Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, August 15, 2008

100 Philosophical Works Meme

Brandon of Siris provides a variant of the various 100 Books memes that have wandered the blogsphere recently.
The basic idea was this: a list of a hundred books, each providing a relatively accessible portal to philosophy, likely to have something of interest to a very wide range of people, in order to encourage a wider reading in philosophy, and perhaps an interest in philosophy among those who might be turned off by anything too academic. So that constrained the list to philosophical works available in English, not too difficult to find (at least with a good library), not too overwhelming (e.g., not too long or too jargonish), potentially enjoyable to all sorts of people; there was also the constraint, considerably more limiting, that only books I'd read in some version or translation or other could be included, since only if I had read the book at least once, at some point, could I be sure it was a reasonable candidate for the list. I also tried to limit relatively recent philosophical work in order to compensate for the bias of recency. Also, with a few very readable exceptions, I have bypassed standard college course fare. The result was as follows, in no particular order. (I have linked to those available online in some form. Needless to say, and although some of the editions are quite good, this does not always or even usually indicate that this is the best edition available. The rest should be accessible through a descent university library or good bookstore. Also, it should go without saying, but might not, that inclusion on the list, while it shows that I think the work interesting, does not show that I necessarily agree with it in any way.) I have a defense of each one's deserving a place on this list, if you have any questions about a particular entry. Did I miss any good ones? Which ones have you read? If you were going to make your own list, what would be on it?
You can see why I find this irresistable...

Here's the list. I've bolded the one's that I've read:

1. Voltaire, Candide
2. Dante, Divine Comedy
3. Plato, Apology
4. Xenophon, Apology
5. Berkeley, Alciphron
6. Aquinas, Collationes super Credo in Deum
7. Astell, A Serious Proposal to the Ladies, Part II
8. Scotus, A Treatise on God as First Principle
9. Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy
10. Descartes, Discourse on Method
11. Hume, "Of the Rise and Progress of the Arts and Sciences"
12. O. K. Bouwsma, "Descartes' Evil Genius"
13. Gilson, Forms and Substances in the Arts
14. Bonaventure, Itinerarium Mentis ad Deum
15. Chuang Tzu (Zhuangzi; attr.), Zhuangzi
16. Fa-tsang, Treatise on the Golden Lion
17. Xuedoe/Yuanwu, The Blue Cliff Record
18. Sartre, No Exit
19. Chesterton, Manalive
20. Shaw, Saint Joan
21. Anscombe, "Modern Moral Philosophy"
22. Planck, Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers
23. Darwin, The Descent of Man
24. Kingsley, Hypatia
25. James, "The Will to Believe"
26. Carroll, "What the Tortoise Said to Achilles"
27. Whewell, On the Principles of English University Education
28. Faraday, The Chemical History of a Candle
29. Masham, Occasional Thoughts in Reference to a Virtuous Christian Life
30. Whitehead, Science and the Modern World
31. Lull, Book of the Gentile
32. Ibn Tufayl, Hayy ibn Yaqzan
33. Lucretius, On the Nature of Things
34. Butler, Fifteen Sermons Preached at the Rolls Chapel
35. Epictetus, Enchiridion
36. Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
37. Johnson, The History of Rasselas
38. More, Utopia
39. Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces
40. Bacon, Essays [I've read some, anyway]
41. Justin Martyr, First Apology
42. Minucius Felix, Octavius
43. O'Brien, The Third Policeman
44. ***, IV Maccabees
45. Langland, Piers Plowman
46. Lewis, Abolition of Man
47. ***, Cleanness
48. Mill, Utilitarianism
49. Anselm, On Freedom of Choice (PDF)
50. Abelard, Historia Calamitatum
51. Ambrose, On the Duties of the Clergy
52. Kant, "Perpetual Peace"
53. Cicero, De Officiis
54. Pascal, Pensées [I've read some not all]
55. Sun Tzu, The Art of War
56. Clausewitz, On War
57. Shelley, "Queen Mab"
58. Pope, An Essay on Man
59. Spinoza, Tractatus Theologico-Politicus
60. Beattie, An Essay on the Nature and Immutability of Truth
61. Montaigne, Apology for Raymond Sebond
62. Casanova, History of My Life
63. Lucian, Hermotimus
64. Lorris/Meun, The Romance of the Rose
65. Sophocles, Antigone
66. Christine de Pisan, Book of the City of Ladies
67. Augustine, Confessions
68. Nicholas of Cusa, On Learned Ignorance (PDF)
69. Erasmus, The Praise of Folly
70. Abbott, Flatland
71. Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
72. Gilman, Herland
73. Saadia, Beliefs and Opinions
74. Lessing & Mendelssohn, "Pope a Metaphysician!"
75. Hume, "A Dialogue"
76. Menkin, The Love of the Righteous
77. Lessing, Nathan the Wise
78. Chateaubriand, The Genius of Christianity
79. Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra
80. Eliot, Romola
81. Maritain, Theonas
82. ***, The Great Learning
83. Stapledon, Sirius
84. Eco, The Name of the Rose
85. Novalis, Heinrich von Ofterdingen
86. Vico, De Nostri Temporis Studiorum Ratione (On the Study Methods of Our Time)
87. Fichte, The Vocation of Man
88. Edwards, Freedom of the Will
89. Rousseau, Discourse on the Arts and Sciences
90. Shaftesbury, "Sensus Communis: An Essay on the Freedom of Wit and Humor" (PDF)
91. Newman, Apologia Pro Vita Sua
92. Dooyeweerd, In the Twilight of Western Thought
93. Kant, "On the Question: What is Enlightnment?"
94. Austen, Mansfield Park
95. Coleridge, Biographia Literaria
96. Duhem, German Science
97. Diderot, Rameau's Nephew
98. Dryden, Religio Laici
99. Chaucer, The Parson's Tale
100. Teresa of Avila, Life of Teresa of Avila, by Herself

Given that I don't reckon myself much of a philosopher, 20% probably isn't too bad. Most of the items I'd have to suggest probably fell under the "standard college fare" exclusion. I would have perhaps suggested the following:

Plato: Euthyphro, Phaedo, Republic
Aristotle: Ethics, Metaphysics
Aquinas: Selections from Summa
Anselm: Discourse on the Existence of God

But those are, of course, very, very standard. (What can I say, I guess I'm a standard sort of guy... )

I was glad to see that Lucretius made the list, as he's long been a favorite of mine.

I scored an unexpected point by having read Romance of the Rose -- though it strikes me as more interesting as a medieval cultural curiosity than as philosophy.

And I'm rather ashamed to admit that a few of the ones highlighted above, which I know that I read, I can recal virtually nothing about.


Anonymous said...

The Blackadder Says:

It's kind of a weird list. I mean, would you really put Scotus' Treatise on God as First Principle on a list of philosophy books that are supposed to be accessible? On the other hand, some of the books (e.g. Confederacy of Dunces) don't really have much to do with philosophy even in a Zen and the Art of Motorcycle maintenance kind of way.

1. Voltaire, Candide
3. Plato, Apology
9. Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy
19. Chesterton, Manalive
21. Anscombe, "Modern Moral Philosophy"
25. James, "The Will to Believe"
38. More, Utopia [first half]
39. Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces
46. Lewis, Abolition of Man
48. Mill, Utilitarianism
49. Anselm, On Freedom of Choice [I think I've read this, but I'm not sure]
54. Pascal, Pensées
55. Sun Tzu, The Art of War
65. Sophocles, Antigone
67. Augustine, Confessions
91. Newman, Apologia Pro Vita Sua

Kyle R. Cupp said...

I'd have more on my list, but I tend to read those difficult to find, overwhelming texts no one in his right mind would enjoy. That's my excuse, anyway. ;-)

Brandon said...

It is intended to be an off-the-beaten path list, for people who wouldn't be particularly attracted by most on-the-path lists; although, as I said, I have a defense of every single one's place on the list. (I think with the Roman de la Rose you might be primarily remembering Lorris's part; Jean de Meun's continuation is notorious for its interminable philosophical digressions.)

W/ regard to Blackadder's comment about Confederacy of Dunces, CoD parodies a number of themes in The Consolation of Philosophy; thus it makes it for the same reason as Candide, the other parody on the list -- indeed, it takes fewer liberties, and allows more room for sympathy, with its target. I suppose to some extent it depends on how much line we're willing to give parody when it comes to philosophical issues. I've found in discussion with intro students that they find Scotus's Treatise fairly accessible, at least the parts I've given to them; perhaps I just have odd intro students, or make very good passage selections.

So far Toole's Confederacy of Dunces is the most (explicitly) challenged work on the list, just edging out Austen's Mansfield Park (which is interesting, since MP is far and away the easiest novel on the list to defend as a work of moral philosophy).

Darwin said...

I'd have more on my list, but I tend to read those difficult to find, overwhelming texts no one in his right mind would enjoy. That's my excuse, anyway. ;-)

But, umm... That would violate the idea of having 100 works, wouldn't it.

Or do you mean you've read more off this list. :-)

I think with the Roman de la Rose you might be primarily remembering Lorris's part; Jean de Meun's continuation is notorious for its interminable philosophical digressions.

Now that you jog my memory, I think I read the first part, and then a few selections out of the second part. That, and it's been 12 years or so, and apparently it didn't make a terribly deep impression.

Perhaps far to expository for these purposes, but something that I do recall enjoying very much is Lewis's Discarded Image, which is about the medieval philosophical and physical worldview.

I love the idea of a list of works one should read in order to get started with philosophy without really realizing it. I feel like I ought to know one or two other things to suggest, but nothing is springing to mind. Perhaps because all such works have done their job with me so subtly that I haven't noticed.

Brandon said...

The full Roman is very difficult to read if you're not in the right mood; I think it shares that feature with a lot of allegories. (And bringing that up suddenly brings to mind a large number of allegories that would serve just as well on a list like this.)

Discarded Image is a great one; it's one of my favorite works by Lewis.

Anonymous said...

The Blackadder Says:

I picked Dunces as an example because I've read it and thought it was really good. Still, if you're looking to offer someone an entry into philosophy, that's not a book I would recommend.

Patrick said...

1. While I'm a fan of primary texts and an opponent of presentism, this goes too far in the other direction. IMO, it's geared too much toward the history of ideas, most of which aren't taken seriously today for good reasons. I only counted two thinkers of the lare twentieth century (Anscombe and Dooyeweerd), though I may have missed others. There's plenty of good, accessible philosophy in the modern Anglophone world: take J.L. Mackie or Thomas Nagel, for example.

2. I'd also include a book like Alasdair MacIntyre's "Short History of Ethics", which includes a fair exposition as well as an argumentative analysis of many currents in the tradition.

2. Unless Brandon thinks that more accessible Nietzsche texts are "standard", I'd recommend reading "Beyond Good and Evil" or "The Gay Science" rather than Zarathustra, which is perhaps the most easily misconstrued philosophy text for those who haven't read other Nietzsche.

3. Seems to skew very Victorian, in my opinion. And I've never understood why people are so fond of "Flatland", a book with about three good ideas stretched to a hundred pages.

Brandon said...


I suppose to some extent it's a matter of taste; I recommend it quite a bit. (Admittedly, never on its own.)


The skew pastward was deliberate; I don't think, in fact, that we are generally good judges of what has been done in the past fifty years, because when people do lists of recent Anglophone work the lists are usually (IMO) very bad and extremely parochial. There are, however, some obvious exceptions (I think Mackie's massively overrated, but Nagel's definitely a good example). (Besides, for the past fifty years alone there are, in addition to Anscombe and Dooyeweerd, Eco and Toole, and that doesn't count mid-twentieth century cases like Bouwsma, O'Brien, etc.; so that makes four out of a hundred in a list that covers 2400 years. That's a fairly well-represented fifty years, even if it doesn't quite make it to the level of, say, the last half of the eighteenth century or the first half of the nineteenth.)

It skews Victorian because on the principles the list presupposes it could only include works I've read; and I've read a lot of Victorian works.

I agree that Zarathustra is often misconstrued; I don't think it has much to do with TSZ itself at all, and so I don't think recommending any other Nietzshche works would really handle the misconstrual problem. But just about any of Nietzsche's major works would be good candidates for the list.

Donald R. McClarey said...

I have read: 1,2,3,4,9,20, 33,36,38, 40, 41, 45, 46, 50, 54, 55,56, 58, 59 (some of it, I defy anyone to read every word of that turgid tome), 62, 65, 67, 69, 79, 84 (and what a waste of my time that was!), 91, and 99.

Darwin said...

84 (and what a waste of my time that was!)

What? What?

De gustibus non est disputandum, I guess. Name of the Rose is one of my favorite novels.

Donald R. McClarey said...

To each his own. All I can say is that I preferred the movie to the book, and I thought the movie was pretty mediocre. I appreciated the erudition that Eco displayed in the book, but as a novel and a murder mystery I found it sadly lacking.

Darwin said...

Well, if one expected it to be anything like a standard murder mystery, I can see how one would not like it. (Actually, a good friend of mine who's a huge mystery novel fan hated it.)

As for the movie, I think I would rank that as one of the most complete wastes of time of any movie I've ever seen.

Ah well, I guess one must disagree on something.