I am new to philosophy and want to systematically study it on my own. I have been introduced to Oriental philosophy, including the Vedas, Upanishads, Advaita, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism, as a result of my culture and traditions, whereas my exposure to Western philosophy is more limited; just some names and a little information about them. What would be a proper roadmap for me to enter into Western philosophy: what sequence to follow, what important ideas and terminologies to understand beforehand, and what differences in learning approach between Eastern and Western philosophy should I know about?

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    Start with Will Durant. Its a pleasant read. Then come here and ask more pointed questions. Some other material in here and here
    – Rushi
    Commented Jun 14 at 14:17
  • What about reading some Neitzsche! It is always entertaining, compact, and controversial. Knock yourself out.
    – Fattie
    Commented Jun 14 at 23:00
  • Some say philosophy is exactly the quest for personal meaning. "I have an answer, do you have the question?"
    – Nikos M.
    Commented Jun 15 at 9:56

6 Answers 6


It depends on whether you want to grasp particular ideas, or learn what is usually advertised as the ‘history of philosophy'. Most textbook “history of philosophy” is terribly inaccurate, and I don't recommend beginning with history of philosophy if you're interested in the importance of certain philosophical ideas for various contemporary debates - that’s not because the ideas of Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Leibniz, Hume, Kant, etc., are irrelevant today, but just that the way in which they're usually taught makes them seem so. If you're interested in getting a very general overview of various philosophical ideas and their historical influence, then reading something like Russell's A History of Western Philosophy (although it is very biased against some thinkers, e.g. Hegel) is not a bad choice, since it gives you a lot of information about the very general context in which various strands of thought were shaping. This is a great background if you're studying something like literature or history of science.

If you're interested in philosophy (and its history) as a set of ideas (whether true or not - the path to knowledge in any domain leads through eliminating falsehoods) irrespectively of their association with some famous historical figures, then I'd reccommend beggining with contemporary analytic philosophy. Understanding something like Kripke's Naming and Necessity is a lot more straightforward than reading Kant's Critique of Pure Reason or Hume's Treatise. Modern texts are simply much more condensed due to greater terminological uniformity. Take with a grain of salt what analytic philosophers sometimes say about past thinkers, since it very often isn't accurate, though. You can also read some (so-called) continental philosophy, e.g. Foucault or Husserl, although I'd avoid thinkers like Heidegger or Derrida initially due to the difficulty of their writing (I must admit that I am myself barely familiar with them). You can then try to interpret past thinkers in the light of the concepts you've learned. It's a lot simpler than doing it the other way.

Some book recommendations:

  1. Ian Hacking's Representing and Intervening is a good introduction to philosophy of science which also explains a lot of concepts important for other domains.
  2. Bas van Fraassen's An Introduction to Philosophy of Space and Time clearly shows the relevance of philosophy of science (especially: physics) for philosophy as a whole. It also (mostly) accurately portrays the contributions of past thinkers.
  3. Reading David Lewis' (who is a great writer) philosophical papers can help you understand contemporary debates in metaphysics (although he also wrote on phil. of language, phil. of mind and semantics), but it requires more than basic knowledge of logic. You could also read a monograph on Lewis (e.g. Daniel Nolan's) if you get stuck on some ideas.
  4. For a good introduction to philosophical applications of logic, you can read Daniel Bonevac's Deduction, which crucially discusses modal logic.
  5. Contemporary philosophy of language is quite diverse and requires some sophistication in mathematical logic to fully appreciate. Modern debates center of the issues of modal and counterfactual discourse, hyperintensionality, tense and the nature of proper names and natural kind terms. Unless you're interested in these very specific issues, it's better to just a general overview. Frege's On Sense and Reference, Russell's On Denoting and Kripke's Naming and Necesity are obligatory reads.
  6. To better understand the relevance of natural kinds, modality etc. to philosophy, you can read Goodman's Fact, Fiction and Forecast (or/and Sellars' Counterfactuals, Dispositions and the Causal Modalities). I recommend doing this before reading Kripke, since his arguments might seem unconvincing otherwise.
  7. Some major areas of philosophy (epistemology, philosophy of action, philosophy of mind) are quite diverse so it's hard to recommend any specific texts (although there are of course classics like Anscombe's Intention, Putnam's Psychological Predicates or Davidson's Mental Events). Blackwell companions usually contain good and detailed overviews, though.

I would begin with logic and then read whatever you're currently interested in. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy papers are always helpful if you want to broaden your knowledge and/or don't understand the connections between some ideas. It's not a resource suited for self-learning if you're a begginer, though.

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    The list of books is only about parts of modern analytic philosophy. Other philosophical schools and periods are not even mentioned.
    – Nikos M.
    Commented Jun 14 at 20:24
  • Agreed that this is heavily biased toward the analytics nonetheless many undergrad philosophy programs in the states do look like this in the first year or two
    – emesupap
    Commented Jun 14 at 22:05
  • @NikosM. I explained why I believe analytic philosophy is good as a starting point. I don't have anything against so-called "non-analytic" or "continental" philosophy. Ian Hacking, who is mentioned, is greatly influenced by Foucault, for example. I just think that (a) what most analytics do is often closer metaphilosophically to "classical" philosophers (Plato, Kant etc.), (b) the clarity and terminological uniformity of the texts is a huge advantage for a begginer, additionally: (c) most modern good and systematic scholarship on past thinkers is done within an analytic framework.
    – user73173
    Commented Jun 15 at 5:09

If you want a (albeit a bit shallow) road map you could start with the History of Philosophy Without any Gaps podcast. It's a pretty extensive explanation of Western philosophers and traditions, and has some great entry points into texts or topics that may interest you.

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    this may be a good idea. OP seems to be familar with reasoning and argument etc., so why not give a hugely condensed overview then go shopping (as it were)?
    – andrós
    Commented Jun 14 at 20:21
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    Exactly! Freedom to dive into topics that seem the most relevant/interesting, and there's a lot of emphasis particularly important parts of the history.
    – Aibaahl
    Commented Jun 14 at 20:37

History is important.

Where do our ideas come from? Who first formulated them? How did they develop? What is or was the social and cultural context?

Bertrand Russell gave us this marvelous metaphor:

Language is shot through with the faded hues of past philosophical theories.

For Western philosophy, in particular Greek philosophy, Bertrand Russell's A History of Western Philosophy is an excellent introduction. Russell (1872-1970), as you may know, was an important mathematician and philosopher, one of the founders of the modern analytic tradition. He is an excellent teacher. His prose and style are very clear and accessible.

For Chinese philosophy, I recommend, Fung Yu-lan and Derek Bodde's, A History of Chinese Philosophy, Vol 1. which covers the classical, formative period of Chinese philosophy, up to about 100 BC. (There is also an abridged version of this book, A Short History of Chinese Philosophy.)

If you want to get a better picture by also looking at some actual texts (even if only in translation), then Wing-Tsit Chan, A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy is very good. It gives short summaries of the main questions and ideas in the various philosophical schools, but the bulk consists of translations of core texts. As to actual sources, you could take a look at the Tao Te Ching, which is very short and may have even more translations than the Bible (Ursula K. Le Guin and J. P. Seaton's translation is very good; it preserves the poetry) and the Analects (the old Legge translation is a bit stuffy but really not bad).

If you're interested in history of philosophy and in cross-cultural comparisons then it's also instructive to see how different cultures first meet and how cultural artifacts (texts) were received or appropriated (with all the struggles of translation and interpretation). A very nice detail study of how the Confucian Analects (the main text in Confucianism containing short dialogues and sayings of Confucius and his students) were first received in Europe is Constructing Confucius in the Low Countries by two Dutch scholars, Trude Dijkstra and Thijs Weststeijn.

Logic/methodology of science/the art of argumentation

My own first introduction to the scientific study of logic was as a math freshman in a course about "Logic and Set Theory". But that may be somewhat limiting in a philosophical context. It may be better to look at a broader, less formal, more pragmatic context: How do people actually debate and how can we advance civil, objective public debate? Arne Naess focusses on that question in his book Communication and Argument which imo should be compulsory reading in any philosophy curriculum. Naess is refreshing to read since he asks for and allows for a lot more empirical study in philosophy. He is also refreshing since he is not locked up in the ivory tower of abstruse, purely academic discussions (like: "Is a hole in a sock an abstract object or a concrete object? Are we justified in saying the hole exists?") At the end of his life Naess became involved in the current ecological movement - both as philosopher and as activist. See for instance: Deep Ecology and Education: A Conversation with Arne Naess


In ethics, I believe it's important to not just study philosophers, but at least study the essentials of (mathematical) game-theory and (socio-) biology. Ken Binmore's Natural Justice is a very good introduction in this field.

Ethology is also important. Both the Western and Chinese philosophical traditions are strongly anthropocentric. Anthropocentric biases can result in absurd opinions (and abusive behavior towards other animals). Current ethological studies can counter-act this and make us more aware of those deep biases. Frans de Waal's Good Natured (or any of his other studies) is a nice introduction to this field.

  • You have my +1. Just some comments. You mention Chinese but not Indian, Islamic? See my contrast of Parochial vs Canonical
    – Rushi
    Commented Jun 19 at 3:29
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    I've taken the liberty to format more suitably for what works here. Please accept/modify as you see fit
    – Rushi
    Commented Jun 19 at 4:39
  • @Rushi - Indian philosophy has a rich, important tradition. I didn't mention it mainly because the OP wrote that they are already familiar with those traditions. Also, in this context, Western includes Islamic. Indian traditions are less anthropocentric, perhaps, then all the others. The concerns about parochial vs canonical that you bring up are really important, I agree, and often ignored/shrugged off in Western academic philosophy. (Historians and filologists don't ignore them, though.)
    – mudskipper
    Commented Jun 19 at 12:26
  • I don't know in what sense Chinese, especially Taoism is anthropocentric. Confucius maybe... My sense is throughout the east, prani—breathing creature, and jiva — soul are synonymous, whether it's Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Sikh... Yeah Buddhists will say soul is no-soul — anatta. But this is a technicality
    – Rushi
    Commented Jun 19 at 12:32
  • Taoism is perhaps not very anthropocentric, or perhaps not at all - depending on your definition. But Confucianism is very much so - whatever sensible definition you give. When I was speaking about "Chinese philosophy" I was generalizing, and mostly thinking of Confucianism. -- "People generalize too much", as a friend of me once said.
    – mudskipper
    Commented Jun 19 at 13:08

I would start with Descartes' meditation and start with ontology and metaphysics and go on from there. I suggest Descartes because you already have read books that seem to be metaphysically and theologically focused and I believe this will be a good introduction to the almost "opposite" side of philosophy. You can find a lot of things philosophy in the SEP (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

You can also start with the classics like Plato and Aristotle, if you don't think that their writings are not too rough or disorganized.

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    I don't have anything against starting with Plato but giving Aristotle to a begginer sounds like a bad idea. His writing is too unfocused for a begginer (probably because it's lecture notes).
    – user73173
    Commented Jun 15 at 5:13
  • @abracadabra I started out with Aristotle as a beginner and I must say I wouldn't have preferred any other way. Aristotle is actually one of the best and my one of my favorite philosophers.
    – How why e
    Commented Jun 15 at 6:41
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    Nobody reasonable and familiar with the material would argue Socrates (forms, cave, the good) or Aristotle (the categories) But Descartes?! No. No! No!! He's so bad because he's so good. IOW convincing.. Starting beginners on Descartes is like giving porn to children as literature. Once the solipsism bug gets in it doesn't get out easily.
    – Rushi
    Commented Jun 15 at 8:20
  • @Rushi I find your comment rather hilarious and absolutely true but I would like to say this I started out with Descartes in introductory college philosophy and yes I did end up with a good dose of solipsism but funnily enough it was Descartes' philosophy that dug me out of that same hole. Surface level understanding of Descartes' philosophy = bad, but more understanding = ultimately good.
    – How why e
    Commented Jun 15 at 19:21
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    @Howwhye As I said (other answers) I dont know Descartes personally. Inter alia I mention: I read a book o coordinate geometry in school and was struck by the cleanliness n beauty compared to the traditional messy method. So he certainly has other areas of greatness. He more likely than not was a good man. The thing is that today the dangers of Descartes unleashed are much more acute than in his time and context. He: a christian in an unambiguously christian world, remained a christian. That forms an undergirding to everything of that time.
    – Rushi
    Commented Jun 16 at 4:32

(For western philosophy)

I would say Great Books of the Western World (from Encyclopedia Britannica) contains many classic texts enough to keep you thinking for a while.

The A Syntopicon: An Index to The Great Ideas (from Encyclopedia Britannica, compiled by Mortimer J. Adler) is a topical reference for the great ideas/topics philosophers talk about, and still relevant today. Each great idea is accompanied with a summary essay, which are a joy to read in their own right.

The "Great Ideas" tv program archives at American Archive of Public Broadcasting is a terrific source to arouse interest in philosophy. They are also by Mortimer J. Adler.

The Story of Philosophy by Will Durant is another classic book fit to be your first philosophy book.

Once you consumed all I mentioned, you would be well-prepared to read other philosophical works. Don't get lost in the minute details, and keep a holistic view and feel of Philosophy!


Road map to self-study in philosophy

Well, welcome to the club!

I will offer the same advice as I give to all newcomers who have the same question:read The Story of Philosophy by Will Durant. Published in 1926, the book has held up very well despite the passage of a century. Durant’s writing remains accessible. (So I second the very good recommendation of hym3242)

See you soon in these pages!

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