Philosophy?! What?

Been some time since I picked up anything philosophical at all. Anyone have any suggestions as to what a guy spending most of his time in fantasy fiction and scientific non-fiction land can start with.

Dear god, that’s like saying you’re hungry and wondering if anyone has any suggestions for food. Let’s start with what level of experience you have. Have you taken any college courses? Next, what are your interests? Are there particular issues you are interested in? Or particular historical periods?

Yeah, I figured that after I posted so I’m sitting here in an attempt to narrow my choices down.

My last attempt at philosophy was reading Kant and him trying to refine the proving of God, at the same time calling Des Cartes an ontological bastard, that and trying not to get my brain melted by Schopenhauer. I didn’t get far, fiction and evolutionary theory was a louder call.

I’m interested in current philosophical opinions regarding society and the media right now, which I guess means I have to look into some Adorno and Foucault. College level, I covered mostly the early modernist (Locke, Des Cartes, etc) and those who dealt with the philosophy of “art” as it were. It’s been some time since I had a hard-core theory class though, so academically, I might be a bit behind.

Also, this might be a long shot, but I’m interested in philosophy that allows for better self examination. An expansion of self-consciouness if you will.

Hopefully, all the above made some modicum of sense. I swear, I need someway to start practicing rigour of thought again.

Alisdair MacIntyre’s A Short History of Ethics is a fine place to start. I do not agree with everything he says, but he’s brilliant and crystal clear in his analysis.

Immanual Kant was a real pissant
Who was very rarely stable

           Heidegger, Heidegger was a boozy beggar
             Who could think you under the table

           David Hume could out consume
             Schopenhauer and Hegel

           And Wittgenstein was a beery swine
             Who was just as schloshed as Schlegel

            There's nothing Nietzche couldn't teach ya
              'Bout the raising of the wrist
            Socrates, himself, was permanently pissed

           John Stuart Mill, of his own free will
             On half a pint of shandy was particularly ill

           Plato they say, could stick it away
             Half a crate of whiskey every day

           Aristotle, Aristotle was a bugger for the bottle
             Hobbes was fond of his dram

           And Rene' Descartes was a drunken fart
             "I drink, therefore I am"

            Yes, Socrates, himself, is particularly missed
              A lovely little thinker
            But a bugger when he's pissed


Philosophy for Dummies. Dummy!

If you want to be hardcore, move immediately to a snowbound shack in the woods and read Satre’s Of Being and Nothingness.

Failing that, get thee hence to the local college’s bookstore and buy an intro to philosophy text. Seriously. You don’t need to pore over all of Plato, Aristotle and Socrates’ texts (much less Pythagoras), but getting a strong gist will help you plod your way through more sophisticated stuff. Just get a decent grip on metaphysics and epistemology. Spend awhile clowning with the skeptics and Roman metaphysisists like St. Augustine and Sextus, Aquinas perhaps.

Now, it’s boogie time. Suck down a big cruddy wad of Descartes. You’ll thank me later. Play some grabass with Hobbes (Materialism), Spinoza (Neutralism), and John Locke and George Berkeley (Representative Realism and Idealism). Still got some gas left? Cruise through Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature. Now you’re ready for some Kant.

Fianlly, you’re sort of contemporary. Read up on Analytic Philo plus Logical Atomism, paying close attention to Phenomenalism and then the subsequent discrediting of Phenomenalism and how it gave rise to Post-Phenomenalist Epistemology and Metaphysics, and your sort of back to Square One all over again.

Well, so much for the easy stuff. If you’re looking to expound on Ethics beyond what you got from the Greeks, Christians, and Hobbes and Hume, revisit Kant (noting this time that Hume was the turning point for the ethical philosophical gestalt) and then bust on some Utilitarianists like Bentham and Mill. Now it gets sexy. Nietzsche time! Read Beyond Good and Evil for sure, Thus Spake Zarathustra if you’re feeling randy.You can dabble in Emotivism if you’re a weepy fag, but try to swallow some Sartre and Camus and get that good Existentialist feelin’.

Once you’ve polished all that shit off, you can try your luck with Foucalt, Habermas, and Rorty and finally understand what the Hell is wrong with everyone here on Qt3. You can try on some Marxist and bore yourself silly, but you can throw some fascism in there, because we all know Fascism is Funny! If you have the nuts, go East and get you some Confucianism, Mencius, Taoism as related by Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu, Buddhism (Zen, Hui Neng, and Dogen, plus Zen’s influence on samurai philosophy) and, of course, Hinduism.

Good luck!

To somewhat echo what Bill said without doing a lot of name-dropping, find an intro-level book dealing with whatever area you are interested in first to get a grip on the basics. This gives you some of the context you are lacking by not having studied the original works and their preceding influences in the first place. It will drastically cut down on those “what the hell is this guy talking about” moments. After that you can take it from reading about philosophy to reading philosophy straight.

A lot of colleges post their lists of course materiel online. You could always find somewhere that gives a philosophy course you think you’d be interested in and see what they are reading.

Schopenhauer is great, especially when he rants about people with beards, people with barking dogs, or typesetters who change his spelling.

Otherwise, I second the recommendation to get some introductory books with a historical overview. That’s pretty much required in order to understand Western philosophy since most of it was building on earlier texts. The general historical context can be relevant, too.

You could always cut to the chase and read A Brief History of Everything by Ken Wilber. He’s taken most of what’s been thought of previously, both eastern and western, and come up with a way of viewing the world that’s tough to argue against.

Atlas Shrugged.

Unless you’re scared of having your opinions change.

There’s some stuff in there that I think isn’t sound - “John Galt” is a fellow I don’t see in any kind of positive light - but a lot more that is.

Yeah, too bad it’s the foundation of the entire philosophy. Atlas Shrugged is a nice house built on top of an indian burial ground and a seismic fault, at the bottom of Mudslide Mountain. Next to a Wal-Mart.

Oh and you have to rent, and if the landlady doesn’t like you, she tells Zombie Joe McCarthy you’re a communist.

I don’t really have time to write this all up, so I’ll just bullet point this…

• There are two main pedagogical strains of academic (i.e. professional philosophy): analytic or historical.

• The analytic tradition stems from the Brits and usually involves broad surveys of ideas and tend to be issue oriented. Most public universities in America teach in the analytic tradition.

• The historical tradition is practiced in Europe, and generally start with the pre-Socratics and work you way up. Most of the private and Catholic universities teach in the historical tradition.

• Both have their strengths and produce fine philosophers, but the historical model, which I prefer as that is what I was trained in, takes a lot longer because there is A LOT of reading, but it helps you to situate the current debates.

• If you’re going to go self-taught, go analytic as you won’t have professors and exams to force the discipline of a historical approach.

• Find one or two secondary introductory texts, but that’s it – don’t lean too heavily on them and don’t get too far away from primary texts. You often have to deal with not only the intellectual pose of the original thinker, but also the intellectual fashions that the interpreter is writing under.

• Find a single area that you have a passion for and work your way out from there. For example, if contemporary theories of justice is your thing, then you’ll want to learn who the big players are (Rawls and Habermas), then learn the big themes, then learn the debates within those themes, then start branching out from there.

• I don’t recommend just randomly picking up a thinker and trying to “get the gist” of a whole issue or debate. Remember, most philosophy is just one enormous conversation that has been going on for centuries between really smart and well read guys. It’s like going into a cocktail party where hundreds of people are talking and you’re just picking up snippits. Find one small, group, hone in on them and concentrate.

• Amazon’s “customers who bought this also bought this…” links are a great way to learn what is inter-related.

• There is a difference between professional philosophy as it is practiced by people in the academy who make a living at it, and amateur philosophy for people who just view it as an avocation. Like all disciplines, the professional stuff is full of jargon and fads, but it’s also the big leagues where the real thinkers play. There majority are no-talent hacks just making a living (which included me, that’s why I got out), but if you find a few you like, you’ll latch and find their works infinitely more rewarding that just dabbling in the amateur ranks.

• With all due respect to Rollory, Ayn Rand is simply not taken seriously at the professional level. She is a good introduction to serious issues, but in the six years I spent in grad school, the countless philosophy conferences I went to, lectures I attended and papers I refereed, not once was Ayn Rand referenced. In fact, if her name usually comes up, it is in the context of hackery. Whether that is a symptom of the inveterate elitism of academic philosophy, or a clear indication that Ayn Rand is the official philosopher of mediocre minds, I leave it up to you to decide. I’m only describing a cultural feature.

• Of course, there are plenty of forums and web sites that help you to learn more if you’re interested.

The Analects of Confucius.

Bill gives a nice run down of everything that an educated philosopher should know. I skipped some of the post-Pheomenalist stuff, and you might find other stuff that you either already know or find too impenetrable.

The risk with skipping around a bit, of course, is that you miss some key parts of the conversation Jim is talking about. You really can’t understand Nietzsche’s exercise without some understanding of the Platonist-Augustinian-Kantian tradition he is writing against.

Just the same, I highly recommend Nietzsche because he’s such a pain in the ass and a lot of fun to read. I would start with Genealogy of Morals.

I think Kierkegaard is underappreciated as both a writer and modern thinker.

Avoid Hegel except insofar as you think you need to understand Marx.

I see your Confucius, and raise you Buddha.

Seriously though, it sounds like I’ve been down the same path you have re: evolutionary theory, and I would suggest jumping straight to Zen Buddhism. I picked up philosophy afterwards, and I couldn’t really find anyone that had something new to say.

Buddha pretty much figured out the entire human condition. Start with Dropping Ashes on the Buddha, then Compass of Zen, by Seung Sahn. Very readable, but still advanced thought in Buddhism. After that, you can move to Thicht Naht Hahn (probably misspelled one of those) and Suzuki.


That’s Neo-Confucianism. ;)

Could be . . . could be.

I’ll give you precedence, but Confucius was still a bit more of a real-world animal than Buddha. Buddha extended thought, attachment, and right-living to the farthest possible extreme, so he’s a good place to start for the unfiltered stuff. Kind of like if you’re on a mission to become a marinara expert, you should eat fresh, raw tomatoes first, so you know where it all comes from.

Jim’s post is excellent. I endorse it most heartily.

I made the mistake of entering an essay contest about Atlas Shrugged back when I was in high school. I was looking for easy money for college and my English teacher threw the brochure at me.

Anyhow, I read the book, wrote the essay, submitted it and didn’t win the $25,000 grand prize. End of story, right?

I wish.

I spent the next four years of my undergraduate experience dodging recruitment letters, phone calls, and even personal visits(!) from various hard core conservative organizations that I wanted nothing to do with. Apparently the cult of Ayn Rand puts on these essay contests as some sort of evil recruitment drive to replenish their ranks after they drink the blood of the last bunch of recruits or something.