Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

To contact me about organizing, email me at rpwolff750@gmail.com




Total Pageviews

Sunday, July 11, 2010

WADE'S LIST

Wade asked what the thirty or so works are that one should read to have a basic education in philosophy. Here is my list -- nothing surprising here at all. With this should go a firm command of mathematical logic.

Plato: Euthyphro, Crito, Apology, Phaedo, Gorgias, Republic, Philebus, Symposium, Sophist, Parmenides
Aristotle: Nichomchaean Ethics, Physics, Metaphysics, de Anima
St. Augustine; City of God
St. Thomas: Summa Theologica
Locke: Essay on the Human Understanding, Second Treatise of Civil Government
Berkeley: Principles of Human Knowledge
Hume: Treatise of Human Nature, Enquiry Concerning the Human Understanding, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion
Descartes: Meditations [with the Objections and Replies], Discourse on Method
Leibniz: Monadology
Spinoza: Ethics [extra credit: Short Treratise]
Kant: Critique of Pure Reason, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, Critique of Judgment
Hobbes: Leviathan
Rousseau: Of the Social Contract [extra credit: Emile]

That is thirty one, I think, and takes you up to 1800. At that point, all bets are off, and you are on your own.

This is a lot of stuff, but think about it. If you are a graduate student in philosophy, could you read six of these books a year? Of course you could. Some are a breeze, some will take a humongous amount of effort. But when you are done, you will have a grounding in philosophy that will last a lifetime. You can take the rest of your life to fill in all the gaps, of which there are lots.

38 comments:

Awesome said...

Why no Hellenistic?

Take something off and add _Outlines of Pyrrhonism_ and _De finibus_.

芸茂芸茂 said...

這麼好的部落格,以後看不到怎麼辦啊!!..................................................................

Noumena said...

I'm surprised at how unsurprising your list is: a standard parade of long-dead European men. Kant's third critique but not even Princess Elisabeth's letters to Descartes? The /Philebus/ but no Confucius? And why leave off just where modern science, democracy, and capitalism really take off, two hundred years ago? (To be clear, my tone here is meant to be friendly, not contemptuous or spiteful!)

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Noumena, I should have made it clear that this was a list of works in Western Philosophy. I simply do not have the competence to suggest works in other traditions. As for what is left off, two comments: First, of course one could make substitutions. I accept them all. The Third Critique, because it was so profoundly influential in the nineteenth century.
Second: I stop at 1800 precisely because at that point the tradition explodes. One could do an entire second list just from the nineteenth and early twentieth century, but one would have to decide which of the several post-Kantian traditions to follow.

The truth is, of course, that I would like to see students of philosophy read all of these books, and ALSO much, much more, from the earlier years and also from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. But do not let quibbles about the list stop anyone from starting to read!!

Needless to say, the author of two books and many articles on Marx would not want people to neglect him. Nor one of my all time favorite philosophers, Kierkegaard. Nor mhy nominee for the best American philosopher, Clarence Irving Lewis [who was my teacher], not to speak of Hegel, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Frege, Russell, etc etc etc.

But the really interesting thing is that even a much expanded list is still entirely manageable in one's early years, if one keeps at it.

Awesome: I confess that as an undergraduate I took a course on hellenistic philosophy and I was underwhelmed. I read my way through a six hundred page collection of the complete works of Epicurus, Epictetus, Lucretius, and Marcus Aurelius, and read a good deal of Sextus Empiricus as well, with a professor I really liked, Henry Bugbee, but I just did not find much there that seemed to me to be philosophically powerful. I read a ton of Cicero -- same problem. Maybe it is just me, I don't know.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Noumena, I should have made it clear that this was a list of works in Western Philosophy. I simply do not have the competence to suggest works in other traditions. As for what is left off, two comments: First, of course one could make substitutions. I accept them all. The Third Critique, because it was so profoundly influential in the nineteenth century.
Second: I stop at 1800 precisely because at that point the tradition explodes. One could do an entire second list just from the nineteenth and early twentieth century, but one would have to decide which of the several post-Kantian traditions to follow.

The truth is, of course, that I would like to see students of philosophy read all of these books, and ALSO much, much more, from the earlier years and also from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. But do not let quibbles about the list stop anyone from starting to read!!

Needless to say, the author of two books and many articles on Marx would not want people to neglect him. Nor one of my all time favorite philosophers, Kierkegaard. Nor mhy nominee for the best American philosopher, Clarence Irving Lewis [who was my teacher], not to speak of Hegel, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Frege, Russell, etc etc etc.

But the really interesting thing is that even a much expanded list is still entirely manageable in one's early years, if one keeps at it.

Awesome: I confess that as an undergraduate I took a course on hellenistic philosophy and I was underwhelmed. I read my way through a six hundred page collection of the complete works of Epicurus, Epictetus, Lucretius, and Marcus Aurelius, and read a good deal of Sextus Empiricus as well, with a professor I really liked, Henry Bugbee, but I just did not find much there that seemed to me to be philosophically powerful. I read a ton of Cicero -- same problem. Maybe it is just me, I don't know.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Noumena, I should have made it clear that this was a list of works in Western Philosophy. I simply do not have the competence to suggest works in other traditions. As for what is left off, two comments: First, of course one could make substitutions. I accept them all. The Third Critique, because it was so profoundly influential in the nineteenth century.
Second: I stop at 1800 precisely because at that point the tradition explodes. One could do an entire second list just from the nineteenth and early twentieth century, but one would have to decide which of the several post-Kantian traditions to follow.

The truth is, of course, that I would like to see students of philosophy read all of these books, and ALSO much, much more, from the earlier years and also from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. But do not let quibbles about the list stop anyone from starting to read!!

Needless to say, the author of two books and many articles on Marx would not want people to neglect him. Nor one of my all time favorite philosophers, Kierkegaard. Nor mhy nominee for the best American philosopher, Clarence Irving Lewis [who was my teacher], not to speak of Hegel, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Frege, Russell, etc etc etc.

But the really interesting thing is that even a much expanded list is still entirely manageable in one's early years, if one keeps at it.

Awesome: I confess that as an undergraduate I took a course on hellenistic philosophy and I was underwhelmed. I read my way through a six hundred page collection of the complete works of Epicurus, Epictetus, Lucretius, and Marcus Aurelius, and read a good deal of Sextus Empiricus as well, with a professor I really liked, Henry Bugbee, but I just did not find much there that seemed to me to be philosophically powerful. I read a ton of Cicero -- same problem. Maybe it is just me, I don't know.

Mack said...

Thank you for the wonderful list.

Wade said...

Thank you! Your prompt reply has made my day!

Chris said...

I was certainly expecting you to add On Capital to that list!

Chris said...

I was certainly expecting you to add On Capital to that list!

Chris said...

Oh and just curious Mr.Wollf, as an atheist, what attracts you to Kierkegaard?

oboe316 said...

I guess the next question I have is: what is the best way to get a firm grasp on mathematical logic?

(Thanks for the great blog!)

David Pilavin said...

@oboe This probably would do, but we'll await the Master's reply :-)

http://books.google.co.il/books?id=kKPA1DF-g44C&dq=computability+and+logic&printsec=frontcover&source=bn&hl=iw&ei=4r06TIqKIs_dsAaR3JnvBg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=5&ved=0CC4Q6AEwBA#v=onepage&q&f=false

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Well, it never fails. Pouer your heart out, no one comments, but put a list up, and everyone wants to kibbitz. :)

OK. No Marx for two reasons. First, everything explodes in the 19th century, after Kant. There no longer ios a single tradition. Second, although Marx is, in my judgment, trhe greatest social scientist who ever lived, I do not think he was much of a philosopher. Dialectical Materialism is hogwash.

I love Kierkegaard for two reasons: First, he is brilliant -- for my money mayube the best writer who ever wrote philosophy. Second, although I am an atheist, I am deeply moved by the individualistic Protestant version of religion that he expresses. I am not at all attracted by Judaism, or by Catholicism, or by Islam, but I am by Protestantism. Kierkegaard, for my money, truly understands what it is to "believe in God." My students are always astonished when I preach a little sermon to give them some idea of the religious orientation to the world.

The question about Logic is a tough one. I had the extraordinary good luck to study with Willard van Orman Quine at Harvard when I was sixteen and seventeen years old. Quine is dead, and thre readers of this blog are a little old to start studying logic as teenagers. What matters is the firm grasp of the rigor and precision, rather than the particular theorems you master. You need to really love it. For an example of what I mean,l see my other blog.

David, in a few words, what does that URL take one to?

David Pilavin said...

to George Boolos‏, John P. Burgess‏, Richard C. Jeffrey, "Computability and Logic"

David Pilavin said...

The whole thing is scanned to Google Books [or so it seems] - just click on the cover

corey mccall said...

First, hanks for sticking your neck out and giving us your list

Two quick comments:

1. Did you write about Bugbee earlier in your memoirs? If so, could you direct me to them? If not, would you be willing to say more about your impressions of him?

2. The second is nothing more than a quibble, but it's pretty common, so I thought I'd mention it: It's Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. I learned the correct spelling the hard way during a grad seminar on Aristotle.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Corey, thanks for the correction. When I looked at it, it didn't seem right, but I neglected to check it. I am the world's worst copyeditor!

I have just looked quickly through Chapter Two of Volume One, and I seem not to have written about Bugbee, although I thought I had. Indeed, I am sure I did, but anyway: Henry Bugbee was a tall, slender screen idol handsome man, with full lips and tightly curled whitish blond hair. He and Morton White were hired in tandem, both being told that one would go up and one would go out. Well, the very next year, White was promoted, so Bugbee was on borrowed time his entire Assistant Professorship. He taught a course on the Stoics and Epicureans, which I took. He was given to long, ruminative pauses of a dramatically philosophical sort. Indeed, at the end of the class, if he started a sentence, we all held our breath for fear that he would pause so long before completing it that we would miss our next class. He was the only member of the department to my knowledge who ever actually had students to his house for dinner, which I for one really appreciated. I think he also had a dog -- a Springer Spaniel. And he smoked a pipe. In short, Central Casting's idea of a Philosophy professor. I have the vague notion that he ended up at University of Montana, or some such place. I liked him, but he was pretty obviously not a Harvard Philosophy Department type!

andrEw said...

If you are including hume's first enquiry I think the second should be included as well.
Xenophon's apology is also great.

On the whole, I do think it is a good list. You were asked about Hellenistic philosophy, and I think your response holds for pre-socratics as well, although even if there are not particular works that make the list, I do think some histories are necessary for both of them. Hadot's What Is Ancient Philosophy? maybe. I'm sure there are others people like.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

I include Hume's First Enquiry because of the major, dramatic change in the account of causation, but I find nothing in the Second Enquiry that is not in Books II and III of the Treatise. As for the pre-Socratics, I am content to live with Aristotle's biased account of them in the Physics, but as I said earlier, the more the merrier. I am surprised no one has mentioned Machievelli. Political Scientists are always big on him, but I am not. There is something like a list to stimulate the juices!

David Pilavin said...

I can understand why the Stoics and the Epicureans failed to impress you, but it is strange that the same is true of Sextus Empiricus: being an expert on Hume, as you are, you must notice the similarities between the two philosophers. It is impressive how the same issues are explored again and again by the Presocratics, the Hellnistic Philosophers, the British Empiricists, and the Logical Positivists. I am not knowledgabale enough in Indian Philosophy but, to judge by what I do know, it seems that, at one time, they had the same deliberations - long before the Presocratics. So indeed those are "Eternal Questions"...

Robert Paul Wolff said...

You are absolutely right. In fact, I wrote a paper as a student on the relationship between Sextus and Hume. But if I am making a short list of 30 essential works, I have to include Hume and not Sextus, because Sextus' arguments are much less powerful, even though he preceded Hume by almost two millennia. Sorry, I should have made that clear.

NotHobbes said...

"If you are a graduate student in philosophy, could you read six of these books a year? Of course you could."
Speaking as a student, many thanks for list :-)

Robert Paul Wolff said...

NotHobbes -- it is a great bunch of reads!

David Pilavin said...

@ Prof. Wolff,

Of course, of course. You are absolutely right not to include Sextus in the short list.

I was referring to what you said:

"I took a course on hellenistic philosophy and I was underwhelmed. I read [...] a good deal of Sextus Empiricus [...] but I just did not find much there that seemed to me to be philosophically powerful. "

Chris said...

Uhm isn't the:Summa Theologica
a multi-volume set totaling over 3,000 pages! Again, as a fellow atheist...that seems turgid at best.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Well, read around in it. Hey, I didn't say it was going to be easy!

Chris said...

Haha! Well I've read various books on this list in various order, but from your recommendation I am going to go back and start afresh; minus the Augustine and Thomas...Call me arrogant but I've no patience for archaic theological meanderings. Thanks for the list. And any future list you may want to offer. An anarchism list would be intriguing as well!

Chris said...

Haha! Well I've read various books on this list in various order, but from your recommendation I am going to go back and start afresh; minus the Augustine and Thomas...Call me arrogant but I've no patience for archaic theological meanderings. Thanks for the list. And any future list you may want to offer. An anarchism list would be intriguing as well!

Chris said...

Actually one more question, hope you do not mind: Why is Descartes listed after Hume, Locke, and Berkely?

andrEw said...

Chris, Philippa Foot (an atheist) said St. Thomas' work is great for the atheist as well as the believer. I too would consider myself a 'fellow atheist' of the most severe kind, and I have to agree with her. Also, if you are worried about length, he condensed it himself to a quite manageable length (under 500 pages, i believe), although I would not recommend it if you are going to be doing much serious reading. St. Thomas also really helps to illuminate some Aristotelian notions that may be difficult to understand without him. He was a great philosopher, christian or not, and I really would urge you to reconsider your decision to not read his work. Skip over some parts if you must, but you simply cannot dismiss him altogether, it would be a huge mistake on your part.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Chris, sorry about that. Old habits die hard. As a student, I routinely spoke of The British Empiricists -- Locke, Berkeley, Hume, and the Continental Rationalists -- Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz. So I always list them that way.

As for the question of atheism and religious philosophy; The Judeo-Christian-Muslim tradition is so central to two thousand years of Western philosophy, especially taking into consideration the fusion of the Graeco-Roman tradition with the religious tradition by The Church fathers and Philo of Judea, that I cannot imagine studying Western Philosophy without being really steeped in that literature. How, otherwise, can one understand the full power of what Hume and Kant did at the end of the eighteenth century, killing once for all rational theology?

But all I really care about is that you read! If a list gets you thinking, all the better.

Marinus said...

A strange book, Hobbes's 'Leviathan' -- its status on a list like this is hardly in any doubt, despite the fact that the vast majority of it is rubbish. Aquinas and Augustine are vastly better philosophers than Hobbes (especially Aquinas). At least, their corpus is on the whole much more rigorous and well-argued. Yet somehow I suspect nobody doubts 'Leviathan's place on this list.

Hobbes's attempt in the first third or so of the book to ground his political philosophy in deductions from what he takes to be self-evident truths of physics is utterly hopeless, as is his philosophy of language and a lot of his logic and meta-ethics. And nobody can see the point of the last section of the book. All of which he insists in including! But luckily, it's all beside the point for that middle third, where he does political philosophy, which is why 'Leviathan' is on this list (and many others). Even when he's busy with the politics proper, he still, really infuriatingly, makes brute assertions and re-defines words on the fly to suit his whim. But he has a novel and interesting idea, which he states clearly and with some persuasive argument, and that goes a long way. That on its own is instructive.

Marinus said...

I haven't found anything in Hellenistic philosophy to catch my fancy, either, but I'm willing to keep looking. My other dalliances in the nooks and crannies of our field has proven so ludicrously productive that I can't help but be hopeful. Dipping my toe into medieval philosophy I discovered the works of Peter Abelard, who simply was... well, he was at least as smart as Kant (and that says a lot!). As good a philosopher as any who ever lived. This is a man who first surveyed all of extant metaphysics, delivered careful and often devastating comment on it, and then not only identified the underlying problem (the slipperiness of the terms of the debate), but invented an entire (and independently interesting!) philosophy of language to solve it. When everybody else were still trying to do justice to Aristotle, he set out on his own with original, and brilliant, philosophy. And I never would have known about any of it if I hadn't snooped around in the vast, and many, treasures of philosophy.

Too bad so much stuff that's been written is rubbish.

M said...

Marinus,

Regarding Leviathan, it's also worth noting that in part III, Hobbes examines the Bible in a way that nobody had really done before. He and Spinoza were the first to come up with the idea of treating the Biblical text as an object of textual criticism. That may not be of great philosophical interest per se, but it certainly had an impact on later, important philosophers.

You're right about Abelard. He was absolutely brilliant. In fact, he didn't have access to much Aristotle. Most of the latter's works didn't make it to that side of Europe for another two centuries or so. I think this makes Abelard's achievements even more impressive. (Similar remarks apply to Anslem.)

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Well, since I am approaching my eighties, I suppose the time has come for confessions. I have not read Abelard. I take it I ought to read Sic Et Non. There certainly is a great deal of bad philosophy out there [and bad poetry and bad music and bad painting, after all] but there is also a very great deal of good.

By the way, I love Hobbes because of the brilliance of his writing. That counts for a lot with me.

But remember, my list was not my nomination for the best philosophy ever written. Rather, the idea was that if a student mastered those books, he or she would have a really firm foundation on which to build for a lifetime. My original purpose, the first time I said that to students, was to contrast the list with being all read up on the latest journal articles, which is how some Professors of Philosophy seem to think students should be introduced to the field. My point was that no matter what was, at the moment, the hot topic in the journals, it was an absolute certainty that ten years later, just about when they were getting tenure, it would be something quite different. I have lived through five or six waves of "the latest thing," each one opf which was superceded by another.

J.Vlasits said...

While I admit that Sextus as a writer is nothing particularly exciting (although he does have his moments), I think that he deserves at least a little bit of credit as a philosopher. He is the earliest writer whom I have read that really tries to unify inquiry with meta-inquiry, which obviously had an enormous impact philosophically with the early moderns. I also think that his skepticism is utterly different from Cartesian and Humean skepticisms which occupy the majority the contemporary literature that it deserves careful study. Sextus manages to argue that we ought not believe anything (that we're investigating) without resorting to either Brain-in-Vat scenarios or possibilitiesthat the sun won't come up tomorrow. Maybe the inference is bad, but I think they can't be dismissed off-hand.

Marinus said...

The Abelard which really grabbed my fancy was his 'Glosses on Porphyry' (from the 'Logic Ingredientibus'). You might like that, Prof Wolff, with your appreciation for rigour. Abelard is one of those philosophers (like one William Van Orman Quine) who seems to me to have thrown his hands up and declared: "You'd never claim such silly things if you got your logic right!", and then went on to write a tremendously good book on logic. Metaphysics isn't my thing, never mind medieval metaphysics, but I can't help but be impressed with the scope of Abelard's achievement. Finding a decent translation is a problem, though. Peter King and Paul Spade does the best work, I'm told by people who'd know, but they don't cover all of the material.

Still, the work of Abelard's everybody should read is his memoirs, 'A History of My Calamities' (Historia calamitatum) and his letters with Heloise. Heloise, the most learnt woman of her time, is by no means a mere second fiddle in the exchange.

Abelard isn't going to make any list like yours, but gems like that is another example of how much wonderful stuff is out there, ready to reward anybody poking around a bit. And it's good to be occasionally reminded that the people from olden days were no less smart or clear-minded than we are.