The best philosophy books that are written as engaging dialogues

Gordon Barnes Author Of How Do You Know? A Dialogue
By Gordon Barnes

Who am I?

I am Associate Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Brockport. I have been teaching and writing philosophy for over 20 years. I have published articles in professional journals on a wide range of subjects, from epistemology to philosophy of religion and political philosophy. I think that philosophy, at its best, is a good conversation, in which people give reasons for their views, and listen to others give reasons for theirs. That’s the best way for human beings to think about philosophical questions. That’s why I love philosophical dialogues—they do philosophy in a way that embodies what philosophy is, at its very best.


I wrote...

How Do You Know? A Dialogue

By Gordon Barnes,

Book cover of How Do You Know? A Dialogue

What is my book about?

This book explores problems of knowledge that arise in everyday life—problems about expertise, testimony, trust, and disagreement. It explores these problems through a dialogue between two old friends who now disagree about almost everything. With the help of an older friend, they talk through their disagreements. In the process, they discover that their disagreements are based on problems of knowledge. If you are not an expert, then how can you know if another person is an expert? If the experts are politically biased, should you still trust them? Is it ever rational to believe a conspiracy theory? If someone who is just as smart as you are disagrees with you, then should you change your mind? Can you know what is right and wrong?  

The books I picked & why

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Tetralogue: I'm Right, You're Wrong

By Timothy Williamson,

Book cover of Tetralogue: I'm Right, You're Wrong

Why this book?

This book grabs your attention right from the start. Four people are on a train, and one of them believes in witches. That’s crazy, right? (The witches part, not the train part.) But can you prove that he is wrong? One character trusts science, and only science. Another is a relativist, who believes that each person’s opinion is “true for them.” And then there is the annoying young philosopher, who is just as irritating as she is logical. This is a great book about truth, knowledge, fallibility, and tolerance. Timothy Williamson is one of the best philosophers alive today, and yet this book is accessible and engaging for anyone who wants to think about fundamental questions. The characters are compelling, and the writing is witty and fun.

Tetralogue: I'm Right, You're Wrong

By Timothy Williamson,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Tetralogue as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Four people with radically different outlooks on the world meet on a train and start talking about what they believe. Their conversation varies from cool logical reasoning to heated personal confrontation. Each starts off convinced that he or she is right, but then doubts creep in.

In a tradition going back to Plato, Timothy Williamson uses a fictional conversation to explore questions about truth and falsity, and knowledge and belief. Is truth always relative to a point of view? Is every opinion fallible? Such ideas have been used to combat dogmatism and intolerance, but are they compatible with taking each…


The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia

By Bernard Suits, Frank Newfeld (illustrator),

Book cover of The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia

Why this book?

This might be the best philosophical dialogue ever written, and the subject is nothing less than the meaning of life. The only reason this is not #1 is that it is more challenging to read. But it combines humor and profundity like no other book I know. The grasshopper of the title is the one from Aesop’s fable, who played games all summer, and is now unprepared for winter. The dialogue takes place as winter approaches, and the grasshopper is soon to die. But Bernard Suits is here to defend the grasshopper. After responding to Wittgenstein’s challenge to define the word “game,” the grasshopper argues that playing games is the meaning of life. Right or wrong, this witty, profound meditation will challenge you to think about life’s most important question.

The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia

By Bernard Suits, Frank Newfeld (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Grasshopper as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the mid twentieth century the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein famously asserted that games are indefinable; there are no common threads that link them all. "Nonsense," said the sensible Bernard Suits: "playing a game is a voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles." The short book Suits wrote demonstrating precisely that is as playful as it is insightful, as stimulating as it is delightful. Through the jocular voice of Aesop's Grasshopper, a "shiftless but thoughtful practitioner of applied entomology," Suits not only argues that games can be meaningfully defined; he also suggests that playing games is a central part of the ideal…


A Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality

By John Perry,

Book cover of A Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality

Why this book?

This book singlehandedly revived the dialogue as a genre for contemporary philosophy, and it is now something of a modern classic. As the title indicates, the subject of the dialogue is personal identity and the possibility of life after death. The protagonist, Gretchen Weirob, is terminally ill. Gretchen believes that death will be the end of her existence—that there is no life after death. Her good friend, Sam Miller, disagrees, and he sets out to persuade Gretchen that life after death is possible. They quickly discover that the answer to this question depends on the nature of personal identity. Over the course of three nights, they explore the main theories of personal identity, and the implications of each of them for the possibility of life after death.  

A Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality

By John Perry,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Perry's excellent dialogue makes a complicated topic stimulating and accessible without any sacrifice of scholarly accuracy or thoroughness. Professionals will appreciate the work's command of the issues and depth of argument, while students will find that it excites interest and imagination. --David M. Rosenthal, CUNY, Lehman College


Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion

By David Hume, Richard H. Popkin (editor),

Book cover of Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion

Why this book?

This book is a classic in the philosophy of religion. The great Scottish philosopher, and noted skeptic, David Hume, did not dare publish this book during his lifetime. He gave careful instructions to have it published after his death, and so it was first published in 1779. More than two centuries later, philosophers are still debating the merits of Hume’s arguments. What makes this book so great is that Hume does not straw man his opponents’ arguments. Instead, the characters in Hume’s dialogue state the traditional arguments for the existence of God extremely well. Only then, after they have stated the arguments so well, does Hume’s protagonist, Philo, proceed to attack those arguments with the objections for which he is now legendary.  

Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion

By David Hume, Richard H. Popkin (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Hume's brilliant and dispassionate essay Of Miracles has been added in this expanded edition of his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion , which also includes Of the Immortality of the Soul,Of Suicide, and Richard Popkin's illuminating Introduction.


Phaedo

By Plato, G.M.A. Grube (translator),

Book cover of Phaedo

Why this book?

The philosopher Alfred North Whitehead once said that all of Western philosophy is a footnote to Plato. That might be an exaggeration, but not by much. One of the greatest features of Plato’s philosophy is that he wrote almost entirely in the form of dialogues. His writings modeled the idea that philosophy is an ongoing conversation between different points of view. They also modeled the idea that philosophy is an exchange of reasons, in pursuit of the truth. Plato wrote many great dialogues, every one of them worth reading, but the Phaedo is my favorite. In this dialogue, Plato comes out of the closet as, well, a Platonist, and whether you agree or disagree, it’s a wild ride.  

Phaedo

By Plato, G.M.A. Grube (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Phaedo as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A first rate translation at a reasonable price. --Michael Rohr, Rutgers University


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