The best philosophical metaphysics books: What is be-ing? & What does it mean to be?

Frank Scalambrino Author Of The Philosophy of Being in the Analytic, Continental, and Thomistic Traditions: Divergence and Dialogue
By Frank Scalambrino

Who am I?

I am a classically and formally trained philosopher. I have a Doctorate in Philosophy from Duquesne University (2011). I've been interested in philosophy for as long as I can remember; however, I began formally studying philosophy when I first discovered the work of Friedrich Nietzsche. I began teaching philosophy at the university level in 2004. I've taught over 100 university-level courses, including graduate-level courses in both philosophy and psychology. I'm presently finishing my tenth philosophy book, along with over 50 professional peer-reviewed articles in philosophy. These days my attention is devoted to sharing philosophy on the internet through The Philosophemes YouTube Channel, @Philosophemes on Instagram, and the Basic Philosophical Questions Podcast

I wrote...

The Philosophy of Being in the Analytic, Continental, and Thomistic Traditions: Divergence and Dialogue

By Frank Scalambrino, Joseph P. Li Vecchi, David K. Kovacs

Book cover of The Philosophy of Being in the Analytic, Continental, and Thomistic Traditions: Divergence and Dialogue

What is my book about?

The Philosophy of Being provides a discussion of the philosophy of being according to three major traditions in Western philosophy, the Analytic, the Continental, and the Thomistic. The origin of each of these traditions is associated with a seminal figure, Gottlob Frege, Immanuel Kant, and Thomas Aquinas, respectively. The questions addressed in this book are constitutional for the philosophy of being, considering the meaning of being, the relationship between thinking and being, and the methods for using thought to access being.

It honors diversity and pluralism, as it highlights how the three traditions may be clearly and distinctly differentiated regarding the philosophy of being. It also honors a sense of solidarity and ecumenism, as it demonstrates how the methods and focal points of these traditions continue to shape the development of Western philosophy. 

The books I picked & why

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Philosophy of Material Nature: Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science and Prolegomena

By Immanuel Kant, James W. Ellington,

Book cover of Philosophy of Material Nature: Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science and Prolegomena

Why this book?

Immanuel Kant is one of the most important figures in the history of philosophy – specifically regarding metaphysics – because he discovered the internal logic and organization for all of philosophical metaphysics. The book with which Kant accomplished that monumental feat is extremely difficult to read and understand. Therefore, Kant wrote an easier-to-read version, and that is the book that I am recommending: Philosophy of Material Nature. This book is highly affordable and readable.

The book that the Philosophy of Material Nature paraphrases is, of course, the Critique of Pure Reason. What all of these works show us is that philosophical metaphysics naturally divides into theological metaphysics, cosmological metaphysics, and psychological metaphysics. Kant’s achievement is standardly characterized as the articulation of philosophical metaphysics as a science. The general term for such a science is “transcendental philosophy.” Thus, the rest of the books in this recommendation list relate to that division and organization of philosophical metaphysics.

The Metaphysics

By Aristotle,

Book cover of The Metaphysics

Why this book?

Aristotle’s Metaphysics marks the beginning of attempts to articulate the philosophy of metaphysics as a science. Retrospectively applying Kant’s division of metaphysics as transcendental philosophy to Aristotle’s writings: Aristotle’s Metaphysics is an in-depth examination of cosmological and theological metaphysics.

I personally enjoy Aristotle’s Metaphysics because it is mysterious. It is difficult to read, and the fact that it was written with an entirely different alphabet is exciting. Aristotle’s Metaphysics is his attempt to systematically blend his particular preference for empiricism with metaphysical insights learned from Plato’s philosophy.

The history of Aristotle’s Metaphysics – in terms of, for example, its title and organization – is fascinating in itself; however, what always stood out for me was recognizing Aristotle’s own excitement. Book 5 of his Metaphysics is often thought of as a kind of metaphysical dictionary, and shortly after this summary of vocabulary terms, it is as if Aristotle grabs hold of a newly revealed thread and rushes off to discuss theological metaphysics. You can sense the excitement motivating him. Aristotle’s Metaphysics is difficult, though rewarding, philosophical reading.

Being and Time

By Martin Heidegger, John MacQuarrie (translator), Edward S. Robinson (translator)

Book cover of Being and Time

Why this book?

Heidegger’s Being anTime is the contemporary classic work in transcendental philosophy. Whereas Edmund Husserl’s phenomenology took a Cartesian (René Descartes) point of departure, Heidegger’s phenomenology remained faithful to Kant’s transcendental philosophy. In this way, Heidegger’s Being anTime may be understood as addressing all three divisions of philosophical metaphysics from a more contemporary than Kant's point of view. However, Being anTime focuses primarily on cosmological and psychological metaphysics.

Many scholars, including Heidegger himself, have exerted significant effort to make Heidegger’s Being and Time appear as if it were an island regarding philosophical influence. However, Heidegger’s book definitely participates in the tradition of Kant’s transcendental philosophy. It is also worth noting that Being and Time is always found in the list of the three greatest philosophical works from the 20th century.

Difference and Repetition

By Gilles Deleuze, Paul Patton (translator),

Book cover of Difference and Repetition

Why this book?

In my opinion, Gilles Deleuze was the greatest French philosopher of the 20th century, and that century was loaded with amazing French philosophers. Deleuze wrote a large number of excellent books. However, his doctoral dissertation, Difference and Repetition, is quite special. On the one hand, it is – from a philosophical point of view – very enjoyable to read. Though, some may find its style too layered and allusive. On the other hand, Difference and Repetition is also consistently listed as one of the three greatest works in philosophy written in the 20th century. Ultimately, in regard to Kant’s science of metaphysics, Deleuze’s book is a work in transcendental philosophy. More specifically, Deleuze’s book addresses all three divisions by treating cosmological metaphysics as the point of origin for theological and psychological metaphysics.

One last thing to mention here is that Difference and Repetition is the most difficult to read of all the books on this list. However, when you come to understand how he meant “difference” and “repetition” as metaphysical concepts, the gestalt-shift that it brings about in the reader’s mind is well worth the effort to understand it. In that regard, it is very much like the experience a reader has when they come to understand “the moment of vision” in Heidegger’s work.

What Is Existentialism? Vol. I: History & Principles

By Frank Scalambrino,

Book cover of What Is Existentialism? Vol. I: History & Principles

Why this book?

After extensive research, this is the only book in existence that answers the question: What is existentialism? Existentialism may be understood as the correct point of departure for addressing the philosophy of being as it relates to the individual. In other words, existentialism provides the philosophical framework with which to answer the question: What does it mean to be?

Existentialism is the culmination of the philosophical tradition moving from Kant through the German Romantics to Heidegger and Sartre, among the other existentialists. In regard to Kant’s division, it differs from Deleuze’s choice to articulate transcendental philosophy with cosmology as the point of departure, in that it takes psychology as the point of departure. Yet, at the same time, just as understanding “the moment of vision” brings about a kind of gestalt shift in the reader’s perspective, so too though existentialism may be characterized as transcendental psychology, it has a higher – more philosophical – point of view than merely empirical psychology.

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