The most recommended contemporary philosophy books

Who picked these books? Meet our 5 experts.

5 authors created a book list connected to contemporary philosophy, and here are their favorite contemporary philosophy books.
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Book cover of Mortal Questions

Scott Soames Author Of The World Philosophy Made: From Plato to the Digital Age

From my list on western philosophy: what it is and how to do it.

Why am I passionate about this?

A member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, I was educated at Stanford and MIT. I taught for four years at Yale and 24 years at Princeton before moving to USC, where I am Chair of the Philosophy Department. I specialize in the Philosophy of Language, History of Philosophy, and the Philosophy of Law. I have published many articles, authored fifteen books, co-authored two, and co-edited two. I am fascinated by philosophy's enduring role in our individual and collective lives, impressed by its ability to periodically reinvent itself, and challenged to bring what it has to offer to more students and to the broader culture.

Scott's book list on western philosophy: what it is and how to do it

Scott Soames Why did Scott love this book?

This book presents ethics as both a theoretical and personal enterprise. Because it aims not only at what we should believe, but also at what we should want and how we should act, it starts not with pre-reflective ideas about the world, which we hope to make more accurate, but with pre-reflective ideas about what we want and how we want to live, which we hope to improve. Among the most gripping in contemporary philosophy, Nagel's essays -- on death, meaning in life, equality, the power of sex, limitations on our understanding of other beings, and morally evaluating people vs. morally evaluating their actions -- are informed by a unique cconception of objectivity, subjectivity, and of how the two must be combined if we are to progress.

By Thomas Nagel,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Thomas Nagel's Mortal Questions explores some fundamental issues concerning the meaning, nature and value of human life. Questions about our attitudes to death, sexual behaviour, social inequality, war and political power are shown to lead to more obviously philosophical problems about personal identity, consciousness, freedom and value. This original and illuminating book aims at a form of understanding that is both theoretical and personal in its lively engagement with what are literally issues of life and death.


Book cover of Intention

Francesco Orsi Author Of The Guise of the Good: A Philosophical History

From my list on whether humans pursue the good and avoid the bad.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a philosopher based in Tartu, Estonia. In my work I’ve always been interested in value and value judgments, and how value gets us to act, sometimes, though by no means always. But only recently have I become puzzled by what happens when value motivates us the wrong way, as when we are drawn to something (an action, an event) for its badness, not for its goodness. And that’s how I gradually uncovered the fascinating, centuries-long philosophical (and sometimes literary) history narrated in my book and partially represented in the booklist. 

Francesco's book list on whether humans pursue the good and avoid the bad

Francesco Orsi Why did Francesco love this book?

This is the book that shaped philosophical thinking about action since the past half-century, though I didn’t really understand this the first time I read it.

Among other things, Anscombe single-handedly resuscitates the old idea that all we want, we want under the guise of some good from the relative obscurity it had fallen into, handing it over to new generations of philosophers. She vehemently rejects the idea that people can actually behave like Poe’s characters.

By G. E. M. Anscombe,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Intention is one of the masterworks of twentieth-century philosophy in English. First published in 1957, it has acquired the status of a modern philosophical classic. The book attempts to show in detail that the natural and widely accepted picture of what we mean by an intention gives rise to insoluble problems and must be abandoned. This is a welcome reprint of a book that continues to grow in importance.


Book cover of Knowledge: A Very Short Introduction

Timothy Williamson Author Of Philosophical Method: A Very Short Introduction

From my list on contemporary epistemology and metaphysics.

Why am I passionate about this?

Timothy Williamson is a professor of philosophy at Oxford University and a visiting professor at Yale. He writes on metaphysics and epistemology because he doesn’t know how not to care about them. Metaphysics asks fundamental questions about what reality is and how it is structured; epistemology asks fundamental questions about what and how we can know about reality.

Timothy's book list on contemporary epistemology and metaphysics

Timothy Williamson Why did Timothy love this book?

This is my favourite introduction to epistemology. It relates questions about knowledge and scepticism to human psychology, human knowledge to other animals’ knowledge, and the development of Western epistemology to epistemology elsewhere, such as ancient India. Amongst leading epistemologists today, Jennifer Nagel probably has the deepest understanding of relevant work in psychology.

By Jennifer Nagel,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

What is knowledge? How does it differ from mere belief? Do you need to be able to justify a claim in order to count as knowing it? How can we know that the outer world is real and not a dream?

Questions like these are ancient ones, and the branch of philosophy dedicated to answering them - epistemology - has been active for thousands of years. In this thought-provoking Very Short Introduction, Jennifer Nagel considers these classic questions alongside new puzzles arising from recent discoveries about humanity, language, and the mind. Nagel explains the formation of major historical theories of…


Book cover of Ethics Without Principles

Mark Schroeder Author Of Reasons First

From my list on reasons in ethics.

Why am I passionate about this?

Mark Schroeder is the author of six books and nearly one hundred articles in philosophy, many of them concerned with the role of reasons in metaethics and moral explanations. Three of his articles have been honored by the Philosophers’ Annual as among the ten best philosophy articles published in their year, and one received the APA article prize as the best paper published in all of philosophy in 2008 or 2009. His former Ph.D. students now teach philosophy on five continents.

Mark's book list on reasons in ethics

Mark Schroeder Why did Mark love this book?

In this book, Dancy defends the thesis that he calls Ethical Particularism, according to which there is no or virtually no important role for moral rules or principles to play either in moral explanation or in moral understanding. But more importantly, in my view, along the way he lays out in clear and persuasive terms what a powerful explanatory role reasons play in ethical theory. I include it third on my list because the idea that reasons are fundamental and explanatory of everything that has to do with morality and other forms of evaluation has come to be very important in contemporary philosophy, but I think before my own book, this is the work that has articulated this thought the most powerfully and explicitly.

By Jonathan Dancy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Ethics Without Principles as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Jonathan Dancy presents a long-awaited exposition and defence of particularism in ethics, a view with which he has been associated for twenty years. He argues that the traditional link between morality and principles, or between being moral and having principles, is little more than a mistake. The possibility of moral thought and judgement does not in any way depend on an adequate supply of principles. Dancy grounds this claim on a form of reasons-holism, holding
that what is a reason in one case need not be any reason in another, and maintaining that moral reasons are no different in this…


Book cover of City and Modernity in Georg Simmel and Walter Benjamin: Fragments of Metropolis

Thomas Kemple Author Of Marx’s Wager: Das Kapital and Classical Sociology

From Thomas' 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Disaffected sociologist Thinker-swimmer Aspiring multilinguist Queer Reader

Thomas' 3 favorite reads in 2023

Thomas Kemple Why did Thomas love this book?

Even if you’re not a professional academic or a tuition-paying student, sometimes it’s worth making the effort to read a book that is genuinely challenging without being merely frustrating.

Mele’s proficiency in Italian, German, English, and French, along with his erudition in 19th and early 20th-century philosophy, sociology, and literary criticism, are abundantly on display here. And yet he guides us through the fascinating labyrinth of the massive works of these cutting-edge thinkers of "the pre-history of postmodernity" with ease and without ever overwhelming us.

You’ll leave this book wanting to read everything Simmel or Benjamin ever wrote or at least to return to the dazzling passages Mele quotes from and comments on. 

By Vincenzo Mele,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked City and Modernity in Georg Simmel and Walter Benjamin as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book reconstructs and compares the social theories of modernity of Georg Simmel and Walter Benjamin, two classic thinkers in German social thought. The author focuses on five main topics: the historical-sociological method through which they investigate modernity; how are the concepts of history and society possible; the consequences of modern metropolis on the construction of individual subjectivity; the aestheticization of everyday life caused by the expansion of commodity culture; and the female culture as a counter-power to the domination of masculine objective culture. In the decades since Simmel and Benjamin, urban reality has undergone profound changes and we may…


Book cover of Riddles of Existence: A Guided Tour of Metaphysics

Timothy Williamson Author Of Philosophical Method: A Very Short Introduction

From my list on contemporary epistemology and metaphysics.

Why am I passionate about this?

Timothy Williamson is a professor of philosophy at Oxford University and a visiting professor at Yale. He writes on metaphysics and epistemology because he doesn’t know how not to care about them. Metaphysics asks fundamental questions about what reality is and how it is structured; epistemology asks fundamental questions about what and how we can know about reality.

Timothy's book list on contemporary epistemology and metaphysics

Timothy Williamson Why did Timothy love this book?

This is a popular, reliable, wide-ranging introduction to metaphysics by two respected philosophers. It covers topics such as personal identity, fatalism, time, God, free will and determinism, possibility and necessity, and criticisms of metaphysics itself. It asks why there is something rather than nothing, and whether distinctions between good and evil and between right and wrong have any objective reality. Ted Sider is a leader of new developments in contemporary metaphysics.

By Theodore Sider, Earl Conee,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Riddles of Existence makes metaphysics genuinely accessible, even fun. Its lively, informal style brings the riddles to life and shows how stimulating they can be to think about. No philosophical background is required to enjoy this book. It is ideal for beginning students. Anyone wanting to think about life's most profound questions will find Riddles of Existence provocative and entertaining.

This new edition is updated throughout, and features two extra, specially written chapters: one on metaphysical questions to do with morality, and the other on questions about the nature of metaphysics itself.


Book cover of Knowledge and Lotteries

Timothy Williamson Author Of Philosophical Method: A Very Short Introduction

From my list on contemporary epistemology and metaphysics.

Why am I passionate about this?

Timothy Williamson is a professor of philosophy at Oxford University and a visiting professor at Yale. He writes on metaphysics and epistemology because he doesn’t know how not to care about them. Metaphysics asks fundamental questions about what reality is and how it is structured; epistemology asks fundamental questions about what and how we can know about reality.

Timothy's book list on contemporary epistemology and metaphysics

Timothy Williamson Why did Timothy love this book?

If you buy a lottery ticket, it is very probable that it will lose, but you do not know that it will lose, otherwise you might as well throw it away. The book uses such simple examples to think very deeply about the nature of knowledge and the way common sense knowledge is threatened by chance. It critically assesses the idea that what we mean by the word ‘know’ depends on the context in which we are speaking, and explores the subtly different idea that whether you know something can depend on how much practical difference it makes to you. John Hawthorne is one of the most acute and perceptive of contemporary epistemologists.

By John Hawthorne,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Knowledge and Lotteries is organized around an epistemological puzzle: in many cases, we seem consistently inclined to deny that we know certain propositions, while crediting ourselves with knowledge of propositions that imply them. In its starkest form, the puzzle is this: we do not think we know that a given lottery ticket will be a loser, yet we normally count ourselves as knowing all sorts of things which entail that its holder will not suddenly acquire
a large fortune. After providing a number of specific and general characterizations of the puzzle, Hawthorne carefully examines the competing merits of candidate solutions,…


Book cover of Plurality of Worlds

Timothy Williamson Author Of Philosophical Method: A Very Short Introduction

From my list on contemporary epistemology and metaphysics.

Why am I passionate about this?

Timothy Williamson is a professor of philosophy at Oxford University and a visiting professor at Yale. He writes on metaphysics and epistemology because he doesn’t know how not to care about them. Metaphysics asks fundamental questions about what reality is and how it is structured; epistemology asks fundamental questions about what and how we can know about reality.

Timothy's book list on contemporary epistemology and metaphysics

Timothy Williamson Why did Timothy love this book?

This is an accessible defence of the astonishing theory that there are infinitely many possible worlds other than our own, with just as much flesh-and-blood reality; they are systems of space and time disconnected from ours. Many of those worlds contain almost exact counterparts of you. Lewis argues that his theory is much less alien to common sense than it seems, and that it provides the best explanation of many puzzling matters, such as the distinction between what is possible and what is impossible. Although few philosophers accept Lewis’s theory, it is extraordinarily difficult to disprove. David Lewis was the most influential metaphysician of the past half-century.

By David Lewis,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This book is a defense of modal realism: the thesis that our world is but one of a plurality of worlds, and that the individuals that inhabit our world are only a few out of all the inhabitants of all the worlds. Lewis argues that the philosophical utility of modal realism is a good reason for believing that it is true.After putting forward the type of modal realism he favors, Lewis answers numerous objections that have been raised against it. These include an insistence that everything must be actual: paradoxes akin to those that confront naive set theory: arguments that…


Book cover of Nicomachean Ethics

Todd May Author Of A Significant Life: Human Meaning in a Silent Universe

From my list on what makes a life meaningful.

Why am I passionate about this?

Todd May has been teaching philosophy for over thirty years. He is the author of sixteen books of philosophy, many of which have been praised for their clarity and relevance to people reflecting on their lives. He was also a philosophical advisor to the hit television sit-com The Good Place.

Todd's book list on what makes a life meaningful

Todd May Why did Todd love this book?

This may not be the best place to start, but sooner or later you’ll want to land here. Aristotle’s view of a good life, one that involves developing virtuous ways of being, is surprisingly contemporary. And unlike a lot of contemporary philosophy, he has deep reflections on the role of friendship in creating a worthwhile life.

By Aristotle, David Mills Daniel,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Presents a support resource for students being introduced to philosophical texts and to philosophy in general. This work contains a glossary of terms relating to the philosopher's use of terms.