For those who are aspiring to be a philosopher but have zero experience, it is absolutely crucial to start well. I often hear from people who took a philosophy class that they ended up being more confused than before. This is in part because they’re introduced to conflicting ideas but they’re not shown how to think about these ideas. Ideas are dangerous things; capable of destroying or creating societies. I’ll be honest, I do prefer the classical philosophers over the modern philosophers – which my list will reflect – but I think you can still benefit from it despite this bias by evaluating the ideas for yourself. Without further ado, here are the books that I would recommend reading in the following order:
1. Being Logical, A Guide To Good Thinking by D.Q. McInerny
This book starts off with some key logical concepts that are really just common sense ideas. This is important. Some people mistake philosophy for contrarian pseudo-intellectual ideas. I even met someone who thought the best way to do philosophy was to smoke weed.. That’s not philosophy; that’s either sophistry or stupidity. In my opinion it’s a good idea to start with common sense, or else we’ll end up with nonsense. The author’s lucid yet concise writing style is a role model for all philosophers.
2. Ancient Philosophy (Beginner’s Guides) by William J. Prior
It is crucial to start with the very beginnings of philosophy without being bogged down by technicalities and monotonous details as the more advanced books do. What better place to start than the very origins of philosophy itself? An aspiring philosopher needs to be introduced to ideas and the reasons for those ideas in order to prime their minds for philosophical reasoning.
3. Aquinas (A Beginner’s Guide) by Edward Feser
This book is an absolutely essential introduction to medieval / scholastic philosophy. You’ll become familiar with ideas like form and matter, the four causes, universals, five ways, etc. Personally, this book did the most to transform my philosophical perspective. I felt like a child who was seeing familiar things under a new light for the first time; it literally took my passion for philosophy to a new level. Feser does a great job of communicating the ideas clearly and diffusing common misconceptions that moderns have about Aquinas.
4. A Short History of Modern Philosophy by Roger Scruton
Philosophy would not be complete without covering the moderns, who we have much to learn from. Scruton is known for skillfully communicating densely complex ideas into something readily intelligible to the common reader. After you finish reading this, congratulations, you now have a broad understanding of the history of philosophy. This will be very important toward the development of your own beliefs.
5. Ten Philosophical Mistakes by Mortimer Adler
Whatever you thought about modern philosophy, I guarantee you that this book will wreck your confidence in their views or at the very least it will cause you to reflect more deeply. Adler wonderfully communicates the mistakes that all philosophers should avoid making, which is important because of how prominent these mistakes tend to be today. Essentially, moderns have a tendency (various exceptions exist) to deny common sense ideas like the reliability of our senses, the reality of causes, objectivity of morality, and the like.
6. Socratic Logic – Peter Kreeft
Now that you got the gist of the ideas in both classical and medieval philosophy, you’ll need to beef up your logical prowess to handle the upcoming books. Peter Kreeft is very lucid and provides plenty of exercises that will challenge your thinking process. You should start off with classical logic (as opposed to modern) because it it conforms closer to ordinary language and common sense. Modern logic, however, is very effective and powerful but it still requires a foundation in commonsense logic. This book will give you that foundation.
7. Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction by Michael Loux
Metaphysics is the lord of all philosophical branches; it influences epistemology, ethics, philosophy of mind, and every other branch. As such it is very important to start with metaphysics. Philosophers that tend to specialize in one field neglect the insights of metaphysics that apply to their own discipline, and their reasoning suffers as a result. Michael Loux does an excellent job of covering both analytic and classical positions by describing their responses and counter-responses. You’ll put the ideas you learned from the previous books into something systematic as opposed to something merely historical.
8. Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction by Edward Feser
After you have learned the philosophical landscape, I highly recommend reading this book. It provides you a beautiful system of thought that had been developed over centuries of time from the best thinkers in philosophy. It’s very systematic in that one idea follows after the other like a domino effect. Feser addresses some of the modern analytic challenges to scholastic philosophy very well, and even if you disagree in the end, your understanding will increase.
9. Philosophical Writing: An Introduction by A. P. Martinich
Every philosopher has to write sooner or later, and now it is time for you do exactly that. Explain the ideas of the previous philosophers on paper and begin to critique or support their ideas. I would highly recommend finding a philosophy group on Facebook or Reddit because at least 70% of philosophy is a battle of ideas. You need to learn to defend or critique ideas. I have found that nothing else has improved my critical thinking skills than writing and debating. This book does a great job of introducing to how philosophers write.