? Which conclusion are they defending, and how are they defending it? If you find that you can’t answer any of these questions, read the text again and explore it from various angles until you can.
As soon as you have followed all of the steps listed above, find out whether you agree with the way the author settled the question or issue. If you disagree with anything, pinpoint it in detail and write it down. If you find that you do agree with what the author said, try to find specific ways that their case could have been stronger. This is how you absorb and interact with philosophical writing.