Wednesday, August 13, 2008

100 Works in Philosophy

The previous book meme set me thinking about a sort of philosophical analogue. The basic idea was this: a list of a hundred books, each providing a relatively accessible portal to philosophy, likely to have something of interest to a very wide range of people, in order to encourage a wider reading in philosophy, and perhaps an interest in philosophy among those who might be turned off by anything too academic. So that constrained the list to philosophical works available in English, not too difficult to find (at least with a good library), not too overwhelming (e.g., not too long or too jargonish), potentially enjoyable to all sorts of people; there was also the constraint, considerably more limiting, that only books I'd read in some version or translation or other could be included, since only if I had read the book at least once, at some point, could I be sure it was a reasonable candidate for the list. I also tried to limit relatively recent philosophical work in order to compensate for the bias of recency. Also, with a few very readable exceptions, I have bypassed standard college course fare. The result was as follows, in no particular order. (I have linked to those available online in some form. Needless to say, and although some of the editions are quite good, this does not always or even usually indicate that this is the best edition available. The rest should be accessible through a descent university library or good bookstore. Also, it should go without saying, but might not, that inclusion on the list, while it shows that I think the work interesting, does not show that I necessarily agree with it in any way.) I have a defense of each one's deserving a place on this list, if you have any questions about a particular entry. Did I miss any good ones? Which ones have you read? If you were going to make your own list, what would be on it?

1. Voltaire, Candide
2. Dante, Divine Comedy
3. Plato, Apology
4. Xenophon, Apology
5. Berkeley, Alciphron
6. Aquinas, Collationes super Credo in Deum
7. Astell, A Serious Proposal to the Ladies, Part II
8. Scotus, A Treatise on God as First Principle
9. Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy
10. Descartes, Discourse on Method
11. Hume, "Of the Rise and Progress of the Arts and Sciences"
12. O. K. Bouwsma, "Descartes' Evil Genius"
13. Gilson, Forms and Substances in the Arts
14. Bonaventure, Itinerarium Mentis ad Deum
15. Chuang Tzu (Zhuangzi; attr.), Zhuangzi
16. Fa-tsang, Treatise on the Golden Lion
17. Xuedoe/Yuanwu, The Blue Cliff Record
18. Sartre, No Exit
19. Chesterton, Manalive
20. Shaw, Saint Joan
21. Anscombe, "Modern Moral Philosophy"
22. Planck, Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers
23. Darwin, The Descent of Man
24. Kingsley, Hypatia
25. James, "The Will to Believe"
26. Carroll, "What the Tortoise Said to Achilles"
27. Whewell, On the Principles of English University Education
28. Faraday, The Chemical History of a Candle
29. Masham, Occasional Thoughts in Reference to a Virtuous Christian Life
30. Whitehead, Science and the Modern World
31. Lull, Book of the Gentile
32. Ibn Tufayl, Hayy ibn Yaqzan
33. Lucretius, On the Nature of Things
34. Butler, Fifteen Sermons Preached at the Rolls Chapel
35. Epictetus, Enchiridion
36. Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
37. Johnson, The History of Rasselas
38. More, Utopia
39. Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces
40. Bacon, Essays
41. Justin Martyr, First Apology
42. Minucius Felix, Octavius
43. O'Brien, The Third Policeman
44. ***, IV Maccabees
45. Langland, Piers Plowman
46. Lewis, Abolition of Man
47. ***, Cleanness
48. Mill, Utilitarianism
49. Anselm, On Freedom of Choice (PDF)
50. Abelard, Historia Calamitatum
51. Ambrose, On the Duties of the Clergy
52. Kant, "Perpetual Peace"
53. Cicero, De Officiis
54. Pascal, Pensées
55. Sun Tzu, The Art of War
56. Clausewitz, On War
57. Shelley, "Queen Mab"
58. Pope, An Essay on Man
59. Spinoza, Tractatus Theologico-Politicus
60. Beattie, An Essay on the Nature and Immutability of Truth
61. Montaigne, Apology for Raymond Sebond
62. Casanova, History of My Life
63. Lucian, Hermotimus
64. Lorris/Meun, The Romance of the Rose
65. Sophocles, Antigone
66. Christine de Pisan, Book of the City of Ladies
67. Augustine, Confessions
68. Nicholas of Cusa, On Learned Ignorance (PDF)
69. Erasmus, The Praise of Folly
70. Abbott, Flatland
71. Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
72. Gilman, Herland
73. Saadia, Beliefs and Opinions
74. Lessing & Mendelssohn, "Pope a Metaphysician!"
75. Hume, "A Dialogue"
76. Menkin, The Love of the Righteous
77. Lessing, Nathan the Wise
78. Chateaubriand, The Genius of Christianity
79. Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra
80. Eliot, Romola
81. Maritain, Theonas
82. ***, The Great Learning
83. Stapledon, Sirius
84. Eco, The Name of the Rose
85. Novalis, Heinrich von Ofterdingen
86. Vico, De Nostri Temporis Studiorum Ratione (On the Study Methods of Our Time)
87. Fichte, The Vocation of Man
88. Edwards, Freedom of the Will
89. Rousseau, Discourse on the Arts and Sciences
90. Shaftesbury, "Sensus Communis: An Essay on the Freedom of Wit and Humor" (PDF)
91. Newman, Apologia Pro Vita Sua
92. Dooyeweerd, In the Twilight of Western Thought
93. Kant, "On the Question: What is Enlightnment?"
94. Austen, Mansfield Park
95. Coleridge, Biographia Literaria
96. Duhem, German Science
97. Diderot, Rameau's Nephew
98. Dryden, Religio Laici
99. Chaucer, The Parson's Tale
100. Teresa of Avila, Life of Teresa of Avila, by Herself


Obviously it's a list that does not stay with what's expected; and as you might expect, it's partly intended to be subversive, although not as much as it might seem at first glance. In various discussions of the list so far, 39, 64, and 94 have been question on the basis of not being philosophical; and 8 on the basis of not being accessible. The fact that people keep suggesting that Mansfield Park should not be deemed a philosophical work is particularly interesting, since it shows that a lot of people are still living pre-Ryle on the subject of Austen and moral philosophy. Mansfield Park is not, of course, a philosophical treatise; it is a novel, and the concerns of a novelist, not of a treatise-writer, shape the work. But as a number of people have shown on different points, Austen often deals pretty thoroughly with issues of moral philosophy that were big in her time, and Mansfield Park is the one that does so the most. To name just one example, if you think Fanny Price virtuous, you will, if you are consistent, have serious problems with large sections of Hume's moral philosophy; and it is noteworthy just how overwhelmingly Humean ethics favors the Crawfords. Now, there is no particular reason, as far as I am aware, to think that Austen has Hume in view; but she doesn't have to. The fact that you can trace out so clearly incompatibilities between her view and Hume's shows that her moral philosophy, while not systematic (or at least no presented as such in any form we have) is nevertheless philosophically substantive, as Ryle, MacIntyre, and many others have argued. Actually, I think Mansfield Park keeps getting mentioned not because people particularly have it out for Mansfield Park but because by virtue of its stature it gets representative status as The Novel, and stands in for all the novels on the list. To the extent that's the case, then the questioning of Mansfield Park is simply based on assumptions about philosophy not shared by the maker of the list. But the most challenged work so far is A Confederacy of Dunces, which is interesting. The book, of course, is mostly just a lot of romp and fun, and not in any straightforward way didactic; but I do wonder if the people making the criticism really think that Toole just chose Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy at random, and that, despite being mentioned and alluded to over and over again, it really plays no significant role at all in the story. Perhaps. Likewise, the character of Beatrice might be wholly irrelevant to understanding the Divine Comedy of Dante; but I hope that one would at least wonder about any such claim.

The Roman in Jean de Meun's continuation certainly talks a lot of philosophy on the face of it; whether the Lorris original does is a good question, one that I would answer affirmatively. Obviously the subject is not what we usually consider 'philosophical', but the dual factor that (1) it is an allegory and (2) it is trying to make sense of the Lover's plight forces it to deal with the issue in much more reflective ways than you would get with the same story told as a straightforward tale of romance and loss.

But is Scotus's Treatise really accessible enough to be on the list -- accessible in the sense of being interesting to a wide variety of people and not so jargonish that its argument is obscured for ordinary people? It's arguably one of the borderline cases; perhaps you should read it and tell me.

Reflecting on the list further, there are definitely quirks that are just idiosyncratic (fewer than some people think, though). I think you could legitimately question why Eliot's Romola is on the list rather than Daniel Deronda (the reason: I like Romola better). Similarly, as I think Clark mentioned, Man and Superman is arguably a better candidate than Saint Joan (same reason). Someone noted that Kierkegaard is missing, and I agree that that's a pretty serious gap, particularly since I should have thought to put him on it, and didn't. (There are in addition, of course, lots of candidates that I wanted to put on the list but didn't, for one reason or another, and not always for a reason that had much to do with the list itself. Iris Murdoch, for instance, who only got left off because I got to 100 and was too attached to the others on the list to substitute her in.)

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