The best philosophy books to read before you turn 25 (or after!)

The Books I Picked & Why

Language, Truth and Logic

By Alfred Jules Ayer

Book cover of Language, Truth and Logic

Why this book?

This is a widely-scorned book whose ideas are no longer in philosophical fashion. But it was the work that first hooked me into philosophy, and I recommend it for its sheer verve and confidence. Freddie Ayer visited Vienna in the 1930s and when he returned to the UK he introduced the ideas of the Vienna Circle into the Anglo-American world. The book argued that propositions that were not testable – for example some assertions about God, or about ethics or aesthetics – were meaningless because they were not verifiable. Amazing claims!

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Philosophical Investigations

By Ludwig Wittgenstein

Book cover of Philosophical Investigations

Why this book?

Surely the greatest work of philosophy of the 20th Century. It delves into a wide range of philosophical issues, including the relationship between language and the world. OK, it’s tough to understand without also reading some accompanying secondary literature – but it is endlessly beguiling. It’s one of the few works of philosophy that repays being re-read. I took a Wittgenstein paper at university - and have called myself a Wittgensteinian ever since.

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Reasons and Persons

By Derek Parfit

Book cover of Reasons and Persons

Why this book?

Arguably the greatest work of moral philosophy of the 20th Century.  It’s rich with vivid thought experiments – including Parfit’s famous tele-transporter, which can make an exact copy of us and transport us to another planet. Is this copy of me the same person as me? The book makes us question some of our deepest assumptions - such as what it means to say that David Edmonds today is identical to David Edmonds yesterday or tomorrow. Parfit was my first supervisor, and I’m now writing his biography.

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Practical Ethics

By Peter Singer

Book cover of Practical Ethics

Why this book?

There’s a common prejudice that philosophy has nothing to do with the world in which non-philosophers live. I read Practical Ethics as an undergraduate and it came as a revelation. In crystal-clear prose, and with compelling logic, Singer addresses many issues in applied morality – abortion, capital punishment, charity, animal rights. Although some of his conclusions are radical, they’re hard to dissent from. Not long after reading the book I became a vegetarian. I haven’t eaten meat since.

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The View from Nowhere

By Thomas Nagel

Book cover of The View from Nowhere

Why this book?

Perhaps my favourite philosophy book of all time. Humans have the unique ability to take a detached view of our lives and actions. Call this an objective perspective. Thomas Nagel argues that many of our philosophical problems – such as the attempt to understand free will, or consciousness – stem from a clash between the subjective and objective standpoints. For example, we believe (subjectively), that we are free, that we have free will, that we can raise our right arm, or choose whether or not to go to shopping. But from an objective perspective we might reflect that, like everything else in the universe, we are governed by causal laws. A beautiful writer, Nagel can make the most complex issues seem simple.  He will make you feel cleverer than you are! The View From Nowhere is my model for how philosophy books should be written.

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