My Introduction to Philosophy

I have not posted anything in such a long time! I’m afraid my excuse is and will remain: school work.

As I hurry to finish my readings on the subway, spend my evenings typing away and my weekends mastering Chicago, APA, or whatever other citation format I have never used before (thanks, MLA!), I have no time to read for pleasure. Hence, no reviews.

Yet as I sat at my desk surrounded by my notes, procrastinating when I should be studying for my exam, I decided to share some books which made up my personal and official introduction to philosophy. I realized that few philosophy books from my TBR ever made it into the “Read” list, and I do not think I have ever written a post about any, mainly because until this year I did not know how to approach philosophy, much less “review” it. I am not implying that I know much now, but I have certainly developed a special appreciation for it.

During the first lecture, my truly brilliant professor made sure we all understood that there is a philosophy of everything. Really, nothing is sacred in philosophy, and no discipline escapes its iron fist. However, we started with some solid classics that I believe make a good introduction to philosophy in general.

Plato’s Republic. Plato is the superstar of philosophy, mainly because he is sort of its founding father. Though Plato’s dialogues feature Socrates as the main speaker. The Republic revolves around the central question of “What is justice?”, and attempting to answer it leads Socrates to create a model of a perfect state, establish Plato’s philosophy of Forms, as well as the famous Allegory of the Cave. Although at first it is challenging to align oneself with the language and tone of the text, The Republic is relatively easy to read for a newbie. It is also one of the classic philosophic discourses. I really enjoyed reading the assigned selections and trying to understand them, and I will return to this text to read it in full.

Plato’s Meno. This text is tiny! Seriously, it looks like a pamphlet. Yet this little volume contains some very interesting arguments about virtue and knowledge. I would say it is an even better introduction than The Republic because it is simpler and can be read in a couple of sittings. Meno also showed me that I quite like epistemology. (P.S. all these philosophers think math is the greatest thing ever. As a humanities student I am dubious about that. 🙂 )

Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics. Aristotle has a very different style from his teacher Plato. This text is not a dialogue but a structured and straightforward presentation of Aristotle’s ideas on happiness et cetera. Admittedly, I enjoyed this one a little less than Plato’s writings because it’s drier and misses the dramatic flair of the dialogues. Still, Aristotle has some wonderful ideas about happiness, the human function, virtue, the golden middle, etc. He also openly rejects Plato’s theory of Forms which is funny to read: “piety requires us to honour truth above our friends” (I.6). Aristotle thinks a life of contemplation (aka philosophy) is the best thing ever, and you should too.

Descartes’ Meditations. Despite being the most recent book in the batch, this one was the hardest to get through for me. Descartes has the curious ability to conceal his ideas in a torrent of [mostly unnecessary] words! Another short book, the Meditations are six in total, each dealing with a related albeit different concept. This is where you get a taste of Descartes’ radical doubt, the Cogito argument (“I think, [therefore] I am”), and two proofs for the existence of God. A splendid deal! As I said, Descartes was the most challenging for me but spending some extra time with the text helps overcome some of the challenges.

Whew, I think this might actually help me study. 😛 I hope you enjoyed my intro to philosophy. I am really loving this subject, and I can’t wait to read the next semester’s books (featuring The Second Sex!).

What books made your introduction to philosophy? Any favourites?


3 responses to “My Introduction to Philosophy

  1. My introduction to philosophy was Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder! I don’t know what book it is in, but I’m quite fond of Socrates’ dialog in which he leads a boy to the conclusion that the square root of two is irrational.

    • That book sounds interesting! Also, I have never read anything Norwegian!
      The ancient philosophers are quite fond of mathematical demonstrations. There is one in Meno where Socrates gets a slave boy to “recollect” the dimensions of a doubled square … proving that we learn by recollection.

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