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Human beings are inclined towards philosophy. It is the fuel for critical thinking, imagination, and it is also a path to self-discovery. Reading the best philosophy books can transform your life by doing much more than just changing your perspective.
Did you know that Philosophy is the basis for all the knowledge we humans hold collectively? It has played a crucial role in discovering truths concerning science, mathematics, and all things logical. It is through the works of philosophers that we have gained insights into the human condition.
These books can answer some of the most profound questions and give you more questions to find answers. Philosophy books are a gateway to your higher self. It helps you build a different perspective on the things around you.
It contributes to your intelligence, personality, and overall well-being. Reading philosophy books will help you in making certain choices in life. They also help in understanding the goals you pursue and even achieve them.
If you are here, it means that you are also in the quest for answers to some profound questions. So, let’s dive deeper into this world of a millennia-old discipline.
We have curated a list of the top 21 best philosophy books of all time. The list contains popular books from different corners of the world, from western philosophy books to middle-eastern philosophy books. The list features the works of the likes of Nietzsche, Aristotle, and Plato.
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Beyond Good And Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche
This book is described as one of the best philosophy books by many scholars. It is written by German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, popularly known as Nietzsche. This book was first published in the year 1886.
Nietzsche questions past philosophers on blindly accepting the dogmatic premises of morality. He specifically accuses them of lacking a critical sense, especially while founding philosophy believes that there is a good man and his opponent is a bad man.
His work delves deep into philosophy by moving beyond good and evil. It means that leaving the traditional dichotomy of morality. He fearlessly, in his time, confronted the perspective nature of existence and knowledge.
He also talks about the unsafe condition of modern society and the humans living in it. The main sections of the book are divided into nine parts. Each part talks about different things such as prejudices of philosophers, free spirit, the essence of religion, and even concepts such as countries.back to menu ↑
Being And Nothingness By Jean-Paul Sartre
Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology is best described as a philosophical account of existentialism. It was first published in 1943. This book is considered one of the best political philosophy books.
The book deals with many topics, namely- perception, self-deception, and social philosophy. It also deals with the existence of nothingness and free will.
Sartre was a war prisoner during 1940 and 1941. While his time there, he read Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time. This work widely influenced Being and Nothingness. Although those works influenced him, he still questioned if humanity could ever achieve a state of personal fulfillment.
He accounts that the vision of completion haunts humans. He calls this “ens causa sui,” which means a being that causes itself.
The book gives a whole new perspective of existence. We are born into our bodies, and then one is inserted into existence.
This is a very influential existentialism book that is noted for its notion “existence precedes essence.” This novel stands out for its exploration of nothingness.back to menu ↑
The Complete Essays Of Michel De Montaigne By Michel De Montaigne
The Complete Essays of Michel de Montaigne is a contained collection of three books by Michel de Montaigne. The book contains 107 chapters, and each of them varies in their length. It was written in French over approximately a duration of 22 years, from 1570 to 1592.
The essays cover a wide range of topics that provide insights into human nature. The main aim for him while writing the book was to explain himself with utter honesty and frankness. It is called “bonne foi.”
This is a widely read book that is one of the best books on philosophy. The implications of this book are far-reaching, and the meanings run deep. Although it became popular, the author never expected to garner any attention to this extent.
The topics range from mundane things to profound values. The titles are such as “Of Smells” “Of Posting,” which refers to the posting of letters. Also, such as “Of Conscience.” and “Of Sadness and Sorrow.”
The book reasons that while humans are finite, the truth is infinite. Hence, we are not capable of grasping the certainty in fullness.
He believed in the existence of absolute truth, and humans could realize it by divine revelation. He also writes that human nature is the most basic in its features. This belief is similar to the renaissance.back to menu ↑
The Second Sex By Simone de Beauvoir
This is one of the best political philosophy books written by French existentialist Simone de Beauvoir. The book was written in about 14 months, from 1946 to 1949, following extensive research. It was first published in two volumes, Facts and Myths, and the Lived Experience.
This book is regarded as a crucial work of feminist philosophy. It is also considered as the work that was the starting point of second-wave feminism. It is also the most popularly read book by Simone de Beauvoir.
This book sold more than 20000 copies in the first week of publishing, and it has been translated into 40 different languages. It provides readers with a radical understanding of sex.
Beauvoir describes that the values of biology must be seen concerning social, political, economic, and physiological contexts. She argues that women are considered relative to men.
She compares the situation to women in Rome and Greece. She also covers the trade unions and the participation of women in them, among many other things.back to menu ↑
The Meditations Of Marcus Aurelius By Marcus Aurelius
Meditations are one the best philosophy books for beginners. It is a collection of a series of personal essays by the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. It was written from 161 AD to 180 Ad. It was a private recording to himself on the ideas on stoic philosophy.
He wrote the 12 books in Koine Greek; he wrote it as a cause for self-improvement and personal guidance. It is believed that he wrote a large portion of this work at Sirmium, a place where he spent planning military campaigns. It was around the time 170 AD to 180 AD.
Marcus never intended to publish his writings, and he definitely never intended to be read so widely in the 21st century. Although this work is titled meditations, he never officially gave any title to this book.
This is divided into 12 different books that revolve around Aurelius’s life at other times. The book was written for himself; hence it is not in chronological order. The central theme of this book is the analysis of oneself through their own eyes. Also, it is about developing a perspective that transcends the mundane and meets the cosmic.back to menu ↑
The Art of War By Sun Tzu
The Art of War by Sun Tzu is an ancient Chinese military exposition that is now considered one best political philosophy books. The book dates back to roughly the 5th century BC during the Late Spring and Autumn Period. This work is attributed to Sun Tzu, an ancient Chinese military strategist.
This book is divided into 13 chapters, where each one is about a different art. The art here is referred to the set of skills related to military warfare. It explains the tactics to be applied in winning a war
and was the lead text for about 1500 years in an anthology. It was curated in the Seven Military Classics by the Emperor Shenzong of Song. This book has highly influenced Western and Eastern military strategy, business thinking, legal tactics, political approach, and even lifestyles.
The book explains in detail the Chinese military, from strategies, weapons to military ranks. Sun Tzu also writes the importance of intelligence and espionage beyond the battles fought on the ground.
This book is rich in military strategies that will sustain it as a basis for advanced military training for centenaries to come. It also can be translated to philosophies that we can relate to in everyday life.back to menu ↑
The Transcendent Philosophy Of The Four Journeys Of The Intellect By Mulla Sadra
The Transcendent Philosophy of the Four Journeys of the Intellect is also known as Four Journeys. It is an Islamic philosophical work written by Mulla Sadra, a 17th-century scholar. This book is about transcendent theosophy, a philosophy by the scholar.
It was initially published in four volumes in Tehran in the year 1865. The author was an important figure in the Iranian cultural renaissance. The book is a very critical and analytical piece of work.
The philosophy is heavily influenced by peripatetic philosophy, Ishraqi philosophy, and Kalam Wisdom. He examines the philosophical opinions of all of these schools of works.
This philosophy book considers the true nature of our reality. It sometimes connects with existentialism and essentialism.
In the four journeys, the first journey is about the ontology of being. In contrast, the second is concerned with accidents and substance.
The third journey is about the attributes of God and the soul of a human. The fourth journey is about the human soul, its destiny, death, and resurrection.back to menu ↑
Siddhartha By Herman Hesse
Siddhartha by Herman Hesse is a 1922 novel that follows the spiritual journey and self-discovery of a man. This man is Siddhartha, who became the Buddha after his nirvana. This book was originally written in German.
Siddhartha was the Prince of Kapilavastu, which is traced to either modern Nepal or modern India. He is referred to as Gotama in this book.
The story begins in the Kingdom, where he decides to leave his home hoping to gain spiritual illumination. He renounces royalty and personal possession to become a beggar of the Samana. He meditates intensely to become the Enlightened One or the Buddha eventually.
The novel’s philosophy indicates that the best way to approach life and the understanding of life is by simply taking in the completeness of experiences. It is not by intellectual conversations and worldly pleasures.
It also states that individual events have no meaning to themselves. It has meaning when connected with everything around them.back to menu ↑
Confessions Of Saint Augustine By Augustine Of Hippo
Confessions of Saint Augustine by Augustine of Hippo is one the best philosophy books of all time. It is an autobiographical work that consists of 13 books. It was originally written in Latin around the time 397 AD to 400 AD.
The original title of this book was Confessions in Thirteen Books. Also, it is sometimes published as The Confessions of Saint Augustine. It was written to be read out loud with each of the books as a complete unit.
It is referred to as the most prominent work by Saint Augustine. It is also considered the first Western Christian Autobiography to have ever been written. This book was highly influential to the Middle Age Christian writers.
Besides, it one of the most significant theological works. It revolves around various spiritual meditations and important insights.
The book is about his regret of having led an immoral and sinful life. He also regrets believing in astrology during that time.
The first few books are more autobiographical, while the latter is more philosophical and like a commentary. This book is written as prayers to God at specific points.back to menu ↑
Meditations On The First Philosophy By Rene Descartes
Meditations on The First Philosophy by Rene Descartes regarded as one the best philosophy books. The book was originally written in Latin and later translated to French by the then Duke of Luynes under Descartes’ supervision. This book was first published in Latin in the year 1641 and French in the year 1647.
This book consists of six meditations. Descartes discards the beliefs in the things of which he is not completely certain. This is followed by him trying to establish the things we can know for sure. The meditations are written in a way that he had practiced for six days.
Every new meditation refers to the previous meditation as yesterday. It is read avidly by philosophy lovers, and it is a part of the curriculum for many philosophy students to this day. This book consists of the metaphysical system that Descartes believed in.
This book finds its principle in Principles of Philosophy, which he describes as a philosophical guide book. He viewed this book as a metaphysical underpinning of the new physics. He also sought to overturn the two-thousand-year-old prejudices that he believed to have been incorporated into the Western tradition.
He believed that all knowledge comes from the senses and directly appeals to the person perceiving it. Most importantly, he was aware that his ideas were revolutionary.back to menu ↑
The Book Of Healing By Avicenna
The Book of Healing by Avicenna is a new translation of the original Arabic text. It is a thousand-year-old text that is considered the foundation of modern biology and medicine. It is now the most widely read translation work of the book.
Even after a millennium after his death, Avicenna still remains a highly regarded physician. This timeless person wrote his canon of medicine. This is also called the Qanun.
It is one of the most popular books of all time among physicians. The book is even today highly regarded in the history of medicine. It is also known to have been the basis of how we understand human health and disease.
This work is not simply a collection of dull symptoms and treatment. It is about finding the cause for the illness via humoral diagnosis. This is a method still in practice in Ayurvedic medicines and Unani in India.
This was widely read in Latin, Urdu, and Persian translations when it initially came out in Arabic. However, it took a long time to write an error-free English version that was true to its quality.back to menu ↑
Man’s Search For Meaning By Viktor E. Frankl
This is a 1946 novel that is celebrated as one of the best political philosophy books. The book is written by Viktor Frankl. It revolves around his experience as a prisoner in the Nazi Concentration Camp during the second world war. This book is about positivity and hope.
He describes that a prisoner’s longevity is affected by the way that person imagines their future. He introduced a method that is described as a psychotherapeutic method. It involves identifying a purpose to feel optimistic about in life followed by immersing in the imagination of the outcome.
This is a great book divided into two parts; the first is his analysis of the experience in the concentration camps, whereas the second part is about ideas of the meaning of life and theory known as logotherapy. It is a therapy based on existential analysis; as stated earlier, it identifies a purpose to feel positive about life.
The book had sold over ten million copies by 1997, and it is available in 24 languages. The book is also on the list of The USA’s ten most influential books.
This book concludes that you can find the meaning of life in every moment, even in suffering and death.back to menu ↑
A Treatise Of Human Nature By David Hume
A Treatise of Human Nature: Being an Attempt to Introduce the Experimental Method of Reasoning into Moral Subjects and Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion is a book by David Hume. He was a Scottish philosopher, and he wrote this during the time 1739 to 1740. It is considered by many as the most prominent work in the history of philosophy.
This book is a remarkable statement of philosophical skepticism, naturalism, and empiricism. Hume places all philosophy and science on an empirical examination of human nature.
Hume was impressed by Sir Isaac Newton and his work in the physical sciences. He aimed to introduce a similar experimental method of reasoning to study human psychology. He wrote to discover the force and extent of human understanding.
Hume also argues that the passions, as opposed to the reason, cause human behavior. This is against the belief of philosophical rationalists. He also defends the sentimentalist account of morality and offers a theory of personal identity. The book gives a compatibilist performance of free will. A lot of modern-day philosophers describe this as a founding document of cognitive science.back to menu ↑
The Nicomachean Ethics By Aristotle
The Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle is one of the best-known works. This book plays a key role in defining Aristotelian ethics. It is made of ten books that were originally separate scrolls, and it is understood by his lectures at the Lyceum. This is considered the most crucial work in the history of philosophy.
It had a great influence on the European Middle Ages. It also became part of the core works in medieval philosophy. Hence, it became the indirect critical development of European law and theology.
This work also has profoundly influenced all modern philosophy. This was widely popular in the middle ages throughout Europe, which Albertus Magnus introduced. This book made Aristotle ‘the Philosopher.’
Although modern philosophy authors such as Thomas Hobbes and Francis Bacon, this was seen as an impediment to their philosophy. This work has become widely popular again in recent times.
Aristotle describes that the highest good for humans is their well-being or happiness. This is called eudaimonia, and this is the aim of all practical thinking for humans. He also says that satisfaction is particularly appropriate for the psyche, which means soul.
He also argues that an excellent human is a person who is good at living their life. This person will know how to do it well and how to do it beautifully.back to menu ↑
Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching By Ursula K. Le Guin, Lao Tzu, And Jerome P.
Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching by Ursula K. Le Guin, Lao Tzu, and Jerome P is one of the best books on philosophy. It is a classic Chinese work that is believed to have been written in the 6th century BC. It is also referred to as Lao Tzu or Lao-Tze.
However, the authorship and the date of compilation of the book are debated to this day. The oldest found part of this book is from the 4th century BC.
This text is known to have influenced Taoism both in philosophical and religious ways. This text has also influenced many schools of Chinese religion and philosophy. This includes Legalism, Buddhism, and Confucianism.
It is also an inspiration for many poets, painters, artists, gardeners, and calligraphers. The influence of this text reaches far beyond East Asia. It is one of the most translated texts in world literature.
The book is about the “Way” or the “Dao.” It is how the way is expressed by virtue. It emphasizes the virtue of being natural and non-action.
This book has been translated over 250 times to numerous Western languages. It is mostly English, French, and German.
Although it is not the best philosophy book for beginners, it can be an excellent read for anyone who is into philosophy. This is especially true if you are into Eastern Philosophy.back to menu ↑
The Social Contract By Jean-Jacques Rousseau
The Social Contract is one of the best political philosophy books that you must read if you like political philosophy. It is a 1762 book written by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. This book a brilliant work that is widely influential in numerous political reforms.
This book aims to understand legitimate political authority. This was so because, in the author’s time, he saw that people’s interactions with those in control put them in a far worse state than they were before.
He argues that in a legitimate social contract, everyone will be free. This is because all have the same rights and impose the same works on all. He adds that it is absurd for people to surrender their freedom to slavery.
He also adds that it is wrong of the state if it enslaves the people. He also writes that the politics of a society must be divided into two parts. The first part should be consisting of a whole sovereign population. The second part involves the government separate from the sovereign.
This book also helped inspire the political revolution and reform in France and other European countries. He writes about the best way to establish a political community. He identifies the inequality in society and provides solutions for the problems in society.back to menu ↑
Seneca’s Letters From A Stoic By Seneca
Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic is one of the best philosophy books of all time. It is also known as The Epistulae Morales ad Lucilium or Moral Epistles. It is a collection of 124 letters filled with ancient wisdom, written by the great philosopher Seneca at the end of his life.
The letters are addressed to Lucilius, the procurator of Sicily at the time. Most of the letters began with an observation of his daily life; it then goes ahead with a principle or an issue abstracted from the things he saw.
It is more like a philosophical meditation than a collection of letters. It focuses on the themes of stoic philosophy that include the stout-heartedness of the sage and the contempt of death. It also provides virtue as the supreme of all goodness.
He advises Lucilius on ways to become a more devoted stoic. Some of the letters include “how to deal with one’s slaves” and “the influence of the masses.”
The stoic philosophy book is themed on the inner life and the joy that is obtained from wisdom. It re-emphasizes the stoic theme throughout the book. It says that virtue is truly good, and vice is true evil.
This is also one of the most influential books on philosophy that have shaped the thinking of many philosophers who came afterward.back to menu ↑
The Critique Of Pure Reason By Immanuel Kant
The Critique of Pure Reason is another great book on philosophy. It is sometimes known as Kant’s “First Critique.” It was written by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant. It was originally written in German and was published in the year 1781.
Numerous empiricist and rationalist philosophers have influenced this work. Some of them are David Hume, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, and John Locke.
The book seeks to understand the scopes and limits of metaphysics. The author explains what he calls the “critique of pure reason.” He also takes us through the possibilities and impossibilities of metaphysics.
He also explains the difference between analytical and synthetic judgments. He emphasizes that the feature that distinguishes analytic judgment is simply by analyzing the concepts contained within. A synthetic judgment adds something to the idea as opposed to rational judgment, which merely explains.
This book received very little attention in its early days after publication. However, it later gained the attention of both rationalist and empiricist critics. Besides, this book has widely influenced German Idealism and Western Philosophy.
This is a brilliant book that you may find difficult to put down.back to menu ↑
There are more questions than answers, and the answers are not always clear and distinct. However, curiosity is what keeps humanity going, and philosophy helps us contain the interest.
The quest for answers has been a part of human history and imagination for as long as we could think critically. So, reading these best philosophy books from ancient philosophy to modern philosophy can help you in ways you might not even realize. You might get the answers you were looking for, or you might find the questions that matter.
So, go ahead fill in your favorites from this list of the best philosophy books of all time in your ‘To Read’ list. Now, get ready to transform your life or at least your perspective of it!