Johanna “Hannah” Cohn Arendt (1906 – 1975) was a German philosopher and political theorist. Her many books and articles on topics ranging from totalitarianism to epistemology have had a lasting influence on political theory. Arendt is widely considered one of the most important political philosophers of the twentieth century.
Considered by many to be Hannah Arendt’s greatest work, published as she neared the end of her life, The Life of the Mind investigates thought itself, as it exists in contemplative life. In a shift from her previous writings, most of which focus on the world outside the mind, this work was planned as three volumes that would explore the activities of the mind considered by Arendt to be fundamental. What emerged is a rich, challenging analysis of human mental activity, considered in terms of thinking, willing, and judging.
Sir Alfred Jules “Freddie” Ayer (1910 – 1989), usually cited as A. J. Ayer, was a British philosopher known for his promotion of logical positivism, particularly in his books Language, Truth, and Logic (1936) and The Problem of Knowledge (1956).
Language, Truth, and Logic brought some of the ideas of the Vienna Circle and the logical empiricists to the attention of the English-speaking world. In the book, Ayer defines, explains, and argues for the verification principle of logical positivism, sometimes referred to as the criterion of significance or criterion of meaning. Ayer explains how the principle of verifiability may be applied to the problems of philosophy.
In The Problem of Knowledge (1956), Ayer defended a context-based account of knowledge that had as its essential ingredients that some claim, p, counted as knowledge for a person, A, iff p was true, A was sure that p, and A had, in the relevant context, ‘the right to be sure’ about the truth of p. The contextual element is apparent in the discussion after Ayer outlines what is required to have the ‘right to be sure’ in the mathematical case. One avenue to knowledge, in this case, lies in the ability of the agent to provide a proof of the relevant proposition. In the case of perception, or memory, it is clear that it is impossible to possess such a proof, so a more relaxed standard is required. To state in general how strong the backing needs to be for a believer to have the right to be sure that their belief is true is not possible; doing so would require drawing up a list of conditions “under which perception, or memory, or testimony, or other forms of evidence are reliable.” (1956, p. 32.) Ayer thought this would be too complicated a task, if at all possible. The ‘correct’ standard to set for claims to knowledge is to be decided pragmatically, on grounds of practical convenience. The skeptic’s ploy of setting an impossible standard, one requiring the impossibility of error, should be resisted, as one has the right to be sure even where error is possible.
Jean Baudrillard (1929 – 2007) was a French sociologist, philosopher, cultural theorist, political commentator, and photographer. He is best known for his analyses of media, contemporary culture, and technological communication, as well as his formulation of concepts such as simulation and hyperreality. He wrote about diverse subjects, including consumerism, gender relations, economics, social history, art, Western foreign policy, and popular culture. Among his best-known works are Simulacra and Simulation (1981), America (1986), and The Gulf War Did Not Take Place (1991). His work is frequently associated with postmodernism and specifically post-structuralism.
Simone de Beauvoir (1908 – 1986) was a French writer, intellectual, existentialist philosopher, political activist, feminist and social theorist. Though she did not consider herself a philosopher, she had a significant influence on both feminist existentialism and feminist theory.
The Ethics of Ambiguity is Simone de Beauvoir’s second major non-fiction work. It was prompted by a lecture she gave in 1945, after which she claimed that it was impossible to base an ethical system on her partner Jean-Paul Sartre’s major philosophical work Being and Nothingness. The following year, over a six-month period, she took on the challenge, publishing the resulting text first as installments in Les Temps modernes and then, in November 1947, as a book.
Henri-Louis Bergson (1859 – 1941) was a French-Jewish philosopher who was influential in the tradition of continental philosophy, especially during the first half of the 20th century until World War II. Bergson is known for his arguments that processes of immediate experience and intuition are more significant than abstract rationalism and science for understanding reality. He was awarded the 1927 Nobel Prize in Literature “in recognition of his rich and vitalizing ideas and the brilliant skill with which they have been presented”. In 1930 France awarded him its highest honour, the Grand-Croix de la Legion d’honneur. Bergson’s great popularity created a controversy in France where his views were seen as opposing the secular and scientific attitude adopted by the Republic’s officials.
With its signal distinction between ‘intuition’ and ‘analysis’ and its exploration of the different levels of Duration (Bergson’s term for Heraclitean flux), An Introduction to Metaphysics has had a significant impact on subsequent twentieth-century thought. The arts, from post-impressionist painting to the stream of consciousness novel, and philosophies as diverse as pragmatism, process philosophy, and existentialism bear its imprint.
Matter and Memory is a book by the French philosopher Henri Bergson. Its subtitle is Essay on the relation of body and spirit, and the work presents an analysis of the classical philosophical problems concerning this relation. Within that frame the analysis of memory serves the purpose of clarifying the problem. Matter and Memory was written in reaction to the book The Maladies of Memory by Théodule Ribot, which appeared in 1881. Ribot claimed that the findings of brain science proved that memory is lodged within a particular part of the nervous system; localized within the brain and thus being of a material nature. Bergson was opposed to this reduction of spirit to matter. Defending a clear anti-reductionist position, he considered memory to be of a deeply spiritual nature, the brain serving the need of orienting present action by inserting relevant memories.
Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness is Henri Bergson’s doctoral thesis, first published in 1889. The essay deals with the problem of free will, which Bergson contends is merely a common confusion among philosophers caused by an illegitimate translation of the unextended into the extended, as a means of introducing his theory of duration, which would become highly influential among continental philosophers in the following century.
I and Thou is a book by Martin Buber, published in 1923, and first translated from German to English in 1937. Buber’s main proposition is that we may address existence in two ways: (1) The attitude of the “I” towards an “It”, towards an object that is separate in itself, which we either use or experience; (2) The attitude of the “I” towards “Thou”, in a relationship in which the other is not separated by discrete bounds. One of the major themes of the book is that human life finds its meaningfulness in relationships. In Buber’s view, all of our relationships bring us ultimately into relationship with God, who is the Eternal Thou.
Buber explains that humans are defined by two word-pairs: I-It and I-Thou. The “It” of I-It refers to the world of experience and sensation. I-It describes entities as discrete objects drawn from a defined set (e.g., he, she or any other objective entity defined by what makes it measurably different from other entities). It can be said that “I” have as many distinct and different relationships with each “It” as there are “Its” in one’s life. Fundamentally, “It” refers to the world as we experience it.
By contrast, the word-pair I-Thou describes the world of relations. This is the “I” that does not objectify any “It” but rather acknowledges a living relationship. I-Thou relationships are sustained in the spirit and mind of an “I” for however long the feeling or idea of relationship is the dominant mode of perception. For example, a person sitting next to a complete stranger on a park bench may enter into an “I-Thou” relationship with the stranger merely by beginning to think positively about people in general.
The Myth of Sisyphus is a 1942 philosophical essay by Albert Camus. The English translation by Justin O’Brien was first published in 1955. In the essay, Camus introduces his philosophy of the absurd, man’s futile search for meaning, unity, and clarity in the face of an unintelligible world devoid of God and eternal truths or values. Does the realization of the absurd require suicide? Camus answers, “No. It requires revolt.” He then outlines several approaches to the absurd life. The final chapter compares the absurdity of man’s life with the situation of Sisyphus, a figure of Greek mythology who was condemned to repeat forever the same meaningless task of pushing a boulder up a mountain, only to see it roll down again. The essay concludes, “The struggle itself … is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy”.
The work can be seen in relation to other absurdist works by Camus: the novel The Stranger (1942), the plays The Misunderstanding (1942) and Caligula (1944), and especially the essay The Rebel (1951).
The Rebel is a 1951 book-length essay by Albert Camus, which treats both the metaphysical and the historical development of rebellion and revolution in societies, especially Western Europe. Camus relates writers and artists as diverse as Epicurus and Lucretius, the Marquis de Sade, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Friedrich Nietzsche, Max Stirner, André Breton, and others in an integrated, historical portrait of man in revolt.
Examining both rebellion and revolt, which may be seen as the same phenomenon in personal and social frames, Camus examines several ‘countercultural’ figures and movements from the history of Western thought and art, noting the importance of each in the overall development of revolutionary thought and philosophy. This work has received ongoing interest, influencing modern philosophers and authors such as Paul Berman and others. Fred Rosen has examined the influence of ideas of Simone Weil on Camus’ thinking in The Rebel. George F. Selfer has analysed parallels between Camus and Friedrich Nietzsche in philosophical aesthetics.
Rudolf Carnap, a German-born philosopher and naturalized U.S. citizen, was a leading exponent of logical positivism and was one of the major philosophers of the twentieth century. He made significant contributions to philosophy of science, philosophy of language, the theory of probability, inductive logic and modal logic. He rejected metaphysics as meaningless because metaphysical statements cannot be proved or disproved by experience. He asserted that many philosophical problems are indeed pseudo-problems, the outcome of a misuse of language. Some of them can be resolved when we recognize that they are not expressing matters of fact, but rather concern the choice between different linguistic frameworks. Thus the logical analysis of language becomes the principal instrument in resolving philosophical problems.
Since ordinary language is ambiguous, Carnap asserted the necessity of studying philosophical issues in artificial languages, which are governed by the rules of logic and mathematics. In such languages, he dealt with the problems of the meaning of a statement, the different interpretations of probability, the nature of explanation, and the distinctions between analytic and synthetic, a priori and a posteriori, and necessary and contingent statements.
Avram Noam Chomsky (born December 7, 1928) is an American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, historian, political activist, and social critic. Sometimes called “the father of modern linguistics”, Chomsky is also a major figure in analytic philosophy and one of the founders of the field of cognitive science. He holds a joint appointment as Institute Professor Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and laureate professor at the University of Arizona, and is the author of over 100 books on topics such as linguistics, war, politics, and mass media. Ideologically, he aligns with anarcho-syndicalism and libertarian socialism.
The God Delusion is a 2006 best-selling book by English biologist Richard Dawkins, a professorial fellow at New College, Oxford and former holder of the Charles Simonyi Chair for the Public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford. In The God Delusion, Dawkins contends that a supernatural creator almost certainly does not exist and that belief in a personal god qualifies as a delusion, which he defines as a persistent false belief held in the face of strong contradictory evidence. He is sympathetic to Robert Pirsig’s statement in Lila (1991) that “when one person suffers from a delusion it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called religion.” With many examples, he explains that one does not need religion to be moral and that the roots of religion and of morality can be explained in non-religious terms.
Nietzsche and Philosophy has long been recognized as one of the most important accounts of Nietzsche’s philosophy, acclaimed for its rare combination of scholarly rigour and imaginative interpretation. Yet this is more than a major work on Nietzsche: the book opened a whole new avenue in post-war thought. Here Deleuze shows how Nietzsche began a new way of thinking which breaks with the dialectic as a method and escapes the confines of philosophy itself.
In What is Philosophy? Deleuze and Guattari differentiate between philosophy, science, and the arts, seen as means of confronting chaos, and challenge the common view that philosophy is an extension of logic. The authors also discuss the similarities and distinctions between creative and philosophical writing. Fresh anecdotes from the history of philosophy illuminate the book, along with engaging discussions of composers, painters, writers, and architects. A milestone in Deleuze’s collaboration with Guattari, What Is Philosophy? brings a new perspective to Deleuze’s studies of cinema, painting, and music, while setting a brilliant capstone upon his work.
Consciousness Explained is a 1991 book by the American philosopher Daniel Dennett, in which the author offers an account of how consciousness arises from the interaction of physical and cognitive processes in the brain.
Dennett puts forward a “multiple drafts” model of consciousness, suggesting that there is no single central place (a “Cartesian theater”) where conscious experience occurs; instead, there are “various events of content-fixation occurring in various places at various times in the brain”. The brain consists of a “bundle of semi-independent agencies”; when “content-fixation” takes place in one of these, its effects may propagate so that it leads to the utterance of one of the sentences that make up the story in which the central character is one’s “self”. Dennett’s view of consciousness is that it is the apparently serial account for the brain’s underlying parallelism.
One of Dennett’s more controversial claims is that qualia do not (and cannot) exist as qualia are described to be. Dennett’s main argument is that the various properties attributed to qualia by philosophers—qualia are supposed to be incorrigible, ineffable, private, directly accessible and so on—are incompatible, so the notion of qualia is incoherent. The non-existence of qualia would mean that there is no hard problem of consciousness.
Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life is a 1995 book by Daniel Dennett, in which the author looks at some of the repercussions of Darwinian theory. The crux of the argument is that, whether or not Darwin’s theories are overturned, there is no going back from the dangerous idea that design (purpose or what something is for) might not need a designer. Dennett makes this case on the basis that natural selection is a blind process, which is nevertheless sufficiently powerful to explain the evolution of life. Darwin’s discovery was that the generation of life worked algorithmically, that processes behind it work in such a way that given these processes the results that they tend toward must be so.
Dennett says, for example, that by claiming that minds cannot be reduced to purely algorithmic processes, many of his eminent contemporaries are claiming that miracles can occur. These assertions have generated a great deal of debate and discussion in the general public. The book was a finalist for the 1995 National Book Award in non-fiction and the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction.
How are we able to understand and anticipate each other in everyday life, in our daily interactions? Through the use of such “folk” concepts as belief, desire, intention, and expectation, asserts Daniel Dennett in this first full-scale presentation of a theory of intentionality that he has been developing for almost twenty years. We adopt a stance, he argues, a predictive strategy of interpretation that presupposes the rationality of the people—or other entities—we are hoping to understand and predict.
These principles of radical interpretation have far-reaching implications for the metaphysical and scientific status of the processes referred to by the everyday terms of folk psychology and their corresponding terms in cognitive science. While Dennett’s philosophical stance has been steadfast over the years, his views have undergone successive enrichments, refinements, and extensions.
The Intentional Stance brings together both previously published and original material. These reflections and the new chapters represent the vanguard of Dennett’s thought. They reveal fresh lines of inquiry into fundamental issues in psychology, artificial intelligence, and evolutionary theory as well as traditional issues in the philosophy of mind.
Speech and Phenomena: And Other Essays on Husserl’s Theory of Signs, or Voice and Phenomenon: Introduction to the Problem of the Sign in Husserl’s Phenomenology, is a book about the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl by French philosopher Jacques Derrida, published in 1967 alongside Derrida’s Of Grammatology and Writing and Difference. In Speech and Phenomena, Derrida articulates his mature relationship to Husserl, putting forward an argument concerning Husserl’s phenomenological project as a whole in relation to a key distinction in Husserl’s theory of language in the Logical Investigations (1900-1901) and how this distinction relates to his description of internal time consciousness. Derrida also develops key discussions of the terms deconstruction and différance. Derrida commented that Speech and Phenomena is the “essay I value the most”. Derrida’s best-known work on Husserl’s phenomenology, it is widely considered one of his most important philosophical works.
Derrida’s central contention is that language is haunted by dispersal, absence, loss, the risk of unmeaning, a risk which is starkly embodied in all writing. The distinction between philosophy and literature therefore becomes of secondary importance. Philosophy vainly attempts to control the irrecoverable dissemination of its own meaning, it strives—against the grain of language—to offer a sober revelation of truth. Literature—on the other hand—flaunts its own meretriciousness, abandons itself to the Dionysiac play of language. In Dissemination—more than any previous work—Derrida joins in the revelry, weaving a complex pattern of puns, verbal echoes and allusions, intended to ‘deconstruct’ both the pretension of criticism to tell the truth about literature, and the pretension of philosophy to the literature of truth.
Of Grammatology is a 1967 book by French philosopher Jacques Derrida that has been called a foundational text for deconstructive criticism. The book discusses writers such as Claude Lévi-Strauss, Ferdinand de Saussure, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Étienne Condillac, Louis Hjelmslev, Martin Heidegger, Edmund Husserl, Roman Jakobson, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, André Leroi-Gourhan, and William Warburton.
Derrida argues that throughout the Western philosophical tradition, writing has been considered as merely a derivative form of speech, and thus as a “fall” from the “full presence” of speech. In the course of the work he deconstructs this position as it appears in the work of several writers, showing the myriad aporias and ellipses to which this leads them. Derrida does not claim to be giving a critique of the work of these thinkers, because he does not believe it possible to escape from operating with such oppositions. Nevertheless, he calls for a new science of “grammatology” that would relate to such questions in a new way. Of Grammatology introduced many of the concepts which Derrida would employ in later work, especially in relation to linguistics and writing.
Paul Karl Feyerabend (1924 – 1994) was an Austrian-born philosopher of science best known for his work as a professor of philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley, where he worked for three decades (1958–1989). At various different points in his life, he lived in England, the United States, New Zealand, Italy, Germany, and finally Switzerland. His major works include Against Method (1975), Science in a Free Society (1978) and Farewell to Reason (a collection of papers published in 1987). Feyerabend became famous for his purportedly anarchistic view of science and his rejection of the existence of universal methodological rules. He was an influential figure in the sociology of scientific knowledge.
Against Method: Outline of an Anarchist Theory of Knowledge is a 1975 book in which the author argues that science is an anarchic enterprise, not a nomic (customary) one. In the context of this work, the term anarchy refers to epistemological anarchy.
The Archaeology of Knowledge is a 1969 methodological and historiographical treatise by the French philosopher Michel Foucault, in which he promotes “archaeology” or the “archaeological method”, an analytical method he implicitly used in his previous works Madness and Civilization (1961), The Birth of the Clinic (1963), and The Order of Things (1966). It is Foucault’s only explicitly methodological work.
Foucault’s premise is that systems of thought and knowledge (“epistemes” or “discursive formations”) are governed by rules (beyond those of grammar and logic) which operate beneath the consciousness of individual subjects and define a system of conceptual possibilities that determines the boundaries of thought and language use in a given domain and period. Foucault also provides a philosophical treatment and critique of phenomenological and dogmatic structural readings of history and philosophy, portraying continuous narratives as naïve ways of projecting our own consciousness onto the past, thus being exclusive and excluding.
In The Order of Things Foucault endeavours to excavate the origins of the human sciences, which have their root in “life, labour, and language”, that is: biology, economics, and linguistics. The book opens with an extended discussion of Diego Velázquez’s painting Las Meninas and its complex arrangement of sightlines, hiddenness, and appearance. Then it develops its central claim: that all periods of history have possessed certain underlying epistemological assumptions that determined what was acceptable as, for example, scientific discourse. Foucault develops the notion of episteme, and argues that these conditions of discourse have changed over time, from one period’s episteme to another. Foucault demonstrates parallels in the development of three fields: linguistics, biology, and economics.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869 – 1948) was an Indian activist who was the leader of the Indian independence movement against British rule. Employing nonviolent civil disobedience, Gandhi led India to independence and inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world. The honorific Mahātmā (Sanskrit: “high-souled”, “venerable”) – applied to him first in 1914 in South Africa – is now used worldwide. In India, he is also called Bapu (Gujarati: endearment for father, papa) and Gandhi ji, and known as the Father of the Nation.
The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason is a 2004 book by Sam Harris, concerning organized religion, the clash between religious faith and rational thought, and the problems of tolerance towards religious fundamentalism. Harris began writing the book in what he described as a period of “collective grief and stupefaction” following the September 11, 2001 attacks. The book comprises a wide-ranging criticism of all styles of religious belief.
In The End of Faith, Sam Harris delivers a startling analysis of the clash between reason and religion in the modern world. He offers a vivid, historical tour of our willingness to suspend reason in favor of religious beliefs—even when these beliefs inspire the worst human atrocities. While warning against the encroachment of organized religion into world politics, Harris draws on insights from neuroscience, philosophy, and Eastern mysticism to deliver a call for a truly modern foundation for ethics and spirituality that is both secular and humanistic. In response to criticism and feedback regarding The End of Faith, Harris wrote Letter to a Christian Nation two years later.
The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values is a 2010 book by Sam Harris, in which the author promotes a science of morality and argues that many thinkers have long confused the relationship between morality, facts, and science. He aims to carve a third path between secularists who say morality is subjective (e.g. moral relativists), and religionists who say that morality is given by God and scripture. Harris contends that the only moral framework worth talking about is one where “morally good” things pertain to increases in the “well-being of conscious creatures”. He then argues that, problems with philosophy of science and reason in general notwithstanding, ‘moral questions’ will have objectively right and wrong answers which are grounded in empirical facts about what causes people to flourish.
Challenging the traditional philosophical notion that humans can never get an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’ (the so-called Hume’s law), Harris argues that moral questions are best pursued using not just philosophy, but the methods of science. Thus, “science can determine human values” translates to “science can tell us which values lead to human flourishing”. It is in this sense that Harris advocates that scientists begin conversations about a normative science of “morality”.
David W. Harvey (born 31 October 1935) is the Distinguished Professor of anthropology and geography at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY). He received his PhD in geography from the University of Cambridge in 1961. Harvey has authored many books and essays that have been prominent in the development of modern geography as a discipline. He is a proponent of the idea of the “right to the city”.
The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change (1989), written while a Professor at Oxford, was a best-seller (the London The Independent named it as one of the fifty most important works of non-fiction to be published since 1945, and it is cited 30,000 times by 2017). It is a materialist critique of postmodern ideas and arguments, suggesting these actually emerge from contradictions within capitalism itself.
Christopher Eric Hitchens (1949 – 2011) was a British author, columnist, essayist, orator, journalist, and religious, literary, and social critic. Hitchens was the author, co-author, editor or co-editor of over 30 books, including five collections of essays on culture, politics and literature. A staple of public discourse, his confrontational style of debate made him a controversial public figure.
In God is Not Great (2007), Hitchens posited that organized religion is “violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism, tribalism, and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children” and sectarian, and that accordingly it “ought to have a great deal on its conscience”. He supports his position with a mixture of personal stories, documented historical anecdotes and critical analysis of religious texts. His commentary focuses mainly on the Abrahamic religions, although it also touches on other religions, such as Hinduism and Buddhism.
Logical Investigations is a work of philosophy by Edmund Husserl, published in two volumes in 1900 and 1901, with a second edition in 1913 and 1921. In Logical Investigations, which resulted from a shift in Husserl’s interests from mathematics to logic and epistemology, Husserl maintains that mathematical laws are not empirical laws that describe the workings of the mind, but ideal laws whose necessity is intuited a priori. Though Husserl abandoned psychologism, the doctrine according to which logical entities such as propositions, universals, and numbers can be reduced to mental states or activities, in Logical Investigations, some commentators have seen a revival of psychologism in its second volume. Logical Investigations helped to create phenomenology and has been credited with making twentieth-century continental philosophy possible. Martin Heidegger was among the philosophers influenced by the work. An English translation of the second edition, by the philosopher J. N. Findlay, was published in 1970.
William James (1842 – 1910) was an American philosopher and psychologist, and the first educator to offer a psychology course in the United States. James was a leading thinker of the late nineteenth century, one of the most influential U.S. philosophers, and has been labelled the “Father of American psychology”. Along with Charles Sanders Peirce, James established the philosophical school known as pragmatism, and is also cited as one of the founders of functional psychology.
In his essay “Does Consciousness Exist?“, William James explains his assumptions about the material preconditions of consciousness, which in his opinion is based on so-called “pure experience”. He abandons the tradition of a transcendent definition of consciousness and lays the foundations for the advancement of what will later be called behaviorism. Consciousness, in his opinion, is biologically based and expresses itself in our behavior that needs to be investigated.
The pragmatic method is primarily a method of settling metaphysical disputes that otherwise might be interminable. Is the world one or many? – fated or free? – material or spiritual? – here are notions either of which may or may not hold good of the world; and disputes over such notions are unending. The pragmatic method is to try to interpret each notion by tracing its respective practical consequences. What difference would it practically make to anyone if this notion rather than that one were true? If no practical difference whatever can be traced, then the alternatives mean practically the same thing, and all dispute is idle. Whenever a dispute is serious, we ought to be able to show some practical difference that must follow from one side or the other’s being right.
The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature is a book by Harvard University psychologist and philosopher William James. It comprises his edited Gifford Lectures on natural theology, which were delivered at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland in 1901 and 1902. The lectures concerned the nature of religion and the neglect of science in the academic study of religion. Soon after its publication, Varieties entered the Western canon of psychology and philosophy and has remained in print for over a century. James later developed his philosophy of pragmatism. There are many overlapping ideas in Varieties and his 1907 book, Pragmatism.
James was most interested in direct religious experiences. Theology and the organizational aspects of religion were of secondary interest. He believed that religious experiences were simply human experiences: “Religious happiness is happiness. Religious trance is trance.”
The Will to Believe is a lecture by William James, first published in 1896, which defends, in certain cases, the adoption of a belief without prior evidence of its truth. In particular, James is concerned in this lecture about defending the rationality of religious faith even lacking sufficient evidence of religious truth. James states in his introduction: “I have brought with me tonight […] an essay in justification of faith, a defense of our right to adopt a believing attitude in religious matters, in spite of the fact that our merely logical intellect may not have been coerced. ‘The Will to Believe,’ accordingly, is the title of my paper.”
James’ central argument in The Will to Believe hinges on the idea that access to the evidence for whether or not certain beliefs are true depends crucially upon first adopting those beliefs without evidence. As an example, James argues that it can be rational to have unsupported faith in one’s own ability to accomplish tasks that require confidence. Importantly, James points out that this is the case even for pursuing scientific inquiry. James then argues that like belief in one’s own ability to accomplish a difficult task, religious faith can also be rational even if one at the time lacks evidence for the truth of one’s religious belief.
Karl Theodor Jaspers (1883 – 1969) was a German-Swiss psychiatrist and philosopher who had a strong influence on modern theology, psychiatry, and philosophy. After being trained in and practicing psychiatry, Jaspers turned to philosophical inquiry and attempted to discover an innovative philosophical system. He was often viewed as a major exponent of existentialism in Germany, though he did not accept the label.
With the publication of Reason and Existenz, originally delivered as a series of five lectures at the University of Groningen in 1935, one of the most important of Jaspers’ philosophic works is made available to the English-speaking world. It concerns itself with a general statement of the principal philosophic categories which have given uniqueness to Jaspers’s thinking: existence, freedom, and history, and the limit-situations of death, suffering, and sin. Written shortly after Jaspers’s major systematic work and before his analysis of the problem of truth, Reason and Existenz occupies a primary position in the development of his thought.
Kitarō Nishida (1870 – 1945) was a prominent Japanese philosopher, founder of what has been called the Kyoto School of philosophy. He graduated from the University of Tokyo during the Meiji period in 1894 with a degree in philosophy. He was named professor of the Fourth Higher School in Ishikawa Prefecture in 1899 and later became professor of philosophy at Kyoto University.
After his retirement in 1927, and until his death in 1945, Nishida published a continuous stream of original essays that can best be described as intercivilizational, a meeting point of East and West. His final essay, “The Logic of the Place of Nothingness and the Religious Worldview,” completed in the last few months before his death, is a summation of his philosophy of religion and has come to be regarded as the foundational text of the Kyoto school. It is one of the few places in his writings where Nishida draws openly and freely on East Asian Buddhist sources as analogs of his own ideas.
Here Nishida argues for the existential primordiality of the religious consciousness against Kant, while also critically engaging the thought of such authors as Aristotle, the Christian Neo-Platonists, Spinoza, Fichte, Hegel, Barth, and Tillich. He makes it clear that he is also indebted to Pascal, Kierkegaard, and Dostoevsky as well as to Nâgârjuna, the Ch’an masters, Shinran, Dôgen, and other Buddhist thinkers.
We Have Never Been Modern (1991) is an “anthropology of science” that explores the dualistic distinction modernity makes between nature and society. Pre-modern peoples, argues Latour, made no such division. Contemporary matters of public concern such as global warming, the HIV/AIDS pandemic and emerging biotechnologies mix politics, science, popular and specialist discourse to such a degree that a tidy nature/culture dualism is no longer possible. This inconsistency has given rise to post-modern and anti-modern movements. Latour attempts to reconnect the social and natural worlds by arguing that the modernist distinction between nature and culture never existed. He claims we must rework our thinking to conceive of a “Parliament of Things” wherein natural phenomena, social phenomena and the discourse about them are not seen as separate objects to be studied by specialists, but as hybrids made and scrutinized by the public interaction of people, things and concepts.
Giacomo Leopardi (1798 – 1837) was an Italian philosopher, poet, essayist, and philologist. He is considered the greatest poet of the Italian nineteenth century and one of the most important figures in the literature of the world, as well as one of the principals of literary romanticism; the depth of his reflection on existence and on the human condition – of sensuous and materialist inspiration – also makes him a thick philosopher. He is widely seen as one of the most radical and challenging thinkers of the 19th century. Although he lived in a secluded town in the conservative Papal States, he came in touch with the main ideas of the Enlightenment, and through his own literary evolution, created a remarkable and renowned poetic work, related to the Romantic era. The strongly lyrical quality of his poetry made him a central figure on the European and international literary and cultural landscape.
Emmanuel Levinas (1906 – 1995) was a French philosopher of Lithuanian Jewish ancestry who is known for his work related to Jewish philosophy, existentialism, ethics, phenomenology and ontology. Through such works as Totality and Infinity and Otherwise than Being, he has exerted a profound influence on twentieth-century continental philosophy, providing inspiration for Derrida, Lyotard, Blanchot and Irigaray. The Levinas Reader collects, often for the first time in English, essays by Levinas encompassing every aspect of his thought: the early phenomenological studies written under the guidance and inspiration of Husserl and Heidegger; the fully developed ethical critique of such totalizing philosophies; the pioneering texts on the moral dimension to aesthetics; the rich and subtle readings of the Talmud which are an exemplary model of an ethical, transcendental philosophy at work; the admirable meditations on current political issues.
Keiji Nishitani (1900 – 1990) was a Japanese philosopher of the Kyoto School and a disciple of Kitarō Nishida. In 1924 Nishitani received a Ph.D. from Kyoto University for his dissertation “Das Ideale und das Reale bei Schelling und Bergson“. He studied under Martin Heidegger in Freiburg from 1937-1939. Nishitani was for many years Professor of Religious Philosophy at Kyoto University, and since his retirement has been Professor Emeritus at Otani Buddhist University in Kyoto.
In The Self-Overcoming of Nihilism, the summaries of the relation to the nihilism of Hegel, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Feuerbach, and Stirner, a nearly forgotten figure in intellectual history, are all perspicacious. Even the chapters on Nietzsche, about whom volumes are written these days, provide new insights. The brief section on the problem of nihilism for Japan is unprecedented in the English literature, and the sketches on karma and historicity whet the appetite for the more extensive and difficult expositions in Religion and Nothingness.
Philosophical Explanations is a 1981 metaphysical, epistemological, and ethical treatise by the philosopher Robert Nozick. The book received positive reviews. Commentators have praised it for Nozick’s discussions of the fundamental questions of philosophy and of topics such as epistemology and ethics, and welcomed it as a convincing response to charges that American academic philosophy is overly concerned with technical issues. Nozick’s discussions of knowledge and skepticism have received much critical attention.
José Ortega y Gasset (1883 – 1955) was a Spanish philosopher, and essayist. He worked during the first half of the 20th century, while Spain oscillated between monarchy, republicanism, and dictatorship. His philosophy has been characterized as a “philosophy of life” that “comprised a long-hidden beginning in a pragmatist metaphysics inspired by William James, and with a general method from a realist phenomenology imitating Edmund Husserl, which served both his proto-existentialism (prior to Martin Heidegger’s) and his realist historicism, which has been compared to both Wilhelm Dilthey and Benedetto Croce.”
Steven Arthur Pinker (born September 18, 1954) is a Canadian-American cognitive psychologist, linguist, and popular science author. He is Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University and is known for his advocacy of evolutionary psychology and the computational theory of mind.
The Language Instinct is a 1994 book by Pinker, written for a general audience. Pinker argues that humans are born with an innate capacity for language. He deals sympathetically with Noam Chomsky’s claim that all human language shows evidence of a universal grammar, but dissents from Chomsky’s skepticism that evolutionary theory can explain the human language instinct.
Willard Van Orman Quine (1908 – 2000) was an American philosopher and logician in the analytic tradition, recognized as “one of the most influential philosophers of the twentieth century.” From 1930 until his death 70 years later, Quine was continually affiliated with Harvard University in one way or another, first as a student, then as a professor of philosophy and a teacher of logic and set theory, and finally as a professor emeritus who published or revised several books in retirement.
Word and Object is a 1960 work by philosopher Quine, in which the author expands upon the line of thought of his earlier writings in From a Logical Point of View (1953), and reformulates some of his earlier arguments, such as his attack in Two Dogmas of Empiricism on the analytic-synthetic distinction. The thought experiment of radical translation and the accompanying notion of indeterminacy of translation are original to Word and Object, which is Quine’s most famous book.
The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism is a 1964 collection of essays by Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden. Most of the essays originally appeared in The Objectivist Newsletter. The book covers ethical issues from the perspective of Rand’s Objectivist philosophy. Some of its themes include the identification and validation of egoism as a rational code of ethics, the destructiveness of altruism, and the nature of a proper government.
Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity is a 1989 book by the American philosopher Richard Rorty, based on two sets of lectures he gave at University College, London and at Trinity College, Cambridge. In contrast to his earlier work, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979), Rorty mostly abandons attempts to explain his theories in analytical terms and instead creates an alternate conceptual schema to that of the “Platonists” he rejects. In this schema “truth” (as the term is used conventionally) is considered unintelligible and meaningless.
Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature is a 1979 book by American philosopher Richard Rorty, in which the author attempts to dissolve modern philosophical problems instead of solving them by presenting them as pseudo-problems that only exist in the language-game of epistemological projects culminating in analytic philosophy. In a pragmatist gesture, Rorty suggests that philosophy must get past these pseudo-problems if it is to be productive. The work was considered controversial upon publication and had its greatest success outside analytic philosophy.
In Praise of Idleness and Other Essays is a collection of essays by Bertrand Russell published in 1935. The collection includes essays on the subjects of sociology, philosophy and economics. In the eponymous essay, Russell argues that if labour was equitably shared out amongst everyone, resulting in shorter work days, unemployment would decrease and human happiness would increase due to the increase in leisure time, further resulting in increased involvement in the arts and sciences.
Metaphysics, or the attempt to conceive the world as a whole by means of thought, has been developed, from the first, by the union and conflict of two very different human impulses, the one urging men towards mysticism, the other urging them towards science. Some men have achieved greatness through one of these impulses alone, others through the other alone: in Hume, for example, the scientific impulse reigns quite unchecked, while in Blake a strong hostility to science co-exists with profound mystic insight. But the greatest men who have been philosophers have felt the need both of science and of mysticism: the attempt to harmonise the two was what made their life, and what always must, for all its arduous uncertainty, make philosophy, to some minds, a greater thing than either science or religion.
On Denoting is an essay by Bertrand Russell. It was published in the philosophy journal Mind in 1905. In it, Russell introduces and advocates his theory of denoting phrases, according to which definite descriptions and other “denoting phrases … never have any meaning in themselves, but every proposition in whose verbal expression they occur has a meaning.” This theory later became the basis for Russell’s descriptivism with regard to proper names, and his view that proper names are “disguised” or “abbreviated” definite descriptions.
In the 1920s, Frank P. Ramsey referred to the essay as “that paradigm of philosophy”. In the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry Descriptions, Peter Ludlow singled the essay out as “the paradigm of philosophy”, and called it a work of “tremendous insight”; provoking discussion and debate among philosophers of language and linguists for over a century.
The Problems of Philosophy is a 1912 book by Bertrand Russell, in which the author attempts to create a brief and accessible guide to the problems of philosophy. Focusing on problems he believes will provoke positive and constructive discussion, Russell concentrates on knowledge rather than metaphysics: If it is uncertain that external objects exist, how can we then have knowledge of them but by probability. There is no reason to doubt the existence of external objects simply because of sense data.
Russell guides the reader through his famous 1910 distinction between knowledge by acquaintance and knowledge by description and introduces important theories of Plato, Aristotle, René Descartes, David Hume, John Locke, Immanuel Kant, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and others to lay the foundation for philosophical inquiry by general readers and scholars alike.
The Concept of Mind is a 1949 book by philosopher Gilbert Ryle, in which the author argues that “mind” is “a philosophical illusion hailing chiefly from René Descartes and sustained by logical errors and ‘category mistakes’ which have become habitual.” The work has been cited as having “put the final nail in the coffin of Cartesian dualism” and has been seen as a founding document in the philosophy of mind, which received professional recognition as a distinct and important branch of philosophy only after 1950.
Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology is a 1943 book by the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, in which the author asserts the individual’s existence as prior to the individual’s essence (“existence precedes essence”) and seeks to demonstrate that free will exists. While a prisoner of war in 1940 and 1941, Sartre read Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time (1927). Heidegger’s work, an ontological investigation through the lens and method of Husserlian phenomenology (Edmund Husserl was Heidegger’s teacher), initiated Sartre’s own philosophical enquiry.
Though influenced by Heidegger, Sartre was profoundly sceptical of any measure by which humanity could achieve a kind of personal state of fulfilment comparable to the hypothetical Heideggerian re-encounter with Being. In Sartre’s account, man is a creature haunted by a vision of “completion”, what Sartre calls the ens causa sui, literally “a being that causes itself”, which many religions and philosophers identify as God. Born into the material reality of one’s body, in a material universe, one finds oneself inserted into being. Consciousness has the ability to conceptualize possibilities, and to make them appear, or to annihilate them. Sartre offers a philosophical critique of Sigmund Freud’s theories, based on the claim that consciousness is essentially self-conscious.
Being and Nothingness is regarded as both the most important non-fiction expression of Sartre’s existentialism and his most important philosophical work, original despite Sartre’s debts to Heidegger. It is a noted contribution to the philosophy of sex, and Sartre has been credited with original insights into sexual desire.
The Critique of Dialectical Reason is a 1960 book by the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, in which the author further develops the existentialist Marxism he first expounded in his essay Search for a Method (1957). Critique of Dialectical Reason and Search for a Method were written as a common manuscript, with Sartre intending the former to logically precede the latter. Critique of Dialectical Reason was Sartre’s second large-scale philosophical treatise, Being and Nothingness (1943) having been the first. The book has been seen by some as an abandonment of Sartre’s original existentialism, while others have seen it as a continuation and elaboration of his earlier work.
The first volume, Theory of Practical Ensembles, was first published in English in 1976; a corrected English translation was published in 1991, based on the revised French edition of 1985. The second volume, The Intelligibility of History, was published posthumously in French in 1985 with an English translation by Quintin Hoare appearing in 1991. Sartre is quoted as having said this was the principal of his two philosophical works for which he wished to be remembered.
Existentialism Is a Humanism is a 1946 work by the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, based on a lecture by the same name he gave at Club Maintenant in Paris, on 29 October 1945. The work, once influential and a popular starting-point in discussions of Existentialist thought, has been widely criticized by philosophers, including Sartre himself, who later rejected some of the views he expressed in it.
Sartre asserts that the key defining concept of existentialism is that the existence of a person is prior to their essence. The term “existence precedes essence” subsequently became a maxim of the existentialist movement. Put simply, this means that there is nothing to dictate that person’s character, goals in life, and so on; that only the individual can define their essence. According to Sartre, “man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world – and defines himself afterwards”.
Thus, Sartre rejects what he calls “deterministic excuses” and claims that people must take responsibility for their behavior. Sartre defines anguish as the emotion that people feel once they realize that they are responsible not just for themselves, but for all humanity. Anguish leads people to realize that their actions guide humanity and allows them to make judgments about others based on their attitude towards freedom.
A Nobel prize winner, a great man and a great scientist, Erwin Schrödinger has made his mark in physics, but his eye scans a far wider horizon: here are two stimulating and discursive essays which summarize his philosophical views on the nature of the world. Schrödinger’s world view, derived from the Indian writings of the Vedanta, is that there is only a single consciousness of which we are all different aspects. He admits that this view is mystical and metaphysical and incapable of logical deduction. But he also insists that this is true of the belief in an external world capable of influencing the mind and of being influenced by it. Schrödinger’s world view leads naturally to a philosophy of reverence for life.
For more than two thousand years, philosophers and theologians have wrestled with the irreconcilable opposition between Greek rationality (Athens) and biblical revelation (Jerusalem). In Athens and Jerusalem, Lev Shestov — an inspiration for the French existentialists and the foremost interlocutor of Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, and Martin Buber during the interwar years — makes the gripping confrontation between these symbolic poles of ancient wisdom his philosophical testament, an argumentative and stylistic tour de force.
The Ego and Its Own (German: Der Einzige und sein Eigentum; meaningfully translated as The Individual and his Property, literally as The Unique and His Property) is an 1844 work by German philosopher Max Stirner. It presents a radically nominalist and individualist critique of Christianity, nationalism, and traditional morality on one hand; and on the other, humanism, utilitarianism, liberalism, and much of the then-burgeoning socialist movement, advocating instead an amoral (although importantly not inherently immoral or antisocial) egoism. It is considered a major influence on the development of anarchism, existentialism, nihilism, and postmodernism.
Paul Johannes Tillich (1886 – 1965) was a German-American Christian existentialist philosopher and Lutheran Protestant theologian who is widely regarded as one of the most influential theologians of the twentieth century.
Among the general public, he is best known for his works The Courage to Be (1952) and Dynamics of Faith (1957), which introduced issues of theology and modern culture to a general readership. In academic theology, he is best known for his major three-volume work Systematic Theology (1951–63) in which he developed his “method of correlation”, an approach of exploring the symbols of Christian revelation as answers to the problems of human existence raised by contemporary existential philosophical analysis.
These 16 sermons contain in concentrated form some of Paul Tillich’s most lambent themes. Although they were first published in the early 1960s, the pieces in question take up preoccupations which continue to haunt us at the beginning of the 21st century. Tillich discusses, among other topics, wisdom; salvation; loneliness and solitude; creation in relation to the creator; inequality; and spiritual presence. He has a desire to make sense of the fundamental mystery of Christian theology: the paradox of the moment which is now wherein comes the mystery which is eternity.
Heralding the beginning of the philosophical dialogue on the concept for which Gianni Vattimo would become best known (and coining its name), this groundbreaking 1983 collection includes foundational essays by Vattimo and Pier Aldo Rovatti, along with original contributions by nine other Italian philosophers influenced by and working within the authors’ framework. Dissatisfied with the responses to nineteenth- and twentieth-century European philosophy offered by Marxism, deconstruction, and poststructuralism, Vattimo found in the nihilism of Friedrich Nietzsche an important context within which to take up the hermeneutics of Martin Heidegger and Hans-Georg Gadamer. The idea of weak thought sketched by Vattimo and Rovatti emphasizes a way of understanding the role of philosophy based on language, interpretation, and limits rather than on metaphysical and epistemological certainties—without falling into relativism.
In this fascinating book, Alan Watts explores man’s quest for psychological security, examining our efforts to find spiritual and intellectual certainty in the realms of religion and philosophy. The Wisdom of Insecurity underlines the importance of our search for stability in an age where human life seems particularly vulnerable and uncertain. Watts argues our insecurity is the consequence of trying to be secure and that, ironically, salvation and sanity lie in the recognition that we have no way of saving ourselves.
Process and Reality is a book by Alfred North Whitehead, in which Whitehead propounds a philosophy of organism, also called process philosophy. The book, published in 1929, is a revision of the Gifford Lectures he gave in 1927–28.
On page 471, Whitehead writes, “We diverge from Descartes by holding that what he has described as primary attributes of physical bodies, are really the forms of internal relationships between actual occasions. Such a change of thought is the shift from materialism to Organic Realism, as a basic idea of physical science.”
Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein (1889 – 1951) was an Austrian-British philosopher who worked primarily in logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy of language. From 1929 to 1947, Wittgenstein taught at the University of Cambridge. During his lifetime he published just one slim book, the 75-page Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921), one article, one book review and a children’s dictionary. His voluminous manuscripts were edited and published posthumously. Philosophical Investigations appeared as a book in 1953 and has since come to be recognised as one of the most important works of philosophy in the 20th century. His teacher, Bertrand Russell, described Wittgenstein as “the most perfect example I have ever known of genius as traditionally conceived; passionate, profound, intense, and dominating.”
Philosophical Investigations is a work by Wittgenstein, first published, posthumously, in 1953, in which Wittgenstein discusses numerous problems and puzzles in the fields of semantics, logic, philosophy of mathematics, philosophy of psychology, philosophy of action, and philosophy of mind. He puts forth the view that conceptual confusions surrounding language use are at the root of most philosophical problems, contradicting or discarding much of what he argued in his earlier work, the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921).
The Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (Latin for Logico-Philosophical Treatise) is the only book-length philosophical work published by the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein in his lifetime. The project had a broad aim – to identify the relationship between language and reality and to define the limits of science – and is recognized as a significant philosophical work of the twentieth century. G. E. Moore originally suggested the work’s Latin title as homage to the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus by Baruch Spinoza.