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Road to Philosophy

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Main Question or Discussion Point

I have recently been very intrigued with philosophy, I have heard some keywords and basic concepts in philosophy before but nothing too serious. I wanted to self-study philosophy (undergraduate curriculum) in the sense like philosophy majors, can anyone recommend on how to proceed? I have a degree in physics and I am not sure how philosophy courses are organized, like in physics you take general physics then take specialized courses for each subtopics in physics, as well as some mathematics courses.

I will almost complete the book A Brief History of Thought by Luc Ferry.

Note: I do not like to be suggested popular accounts like Ferry's book, I wanted to tackle the standard curriculum for philosophy.
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
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How about looking at university pages on the internet or university sites in reality and ask? It should be possible to figure out their standard lectures and the corresponding literature. I assume, there is a lot of history and the different schools to be learnt in the first part of a study.
 
  • #3
Demystifier
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There are no many philosophers here, so it is very unlikely that you will get a good advice here. Perhaps you could get a good advice if you asked about philosophy of science, philosophy of physics or philosophy of math. But general philosophy - no.
 
  • #4
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@Demystifier What then should a beginner do to start on philosophy of science? Is there like a route similar to physics, i.e. General Physics, Classical Mechanics, Electromagnetism, etc.
 
  • #7
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I have only a negative example: I would not recommend Popper's Logic of Science.
 
  • #8
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First hit on a google search with "philosophy undergraduate reading list"
http://www.kings.cam.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/offerholders/reading-lists/philosophy.html
and Cambridge isn't the worst address!
I have seen that website but my issue here is that I want to get suggestions from people here in the forums since I don't want to waste my time reading a book not in the proper order, to me those are just lists of books recommended for reading, I think they might be good since it is in the Cambridge book list but I don't know which to pick, I'm trying to find the Halliday Resnick counterpart of Philosophy.

Maybe, Bertrand Russell's book "The History of Western Philosophy" might be of interest: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_History_of_Western_Philosophy
I saw a lot of people recommending that but is it too long for a beginner? If it is a must then I would try it given that is how the curriculum goes.
 
  • #9
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I'm not sure how a curriculum is set up. My opinion on this is
  • @Demystifier is right, we probably won't have specialists in philosophy.
  • I don't think there is such a thing which could be called a standard curriculum.
  • This means: it probably depends far more on location and professors, than in math or physics.
  • From what I saw on the list, I expect a study of philosophy to be very much dependent on literature in general and the lectures are more a kind of discussion and interpretation guide to this literature.
  • As said before, there is probably a lot of classical philosophy to be learnt at the start. To get an impression on what philosophy covers, have a look on these Wikipedia lists:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lists_of_philosophers
    https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liste_antiker_Philosophen
  • I find Russell hard to read, so I wouldn't start with him.
Here are some links I have bookmarked. Not sure whether they will help you, though.
http://www.mcmp.philosophie.uni-muenchen.de/students/math/index.html
https://plato.stanford.edu/contents.html

So all in all, I think your question is unanswerable and you might want to consider it from another perspective:
Which are good sources to learn <insert epoch, school, or subject>?

I have a list of philosophies in mind, which I consider necessary to be known. However, I suspect most of us have, and it probably won't be the same list. E.g. there is quite a difference of philosophies which relate to politics and nations on one hand, and science, or epistemology on the other.
 
  • #10
Demystifier
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I would not recommend Popper's Logic of Science.
May I ask why?
 
  • #12
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I'm not sure how a curriculum is set up. My opinion on this is
  • @Demystifier is right, we probably won't have specialists in philosophy.
  • I don't think there is such a thing which could be called a standard curriculum.
  • This means: it probably depends far more on location and professors, than in math or physics.
  • From what I saw on the list, I expect a study of philosophy to be very much dependent on literature in general and the lectures are more a kind of discussion and interpretation guide to this literature.
  • As said before, there is probably a lot of classical philosophy to be learnt at the start. To get an impression on what philosophy covers, have a look on these Wikipedia lists:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lists_of_philosophers
    https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liste_antiker_Philosophen
  • I find Russell hard to read, so I wouldn't start with him.
Here are some links I have bookmarked. Not sure whether they will help you, though.
http://www.mcmp.philosophie.uni-muenchen.de/students/math/index.html
https://plato.stanford.edu/contents.html

So all in all, I think your question is unanswerable and you might want to consider it from another perspective:
Which are good sources to learn <insert epoch, school, or subject>?

I have a list of philosophies in mind, which I consider necessary to be known. However, I suspect most of us have, and it probably won't be the same list. E.g. there is quite a difference of philosophies which relate to politics and nations on one hand, and science, or epistemology on the other.
Thanks for your effort, I'm going to look into those links.

Thanks, I'll look into that.
 
  • #13
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May I ask why?
I found its perspective too philosophical and too less scientific. Already in his preamble he makes claims which I cannot find myself behind:
Moreover, it is clear that the growth of scientific knowledge is the most important and interesting case of the growth of our knowledge.
I'm no friend of such claims without giving any evidence. It's the "it is clear" and the all quantifier which disturb me.
The complexity of these model languages is disproportionate to their usefulness, since hardly any scientific theory of significance can be formulated in these complicated playing systems. These model languages do not teach us anything worth teaching; neither about the growth of science nor about the growth of common sense.
And again these all quantifiers.

So its the methods which I don't like: claiming unsupported theses as facts. The best part of the book is, that it contains a letter written by Einstein, in which he addresses his concerns. Half of the book is about probabilities. A subject which opens doors to all kind of wild speculation: see the many discussions here on PF. Popper just does it on a higher level. I like the point of view of analytic variables and distributions, i.e. pure math instead of questionable principles.
 
  • #14
Demystifier
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I found its perspective too philosophical and too less scientific.
So you don't recommend a book on philosophy because it's about philosophy and not about something else? :wideeyed:
 
  • #16
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So you don't recommend a book on philosophy because it's about philosophy and not about something else? :wideeyed:
No, that's not the reason. I simply expect from what has science as subject, is more severe with its methods. E.g. he could have written "we restrict ourselves to..." instead of "it is clear that ...", the more as he actually uses scientific principles for his treatment of probabilities. He even attempts an axiomatic approach. So how can I trust those principles, if the author himself doesn't follow them in his opinions? And, as I find, he also uses a model language (his) which he earlier condemned. I also found, that he's not consequent when it comes to the meta-level. If he would have stayed close to philosophy, rather than pretend to write a book about scientific knowledge, I wouldn't have bothered. But the way he presents his thoughts pretends a mathematical and physical approach, which simply doesn't hold the standards. Russell has been more of a mathematician than a philosopher, so no objections to him. But Popper in my opinion left the area of his competence.

I don't condemn Sir Popper or his work as a hole, and one has to take into account his youth, and that his book was written at a time, when quantum mechanics and the interpretations of its probabilities just had caused a major crisis of physics. A state in which we're apparently still caught, if I look at those endless discussions here. I'm just saying that Popper's approach to handle this subject doesn't add any value, that's why I wouldn't recommend this specific book. And it's my opinion, not a statement I could rigorously prove.
 
  • #17
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"The problems of Philosophy" by Bertrand Russell is a good one. When I was a first-year Pure Maths undergraduate in the UK back in 1986, I took a course in Philosophy for scientists and this book was recommended by the professors for the course. It's a nice little book and very easy to read.
 
  • #18
epenguin
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First hit on a google search with "philosophy undergraduate reading list"
http://www.kings.cam.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/offerholders/reading-lists/philosophy.html
and Cambridge isn't the worst address!
The majority of this list is not books about philosophy, but actual examples of philosophy. Main exception is Nagel. Checking on Amazon, it had very contrasting reviews, but at least it will be fairly easy and quick read and has to do with overview. But I think it would be good to tackle some of these other books, depending on your available time. That is you cannot appreciate philosophy without trying some actual examples of it. It would be a bit like doing a science but never doing any experiments. Many of these philosophical works are easier than you might think, some not even lacking in humour or wit, or good humour at least. One trouble might be that they are too persuasive, and later you will have to find out how other philosophers dismounted their claims. I would think that Hume is a good starting point, and has stood up to subsequent criticism rather well and remains a reference point. Ayer is easily readable and corresponds to the standard scientific (and atheistic) outlook. Written young, he spent the rest of his life working out what was wrong with it. Russell is not so much an account of the problems of philosophy as of his take on them, Philosophical reasonings of his own. Lucid, Easy read, hard thought. I do not want to read Berkeley, because he is all wrong but I would be too hard put to say why. Kuhn Is more scientific historical analysis than philosophy, More how scientists actually thought than how they should have. But scientific philosophy and history have become quite close, tending to be taken together. What Mill thought, and to a lesser extent Plato and Aristotle, should just be a part of everyone's general culture (which is not to say that I have read them).
(T)
  • J L Ackrill, Aristotle the Philosopher. Opus
  • A J Ayer Language, Truth, and Logic. Penguin
  • George Berkeley Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous(many editions)
  • Simon Blackburn Think. Oxford
  • Simon Blackburn Being Good. Oxford
  • Tim Crane The Mechanical Mind. Penguin
  • Rene Descartes Meditations.(many editions)
  • Ross Harrison Democracy. Routledge
  • Peter Smith An Introduction to Formal Logic. CUP (T)
  • D Hume (T) Dialogues concerning Natural Religion. OUP
  • D Hume Enquiries.OUP
  • T Kuhn The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Univ of Chicago Press
  • J S Mill (T) On Liberty. (many editions) (available with Utilitarianism etc in J S Mill, On Liberty and Other Essays, World Classics. Oxford)
  • T Nagel What Does It All Mean?. OUP
  • Plato Meno. (many editions)(T) (Available in Protagoras and Meno). Penguin
  • Graham Priest Logic. Oxford
  • B Russell The Problems of Philosophy. OUP
  • R M Sainsbury Paradoxes. CUP
  • M Budd Values of Art. Penguin
 
  • #19
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I would recommend proceeding in chronological order. Like other fields you will have trouble understanding the context and perspectives in philosophy without knowing about the work that came before. There is a great podcast: historyofphilosophy.net that has links to further reading for each episode. This podcast does cover much more than the typical university sequence because most programs skip over the middle ages (classical philosophy typically deals with the Greeks and then modern philosophy picks up with Descartes). He hasn't gotten to modern philosophy in the podcast yet.

You may want to skip over a lot of the middle ages stuff, but reading classical philosophy will have you occupied for a while.
 
  • #20
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Anything by Saint Thomas of Aquinas.
 
  • #21
Aufbauwerk 2045
I have seen that website but my issue here is that I want to get suggestions from people here in the forums since I don't want to waste my time reading a book not in the proper order, to me those are just lists of books recommended for reading, I think they might be good since it is in the Cambridge book list but I don't know which to pick, I'm trying to find the Halliday Resnick counterpart of Philosophy.


I saw a lot of people recommending that but is it too long for a beginner? If it is a must then I would try it given that is how the curriculum goes.
I also recommend Bertrand Russell. He was not only one of the top philosophers of the 20th century, but he was also a mathematician, and he co-authored with Whitehead the Principia Mathematica which is one of the most important books on mathematical logic. I always loved his writing style. In fact he won the Nobel Prize for literature.

Although it's not a standard textbook, I recommend Russell's Wisdom of the West for anyone interested in the history of philosophy. It's a brief overview of the topic, with many beautiful illustrations. A great coffee table book.
 
  • #22
Aufbauwerk 2045
Anything by Saint Thomas of Aquinas.
This is theology, which means he relies on so-called revealed truth. But he does try to build upon the philosophy of Aristotle. As Russell pointed out, Western philosophy since Plato and Aristotle has basically been a commentary on their work. I would begin a study of philosphy with the Wisdom of the West by Russell for quick and easy overview, then perhaps one of his more technical overviews, and then I would say go right to the source and study Plato and Aristotle.

Aristotle is hard to read and of course his physics in particular is not useful today. I would not recommend reading his original books except for ones on ethics and politics. Instead I would recommend reading a good explanation of his work, including his logic.

Plato on the other hand is highly readable. His surviving books are in dialogue form. Socrates is the hero in many of them. Socrates is one of the most important figures in the history of Western thought.

There's a famous painting by Raphael called The School of Athens. Plato and Aristotle are the main characters.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_School_of_Athens
 
  • #23
Plato is great and totally worth reading. Reading Plato as a young man taught me to be more analytical ... in fact I might want to read him again now that I am reminded of it! Otherwise, I have only had bad experiences with philosophy and philosophers. IMO some of it is really hard to read and most of the ideas discussed just aren't interesting. But I am not an expert on the subject; I'm just cautioning that it might end up being a huge waste of time, so proceed carefully.
 
  • #24
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I think the best way to get started is to get two books; an overview outline book on philosophy and a dictionary of philosophy. You can get a good start with any pair of overview and dictionary books. For example, Will Durant's The Story of Philosophy and Antony Flew's A Dictionary of Philosophy are typical. Use both the outline book and the dictionary together - reviewing it all within a historical and analytical outline, using the specialized dictionary to clear up terms, sort out names, and notice connections between ideas. Once you get the big picture and know where you want to proceed, then it will be best to read the sources themselves.
 

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