I'm a non-academic type (I left school at 16) who is also dyslexic with attention deficit problems. I've recently become interested in the study of philosophy, politics and economics (To answer questions from my own life such as: the ethics of working in the gambling or advertising industry, why my political views have swung from mildly conservative to firmly liberal in the past 4 years, the economics behind cryptographic currencies, etc) and was wondering what is the best route to approach this study.

I'm aware of MIT & Yale's open courseware as well as a handful of recommended texts (Plato, Adam Smith, Hobbes, Machiavelli, etc) but am lacking a solid starting point that will set me on the correct path and prime me to ask the right question of the books I'm going to be reading. Note: I'm in full time employment with financial commitments so attending university full time isn't an option.

I apologize that this question may court discussion or opinion and risk locking but what I'm after are some bullet points or some solid links to bootstrap my studies.

4 Answers 4


Why do not start with an history of philosophy ? For example Anthony Kenny, A New History of Western Philosophy.

A brief "classic" can be : Bertand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy

Online, you can find Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy : from Abelard to Zhuangzi. All entries have bibliography.


I agree with Mauro ALLEGRANZA. You can either dive right into the last 100 years or so of the conversation since the participants speak your language and are talking about topics that you care about, or you can take a year or two to dive in and catch up on the conversation's beginning and middle.

I would start with a smattering of books (say, 4 per year) in the history of philosophy, using a solid list like St. John's or Torrey Honors. Pick one or two books from each semester and work your way through.

You'll be surprised at how exactly the terms and ideas align to the present day conversation and inform its presuppositions, goals, and entrenched disagreements.

So for instance, a 3+ year reading list might include:

Unit I Ancient Thought

  • Plato, Gorgias
  • Aeschylus, Agamemnon
  • Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics
  • Sophecles, Oedipus

Unit II Medieval

  • Bible, Genesis
  • Lucretius, De Rerum Natura
  • Aquinas, Summa Theolgiae (the questions listed by St John's)
  • Dante, Divine Comedy

Unit III Early Modern

  • Machiavelli, the Prince
  • Bacon, Nobum Organum [selections]
  • Descartes, Meditations
  • Pascal, Pensees

Unit IV

  • Hobbes, Leviathan
  • Hume, Treatise of Human Nature
  • Tocqueville, Democracy in America [selections]

Unit V Modern

  • Rousseau, Discourse on the Origins of Inequality
  • Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations
  • Federalist Papers [selections]
  • Supreme Court Cases (pick a few that interest you)

Univ IV Contemporary (a VERY wide scattershot of views) * John Rawls, Justice * Noam Chomsky, American Power and New Mandarins * Thomas Nagel, Equality and Partiality * Nicholas Wolterstorff, Justice: Rights and Wrongs

Depending on your reading pace, you could read 4 every 6 months (and do two units a year, for 3 years) or 4 a year for six years. As a professional, either might be realistic.

As you read, you will almost certainly need someone to dialogue with, in person or online. Also, you will almost certainly come up with a list of other books you'd like to read when you finish (books that are continually referenced, like Plato's Republic). But try to stick to the list and see the whole story/conversation unfold into modern times. You can't read everything at once. Finish, then build a new list.

Hope that helps!


You might want to have a look at http://www.justiceharvard.org/.

  • 1
    I've just watched a couple of these and they're really very good... Shame I can only mark one reply as the answer :(
    – jdoig
    Jun 3, 2014 at 6:12

As a nonacademic, I am a big fan of audio books, and if you have the money for Audible downloads, they have many, many good PPE titles. At Open Culture, you can find many free lectures, http://www.openculture.com. Quality varies. The audio format is great for introductions and overviews, then you can read primary texts on your own. A huge time saver.

Many of the "Very Brief History" titles are an excellent way to get an overview. The VBH audio titles on Kant, Hegel, and Marx are all good. More advanced philosophy in audio can require several passes. The economics selection at Audible is also very good, though be aware of agendas; I'd especially recommend "23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism" (Chang) and "Keynes/Hayek" (Wapshott).

For philosophy in general, I'd recommend a quick overview of Plato, Aristotle, more Aristotle, and Descartes before anything else. And philosophy is much better with a side helping of history of science, a basic grasp of Galileo and Newton at least.

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