The best contemporary philosophy books

1 authors have picked their favorite books about contemporary philosophy and why they recommend each book.

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Knowledge and Lotteries

By John Hawthorne,

Book cover of Knowledge and Lotteries

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.

Knowledge and Lotteries

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,…


Who am I?

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.


I wrote...

Philosophical Method: A Very Short Introduction

By Timothy Williamson,

Book cover of Philosophical Method: A Very Short Introduction

What is my book about?

What are philosophers trying to achieve? How can they succeed? Does philosophy make progress? Is it in competition with science, or doing something completely different, or neither? Timothy Williamson tackles some of the key questions surrounding philosophy in new and provocative ways, showing how philosophy begins in common sense curiosity and develops through our capacity to dispute rationally with each other. Discussing philosophy's ability to clarify our thoughts, he explains why such clarification depends on the development of philosophical theories, and how those theories can be tested by imaginative thought experiments, and compared against each other by standards similar to those used in the natural and social sciences.

Nicomachean Ethics

By Aristotle, David Mills Daniel,

Book cover of Nicomachean Ethics

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.

Nicomachean Ethics

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.


Who am I?

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.


I wrote...

A Significant Life: Human Meaning in a Silent Universe

By Todd May,

Book cover of A Significant Life: Human Meaning in a Silent Universe

What is my book about?

What makes for a good life, or a beautiful one, or, perhaps most important, a meaningful one? Throughout history, most of us have looked to our faith, our relationships, or our deeds for the answer. But in A Significant Life, philosopher Todd May offers an exhilarating new way of thinking about these questions, one deeply attuned to life as it actually is: a work in progress, a journey—and often a narrative. Offering moving accounts of his own life and memories alongside rich engagements with philosophers from Aristotle to Wittgenstein and Bernard Williams, he shows us where to find the significance of our lives: in the way we live them.

Knowledge

By Jennifer Nagel,

Book cover of Knowledge: A Very Short Introduction

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.

Knowledge

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…


Who am I?

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.


I wrote...

Philosophical Method: A Very Short Introduction

By Timothy Williamson,

Book cover of Philosophical Method: A Very Short Introduction

What is my book about?

What are philosophers trying to achieve? How can they succeed? Does philosophy make progress? Is it in competition with science, or doing something completely different, or neither? Timothy Williamson tackles some of the key questions surrounding philosophy in new and provocative ways, showing how philosophy begins in common sense curiosity and develops through our capacity to dispute rationally with each other. Discussing philosophy's ability to clarify our thoughts, he explains why such clarification depends on the development of philosophical theories, and how those theories can be tested by imaginative thought experiments, and compared against each other by standards similar to those used in the natural and social sciences.

Riddles of Existence

By Theodore Sider, Earl Conee,

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

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.

Riddles of Existence

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.


Who am I?

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.


I wrote...

Philosophical Method: A Very Short Introduction

By Timothy Williamson,

Book cover of Philosophical Method: A Very Short Introduction

What is my book about?

What are philosophers trying to achieve? How can they succeed? Does philosophy make progress? Is it in competition with science, or doing something completely different, or neither? Timothy Williamson tackles some of the key questions surrounding philosophy in new and provocative ways, showing how philosophy begins in common sense curiosity and develops through our capacity to dispute rationally with each other. Discussing philosophy's ability to clarify our thoughts, he explains why such clarification depends on the development of philosophical theories, and how those theories can be tested by imaginative thought experiments, and compared against each other by standards similar to those used in the natural and social sciences.

Plurality of Worlds

By David Lewis,

Book cover of Plurality of Worlds

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.

Plurality of Worlds

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…


Who am I?

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.


I wrote...

Philosophical Method: A Very Short Introduction

By Timothy Williamson,

Book cover of Philosophical Method: A Very Short Introduction

What is my book about?

What are philosophers trying to achieve? How can they succeed? Does philosophy make progress? Is it in competition with science, or doing something completely different, or neither? Timothy Williamson tackles some of the key questions surrounding philosophy in new and provocative ways, showing how philosophy begins in common sense curiosity and develops through our capacity to dispute rationally with each other. Discussing philosophy's ability to clarify our thoughts, he explains why such clarification depends on the development of philosophical theories, and how those theories can be tested by imaginative thought experiments, and compared against each other by standards similar to those used in the natural and social sciences.

Ethics Without Principles

By Jonathan Dancy,

Book cover of Ethics Without Principles

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.

Ethics Without Principles

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…


Who am I?

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.


I wrote...

Reasons First

By Mark Schroeder,

Book cover of Reasons First

What is my book about?

In the last five decades, ethical theory has been preoccupied by a turn to reasons. The vocabulary of reasons has become a common currency not only in ethics, but in epistemology, action theory, and many related areas. It is now common, for example, to see central theses such as evidentialism in epistemology and egalitarianism in political philosophy formulated in terms of reasons. And some have even claimed that the vocabulary of reasons is so useful precisely because reasons have analytical and explanatory priority over other normative concepts-that reasons in that sense come first.

Mortal Questions

By Thomas Nagel,

Book cover of Mortal Questions

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.

Mortal Questions

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.


Who am I?

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.


I wrote...

The World Philosophy Made: From Plato to the Digital Age

By Scott Soames,

Book cover of The World Philosophy Made: From Plato to the Digital Age

What is my book about?

Western Philosophy, as it has been done for more than two millennia, is the partner of all advancing disciplines. My book is about the contributions philosophy has made, and continues to make, to our civilization. Our natural science, mathematics and technology, our social science, political institutions, and economic life, our culture, religion, morality, and our understanding of ourselves have been shaped by philosophy.

Philosophy never advances against a background or rank ignorance. It flourishes when enough is known about some domain to make great progress conceivable, despite being temporarily stymied because new methods are needed. Philosophers help by giving us new concepts, reinterpreting old truths, and reconceptualizing questions to expand their solution spaces.  Sometimes they do this when sciences are born, sometimes they do it as sciences mature.  As human knowledge advances there is more, not less, for philosophy to do. Our knowledge of the universe and ourselves grows like an expanding sphere of light emanating from a single point. As light travels in all directions away from its source, the volume of the sphere, representing our secure knowledge, grows exponentially.  But so does the surface area of the sphere, representing the border, where knowledge blurs into doubt bringing back methodological uncertainty. Philosophy monitors the border, ready to help plot our next move.

New book lists related to contemporary philosophy

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