Nitram asked:

Hi. I have just stumbled over Philosophy and need to get a couple of book titles to get me started. I know a bit about Plato and his pupil Aristotle… is this a good place to start or should I seek a more modern thinker and if so whom? Thank you.

Answer by Craig Skinner

If you want to start with individual thinkers, Plato and Aristotle are probably better than any individual modern thinker. My advice would be to start with a general survey of Western Philosophy from the Greeks to modern times, and then read either individuals — Plato would be a good start because he is a very good writer as well as a wide-ranging philosopher — or topics, such as free will, proofs of God’s existence, truth, time, space, right and wrong etc.

You ask for a couple of books:

Bertrand Russell’s A History of Western Philosophy (2nd ed 1961) is still a great introduction. Critics say he is opinionated, biased and sometimes quirky. All true. But he was a Nobel-prize winning author, and his writing is clear, witty and entertaining, and he gives a comprehensive history of philosophy from the Greeks to the 20th C. Russell was a mathematician, logician, philosopher, essayist, and social activist who was jailed twice for protest (once against the first world war, and once for CND activities in the 1960s when he was a very old man).

Richard Tarnas’s The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas that have shaped our World View (1991). Tarnas is a Professor of Philosophy and Psychology in California. The book got rave reviews from philosophers, psychologists and theologians. I thought it excellent.

Good luck!

Answer by Tony Fahey

Hi Nitram, whilst there are many excellent modern philosophers (Foucault, Habermas, Derrida, Lyotard, Kearney, to name but a few), my own personal advice would be to start with a work that would give you a good overall grasp of the subject, with the emphasis on the history of philosophy. In that regard, as an easy and enjoyable read, one of the books that that proves to be very popular with first year philosophy students is Jostein Gaarder’s Sophie’s World. Bryan Magee’s The Story of Philosophy is also an extremely good introduction to philosophy, and for a more complicated but equally fine read you could try Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy.