20th C


 Maarten Maartensz:  Philosophical Dictionary | Filosofisch Woordenboek

 Books - general


Books - General

Under the above heading I give a series of bookreferences that concern philosophy in general.

It should be noted that - in spite of this general aim - my general perspective and background is Western, non-religious and non-political. And personally I think scientific realism and analytic philosophy are normally more sensible than other approaches to philosophy: Human civilization is founded on science (knowledge of reality) and science is found and tested by logical argumentation.

My limitations are in part due to my own background (I am Dutch), ignorance (I only read Western languages) and interests (I am neither religious nor a volontary member of any political organization); and in part due to the fact that either more philosophy was done in the West or more was published and researched in universities.

My philosophical preferences are founded on 35 years of serious reading in philosophical, logical, mathematical and scientific literatures. I may be mistaken but I am reasonably well informed.

For non-Western, or religiously or politically motivated philosopy see
Books - Special . And note there are no clear, simple and clean divisions here: Western Medieval philosophy was Christian; published philosophy in 20th Century socialist countries was Marxist. Also, there are no value-judgements: Very interesting and valuable work was done in Christian, Islamic, Hinduistic, Buddhistic and Chinese backgrounds. (To see this all one has to do is to read it with a clear mind.)

The other entries in the left panel - Ancient, Medieval, Modern and 20thC - all concern Western philosophy.

Here is also an older file that lists part of my philosophical library with comments.

Finally, in the present sections on Philosophical Books I have decided to normally mention only the writer and the title of the book, for this should allow you to find a copy of it in print or in a library if you are sufficiently interested. The main reason not to mention publishers, ISBN-numbers etc. is that in these sections I refer to books I owe, and many of these have been bought in antiquarian bookshops, in paperback versions, or in old editions that may reasonably be expected often not to be in print anymore in such editions as I have. It should also be mentioned here that I often refer to translations rather than originals; that of many classics I mention there will be translations in other languages than I have read; and that I read only European languages, and of these know most of Dutch, English, German and French.

I listed in Introductions my own basic orientations in philosophy (realistic and analytic) and some texts I think are good introductions.


If you seriously want to be concerned with philosophy, which may be for the moment defined as the conscious search for answers to the questions what reality is like, what man should and should not do, and how one should reason, then you must be intelligent, serious and willing to work and think hard.

Also, it helps a lot to have lived a lot, and to have acquired as much knowledge of science as one can manage, and to have read considerably in books of history, psychology and mathematics.

One needs science, because many philosophical questions have at least partial scientific answers, and anyway science is humankind's conscious attempt to understand reality based on logical reasoning and empirical experiment and investigation.

One needs history, because the best way to come to understand men and women in general, and what they can and cannot do, is to know what they have and have not done, and how they have survived so far as a species.

One needs psychology, because this contains most of the knowledge of the mental facilities, possibilities, and gifts and shortcomings of men and women in general.

One needs mathematics, because it is the science of arbitrary structures, and it would seem as if anything whatsoever is a structure of some kind, while mathematics is the queen of the sciences, and seriously involved in any real science.


Toraldo di Franca: The investigation of the physical world
Feynman: Lectures on Physics (3 vols)
Gardner: Science: Good, Bad and Bogus

Toraldo is an Italian physicist, and the book is an excellent introduction to physics, philosophy of science and philosophy in general. Feynman was an American physicist and Nobel-price winner, and these three volumes are his course of physics for any intelligent reader. Gardner used to have a mathematics column in "Scientific American". He wrote quite a few books relating to science, all worth reading. (His own opinions are in "The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener".)


Thucydides: The Pelopponesian War
Gibbon: Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
Burckhardt: Die Kultur der Renaissance in Italien.

Thucydides participated in a later phase of the war he describes. This book dates back to 400 B.C. and - when well translated as e.g. by Rex Warner - is great literature and a very realistic introduction to politics. Gibbon was an 18th century Englishman. The original is in some seven volumes, but there are excellent abbreviations. It is very fine writing, but one probably has to get used a little to the style, which was quite ironical, because of all  manner of censorships that existed when the books were first published. Burckhardt was a 19th century Swiss professor of history, who was much admired by Nietzsche (one of the not so many things Nietzsche got right), and the book I list made him famous. I read it in German, but it has been translated into many languages, including English. (Get a lavishly illustrated edition if you can!)


Anastasi : Individual Psychology
James : The Principles of Psychology (2 vols)
Lindsay & Norman: Human Information Processing

Anastasi is a fairly old introduction to the psychological study and knowledge of the differences between individuals. There are many other instances of this type of book that are more recent, but I did not read them, and it is unlikely they are as balanced as this one. Also, since Anastasi wrote, there has not been produced that much new knowledge into the field, which indeed may also be said of William James's text, which was written in the late 19th century. Most in it is still true, and if not true still sensible, and all of it is better written than almost any other writer in science. The last text I give is the most recent, though probably somewhat outdated now, unless new editions have been made since I went to university. It is a good, lively and interesting introduction to psychology on the basis of recent insights about information processing.


Newman Ed.: The World of Mathematics
Aleksandrov, Kolmogorov & Lavrent'ev: Mathematics: Its Content and Meaning (3 vols)
Griffith & Hilton:  A Comprehensive Textbook of Classical Mathematics - A contemporary interpretation

Newman was published some 5 decades ago, but remains a very fine introduction to most aspects of mathematics. Aleksandrov et al. is the answer of Soviet-Russia to it (and who was really intelligent and averse to politics while living under state socialism had a good probability of ending up a pure mathematician). It is very well done, and explains a lot of mathematics really well, and is a fine supplement to Newman's collection. Griffith & Hilton is a fairly recent summary of all or most of the mathematics required for a B.A. or M.A. in pure mathematics, all given on modern logical and set-theoretical principles.

It also helps if one knows something about politics, for human beings are a species that is prone to science, art and war upon other human beings, and there is some, mostly bitter but well-founded political history and political science. I give a summary of books I found interesting or useful in this field in Politics and have a section Politics on this site.


If you want to be a philosopher, it helps a lot if you are a genuine booklover. A practical test is that by and large you much rather read good books than watch TV. And indeed, through books one can find the best texts by the best minds, whereas TV exposes you to what the lowest common denominator of people like, which tends to be boring trash.

Here are some tips concerning excellent collections of books, all of which are comparatively cheap, and many of which are available in antiquarian bookshops (in England or Holland) and concerning some books that are helpful with the serious study of philosophy.

Everyman's Library: This is an English attempt that started in the beginning of the 20th Century to provide an edition of the classics in most fields of science and literature in around 1000 volumes, originally hardbound, small enough to be carried in a pocket, attractively printed and fairly priced. It was an excellent effort to make the mainstays of Western civilization available to the public, and you may still find many of its volumes in English antiquarian bookshops. One reason to list it here is that it contains most of the philosophical classics.

Dover Paperbacks: This is an edition of reprints of important or interesting texts of very many kinds, including mathematics. Standard editions are cheap, but unlike ordinary paperbacks well-bound and printed on good paper.

The volumes of the books of both series usually contain an extensive catalogue of other titles in the series. If you want to expand your mind, these two series give you excellent opportunities to do so, in very many subjects.

R.M. Hutchins: 1. The Great Conversation. 2. The Great Ideas - Syntopicon I 3. The Great Ideas - Syntopicon II. These are three volumes of a much larger series of classical texts to which they formed a systematic introduction, based on the premisses that science and art are the product of human conversation and that one can give an alphabetical list of the great ideas. It's a bit professorial and pedantic, but even so it gives a good survey of terms and concepts that have seriously mattered to many men in many generations.

P. Edwards Ed.: Encyclopedia of Philosophy. This is - by far - the best encyclopedy of philosophy I have seen, and also one of the fattest. It was compiled in the 1960ies, and first edited in 8 volumes, but the edition I have binds these in 4. I have found nothing like it on the internet, though I suppose the internet
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is much influenced by it.  


Personally, I find it very difficult to take a serious interest in philosophers who have no head for mathematics, no genuine knowledge of science, or who cannot write clearly. These are not mere prejudices, for I did try to read the unmathematical, unscientific or unclear philosophers, but found it mostly a waste of time.

Here are some 20th Century philosophers who knew mathematics and science and who wrote well, with the titles of some of their books. I do not suggest that you believe or follow them, but I do suggest that you read them - if you are seriously interested in philosophy. If it then turns out that the great minds for you have the size of those of Heidegger, Foucault or Liotard, at least no one can say that you prefer these luminaries because you are too stupid to do serious mathematics, logic or philosophy of science.

Russell: 1. History of Western Philosophy. 2. Analysis of Matter. 3. Human Knowledge - its scope and limits. In fact, Russell published over 70 books, so this is a small selection. For the History of Western Philosophy Russell received the Nobel Prize of Literature, and indeed that is the strength of the work: It is very well-written, and the only history of philosophy that made me laugh. In terms of balanced academic judgement there may be better histories of philosophy (such as by Father Copleston), but not in terms or reading pleasure. The Analysis of Matter is Russell's most serious and longest reflection on what physics (of which Russell had a good knowledge) has to do with philosophy. It is in some respects outdated, being written in the 1920ies, but it is still well worth reading. Russell's last serious book in philosophy was Human Knowledge, and it was not as well received as many of his other books, because the then popular linguistic approach to philosophy in English and American universities found fault with Russell's scientific and realistic attitudes. I don't, and find this one of Russell's most interesting books.

Broad: 1. The Mind and its Place in Nature. 2. Five Types of Ethical Theories. Broad was British, worked at Cambridge University, and was an approximate contemporary of Russell and Wittgenstein, by whom he was somewhat overshadowed. This is a pity, for Broad wrote a very clear English, had a great talent for impartial analysis, was skeptical in a sane commonsensical manner about most issues, did have some personal courage, and knew quite a lot of science. The Mind and its Place in Nature is given to the analysis of what its title indicates, and is the best book in philosophy of mind I have read. His Five Types of Ethical Theories is a serious discussion of ethics, and again much clearer and more complete and thorough than nearly all other texts on ethics I read.

Bunge: 1. Causality 2. Treatise of Basic Philosophy. Bunge is an Argentinian theoretical physicist with a strong taste and talent for philosophy. He became fairly well known with Causality (also available in Dover Paperbacks) which is a well-written survey of various ideas of and approaches to causality. His Treatise of Basic Philosophy is a much greater effort, in about 10 volumes, and attempts to give basic philosophy on the basis of fundamental mathematical, logical and scientific concepts. I like it, but it seems not to be popular with academic philosophers, and indeed I never met anyone who read it. Even so: It exists; it is well-written and quite clear if you know some basic mathematics and science; and it seems more sensible even where it is mistaken than most other philosophy published in the 20th Century.

Stegmüller: Probleme und Resultaten der analytischen und WissenschaftsphilosophieThis is German (I am told it was all translated into English, but never have seen an edition), and available in four thick hardbound volumes or some thirty thinner paperbound ones, called "Studienausgabe". The title translates as "Problems and results of analytical philosophy and philosophy of science", and indeed this is what it gives an introduction to and survey of. It is very well done, and explains a lot of the background (e.g. in mathematical logic and probability theory) that is normally presupposed but not stated in academic papers in the subjects Stegmüller treats.





 Last edited: 12 Dec 2011.   Top.