Peter Kreeft’s Recommended Philosophy Books

Kreeft Philosophy Books

One of the big highlights of last weekend's Defending the Faith Conference was meeting Dr. Peter Kreeft. I got to share many conversations with the wise, witty, and wondrous philosopher. We discussed everything from C.S. Lewis and surfing, to atheists, J.R.R. Tolkien, Jewish mystics, and of course books.

While discussing our current reads, I mentioned I'm into several introductory philosophy books. "Which ones?" he said, his eyes lighting up. "The Socratic dialogues, some books by Mortimer Adler, your own titles on logic and St. Thomas Aquinas, and William Lane Craig and Dr. Ed Feser on metaphysics."

In reply, Peter rifled off several more recommendations. Unfortunately, I didn't have a pen but I asked if he could email me the titles. To my surprise, a couple days later, I received not an email but a letter in my mailbox—what Peter calls "realmail"—containing the following lists. I believe they're from his forthcoming series, Socrates' Children (St. Augustine's Press), which traces the history of philosophy in four volumes and focuses more on "the Big Ideas" than on the big philosophers themselves.

The book recommendations were so helpful I wanted to share them here. Many of these titles are in the public domain and available free online. But I've linked to the best translation and edition available on Amazon. So if you're a budding philosopher searching for a solid reading plan, look no further. Enjoy!

(For more recommendations, also see my post on Fr. Barron’s Recommended Books on Philosophy 101.)


 
Many people have asked me for a recommended booklist for a teach-yourself philosophy course. Many beginning philosophy teachers have asked me for a similar list for an introductory course in philosophy.

I know of no more effective way to teach philosophy, to yourself or others, than the apprenticeship to the masters that is called "The Great Books." The "canon" of Great Books is certainly not fixed, or stuffy, or irrelevant to today’s world. The list is pragmatic: it is a list of what has "worked."

Based on my own experience of what "works," i.e. what (a) is comprehensible to beginners and (b) inspires them to think and perhaps even to fall in love with philosophy, here is my list.

There is a primary list and a secondary list for each of the four volumes of Socrates’ Children, i.e. for each of the four periods in the history of philosophy. For a high school course, one of these eight lists would seem to fit into one semester; fer a college course, two; and for a graduate course, three or four. The lists are deliberately short and selective; far better to spend much time with a few great friends than a little time with many little ones.

Ancient Philosophy, Basic List:

Ancient Philosophy, Additional List:

Medieval Philosophy, Basic List:

Medieval Philosophy, Additional List:

Modern Philosophy, Basic List:

Modern Philosophy, Additional List:

Contemporary Philosophy, Basic List:

Contemporary Philosophy, Additional List

 


 
APPENDIX I: A bibliography of books on the history of philosophy by the author:

  1. Solomon: Chapter 1 of Three Philosophies of Life (Ignatius Press)
  2. Shankara: "The Philosophy of Religion” (recorded lectures)
  3. Buddha: op. cit.
  4. Confucius: op. cit.
  5. Lao Tzu: op. cit.
  6. Socrates: Philosophy 101 by Socrates: An Introduction to Philosophy via Plato's "Apology" (Ignatius Press, St. Augustine’s Press)
  7. Plato: "The Platonic Tradition" (recorded lectures)
  8. Aristotelian logic: Socratic Logic (St. Augustine's Press)
  9. Jesus: The Philosophy of Jesus (St. Augustine's Press)
  10. Jesus: Socrates Meets Jesus (lnterVarsity Press)
  11. Jesus: Jesus Shock (St. Augustine's Press)
  12. Muhammad: Between Allah and Jesus (InterVarsity Press)
  13. St. Thomas Aquinas: "The Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas” (recorded lectures)
  14. St. Thomas Aquinas: A Shorter Summa (Ignatius Press)
  15. St. Thomas Aquinas: Summa of the Summa (Ignatius Press)
  16. Machiavelli: Socrates Meets Machiavelli (St. Augustine's Press)
  17. Blaise Pascal: Christianity for Modern Pagans (Ignatius Press)
  18. Rene Descartes: Socrates Meets Descartes (St. Augustine's Press)
  19. David Hume: Socrates Meets Hume (St. Augustine’s Press)
  20. Immanual Kant: Socrates Meets Kant (St. Augustine's Press)
  21. Karl Marx: Socrates Meets Marx (St. Augustine's Press)
  22. Søren Kierkegaard: Socrates Meets Kierkegaard (St. Augustine's Press)
  23. Sigmund Freud: Socrates Meets Freud (St. Augustine's Press)
  24. Jean-Paul Sartre: Socrates Meets Sartre (St. Augustine's Press)
  25. J.R.R. Tolkien: The Philosophy of Tolkien (Ignatius Press)
  26. C.S. Lewis: C.S. Lewis for the Third Millennium (Ignatius Press)
  27. Modern philosophers systematically argued with from a Thomist perspective: Summa Philosophica (St. Augustine's Press)
  28. The history of ethics: "What Would Socrates Do?" (recorded lectures)

 


 
APPENDIX II: Recommended histories of philosophy

This short and selective list of histories of philosophy does not duplicate this one but have somewhat different ends.

1. Frederick Copleston, SJ. has written the most clear and complete multi-volume history of Western philosophy available, with increasing detail as it becomes more and more contemporary. It is not exciting, dramatic, or "existential" but it is very fair, clear, logical, and helpful.

2. Will Durant's The Story of Philosophy is charmingly and engagingly written, though very selective and personally "angled" towards "Enlightenment" thinkers.

3. Bertrand Russell, a major philosopher himself, has written a very intelligent, elegant, and witty little History of Western Philosophy from the viewpoint of an atheist, semi-skeptic, and semi-materialist.

4. Francis Parker's one volume history of western philosophy up to Hegel, The Story of Western Philosophy, neatly structures this history via the theme of the one and the many.

5. Mortimer Adler's Ten Philosophical Mistakes is not a complete history but a selective diagnostic treatment of key errors in modern philosophy.

6. Etienne Gilson's The Unity of Philosophical Experience does the same, finding reductionisms of philosophy to one of the sciences as a nearly universal modern error.

7. William Barrett's Irrational Man, though purportedly only an introduction to Existentialism, has engaging chapters on pre-existential philosophers from an Existentialist viewpoint, and the best one-chapter summaries of Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Heidegger, and Sartre in print.

8. Richard Tarnas's The Passion of the Western Mind is indeed "passionate" and existential, and focuses on the more general surrounding historical and cultural events and influences.

9. Samuen Enoch Stumpf (Socrates to Sartre and Beyond) and Robert Solomon (A Short History of Philosophy) have both produced good one-volume histories of Western philosophy.

Most introductory philosophy textbooks today are not “Great Books" histories but anthologies of recent articles about systematic, logical issues, most of which are relatively thin, dry, dull, technical, and lacking in "existential" bite as well as style. They have their place, but students, especially in the Humanities, will find histories of philosophy much more interesting for the same reason they find stories more interesting than formulas, and dialogs more interesting than monologs. That was Plato's genius. His Socratic dialogs remain the single best introduction to philosophy ever written.

Thus we end, as we begin, with Socrates. Welcome to the commodious and contentious family of his children.
 
Peter Kreeft Books

 
  • 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, and thanks to Mark Shea for the link.

  • Thadeus

    Brandon,
    Are you studying this self-directed, or are you going to be taking philosophy courses at the Augustine Institute? I think a saw you mention you were starting a program there this fall. I'm interested in this area as well, but not sure as I can fit it within my financial and time constraints currently.

    I thank you for sharing your insights and topics of conversation through Twitter and your blog. Keep up the great work!

    • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

      Thanks for the kind words! The answer to your first question is "both." I've been studying philosophy on my own for a couple years, through my own reading, but next month I'll start an "Intro to Philosophy" course at the Augustine Institute, which is part of the Masters in Theology program.

  • JoeWetterling

    Brandon - do any of the books, other than Augustine and Boethius, have recommended translators or publishers? In other words, does Dr. Kreeft recommended that particular Prosologion you linked to or was that just one example you found?

    • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

      A little of both. Peter recommended some specific publishers and editions, and I filled in the gaps with my own knowledge. From what I've heard, that particular edition of St. Anselm's Proslogion, published by the University of Notre Dame Press, is the best.

  • Verbum

    I might suggest Chesterton's "Everlasting Man" over Orthodoxy (though Orthodoxy is brilliant of course), simply because it strikes more directly at many modernist philosophical controversies (rationalism, empiricism, existentialism etc.) Glad you got to meet and chat with Dr. Kreeft!

  • JX

    Brandon, The Theology of Christian Perfection by Fr. Antonio Royo Marin, is superior to many titles in this list, the argument that it is not strictly philosophy notwithstanding.

  • http://te-deum.blogspot.com/ Diane_K611

    Thanks for posting this Brandon. I started reading Kreeft's "Socratic Logic" and was really enjoying it, but had to set it aside for something more pressing. I want to get back to that book. One thing that happened as I read it was a deep regret for all that we did not get taught in high school (I avoided philosophy like the plague in college despite my interest because other students were complaining it was being run by marxists). Basic nuts and bolts philosophy, as it had been studied for many generations, has been absent, at least in the public school system. I think it was part of plan to dumb us down. Liberals wanted us to think for ourselves, as long as we didn't disagree with them. They took away the tools that help us to think more critically just for added insurance. I'm glad to see others as interested as I am in the subject.

    • Marthe Lépine

      It seems to me that much of the problem of the disappearance of philosophy in schools was that whoever is now in charge is putting too much emphasis on whatever is deemed "practical" instead of "esoteric" subjects like philosophy. That would also be a good explanation for those who complain about students going for "useless" intellectual courses (and matching those comments with yarns about young people who do not really want to work) instead of training for jobs and blaming that for the difficulties young people have finding jobs nowadays. In my opinion, learning how to think should be as essential as learning the three "Rs".

  • MarytheDefender

    Wittgenstein! Loved him in college! Have you heard of the Action Philosophers comics? Check them out. Fun read!
    For contemporary, try Gabriel Marcel as well. :)

  • James Patton

    Karl Popper, a true giant of modern philosophy.

    • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

      And Saul Kripke. And Quine.

  • Rick

    Everyone of the listed books, save two, is in the required curriculum at Thomas Aquinas College, Calif.

    • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

      Fantastic! Do you study or teach there?

      • Rick

        BA 1975

  • judith

    What an amazing list, and how kind of Dr. Kreeft to share it!

  • Walt Bechtell

    "Love of Wisdom" by Ronda Chervin and Fr Eugene Kevane is an excellent intro to Christian Philosophy. This one volume covers all the authors listed above.

  • Erik

    Catholic High Schools are desperate for a single text written by a Catholic author on the great ideas of Western Philosophy that is accessible to the mind of a Junior/Senior. There's a lot out there, unfortunately, it's simply too technical.

  • "There is only one tragedy in the end, not to have been a saint." - Léon Bloy