Earlier I posted a rather lengthy list of recommended books for anyone interested in the Great Books; let me provided a shorter list here, taken from Peter Kreeft:
Ancient Philosophy, Basic List:
- Solomon, Ecclesiastes (cf. Peter Kreeft, Three Philosophies of Life)
- Plato, Meno and Apology
- Plato, Republic, excerpts (if you use the W.H.D. Rouse translation (Great Dialogues of Plato) and mentally divide each book into 3 parts, A, B and C, you could cover Book I, IIA, VB through 7A, 9C, and Rouse’s helpful summary of the rest.
- Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, select your own excerpts, but be sure to cover Books I and VIII
- Plotinus, On Beauty
Ancient Philosophy, Additional List:
- Parmenides’ poem
- The rest of Plato’s Republic
- Plato, Gorgias
- The rest of the Nicomachean Ethics
- A secondary source summary of Aristotle, either Mortimer Adler’s Aristotle for Everybody (easy) or Sir David Ross’s Aristotle (intermediate)
Medieval Philosophy, Basic List:
- St. Augustine, Confessions 1-10 (F.J. Sheed translation)
- Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy (published by Hackett)
- St. Anselm, Proslogium
- St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, at least I,2,3 (“On God’s Existence”) and I-II,2 (“On Things in which Man’s Happiness Consists”). These and more, with explanatory notes, are included in my A Shorter Summa.
Medieval Philosophy, Additional List:
- St. Bonaventure, The Journey of the Mind to God
- Aquinas, more of the Summa Theologiae. My Summa of the Summa anthology is 500 pages, with many footnotes
- Nicholas of Cusa, Of Learned Ignorance
Modern Philosophy, Basic List:
- Machiavelli, The Prince
- Renes Descartes, Discourse on Method
- David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding
- Immanuel Kant, Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals
Modern Philosophy, Additional List:
- Rene Descartes, Meditations
- Gottfried Leibnitz, Monadology
- Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, excerpts
- (Blaise Pascal’s Pensées could also be included here; see below)
Contemporary Philosophy, Basic List:
- Blaise Pascal Pensées (or Kreeft’s Christianity for Modern Pagans)
- Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism and Human Emotions
- William James, “What Pragmatism Means” and “The Will to Believe”
- Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto
- C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man
Contemporary Philosophy, Additional List
Of the books on this list, I have read them all, with the glaring exceptions of St. Bonaventure and Nicholas of Cusa. Going to school in any Protestant nation assures the student that he will not receive a fair or complete picture of the Middle Ages, since that era was the paramount era of the Catholic Church, the Bete Noir and Antichrist of the Protestants. I don’t recall if I read Alfred Ayer.
This short list should be enough to convict the conscience of any serious student of philosophy about the sobriety of ancient sages versus the frivolity of the moderns. Aristotle and Plato talk about truth and virtue and beauty; Sartre says there is no beauty, John Mill says there is no virtue, Wittgenstein says there is no truth. Lazy thinkers and jackanapes, these moderns, to a man.
The problem is that the modern mind has faith in reason but no faith in God, but reason cannot of itself provide a reason to have faith in reason. Attempts to build a metaphysic on pure reason, starting with Kant’s answer to Hume, are singularly rootless and unsatisfying.
The problem is, simply enough, that no box can hold itself. Every box needs a bigger box to hold it. But if there is a God, then there is at one and only one entity which is a necessarily existing yet infinite being which forms the context in which all other things exist, but which has itself no greater context of which He is a part or member.
If you have an Unmoved Mover or a Necessary Being as the axiom of your metaphysical system, you can erect a metaphysical set of axioms which do not, and which by definition cannot, rest upon any deeper axioms for their persuasive value: but if you do not have such a being, either the axioms are arbitrary, or they are merely one unit in an infinite series, as impossible as an endless series of boxcars accelerating down a train track with no first locomotive pulling them.
The moderns, starting with Descartes, attempting to explain all things, including reason itself, using reason, and this was like putting all things in a box, including the box itself. It is a paradox, and it cannot be done. One is left either with solipsism or existentialism, or some other form of intellectual rubbish.
Kant made a bold attempt to solve the paradox by declaring certain ideas to be categories of thinking which the human mind by definition could not escape: but his utility as a philosopher was marred by his obscure and technical language and a glaring lack of rigor. He opened the door to mere charlatans and mountebanks and street-artist style performers like Nietzsche, Hegel, and Marx.
The study of philosophy is the most important intellectual effort in the world. Without it, life is nothing but inchoate emotion, meaningless slogans, and fashions of the moment, or, in other words, the wreckage of the modern anti-intellectual intellect. The reason why modern art is vile and abhorrent garbage, why modern ethics consists of defenders of all things vile and self destructive, vulgarity and sodomy and euthanasia and aborticide and similar practices as barbaric as Nazi medical experimentation on Jews, why modern life consists of the bland paradox that the only truth is that there is no truth, therefore eat, drink, be merry, and die, is because without the root of philosophy, the tree has perished. The root of philosophy is metaphysics. The mother of metaphysics is theology. The only world religions who have developed a theology are Christianity, Mohammedanism, Buddhism, and Taoism: of these, only one has an explicitly rational theology rather than a mystical: and that is Christianity.
Without Christianity, various non-Western cultures can indeed develop useful and beautiful metaphysical axioms and articulate the other arts and sciences dependent on them: but such nations do not possess or must repudiate the Western cultural heritage of individualism, rationalism, science, private property, rule of law, and so on.
Without Christianity, Western nations upholding, or pretending to uphold, the Western cultural heritage of individualism, rationalism, objective reality, science, private property, rule of law, and so on, are left without a rational account of why these values have value, rather than collectivism, mysticism, subjective reality, magic, socialism, totalitarianism, and so on. We still all believe, or all say we do, in these things, but when asked why, the post-Christian culture has no answer.
The unexamined life is not worth leading, no, not for a man who does not examine his life, and not for a civilization that does not examine its thought.
Let us make a recommendation for an abrupt and radical revolution in thinking. Since the modern age has given up on intellectual pursuits entirely, except perhaps for those investigations of the natural sciences which have no political application, in order to save our souls and retain our humanity, we must again find a reason to believe in reason.
If the only reason to have faith in reason is to have faith in faith, then so be it: merely out of a sense of self preservation, or a lust for love, or a love of joy, even a hardened atheist should promote the promulgation of the Christian worldview.
Of course a philosopher must promote Christianity because it is truth. But then again, one cannot be a philosopher, a lover of truth, without the radical and shocking belief that the truth is the truth.
You want to start the revolution, dear reader? Read the books!