Peter Kreeft’s Recommended Philosophy Books

Peter Kreeft’s Recommended Philosophy Books August 22, 2013

If you are philosophically unedjimacated like me, this list, courtesy of the indefatigable Brandon Vogt, is worth its weight in gold.

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  • One might like (and thank) Chesterton and C. S. Lewis, but -sorry- they are not philosophers by any stretch, and those books of them have nothing to do in such a list.

    • jcb

      I’d be the last person to insist on a hard and fast line between philosophy and either theology or cultural criticism, but I agree that their presence on the list is a little jarring (Chesterton’s moreso than Lewis’, although maybe that’s because I like Chesterton’s fiction but find Lewis’ pretty intolerable.)

      Certainly one doesn’t need to read them in order to have at solid grounding in the history of philosophy, or even of Christian philosophy more specifically.

  • Mark R

    I have read a good chunk of this list…but I doubt much sunk in. You need the right kind of mind.

    In re. to C.S. Lewis, he may not have been a philosopher by avocation, but his education was highly philosophical. He wrote largely for the general reader, for whom too much philosophy would have been inappropriate.

  • HornOrSilk

    While there are questions as to whether Lewis or Chesterton should be in the list (I think Belloc over Chesterton could be placed on the list), and I think there is too much an Aquinas-centered view of medieval thought going on, ignoring Bacon, Scotus, Bernard of Chartres, et. al., it’s always difficult to make these lists and so it’s in general fair. Except for one major problem. It ignores the Eastern philosophical tradition. Granted, it’s a complex collection of differing traditions, but I think a well-rounded thinker would want to go through some of their classics as well. It’s difficult to make this list, since many of the best works can be extraordinarily long and complex, but I think this list would do:

    1. Confucius, Analects
    2. Lao Tzu, The Tao

    3. The Gita (with commentary from Shankara, Ramanuja and Madhva to demonstrate a variety from Hindu thought)
    4. Long Discourses of the Buddha (selections)

    5. Nagarjuna, Fundamental Verses of the Middle Way
    6. Vasubandhu, Twenty and Thirty Verses

    7. Blue Cliff Records
    8. Nishida, Inquiry into the Good

    • Mark S. (not for Shea)

      I would never place Belloc over Chesterton. While I applaud nearly everything I have read of Belloc’s views, as a writer I find him intensely boring. If I’m having trouble falling asleep at night, 10 minutes in a Belloc book will do the trick.
      Chesterton on the other hand never wrote a dull sentence. Even when he was journalizing subjects on which I have absolutely no interest, his writing wins me over every time.

      • HornOrSilk

        I didn’t choose works for literary style. Chesterton engages due to his humor, however, for content, I think Belloc’s treatises on socio-economic theory are far superior, which is why, in our economic-interested era, I find him more important to read and understand. If we wanted to talk about literature, sure, Chesterton over Belloc, but Tolkien would rule them all!

        • Mark S. (not for Shea)

          The best authors (including philosophers) are those that deliver the most effective punch. And you simply cannot disregard literary skill for the sheer power of a punch. No matter how brilliant the treatise or flawless the logic, if a philosopher can’t keep his or her audience awake, it’s all for naught.
          You can try to teach a child the value of music by lecturing on major and minor scales, teaching the kid to read music, and making the poor tyke memorize keys. Do that, and you’ll make him hate music. Show the kid the beauty of Bach, Beethoven, or Buddy Holly, and you’ll have a lifelong devotee.
          It’s very telling that in the Gospels, folks were contanstly asking the Lord questions, and only on a few occasions did He analyze a text. More often than not, He told a story. Why? Because stories hit not only our brains, but our hearts as well. It’s the stories that stick with us forever. I can barely remember my high school teacher’s lectures on photosynthesis. But I can still smell the woods of Lothlorien and hear the falls in Rivendell, and it makes me want to understand photosynthesis.
          So if you really want a list of the most important philosophers, Chesterton is going to bump Belloc off the list any day of the week and twice on Sundays.

          • HornOrSilk

            Not true with philosophy. Quite a few major philosophers are quite boring to read. Many, to be sure, engaged literary means to help promote their works; but if you study some of the best philosophical treatises, they can be slow reading, meandering, not too literary, and yet invaluable. Philosophy is not about being entertained.

            • Mark S. (not for Shea)

              That goes a long way to explaining why the hoi polloi treat philosophy with such disdain: It isn’t entirely unjustified.

              Don’t get me wrong. I’ll take a boring truth over an exciting lie. But we can’t divorce aesthetics from philosophy. An ugly truth is preferable to a beautiful lie. But a beautiful truth is a thousand times better than an ugly truth.

  • Marthe Lépine

    I hope it is not a breach of copyright laws, but I have just copied the whole list in my computer. I am not likely to read all of that, but on the other hand it will alert me to what I should choose whenever I come across a used book sale or used book store. Thanks.

  • Pretty good, I’m only missing 4. But I disagree with Peter Kreeft’s meaning of the word “Contemporary”, for I would call all of those writers “Victorian”. Contemporary philosophy to me would be Godel, Escher, Bach, the Eternal Golden Braid. Or some of the encyclicals written by the last 5 Popes. You know, CONTEMPORARY TO ME! I don’t know too many people who are still alive who are contemporary to Chesterton and Lewis, both of whom passed away long before I was born.

    • jcb

      Kreeft’s following a pretty standard way of dividing the history of philosophy into broad chunks. My philosophy comps were historically focused, and the “contemporary” exam covered figures starting with, if I recall, Hegel.

      • 1770 is contemporary? Maybe to Bach…..

        • Mark S. (not for Shea)

          Philosophy professors tend have a more Entlike view of the world. Barooomba.