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Philosophical works that inspired me

I have been mulling over the philosophical works that were of most influence upon me when I was developing into the warped and twisted thing I am now. Add your own in the comments.:

Herbert Marcuse, One Dimensional Man. This book got me interested in philosophy and social issues. I was 16 when I read it.

David Oldroyd, Arch of Knowledge. This book gave me a historical approach to the philosophy of science that has never left me. Although badly typeset, it is rich with information and context of scientific philosophy. I wish it were reissued, properly set.

Antony Flew, An Introduction to Western Philosophy: Ideas and Argument from Plato to Popper. This book grounded me in the traditions of western philosophy in a way nothing else did. Flew attends to the core arguments in their own words. This is a book to buy and reread, and I have gone through several copies giving them away to students and interested lay folk.

Stephen Toulmin, Human Understanding. This was the first evolutionary epistemology I ever read, and to my mind Toulmin got most things pretty well right. It took me thirty years to find a copy of my own.

David Hull, Science as a Process. I did my masters on this book, and David became a mentor. I still think his conceptual inclusive fitness account of science is correct, although I now do not think he entirely got the history of systematics all that right.

In addition to these are the usual canon fodder: Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logicophilosophicus, Philosophical Investigations, and On Certainty; Locke’s Essay; Hume (anything of Hume, really, but especially the Treatise); and a few deviants, like F. H. Bradley’s Ethical Studies, and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (I read it as a lad of 14. I now disagree with almost everything it in apart from the joy of riding motorcycles).

What philosophical books warped you?


  1. DiscoveredJoys DiscoveredJoys

    The text of ‘Stephen Toulmin (Thomas Jefferson Lecture, March 24, 1997) A Dissenter’s Life’ is still available on the web. Quite thought provoking.

  2. I very much enjoyed Martin Gardner’s THE WHYS OF A PHILOSOPHICAL SCRIVENER because it affirmed my view that science, philosophy and belief in God were not altogether at odds.

  3. Stephen Watson Stephen Watson

    Dunno about books, but there was this guy on, back in the 90’s, spouting all sorts of odd stuff about classification and the nature of science and…..

  4. jeb jeb

    Chance. The first paper written by a philosopher I read properly was Robert Wokler on Rousseau and the orangutang. I found it problematic as I felt it was a hard sell to place Rousseau as the father of physical anthropology. What captured my imagination was one sentence. How did Rousseau arrive at a valid premise using non-empirical data. I don’t entirely agree with the statement as biological folklore is not entirely non-empirical, and Rousseau seemed to me to be using the subject to make a political statement rather than a biological one but it certainly captured my imagination.

    I think it was the realization that the movement and flow of ideas between philosophy and the subjects I am educated in was not simply one way moving from the lofty heights of philosophy to the more mundane routine methods I am use to.

    It allowed a way in to examine and evaluate a very different educational culture I had no experience and no road map to find my way around.

  5. I never read anything that I would call philosophical till my undergrad, and I ended up majoring in Philosophy. Some touchstones: Anything by Camus but especially The Rebel; anything by Nietzsche, but especially the Genealogy; Hume’s Treatise and Miracles; Wittgenstein’s Investigations. One unusual influence (because I reckon it isn’t widely read) is Carole Pateman’s The Sexual Contract.

    Since graduating from undergrad and dropping out of my grad program, my strongest influences have been Brian Letter, Joshua Greene, and Robert Paul Wolff (blogging at The Philosophers Stone on Blogspot).

  6. michaelfugate michaelfugate

    I started down that road in graduate school when I worked on speciation. I read about species concepts and ran across Alexander Rosenberg’s The Structure of Biological Science because it was new and he was on campus. From there it was all about species as individuals and systematics – a fun journey. More general philosophy came later….

  7. Jeremy Aarons Jeremy Aarons

    Douglas Hofstadter’s “Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid”. Read it when I was 15 and it made me want to study mathematics and philosophy and nothing else.

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