I've been searching the questions posed here, and don't seem to find one that gives the answers I am looking for. I've proposed to start a list on meta but no one proposed anything, so I feel I must ask this question: What are some books generally regarded as good for a general introduction on philosophy? By this I mean good books that can introduce you to philosophy in general and throughout the times, not to some philosophy or period in particular.

This question almost answers mine, except for the fact that most things proposed there are not books, thus not giving me much options to weigh upon. This one regards contemporary philosophy in particular. And this one has the same problem as the first one, plus the fact that it asks for layman's terms, which is not what I am looking for.

I've been tempted to buy Will Durant's The Story of Philosophy, but am not sure if it is the best book to get started on philosophy (plus, the book has some mixed reviews). I also checked The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, which seems to be unanimously good, but has the format of dictionary/encyclopaedia, which is not exactly what I am looking for (at least as a main source). The Philosopher's Toolkit also seems to be a good introduction regarding how to do philosophy, rather than to its history and ideals (this also interests me, but I'd rather learn about the philosophers and their theories first).

It is also important to point out that I have little notions (or none at all) on philosophy. I would like to read something that covers from classical to contemporary philosophy generally (although I do not know if there is such a book), so that from there I could pick some author, period or branch of philosophy in particular to read further on. So, to sum up, I would like to 'hear' your opinions on what are some books generally regarded as good for a general introduction on philosophy.

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    Introduction to Philosophy: Classical and Contemporary Readings [Paperback] John Perry (Author), Michael Bratman (Author), John Martin Fischer (Author). Very expensive in hardback, and no e-book version I can find. The authors are well-regarded. It is an anthology with commentary, explanation, and glossary. Well written, accessible, and reasonably comprehensive. You could do worse.
    – thisfeller
    Commented Nov 21, 2012 at 20:26
  • Thank you! I checked it on Amazon, and even the paperback is expensive (30-50£), which means I'll need to find a used copy. However, it would be nice if you could formulate an answer and elaborate a little bit more about the book (its structure, etc.), since it has little or no reviews in its Amazon page. Still, thanks!
    – JNat
    Commented Nov 21, 2012 at 20:45
  • 1
    Suggestion: We could collect one entry per answer and then get an informal ranking/rating via upvote?
    – DBK
    Commented Nov 22, 2012 at 0:13
  • @DBK: I think that is a good idea!
    – JNat
    Commented Nov 22, 2012 at 9:58

17 Answers 17


I'd go with Simon Blackburn's Think: A Compelling Introduction to Philosophy (Cambridge University Press 1999).

Here's the blurb:

This is a book about the big questions in life: knowledge, consciousness, fate, God, truth, goodness, justice. It is for anyone who believes there are big questions out there, but does not know how to approach them. Think sets out to explain what they are and why they are important. Simon Blackburn begins by putting forward a convincing case for the study of philosophy and goes on to give the reader a sense of how the great historical figures such as Descartes, Hume, Kant, and Wittgenstein have approached its central themes. Each chapter explains a major issue, and gives the reader a self-contained guide through the problems that philosophers have studied. The large scope of topics covered range from scepticism, the self, mind and body, and freedom to ethics and the arguments surrounding the existence of God. Lively and approachable, this book is ideal for all those who want to learn how the basic techniques of thinking shape our existence.

It's not really an introduction to the history of philosophy; it uses a problem-oriented approach, yet it covers most historical classics.

Last, but not least: The book is enjoyable to read.

  • 1
    So, apparently almost every review I found on Amazon agrees that it is indeed a good introductory read, but also that the author's conservative views are somewhat biased. Still, I'll consider this one! Thanks!
    – JNat
    Commented Nov 22, 2012 at 10:14
  • 1
    He might be biased, but who does ascribe to him conservative views?
    – DBK
    Commented Nov 22, 2012 at 13:22
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    A review I read on Amazon.co.uk (a four-stared one btw) said: "However it should be pointed out that Blackburn is intellectually conservative and this sometimes come through in the writing."
    – JNat
    Commented Nov 22, 2012 at 13:33
  • 3
    OK, I thought it might have something to do with conservative in a political sense, which wouldn't make sense. The reviewer states what he mean with 'conservative': "Blackburn also ignores pretty much everything thats happened since 1900 (except Wittgenstein and Russell) and avoids much continental philosophy since Kant." And by "bias" he seems to mean "being selective". In his sense I wouldn't know any non-biased introduction :) (My take: The only important sense in which the book might be accused of being biased is wrt the last chapter about philosophy of religion.)
    – DBK
    Commented Nov 22, 2012 at 22:00
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    Adding my support: The Open University's Masters program in Philosophy lists this book as suggested pre-reading for the introductory course, and they recommend it specifically for anyone entering their MA program who doesn't have a background in academic philosophy (i.e., has a BA in a different subject).
    – Ryder
    Commented Nov 23, 2012 at 15:30

Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder polarises opinion as it is a history of philosophy wrapped up in a children's story. As long as you feel OK with this mixture (and for me at 40 something it was not a problem) then this offers a gentle introduction. What I found especially good was that the explanations of the various philosophers' thoughts were put into a historical context.

  • Thanks for the answer! I'm not sure about the mixture, but I'll definitively look into it!
    – JNat
    Commented Nov 22, 2012 at 13:25
  • I remember the dramatic flow of the book, really gripping and with a thriller-like pace!
    – DBK
    Commented Nov 23, 2012 at 17:31
  • Sophie's world is a beautiful book and a masterpiece. It is the best place to start.
    – mdg
    Commented Feb 11, 2015 at 5:38

History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell is usually recommended as a good place to start, haven't read it myself, but it gives you a thorough overview of philosophy and how it has changed over the times. It's usually recommended to read an overview book like this before jumping into a specific philosopher's work.

On a side note: there is a sort of reference guide by Stanford here that you can also browse through to get an overview of some philosophical concepts.

  • 1
    I know this question may be silly, but does it only really cover Western philosophy? Is there some book that also includes and contextualizes (in time) Eastern philosophy? (also note that this seems to make some sense to me, but, as I said above, I have little notions on philosophy. So it may not make sense to bundle Eastern and Western philosophies, as well as history of philosophy and all the aspects that refer to these into one book. If this is the case, tell me!)
    – JNat
    Commented Nov 21, 2012 at 21:06
  • From my understanding it covers all the great philosophers from Aristotle to Kant but no eastern philosphers, as i said, haven't read it myself. But its good to for a general overview. When you get a general overview from a book, video series(I just watched a video series on youtube to get me started), etc then you can decide which philosophers interests you and go from there. Commented Nov 21, 2012 at 21:13
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    From the reviews I read about this book, I take it that the writing is rather biased, and some facts are inaccurate. However, it seems that its broad scope and depth are a plus.
    – JNat
    Commented Nov 21, 2012 at 22:18
  • 4
    I doubt you'll ever find one book to rule them all; I would just start with one that has solid reviews and go from there. An intro philosophy professor would be the best person to ask for this kind of thing, as they typically read many introductory books (in fact, they are often given books to evaluate) so they have a much larger basis of comparison, whereas any individual student will have read 1, maybe 2 intro books ever and before they moved on to more specific texts.
    – stoicfury
    Commented Nov 22, 2012 at 0:09
  • @stoicfury: I've contacted a professor. However, if you know someone I should contact that is highly regarded as an intro philosophy professor, let me know. Thank you!
    – JNat
    Commented Nov 22, 2012 at 14:15

I have enjoyed the DK Publishing's The Philosophy Book(1)(2). It is an intro, it is basically written, and covers most of the topics.

To the complete novice learning about philosophy can be daunting - The Philosophy Book changes all that. With the use of powerful and easy to follow images, succinct quotations, and explanations that are easily understandable, this book cuts through any misunderstandings to demystify the subject. Each chapter is organised chronologically, and covers not only the big ideas, but the philosophers who first voiced them, as well as cross-referencing with earlier and later ideas and thinkers. The Philosophy Book untangles knotty theories and sheds light on abstract concepts, and is perfect for anyone with a general interest in how our social, political, and ethical ideas are formed, as well as students of philosophy and politics.

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    I actually received this book as a present several months ago. I can attest to its range, as it covers just about every important philosopher since Thales, but it is also somewhat superficial. It's a great way to achieve cursory familiarity with a whole lot of philosophers, but it should be treated cautiously. For example, I found the article on Machiavelli misleading in how it presented "the ends justify the means." Also, the bit on Socrates is just wrong when it quotes "I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance," which is one of the most common misquotations in philosophy.
    – commando
    Commented Nov 22, 2012 at 5:19
  • After reading the reviews for this book, I found that its most attractive feature (for the majority of the reviews) is the fact that it is written in a somewhat plain language. However, this is not quite what I am looking for. Although I know little or nothing about philosophy, I'd rather read something that introduces me to the terms used in philosophy, rather than reading something explained in layman's terms. However, I am not sure if the approach I am looking for is the recommended, or if I should first read something like this, later progressing into a more 'technical' book. Thanks!
    – JNat
    Commented Nov 22, 2012 at 10:44

Sorry for turning up so late to the party. The front door was locked so I had to climb through a window.

Anyway, I've recently come across the following book:

enter image description here

Tetralogue: I'm Right, You're Wrong

Four people with radically different outlooks on the world meet on a train and start talking about what they believe. Their conversation varies from cool logical reasoning to heated personal confrontation. Each starts off convinced that he or she is right, but then doubts creep in.

In a tradition going back to Plato, Timothy Williamson uses a fictional conversation to explore questions about truth and falsity, and knowledge and belief. Is truth always relative to a point of view? Is every opinion fallible? Such ideas have been used to combat dogmatism and intolerance, but are they compatible with taking each opposing point of view seriously? This book presupposes no prior acquaintance with philosophy, and introduces its concerns in an accessible and light-hearted way. Is one point of view really right and the other really wrong? That is for the reader to decide.

Amazon link

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    From the synopsis, it looks interesting. I'll have a look at it. Thanks!
    – JNat
    Commented Mar 14, 2015 at 20:06

I really liked The Problems of Philosophy by Bertrand Russell for the following reasons:

  • It studied the thought of past philosophers by investigating a particular subject (such as existence).
  • It is very readable.
  • It's freely available online at the above (and other) links.

I'm going to answer my own question with Will Durant's The Story of Philosophy, just to see how many votes it gets.

Easily the most engaging writer of Western intellectual history in the English language, Will Durant breathes life into philosophers and their ideas. He is colorful, witty, and above all, informative. Beginning with Socrates and ending with American philosopher John Dewey, Durant summarizes the lives and influence of philosophy's greatest thinkers, painting them with humanity and adding a few of his own wise platitudes. Seventy-some years after its first printing, The Story of Philosophy still stands as one of the best of its kind.

"The Story of Philosophy" chronicles the ideas of the great thinkers, the economic and intellectual environments which influenced them, and the personal traits and adventures out of which each philosophy grew.

  • I've read it and recommend it! Really clear and well written.
    – Rodrigo
    Commented Mar 27, 2014 at 0:23

I use the noun 'exordium (plural exordia)' to mean introductions to philosophy < 500 pages for people with 0 experience in philosophy.

My personal (though amateur) experience suggests this order of reading (where 1 is the easiest).

  1. What Does it All Mean?    by Thomas Nagel

  2. Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press)   by Edward Craig

Beyond 2 above, the 'Very Short Introductions' series also covers and ramifies into the subfields of philosophy and different philosophers. See its inventory for Philosophy and for all subjects.

Nigel Warburton has written 4 exordia (3-7 below), all which you should read: 

  1. Philosophy: The Basics,  
  2. Philosophy: The Classics,   
  3. A Little History of Philosophy.
  4. Philosophy: The Essential Study Guide

  5. Philosophy for Everyone (2013) by Matthew Chrisman, Duncan Pritchard, et al.

  6. Philosophy: A Beginner's Guide by Peter Cave.

  7. Think: A Compelling Introduction to Philosophy by Simon Blackburn. I found this too perplexing in a few chapters.

For more suggestions, consult the following:


If you like reading you must check out Copleston's A History of Philosophy. The most thorough 'introduction' that I know of.


Not bad to have a look at Islamic philosophy also:

Our Philosophy

The Revealer, The Messenger, The Message

A History of Muslim Philosophy

  • Nice! But first I'll go with a general introduction. But I'll definitely look into those! Thank you!
    – JNat
    Commented Nov 29, 2012 at 20:17

If you are looking for a text that has a good introduction of sorts, here is the text used by many universities across the world: The Philosopher's Way: Thinking Critically About Profound Ideas by John Chaffee. The online package is interesting too but that isn't required so much. If you can get a second-hand book, it should be quite sufficient.


While desultorily browsing on Amazon.com, I chanced upon the following how-to guides from publisher Granta UK on famous philosophers and writers; so I haven't read them myself but thought to tender them anyways. If anyone has read them, please feel free to advise and evaluate.

I can't find a list on Granta UK's website that neatly lists and catalogues each book in the series, but I tried their search engine which's defective because at the bottom, it shows links to 10 pages of search results (10 records), but when I click on any other page, I receive a page error warning. Anyhow, Amazon.com does exemplify their offerings a little more, such as the following (I don't replicate everything):

How to Read Hume

How to Read Plato

How to Read Wittgenstein (How to Read)


I haven't read many books of Philosophy, but if you wish to learn about its history, Sophie's World is an awesome book by Joestin Gaarder. It starts with Socrates, going all the way until our modern age, including the "student's" point of view, as Sophie is actually learning philosophy as you read it.

If you are interested in the psychological branch of the philosophy, you should read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. It explains the "autobiography" of an autistic kid, as he saw a crime, and decided to investigate it. (It's a mystery novel, not 100% educational, even though it taught me a lot.)

Others than those, there are a lot of movies that make you think philosophically, even though they tend to be better if you know what to look for.


I think that the many 'Introduction to philosophy' texts suggested by other answers may not be the best place for you start.

I think that an understanding of the context in which philosophy first came about (the Greek milieu) is indispensable in understanding what philosophy is and what it has meant throughout history. So, I would recommend:

Plato's Symposium

This is a very short and breezy read. I think its also one of the most well written works of philosophy that we have.


Hank Green recently started CrashCourse Philosophy in YouTube, it's still ongoing (at episode #10 at the time of this writing), but you can browse the previous titles to see its current coverage.

It's very geared toward beginner/layman. There is no intimidating use of unexplained terms/concepts.


This answer suggests introductory textbooks, but see my other answer if you prefer to commence with short introductions of fewer than 400 pages. I omit quotes to facilitate reading.

Reddit askphilosophy Post of 2013/9/7

A better, more systematic, but more difficult treatment is given in Introduction to Philosophy: Classical and Contemporary Readings by John Perry, Michael Bratman, John Martin Fischer. If you don't find it bland to read it, I would strongly recommend picking it instead as you could get a sense of the flow of ideas better.


Understanding Philosophy of Science, by James Ladyman was the first text set to me (over a decade ago) for HPS, History and Philosophy of Science (no prior philosophy classes):

Few can imagine a world without telephones or televisions; many depend on computers and the Internet as part of daily life. Without scientific theory, these developments would not have been possible.

In this exceptionally clear and engaging introduction to philosophy of science, James Ladyman explores the philosophical questions that arise when we reflect on the nature of the scientific method and the knowledge it produces. He discusses whether fundamental philosophical questions about knowledge and reality might be answered by science, and considers in detail the debate between realists and antirealists about the extent of scientific knowledge. Along the way, central topics in philosophy of science, such as the demarcation of science from non-science, induction, confirmation and falsification, the relationship between theory and observation and relativism are all addressed. Important and complex current debates over underdetermination, inference to the best explaination and the implications of radical theory change are clarified and clearly explained for those new to the subject.

It annoyed me at the time, partly because I couldn't take it seriously due to the (it seemed) inane dialogue pages, between two philosophy students. But I would recommend it for philosophy of science (which I reckon is where 'it' is really at).

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