Brandon Vogt

Fr. Barron’s Recommended Books on Philosophy 101

During my visit to Chicago, I had several good book conversations with Fr. Robert Barron. In one of them I asked him to recommend some introductory philosophy books for someone like me who has no formal training in philosophy but wants to dive deeper into it.

He offered many great titles. Since I didn’t have a pen or paper around, I used my iPhone voice recorder to take them down. At the time, I wasn’t planning on publishing the recording, but since I think others will enjoy Fr. Barron’s suggestions, here it is:
 
[audio:http://BrandonVogt.com/wp-content/uploads/BarronPhilosophyBooks.mp3]
Download the short clip here (1 minute)
 
Here are his recommended titles:

 

In another conversation, Fr. Barron also praised Fr. Copleston’s nine-volume History of Philosophy series:

What are your favorite philosophy books?

 

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  • Ryan Herr

    Here’s my personal list:

    Primary sources and Catholic secondary sources

    Fides et Ratio – Pope John Paul II
    The Trial and Death of Socrates: Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Death Scene from Phaedo – Plato (Hackett)
    Republic – Plato (Hackett)
    Aristotle: Selections (Hackett)
    An Introduction to Philosophy – Jacques Maritain
    Confessions – St. Augustine (trans. Chadwick or trans. Sheed)
    Theology and Sanity – Frank Sheed
    Knowing the Love of Christ: An Introduction to the Theology of St. Thomas Aquinas – Dauphinais & Levering
    Holy Teaching: Introducing the Summa Theologiae of St. Thomas Aquinas – ed. Frederick Christian Bauerschmidt
    Aquinas: A Beginner’s Guide – Edward Feser
    Pensees – Pascal (Hackett)
    Grammar of Assent – Blessed John Henry Newman

    Secondary sources, not from a Catholic perspective. “Test everything; hold fast to what is good.”

    The Story of Philosophy – Bryan Magee
    Aristotle in Outline – Timothy A. Robinson
    God and the Philosophers: The Reconciliation of Faith and Reason – ed. Thomas V. Morris
    Thinking About God: First Steps in Philosophy – Gregory E. Ganssle
    Longing to Know: The Philosophy of Knowledge for Ordinary People – Esther Lightcap Meek

    Some anthologies

    Hackett Readings in Philosophy – http://www.hackettpublishing.com/philosophy?cat=35
    Voices of Ancient Philosophy: An Introductory Reader – ed. Julia Annas
    The Meaning of Life: A Reader – ed. Klemke & Cahn
    Happiness: Classic and Contemporary Readings in Philosophy – ed. Cahn

  • Although it may have appeared too recently to be noted by your correspondents, readers of the above philosophical writers may be helped by my Words of Wisdom: A Philosophical Dictionary for the Perennial Tradition (University of Notre Dame Press, 2012). Available in paperback and electronic versions, it is the only volume in print that focuses on what Bl. John Paul II called the “enduringly valid” tradition of philosophy.

  • Pepin the Short

    For those who want to be introduced to philosophy at ‘kindergarten level’ (which is how I had to start) ‘Sophie’s world’ by Jostein Gaarder is a novel which is worth reading.

    • Matthew

      If you like Sophie’s World, I recoment you take a look at Action Philosophers! It is a work of graphic non-fiction, that I think can be well coupled with Gaarder’s book. It’s author is Ryan Dunlavey; it’s artist is Fred Van Lente.

  • gryfalcon

    One of my favorite philosophy books has to be Edmund Husserl’s Ideas 1. It is foundational for the phenomenological method and the school of thought that influenced such thinkers as Edith Stein, Dietrich von Hildebrand, and John Paul II, among many others.

  • Edward Kenna

    Gilson’s Elements of Christian Philosophy is out of print but this and any of Gilson’s books are .excellent. His logical sylllogistical style and extensive end notes are great. Also check out Anton Pegis, Jacques Maritain, Aidan Nichols o.p.

  • Joe

    You might enjoy “The Unexpected Way: On converting from Buddhism to Catholicism” by Paul Williams

    http://www.amazon.com/Unexpected-Way-Converting-Buddhism-Catholicism/dp/0567088308/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1348892613&sr=8-1&keywords=the+unexpected+way+on+converting+from+buddhism+to+catholicism

    “Death of Christian Culture” by Dr. John Senior is anther good one/

  • I enjoyed Gilson’s books, in addition to those listed above I liked”The Spirit of Mediaevl Philosophy”. Pieper’s “Guide to Thomas Aquinas” was quite good. Hans Urs Von Balthasar’s “Test Everything” and “Love Alone is Credible” are a mixture of both Theology and Philosophy.

  • Tkoneil30

    FR. SCHALL recommends philosophy:an introduction by j. M. Bochenski. Plus the aquinas books listed above. The bochenski is agood intro book. However the last time i looked for it on amazon it was listed at around $90.
    Its a short book so i got it through interlibrary loan and photocopied the whole book.

  • I have not read it, so this is not a recommendation exactly, but Peter Kreeft’s, Summa Philosophica, which was just released in the last month or two, has the chance to be a great general work for “lay” philosophers.

  • Leaving all of Barron’s eight recommendations intact, I would add Allen’s ‘Philosophy for Understanding Theology’, Kierkegaard’s ‘Sickness Unto Death’, and St Augustine’s ‘City of God’. And one truly oddball recommendation, Hulsmann’s ‘The Ethics of Money Production’.

    What is that doing on there? Well, it is nice now and again to see the application of philosophy to current issues, particularly an issue that are so taken for granted it isn’t even noticed there might be a philosophical underpinning to examine, in this case the provision of money in society.

    In the realm of practical moral philosophy, it is hard exceed Cicero’s De Officiis, De Senectute, and De Amicitia.

    @whateverman

    Clarke’s ‘Person and Being’ is also a classic.

  • If you are looking for a really basic textbook in Thomistic tradision, you can’t beat Daniel Sullivan’s Introduction to Philosophy, reprinted by Tan.

  • Ryan Howard

    Thanks for the list, I always like Fr. Barron and always like new stuff to read.

  • There are 2 ways to study philosophy: chronologically (Copleston’s History of Philosophy, for example) and systematically (metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of the physical world and of nature, philosophy of man, ethics, etc.). It would also be good to do both of these simultaneously, but then maybe it wouldn’t be philosophy 101 anymore.

  • Very interesting lists and suggestions. I have a bachelors in philosophy and will probably work for a masters when I go back to Rome in preparation for the priesthood. I would suggest:

    1. Plato’s Apology, perhaps along with Kreeft’s Philosophy 101 by Socrates: An Introduction to Philosophy via Plato’s Apology

    2. The Dumb Ox, by Chesterton

    3. At this point it would be good to go back and forth between books about philosophy (Kreeft, Copleston, Feser, Gilson, Pieper–these are listed in order of difficulty, in my opinion, from easiest to most difficult, except I haven’t read Pieper yet) and the primary sources (Aristotle, Aquinas, Boethius, Plato, St. Augustine). There are plenty of good ones listed above in the commentary.

    • Thanks, Joseph! That’s really helpful. I should have asked Fr. Barron about Dr. Kreeft and his books since he’s actually my favorite modern author. I have all of his 60+ books and have read many of them. In case you missed it, I interviewed him here:

      http://brandonvogt.com/kreeft/

  • Infinite Beauty

    RE: Aquinas, 3 introductory books I’d recommend are
    1. GKC – Dumb Ox
    2. Etienne Gilson – Reason and Revelation in the Middle Ages
    3. Feser – Aquinas

    in that order. Moving from the general to the particular, these will give you a great intro to the man, his thought, and the world he lived in.

    Also highly recommend the Copleston series and anything by Josef Pieper (Silence of St. Thomas is great for Aquinas) or Gilson. Garrigou-LaGrange, meh.

    • Would you recommend reading Pieper’s “Silence” before, after, or in between those three Aquinas biographies?

      • I read Dumb Ox quite a while before I read Silence with no dissatisfaction in either.

        Whenever you read Dumb Ox, I would read Chesterton’s biography of St. Francis at the same time. They go well together.

  • Jmeakin4

    Fr. James Schall’s The Order of Things is very worthwhile.

  • Louis Tofari

    Pieper’s “Four Cardinal Virtues” is excellent!

  • Katastauros

    As an introduction to philosophy I would not choose the Copelstone but rather the “History of Philosophic and Scientific Thought” by Reale and Antiseri. Also, Aristotle’s “Protrepticon”, Boetius’ “The Consolation of Philosophy”, Saint Augustine’s “Confessions” and “City of Godi”, Plato’s “Republic”, Bertrand Russell’s “History of Western Philosophy”, Saint Thomas Aquinas “Summa Contra Gentiles” and Gottfried Leibniz “Essay on Human Understanding”. I feel all of these books give a proper introduction into: what is philosophy and the main topics and themes in a manner comprehensible by the new reader. Blessings.

  • vincent

    sorry for typing error. the consolation of philosophy

  • vincent

    another book that is very good is thecosolation of philosophy by boethius. the poetry within it is astounding.

  • Good books!

    • Taylor, I’m curious which books you’d add to the list.

      • Well “Dialogues of Plato” is quite a lot! I’d recommend that beginners read the Plato’s Apology, Phaedo, Meno, and Republic Books 6&7 on the Divided Line, Allegory of Sun, and Allegory of the Cave. That should give them a firm footing.

        If you’re going to read one thing by Aristotle, make it the Nicomachean Ethics, like Father Barron recommended.

        For those unfamiliar with St Thomas Aquinas, I recommend first reading Chesterton’s book The Dumb Ox. Then after reading that book, read Pieper’s Guide to Thomas Aquinas.

        Also, every Catholic interested in philosophy MUST read Pope Leo XIII’s Aeterni Patris. It’s short, but absolutely essential.

        I’d drop Pieper’s Faith Hope and Love from the list since that is not philosophy per se, but theology.

        Also, I recommend everything from Fr. R. Garrigou-Lagrange.

        • That’s great! Thanks! Would you recommend reading Chesterton’s bio of Aquinas even before Fr. Copleston’s, Dr. Feser’s, or even Fr. Barron’s own?

  • Toadehall

    How about a manageable list for those of us who still have a day job…? Kidding if course, all of you do too but while I want to learn more ohilosophy I do not have time for nine volumes no matter how good!

  • Telos

    One of the greatest post-modern thinkers in our times is William Desmond. Modern thinkers such as Kant, Hegel, Marx, and Nietzche have influenced our way of thinking on many fronts such as, religion, God, ethics, culture, etc… In Being and the Between, Desmond breaks down each of these characters and more, to help lead philosophical thinking to a refreshing understanding of being as such.

  • Linus2nd

    First on my list are ‘ Aquinas ‘ and ‘ The Last Superstition ‘ ( skip pg 146 P.G. only )
    by Edward Feser, then ‘ Elements of Christian Philosophy ‘ and ‘ The Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas ‘ by Etien Gilson, then ‘ Natural Theology ‘ by Maurice R. Holloway S.J., ‘ Thomostic Metaphysics ‘ by Charles A. Hart, ‘ Metaphysics ‘ and ‘ The Philosophy of God ‘ by Henri Renard S. J., and A Manual of Scholastic Philosophy Vol 1 and 2 ( available on line ) by Cardinal Mercier. Almost all of Thomas’ works are available on line – Summa Theologiae, Summa Contra Gentiles, Disputed Questions De Potentia, De Veritatae, Compendium Theologiae, Essence and Existence ( all these works are in English). Happy reading.

    • I’m a huge fan of Dr. Feser, but I’m curious about your recommendation to skip pg. 146 in “The Last Superstition.” Why is that?

      • Linus2nd

        Well, he is talking about anatomical matters that may be suitable for Gynecologists and their nurses but may be too descriptive for non-medicos. It involves part of his polemic against current sexual mores. The page can be skipped without loosing anything important. In books I recommend, which isn’t often, I want the potential reader to be aware of any ” dangers. ” And I do think it is an excellent book for its philosophical treatment of Scholasticism and St. Thomas in particular. It is also a polemic against New Atheism as well and quite good.

  • Raymond Bauer

    Kreeft’s “The Philosophy of Jesus” is excellent.

  • LizEst

    While I had to read some of this, I must admit, this subject is not my forte. Yet, with a guide, one does get better as one comes out of the cave! Thanks for putting forward these lists. Perhaps I should look into the Kreeft. My Sokolowski is well high-lighted, underlined, starred and scribbled in. Does that count?

  • Eric Mendoza

    Brandon, regarding Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas, I also recommend the Basic Works of Aristotle (for the Physics, Metaphysics, and De Anima) http://www.amazon.com/Basic-Aristotle-Modern-Library-Classics/dp/0375757996/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1348694654&sr=8-1&keywords=aristotle+basic+works and Ralph McInerny’s Aquinas anthology (which contains on Being and Essence) http://www.amazon.com/Thomas-Aquinas-Selected-Writings-Classics/dp/0140436324/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1348694671&sr=8-2&keywords=aquinas+mcinerny

    • Thanks! The McInerny collection looks like a real bargain at just $10.

  • Reallen65

    Great! More books to add to my growing list of books to read since I have become a Catholic.

  • Jim B.

    I enjoy Alasdair MacIntyre and Claes G. Ryn.

    MacIntyre is a bit thick, and it is helpful to listen to his lectures (scattered about the internet). He does a critical examination of modernity and puts forth an argument for valuing tradition and history as critical for good philosophy. He argues for us to return to a Thomistic understanding of the Universe.

    Ryn, a reputed conservative, Burkean scholar and critic of Leo Strauss, puts forth a critique of Straussianism, which disregards history as a means of understanding Truth and answering enduring human questions. Ryn contends that history and philosophy are mutual, and that history is supports philosophy, because either independent of the other can lead to serious errors in thinking. Although an Episcopalian, he makes a good argument (indirectly) for a Catholic understanding of Tradition.

  • I’m enjoying the Summa Philosophica by Kreeft at the moment.

  • One great book on metaphysics is The One and the Many: A Contemporary Thomistic Metaphysics by Norris Clarke (http://www.amazon.com/The-One-Many-Contemporary-Metaphysics/dp/0268037078/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1348686064&sr=8-1&keywords=the+one+and+the+many+norris).

  • Luke Arredondo

    I found Copleston’s history of philosophy series invaluable in my undergraduate philosophy studies. My only regret is that it’s no longer published in a three volume set. To have the entire set now you have to buy nine volumes! As such I only have the first three or four, but they are absolutely the best reference set you can get your hands on. Another book I like is John Hick’s Does God Exist. Great summary of the history of arguments, and it includes the famous Copleston-Russel debate. Well worth the 3 bucks you can probably get it for on Amazon.

    • Thanks for the tip, Luke! I just bought a used copy on Amazon for $0.01:

      http://bvogt.us/OVkNlK

      • termoizolatii

        oh that Copleston’s history was essential in my studies for Univeristy degree
        read. His book on is also very helpful and was highly
        recommended by my teachers.
        surf on termoizolatii

    • You can by the whole set here: http://www.continuumbooks.com/books/detail.aspx?BookId=117346&SntUrl=146387. I have the whole set from this publisher, but the price was extremely cheaper back then.

      • I bought the whole set individually, used from Amazon, and probably spent ~$70. So it’s not too bad if you can find cheap used copies.

    • Mike Buckler

      I agree Luke. Copleston’s history was essential in my studies and absolutely worth the read. His book on Aquinas was also very helpful and was highly recommended by my teachers. My other two cents is that anything by Pieper is valuable. The Four Cardinal Virtues is a personal favorite.

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