Stock a High School Library with Philosophy Books

Stock a High School Library with Philosophy Books


Which philosophy books would you recommend for a high school library? That is the question currently being asked by Hallie Liberto (Connecticut), on behalf of her mom:

My mom is currently choosing books for the philosophy section of the high school library at the Overseas School of Colombo. She wants some recommendations—books that would be particularly good for 14-18 year old teens who have not taken (and are not taking) any courses in philosophy. Even though they do not have a philosophy course at the school, the IB students often have independent projects, and such books might be used for such projects. What books would you recommend?

Many students come to college wholly ignorant of philosophy; I applaud this effort to provide them the tools with which to get better acquainted. Let’s help out with some good suggestions.

(art: glass-filled books by Ramon Todo)

 

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John
John
6 years ago

Thomas Nagel’s book, What Does it All Mean?, is a highly accessible and interesting introduction to several philosophical problems.Report

Carl B. Sachs
Carl B. Sachs
6 years ago

When I was in high school, I read Walter Kauffmann’s “Critique of Religion and Philosophy” and “From Shakespeare to Existentialism”, Suzanne Langer’s “Philosophy in a New Key”, and a whole bunch of intro to this-and-that sort of books. And of course there are lots of books that introduce philosophy through science-fiction, movies, video-games, and so on.

I think that Ortega y Gassett, Hannah Arendt, and John Dewey are accessible enough to a fairly bright high school student. In the “canon,” Kant is forbidding, but Plato, Descartes, Hume, and Nietzsche are pretty easy to read without much formal instruction.

I could think of specific titles if needed.Report

Kevin
Kevin
6 years ago

Jennifer Saul’s “Feminism: Issues and Arguments” and Michael Sandel’s “Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?”. Both texts are highly accessible and very engaging.Report

grad
grad
6 years ago

Convention, by David Lewis. Let’s show these teens that they can’t in fact avoid it.Report

grad
grad
6 years ago

In all honesty, I did like Does the Center Hold? by Donald Palmer when I was a teen. Probably not the most accurate at times, but it’s very engaging.Report

Axel Mueller
Axel Mueller
6 years ago

Russell’s “Problems of philosophy”, Appian’s “Thinking things through” are good as general intros. Hume’s Dialogues on Religion, James’ Pragmatism, Kant’s “What is Enlightenment” and other political/cultural writings, all of Sartre’s plays are cool and heady, Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics boggles the mind with cases. I have many more ideas, but these are ones I think accessible more generally. Conditionally accessible would be something like for those into Kafka/Beckett etc, Wittgenstein’s Investigations; for those into War and Peace, Hegel’s Lectures on the History of PHIL etc. Jane Addams’ “New Ideals of Peace” and DuBois’ “Soul of Black Folk” are important.Report

Tim O'Keefe
6 years ago

Thomas Nagel, “Mortal Questions.”Report

Tim O'Keefe
6 years ago

Also, Martha Nussbaum, Sex and Social Justice.Report

Anonymous Post Doc
Anonymous Post Doc
6 years ago

Some obvious ‘modern’ choices

Dennett: Darwin’s Dangerous Idea
Hofstadter: Godel, Escher, Bach
Dennett & Hofstatder (eds.): The Mind’s Eye
Crane: The Mechanical Mind
Blackburn: Truth
Laudan: Science & Relativism
Sainsbury: Paradoxes
Alter & Howell: A Dialogue on Consciousness

I think all of those could be understood and enjoyed by a reasonably smart teenager with absolutely no previous philosophy.

You would also want at least one good introduction to Logic – opinions will vary here, but I think a good short book that one could get through entirely on one’s own is Wilfrid Hodges ‘Logic’. Papineau’s “Philosophical Devices’ could also easily be managed by a smart teenager on her own steam . . .Report

Lori
Lori
6 years ago

The books that got me interested in philosophy were Bertrand Russell’s “Conquest of Happiness” and “Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Essays.” Also Nietzsche’s “Beyond Good and Evil” and Rousseau’s “Emile.” I also read a lot of books from the “Introducing” and “For Beginners” series. They are fun to read.

I think high school students might enjoy reading: “All Things Shining”; Susan Wolf’s “Meaning in Life and Why it Matters”; Emerson’s Essays; Zizek; Kristeva; Freud; and Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed.”Report

Anonymous Post Doc
Anonymous Post Doc
6 years ago

. . . oh, and virtually anything by Raymond Smullyan . . .Report

Eddy Nahmias
6 years ago

The Simon Blackburn intro books, like Think. Maybe some good Intro anthologies like Perry, Bratman, Fischer’s, etc. (i’m sure any of us could send her a bunch of these!). And Sophie’s World is a good one to have in library.Report

Carrie Figdor
Carrie Figdor
6 years ago

I liked “Sophie’s World” myself, back then. Maybe teens at the Overseas School are more sophisticated than I was, though.Report

J. Bogart
J. Bogart
6 years ago

The Second Sex and The Rebel.Report

David Boonin
David Boonin
6 years ago

I would start with Michael Bruce and Steven Barbone, eds., Just The Arguments: 100 of the Most Important Arguments in Western Philosophy This book presents clear and concise summaries and analyses of a wide range of important arguments across all areas of philosophy (e.g., proofs of the existence of God, arguments about identity, skepticism, hedonism) and covers both classical and contemporary sources. I think each section is long enough to get the student to see what is interesting and important about the issue/argument/puzzle but short enough to avoid being intimidating to someone new to philosophy. I would also recommend two books by Shelly Kagan: Death, and Normative Ethics. Both books discuss a wide range of issues that are of broad interest and are written in an extremely clear and accessible manner. But in general, I would go for anthologies that contain works from a broad range of classical and contemporary writers where most of the entries are relatively short. I think these are more likely to be read and to be useful than single-authored monographs (though my first thought was Nagel’s What Does It All Mean? which has already been suggested).Report

George
George
6 years ago

Theory of Knowledge, while a compulsory component of the IB programme, often isn’t taught by a philosophically trained instructor. So a friendly intro-to-epistemology textbook, such as Williams’ Problems of Knowledge: A Critical Introduction to Epistemology, is particularly helpful.

The journal Think (edited by Stephen Law) deserves a mention as well, given its stated purpose to be “of particular interest to students following the Theory of Knowledge course”.Report

I...am...job
I...am...job
6 years ago

Perry’s “A Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality”Report

Naomi
Naomi
6 years ago

I immensely enjoyed and learned a lot from Alan Chalmers’ “What is this thing called science?” when I was in high school.Report

Brian Weatherson
6 years ago

If Theory of Knowledge is a component, they should read Jennifer Nagel’s “Knowledge: A Very Short Introduction”. It wouldn’t even cost the library very much at about $10/copy.Report

Baron Reed
Baron Reed
6 years ago

In addition to the excellent suggestions for primary sources already given, I think it might be helpful for high school students to have access to engaging, accessible biographies of some of major philosophers. I have in mind, for example, Steven Nadler’s biography of Spinoza or Matthew Stewart’s The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza and the Fate of God. The Nadler book is perhaps better for scholars, where the Stewart book is directed toward general readers. There’s also a recent biography of Spinoza written specifically for this age range. I haven’t read it yet, but here’s a review of it by a former student of mine who teaches philosophy in high school: http://plato-philosophy.org/book-review-spinoza-outcast-thinker-2014/. I’m sure there are others who will know of interesting biographies of other figures. But I would also recommend Passionate Minds: Emilie du Chatelet, Voltaire, and the Great Love Affair of the Enlightenment, by David Bodanis. It was a tremendously engaging portrait of two of the most remarkable people of the 18th century. And one more: How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer, by Sarah Bakewell. I would recommend that to everyone, in fact.Report

anon
anon
6 years ago

I totally undetstand why most philosophers tend to be skeptical about “philosophy for dummies”-style books, but I think we should still appreciate their own merits for beginners.
David Law’s “The Philosophical Files” is the one that changed my indifference toward such introductory texts. I have in fact read a translation of the book, not the original text, but I believe the English version should still exhibit the strengths which I found impressive.Report

Sherri Irvin
6 years ago

Frantz Fanon, “Black Skin, White Masks”
Angela Y. Davis, “Women, Race, and Class”
Angela Y. Davis, “Are Prisons Obsolete?”
George Yancy, “Black Bodies, White Gazes: The Continuing Significance of Race”
Elizabeth Anderson, “The Imperative of Integration”Report

Sherri Irvin
6 years ago

Also, Patricia Hill Collins’s “Black Feminist Thought” is highly relevant, though Collins is a sociologist.Report

Rachel McKinnon
Rachel McKinnon
6 years ago

I’d honestly consider stocking them with lots of the “_____: A Very Short Introduction.” They’re quite accessible.Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

There are many good suggestions on this list, but I want to point out something about the ultimate list of books: it should try to consciously include a roughly equal number of male and female authors. It’s highly beneficial for high schoolers to see that people of any gender can be high-level philosophers.Report

Molly Mahony
6 years ago

I am not a philosopher, but a philosophy librarian. I did take a philosophy class in high school and remember reading Siddhartha, some Nietzsche and Martin Buber. Recently I have read some books that I think are a good way to introduce philosophy concepts/names to those unfamiliar with philosophy. Mark Rowlands has written the Philosopher and the Wolf and Running with the Pack. You could say that there is a lot of ‘name dropping’ but, it is written in a form that if you can relate to running, animals, you may want to read the primary sources of the philosophers he mentions. And, Nancy Sherman’s Stoic Warriors.Report

Scu
Scu
6 years ago

When I was in high school I had struggled and been engaged by reading Foucault, Nietzsche, bell hooks, and Peter Singer. Those were the things that inspired me to take philosophy classes in college. I have no clue how accessible they are to 14-18 year olds, but they are what I was trying to read when I was that age, so I will suggest them.
Michel Foucault– Discipline and Punish: Birth of the Prison. Maybe also the first volume of the History of Sexuality.
Nietzsche– Genealogy of Morals is probably the most accessible, but you might want want titles that will grab the curious. Maybe Beyond Good and Evil?
bell hooks– I started with Feminist Theory, but I believe most people go with Feminism is for Everybody these days as the intro text.
Peter Singer– Animal Liberation. It is accessible, a classic, and lots of your students might be doing work on animal ethics or food ethics, and that is the go to book.

There are plenty more to suggest, but I want to stick with the actual books that inspire me in high school.Report

Jasper
Jasper
6 years ago

I would generally think that it is very hard to answer this question as a philosopher. As they (we) are the people that turned out to be very interested in these kinds of issues, our perceptions of what is accessible wil be very skewed. I think the Sophie’s world (which is mentioned already) is a book that no philosopher would read, but might be very interesting to a kid that knows absolutely nothing about philosophy. I think the best bet though would be to ask high school teachers of Philosophy, as they might have an insight into what students of that age actually find interesting and accessible.Report

grad
grad
6 years ago

Kant, Critique of Pure Reason
Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit
Frege, Foundations of Arithmetic
Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature
Nagel, View from Nowhere
Boghossian, Fear of Knowledge: Against Relativism and ConstructivismReport

Tait
Tait
6 years ago

For high school students, I’d think they’d be attracted to a lot of the “X and Philosophy” books (e.g. Harry Potter and Philosophy).

Also, Ayn Rand. Just kidding. I needed a chuckle.Report

B
B
6 years ago

I’d second (or third or whatever) the recommendation for Sophie’s World, and in general recommend that people picking books for high school students not get too high-minded on the philosophical depth or respectability of texts.

When I was in high school, I spent one summer obsessed with Sophie’s World, and another, later one (much more embarrassingly) with Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Both were an important part of my philosophical development; it’s unlikely I’d have gone on to do philosophy professionally without having read them. The same simplification and zaniness that makes them cringe-inducing for me now made them perfect for me as a teenager: they made abstract philosophical theorizing seem not only exciting but within my powers. Movies like Fight Club or The Matrix or the entirety of Christopher Nolan’s oeuvre are analogous.

Just to be on the safe side, though, I would also throw in _Mortal Questions_, _Living High and Letting Die_, and _Naming and Necessity_.Report

Laura Grams
Laura Grams
6 years ago

I absolutely loved Dennett’s “Where Am I?” at that age (and still do!), which is in “The Mind’s I” by Hofstadter and Dennett that someone mentioned above. I remember reading “Borges and I” and some other essays by Turing, Dawkins, Smullyan and Nagel in that book that completely blew my mind. It would be nice to have some classic works in a high school library, maybe some of those inexpensive and delightful Hackett series books? “Five Dialogues” of Plato, the Republic, Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, Marcus Aurelius, Descartes’ Meditations, Locke’s Second Treatise of Government, Mill’s Utilitarianism, Wollstonecraft’s “Vindication of the Rights…”.Report

Anon
Anon
6 years ago

Sartre’s Existentialism is a Humanism (a.k.a. Existentialism and Human Emotions) is a very accessible gateway drug to that tradition. I’d recommend Camus’s Myth of Sisyphus over the Rebel, though.Report

Jacob Archambault
6 years ago

Plato. Also, Plato. Did I mention Plato?
I don’t know if many of us really realize just how ensconced in technical language most of our professional reading is. I very much enjoy reading Aristotle, Aquinas, Leibniz; Prior, Dummett, Kripke; Heidegger, Levinas, Irigaray, etc., but would hesitate to recommend any of these to my high school self for just the above reason. One thing that Plato and only a few others manage to do is reach a very high level of profundity without a heavy reliance on philoso-speak. I suspect part of this has to do with the dialogue format itself. My favorites are the dialogues surrounding the last days of Socrates: the Theaetetus, Euthyphro, Sophist, Statesman, Apology, Crito, and Phaedo.
Runners up: Augustine’s Confessions, Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality, Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals.Report

Jean
Jean
6 years ago

If I were the librarian creating a high school philosophy shelf, maybe I’d pick these:
Plato, Republic
Plato, Five Dialogues (including Apology and Phaedo)
Epictetus, The Handbook
Augustine Confessions
Descartes, Meditations
Hume, Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding
Nietzsche, The Gay Science
Sartre, Existentialism is a Humanism
Ayer, Language, Truth, and Logic
Arendt, The Human Condition
Sandel, Justice
Sandel, What Money Can’t Buy
Singer, The Life You Can Save
Singer, Animal Liberation
Nagel, What Does it All Mean?
Nozick, The Examined Life
Blackburn, Think
Irwin, The Matrix and Philosophy
Dennett, Freedom Evolves
Alter and Howell, A Dialogue on ConsciousnessReport

Michael
Michael
6 years ago

Sophie’s World.Report

Plouffe
Plouffe
6 years ago

I second the recommendation for Sophie’s World and Baron Reed’s suggestion of good biographies.Report

Edward Butler
6 years ago

The Collected Dialogues of Plato (Bollingen Series LXXI)
The Presocratic Philosophers, Kirk, Raven & Schofield, eds.
Aristotle’s Physics, Metaphysics, and Nicomachean Ethics, trans Hippocrates G. Apostle
The Hellenistic Philosophers (2 vols.), Long & Sedley, eds.Report

Brian Weatherson
6 years ago

If the students are interested in ancient philosophy (and as lots of people have said, Plato’s dialogues are a great thing for the library to have), Peter Adamson’s “History of Philosophy without Any Gaps” books are great. It’s a bit redundant since the podcasts are available for free, and sadly only volume 1 is out already, but it is a wonderful companion to the Greek works, and a great intro to philosophy in its own right.

From a less textbook-y standpoint, Austin’s “Sense and Sensibilia” is a really nice introduction to, and undermining of, a philosophical view they might well have had without realising they had it.Report

A Person
A Person
6 years ago

My list will probably be criticized by some philosophers, but I think these books would be good choices for high school students. I’ll try to avoid repeating the books that have already been mentioned, though I think a good number of them are also good choices. However, I make an exception here to strongly agree with David Boonin’s suggestion that the library have a copy of Shelly Kagan’s “Death.”

General

(1) “The Philosopher’s Toolkit” by Julian Baggini and Peter S. Fosl
(2) “The Ethics Toolkit” by Julian Baggini and Peter S. Fosl

Philosophy of Religion

(1) “Is There a God?” by Richard Swinburne
(2) “Philosophy of Religion: An Introduction” by William L. Rowe
(3) “Does God Exist? A Dialogue on the Proofs for God’s Existence” by Todd C. Moody

Ethics

(1) “The Elements of Moral Philosophy” by James & Stuart Rachels
(2) “Whatever Happened to Good and Evil?” by Russ Shafer-Landau
(3) “The Best Things in Life: A Guide to What Really Matters” by Thomas Hurka

Epistemology

(1) “Three Conversations about Knowing” by Jay F. Rosenberg

Philosophy of Mind

(1) “Mind: A Brief Introduction” by John Searle
(2) “Consciousness: A Very Short Introduction” by Susan Blackmore
(3) “Free Will” by Sam Harris*
(4) “Free: Why Science Hasn’t Disproved Free Will” by Alfred R. Mele

Logic

(1) “Learning Logic” by William Lane Craig**

Other Related Books

(1) “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer
(2) “The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality” by Brian Greene

* I recommend this book not because I think it represents some of the best work on the topic, but because I think it’s the sort of thing that high school students can read and really get interested in.

** This book is probably suitable for students even younger than high school, but it looks like one that high school students (and college students!) could benefit from reading.Report

jim
jim
6 years ago

hume, dialogues concerning natural religion
wittgenstein, tractatus
wittgenstein, philosophical investigations
frege, foundations of arithmetic
neitzsche, beyond good and evil
lewis, plurality of worlds
russell, the problems of philosophy
mill, utilitarianism
chalmers, the conscious mind
kripke, naming and necessity
hofstadter, goedel, esher, bach
nagel, goedel’s proof
kant, groundwork for the metaphysics of moralsReport

Jennifer Frey
Jennifer Frey
6 years ago

Hackett editions of classical texts are great and cheap. An absolute MUST is Plato’s Apology, but also the the Meno, Crito, and Phaedrus would be good too. My guess is that they’d find Aristotle too boring, but just for good measure I’d throw in the Ethics and the Politics. Cicero and Seneca are very accessible and engaging. Augustine’s On Free Choice of the Will and the Confessions.

I also think Herbert McCabe’s Faith and Reason and Aquinas are excellent, accessible, and engaging introductions to the thought of Aquinas. They are also about ten bucks a pop.Report

J. Jocelyn Trueblood
J. Jocelyn Trueblood
6 years ago

W.T. Jones, ‘A History of Western Philosophy’
Bertrand Russell, ‘A History of Western Philosophy’
Robert Paul Wolff, ‘About Philosophy’Report

Jennifer Nagel
6 years ago

Sue Hamilton, ‘Indian Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction’
Jan Westerhoff, ‘Reality: A Very Short Introduction’
Timothy Williamson, ‘Tetralogue: I’m Right, You’re Wrong’
Christopher Grau (ed), ‘Philosophers Explore the Matrix’Report

dieter mn
dieter mn
4 years ago

Popper’s Open Society, which I first read when I was 17 and I was very impressedReport

J.D.M.
J.D.M.
4 years ago

“The Dream Weaver: One Boy’s Journey Through The Landscape of Reality” (by Jack Bowen) is a must-have for this list. I loved it, but I also know of a handful of teenagers who loved it and really got them excited about philosophy.Report