The Best Philosophy Books of All Time

The Death of SocratesThe following is a timeline of the great books of western philosophy, by century, beginning with Plato and ending with the great works of the twentieth century. The timeline comprises 73 books drawn from multiple lists, including:

This timeline is intended as a resource for those who want to explore the history of the subject and tackle some of the original works. While this timeline is not exhaustive, it covers most of the major works of philosophy through the twentieth century.

  1. Plato, Apology, 399-390 BCE – presents Socrates’ speech of self-defense at his trial for impiety and corrupting the youth.
  2. Plato, Crito, 399-390 BCE – a dialogue between Socrates and Crito regarding the nature of justice.
  3. Plato, Republic, 399-390 BCE – Plato’s most famous work, this dialogue discusses the nature of justice, the just man, and the just city-state.
  4. Plato, Parmenides, 388-367 BCE – the dialogue that presents serious challenges to Plato’s theory of forms.
  5. Plato, Symposium, 396 BCE – a discussion regarding the different conceptions of love (eros), sex, gender, and human instincts.
  6. Plato, Meno, 388-367 BCE – seeks to define the nature of virtue in general, rather than focusing on specific virtues.
  7. Plato, Gorgias, 380 BCE – a work of moral philosophy that explores the differences between rhetoric and philosophy.
  8. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 350 BCE – the foundational text of virtue ethics, describing how to live well and how the development of character is the proper basis for an ethical system.
  9. Aristotle, Politics, 350 BCE – Aristotle’s work of political philosophy and a continuation of the Nicomachean Ethics.
  10. Epictetus, Enchiridion, 125 CE – a short manual compiled by Epictetus’s student Arrian that describes the practical application of Stoicism.
  11. Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy, 500 CE – examines the transitory nature of wealth and fame, the superiority of the things of the mind, and the idea that virtue is the one true good because it cannot be affected by the vicissitudes of fortune.
  12. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 1265–1274 CE – A compendium of all the main teachings of the Catholic Church.
  13. Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince, 1513 – the classic text of political philosophy that outlines a coldly pragmatic and deceptive prescription for the acquisition and maintenance of political power.
  14. Michel de Montaigne, Essays, 1580 – the first work of intellectually serious introspection, this work popularized the essay as a form of literature.
  15. Sir Francis Bacon, Novum Organon, 1615 – outlines a new system of logic, known as the Baconian method, to replace the syllogistic method of Aristotle.
  16. Rene Descartes, Discourse on Method, 1637 – outlines Descartes’ method of skepticism and contains the famous line: “I am thinking, therefore I exist.”
  17. Rene Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy, 1641 – building on the philosophical system introduced in Discourse on Method, this treatise consists of six meditations that seek to doubt all knowledge that is not certain and to find that which can be known with absolute certainty.
  18. Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, 1651 – concerns the structure of society and the legitimate forms of government, containing one the earliest examples of social contract theory.
  19. Benedict Spinoza, Ethics, 1677 – an ambitious attempt to apply the methods of Euclid (using rigorous proofs and axioms) in philosophy. Starting with a small number of definitions and axioms, Spinoza builds an entire philosophical system concerning God, nature, humanity, reason, and ethics.
  20. John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 1689 – concerns the foundation of human knowledge and understanding, presenting the mind the mind as a blank slate at birth that is later filled with experience.
  21. John Locke, Second Treatise of Government, 1689 – Locke’s work of political philosophy, outlining a vision for a more civilized society based on natural rights and social contract theory.
  22. John Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration, 1689 – advocates for religious toleration, under the assumption that more religious groups prevent civil unrest and that the government should not prevent the spread of religious sects.
  23. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Théodicée, 1710 – the only book published in Leibniz’s lifetime, this work presents an optimistic solution to the problem of evil and claims that God created the best possible balance between good and evil in the world.
  24. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Monadology, 1714 – outlines Leibniz’s metaphysical theory of simple substances, or monads, leading to his overall philosophy of idealism and metaphysical optimism.
  25. George Berkeley, A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, 1713 – sought to prove that the outside world consists solely of ideas, and that objects do not exist when not perceived.
  26. Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws, 1748 – a work of political theory and comparative law advocating for constitutional systems of government with separation of powers, the rule of law, the preservation of civil liberties, and the end of slavery.
  27. David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, 1748 – the book that Immanuel Kant described as waking him from his “dogmatic slumber.” Emphasizes the limits of human knowledge, the reliance on non-rational habits in human behavior, and provides a defense for moderate skepticism.
  28. David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, 1751 – argues that the foundation of morality lies with sentiment, not reason.
  29. David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, 1776 – a dialogue in which three philosophers (two theists and one skeptic) debate the existence of God. Includes discussions regarding the argument from design and the argument from evil.
  30. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract, 1762 – argues against the divine right of kings, rejects the idea that anyone has a natural right to rule over anyone else, and embraces the idea that a pact, or social contract, that is agreed upon by all members of a state should be the source of sovereign power.
  31. Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, 1759 – Smith’s work of moral philosophy, covering ideas regarding conscience, moral judgement, and virtue.
  32. Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, 1776 – Generally regarded as the foundation of contemporary economic thought. Smith identifies the division of labor and asserts that the primary psychological drive of self-interest creates wealth and social good when operating freely.
  33. Thomas Paine, Common Sense, 1776 – advocated for independence from Great Britain to people in the Thirteen Colonies.
  34. Thomas Paine, Rights of Man, 1791 – outlines universal human rights and claims that political revolution is permissible when the government violates these natural rights.
  35. Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, 1794 – argues for the philosophical position of Deism and against traditional, organized religion.
  36. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, 1781 – determines the limits and scope of human reason and metaphysics.
  37. Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals, 1785 – establishes the supreme principle of morality, the categorical imperative, and argues that human beings are ends in themselves and should never be used as means.
  38. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Practical Reason, 1788 – Kant’s second critique, presenting his moral philosophy.
  39. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment, 1790 – Kant’s third and final critique, largely dealing with his philosophy of aesthetics.
  40. Jeremy Bentham, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, 1789 – the first major work on utilitarianism, or the idea that morality is defined as the greatest good for the greatest number.
  41. Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Women, 1792 – one of the earliest works of feminist philosophy, arguing for equal political and educational rights for women.
  42. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, The Phenomenology of Spirit, 1807 – Hegel’s examination of mind and mental functioning, including his ideas on dialectic, absolute idealism, and the ethical life.
  43. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature, 1836 – a foundational text of transcendentalism, or the non-traditional appreciation of nature.
  44. Ralph Waldo Emerson, The American Scholar, 1837 – a philosophical framework to build a unique American intellectual identity.
  45. Søren Kierkegaard, Either/Or, 1843 – outlines a theory of human existence defined by the choice between the hedonistic life versus the ethical life.
  46. Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling, 1843 – a foundational text of existentialism, exploring the concept of faith.
  47. Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto, 1848 – a summary of Marx and Engels’ theories on the nature of society and politics and a prediction of the eventual collapse of capitalism and replacement by socialism.
  48. Karl Marx, Das Kapital, 1867–1894 – a critique of capitalism and exposition of materialist philosophy, economics, and politics.
  49. John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, 1859 – applies utilitarianism to the state and society.
  50. Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, 1859 – an attempt to combine western and eastern philosophy, with a focus on the will to life, desire as the source of suffering, and the importance of art.
  51. Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, 1883–1891 – a philosophical novel containing the ideas of eternal recurrence, the death of god, and the Übermensch.
  52. Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, 1886 – further expands on Thus Spoke Zarathustra, using a more critical and polemical approach.
  53. Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, 1887 – traces the evolution of moral concepts, including the “moral prejudices” of Judaism and Christianity.
  54. Bertrand Russell, Principia Mathematica, 1910 – a three-volume work on the foundations of mathematics, an attempt to reduce all mathematics to a fundamental system of logic.
  55. John Dewey, Democracy and Education, 1916 – examines the importance of education in a well-functioning democracy.
  56. John Dewey, Experience and Nature, 1925 – covers Dewey’s basic formulation of the problem of knowledge and details the relationship between the external world, minds, and knowledge.
  57. John Dewey, Experience and Education, 1938 – a foundational text of progressive education, emphasizing the importance of experience, experiment, and purposeful learning.
  58. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 1921 – examines the relationship between language and reality and describes the limits of science.
  59. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, 1953 – overturning his earlier work, Wittgenstein proposes that most philosophical problems result from linguistic or conceptual confusion.
  60. George Santayana, Scepticism and Animal Faith, 1923 – posits the necessity of “animal faith,” or the belief in what our senses tell us.
  61. Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, 1927 – examines the concept of Dasein, or being or existence.
  62. Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality, 1929 – the foundational text of process philosophy, emphasizing becoming and changing over static being.
  63. A. J. Ayer, Language, Truth, and Logic, 1936 – argues for the verification principle of logical positivism, later rejected by Ayer himself. Nevertheless, the book contains useful ideas and the best expression of logical positivism.
  64. Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness, 1943 – asserts the individual’s existence as prior to essence, and that the individual is condemned to be free to define their own meaning and purpose.
  65. Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies, 1945 – a critique of Plato and Marx as the intellectual origins of totalitarianism and a defense of the open society based on critical rationalism and debate.
  66. Karl Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery, 1959 – promotes the idea of falsification as the driving force behind scientific knowledge and progress.
  67. Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, 1949 – discusses the treatment of women throughout history and is considered the starting point of second-wave feminism.
  68. Willard Van Orman Quine, Word and Object, 1960 – emphasizes naturalism and the idea that philosophy should be pursued as a part of natural science.
  69. Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 1962 – proposed a new model of scientific progress as periods of “normal science” being interrupted by “paradigm shifts.”
  70. P. F. Strawson, The Bounds of Sense, 1966 – an essay of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason that attempts to separate what remains valuable in the text from transcendental idealism, which Strawson rejects.
  71. John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, 1971 – an attempt to solve the problem of distributive justice by using a variation of the social contract, promoting “justice as fairness” and introducing the concept of the “original position.”
  72. Saul Kripke, Naming and Necessity, 1980 – a major work in the philosophy of language that rejects the view that philosophy is nothing more than the analysis of language.
  73. Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue, 1981 – argues that modern moral discourse is irrational and calls for a return to virtue ethics, particularly as practiced by Aristotle.



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