I'm 17 years old and I'm starting out in philosophy on my own. To get started I would like to get to know myself more and the way I think since according to what I have researched, I could define myself as someone who is a physicalist and at the same time a moderate scientistic, since I believe that empirical science is the true tool to reach knowledge. I am not radical and I am open to other disciplines. I have just started in this and I may be wrong or my thoughts may change....

I would like someone to recommend me some interesting books on these topics. Also, I am open to debate.

  • Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Physicalism gives a comprehensive overview of modern physicalism with many reading recommendations.
    – Conifold
    Feb 21, 2022 at 21:48
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    I upvoted the question so you have enough reputation to participate in the chat room that @Dcleve created. :) Feb 22, 2022 at 1:13
  • I am a Mathematician. Bernardo Kastrup got PhD on Artificial Inteligence, created a company, sold it and made money enough to dedicate his life to philosophy. Got a PhD on Philosophy and is an exciting and original author, with many publications at Scientific American and several very readable books. He is not a Physicalist but you are young enough to gamble some time on his website.
    – Just me
    Feb 22, 2022 at 16:58

4 Answers 4



A deeply critical understanding of the world is simply not possible without reflecting on the topics of philosophy. Many of those ideas have blossomed into sciences, but the sciences themselves rest on philosophies, the philosophy of physics, mathematics, language, etc.

For less than $30US, I would suggest three introductory works appropriate for an quick, easy introduction. They are pocket-sized, short works written by contemporary, professional philosophers.

  1. Metaphysics: A Very Short Introduction - What is important to know in philosophy is that there are certain topics that are largely presumptions and speculations. Metaphysics is often identified with first principles.

  2. Philosophy of Language: A Very Short Introduction - It cannot be understated that understanding the mechanics of language is important for separating problems that are superficial and derivative from language use, and those of greater import. In Western Anglo-American philosophical circles, the linguistic turn is a seminal event in the evolution of philosophy. Many philosophers mystify words instead of use them to answer philosophical questions. (My favorite YT clips is Dennett and the Deepity.) In the last 50 years, linguists have made some claims about how we use definitions (prototype theory, for example), that challenge traditional philosophical thinking.

  3. Philosophy of Science: A Very Short Introduction - I took science classes for 30 years, and one day realized I had no idea what science was. I could recite the generalized model of the scientific method, but was utterly surprised to find out there was a demarcation problem. Philosophers of science, particularly the logical positivists to whom I was drawn, spent almost 3 decades trying to make scientific thought bullet proof and eliminate philosophy. They failed. Learn from their mistakes.

On the whole, for any scientific class you take, whether linguistics, physics, or logic, you'll find there's an exhausting historical body of philosophy that accompanies its emergence from natural philosophy in the canon. With sciences more specialized than ever, it helps to see the interconnection between ideas by examining their ontologies, epistemologies, and axiological bases. One final tip is if you're scientific in your thinking, be prepared to defend a naturalized epistemology. Many practitioners of philosophy are drawn to philosophy for a source of meaning, and concomitantly will question whether or not science even has a say in philosophical matters. (Obviously, I endorse 'yes' as a response.) There are many thinkers who cling to Aquinas, Spinoza, or Plato, and seek to have the intellectual world conform to their worldviews regardless of the progress made in thinking. It's important to be able to defend the notion that science brings certainty, because the philosophy of science itself undermines it's own certainly with theses like underdetermination. It can be a shock to be challenged by a much more sophisticated philosophical thinker who has a good argument to reject science. I was floored when someone challenged me to delineate a clear dichotomy between the natural and the supernatural!

Anyway, there's no short of reading materials or topics. Just realize that its continuous learning, and that philosophy is so broad and old a discipline, that you'll be lucky if you get through your reading list even in retirement. Tsundoku is my motto.


Developing a mature philosophic worldview is a decade-long project, as philosophy is such a diverse field, and its subjects are pretty difficult to get a good grasp of, because it are those fields that we don't understand well enough to become their own independent disciplines.

What you will need to do, is develop the knowledge base, and mental toolkit, that allows you to then figure the important stuff out.

I will recommend some of the introductory texts that I found useful. These will mostly be from the 20th century, as I went down this path decades ago.

There are good social science, bio science, and anthropology books that border closely on philosophy. These can be excellent intros to philosophic questions, while giving you informed foundations on subjects that should matter to philosophy. The Selfish Gene, by Dawkins, is a good one. As is The Worldly Philosophers by Heilbroner. The Dragons of Eden by Sagan was also good.

Actual philosophy, I will offer three intro books that would be useful. The Unended Quest, Karl Poppers autobiography, would give an excellent introduction to his postulate/test/revise theoretical basis for science, and basically all even informal empiricism. Popper's approach basically defines how to so self-evaluation and self-questioning properly, and has been embraced by science. Socrates' dialogs give an excellent intro to how to question assumptions that one may not have even recognized ARE assumptions. This is the essence of the philosophic mindset -- identify the boxes one is thinking within, then decide consciously whether to maintain those walls. The third is a playful introductory book on the sorts of questions that are addressed in Philosophy of Mind. The book is The Mind's I, by Dennett and Hofstadter. It's format is to present a sci fi short story, then discuss its implications. It is a fun, easy read, a rarity in philosophy.

These authors are mostly physicalists, but Popper and Socrates were not, and I don't know about Heilbroner. Note, the best way to develop a mature view in philosophy, would be to read, then be able to make an informed rejection of, opponents of the POV you are interested in. Reading the advocates is useful, to learn the counters from your "side", but critiques are a lot better to develop an informed view. Once you have gotten read up a bit more in philosophy, you may want to tackle some anti-physicalist texts.

One of the most respected of the challenges to a physicalist ontology is triplism, which was first articulated by Frege. A good summary of triplism is in Karl Popper's Tanner Lecture: https://vdocuments.net/popper-karl-three-worlds.html

Another theme of challenges to physicalism is just to emphasize the "hard problem of consciousness", IE WHY do we experience, rather than just process unconsciously? A good intro to this family of challenges is found in Thomas Nagel's "What is it Like to Be a Bat?" https://www.sas.upenn.edu/~cavitch/pdf-library/Nagel_Bat.pdf and Frank Jackson's "What Mary Didn't Know". https://www.academia.edu/53878592/What_Mary_didnt_know

  • This site is not really to discuss personal views, except in the chat forums. I am a spiritual dualist in philosophy of mind, and an ontologic triplest in fundamental ontology. I created a chat board we can discuss if you are interested in more dialog. "at" me (@) so I know you have made a post there. Here is the link: chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/info/134332/…
    – Dcleve
    Feb 21, 2022 at 21:08

If you really want your mind opened, you should read contrary opinions to what you believe. Most people don't really understand those who disagree with them in philosophy, religion, politics, and other controversial areas. Instead, they have in their mind a caricature of the views and arguments of the other side. A philosopher is supposed to be different. A philosopher is supposed to be curious about why people believe differently from him, and to read what those people themselves said, so he can understand their views.

To that end, let me propose some resources that provide a challenge to physicalism and scientism. Some of these books are expensive, but you can often find excerpts or even the whole thing for free online. Ideally, you have access to a university library where you should be able to find all of them.

Challenges to Scientism

Pierre Duhem was a physicist who wrote about the inherently ambiguous nature of physical theory in The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory. He also began the project of rehabilitating the reputation of Medieval scholarship.

Nancy Cartwright follows up on this theme by pointing out that physical laws are literally false; that they are only abstractly true, in How the Laws of Physics Lie

David Hume, who inspired Kant, and is, after Kant, probably the most well-known modern philosopher, proved that the project of science is impossible by the very assumptions that science makes. In other words, he proved that the scientific world view entails that it is impossible to really know the laws of nature. His most famous work in this vein is An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (no link because it's everywhere).

Karl Popper responded to Hume by arguing that, sure, we can't ever really know scientific laws, but we can falsify them. Popper is often viewed as a defender of science, but most defenders of science insist that somehow, even though they don't know how, Hume must be wrong and the project of science is still possible. Popper accepts Hume's argument and instead offers a fallback position for science. This one is easy to find online: The Logic of Scientific Discovery.

Thomas Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions argued that in real life (as opposed to the idealized histories we read) the success of a scientific theory is not based on induction, or the best explanation, or falsification, but on social and political factors. It is the political power and social talent of a theory's proponents that leads to a theory's wider acceptance or rejection.

Challenges to Physicalism

Rene Descartes laid the foundation for both physicalism and most of the challenges to physicalism. On the one hand, he reduced the physical world to purely physical properties, but on the other hand, he introduced the modern world to skepticism about our ability to perceive the real world. If you accept Descartes's general thesis but reject his appeal to a separate world of mind, then you are a physicalist. If you accept his general thesis but reject his appeal to God as a guarantor of our physical knowledge, then you are (or ought to be) a skeptic about the possibility of science. His main work in this area is Meditations on First Philosophy, which you can find online.

George Berkeley took Descartes's reasoning to its logical consequence and argued that we have no reason to think the physical world exists at all. See A New Theory of Vision.

When you have read and understood Descartes, Berkeley, and Hume, you are ready to tackle an introduction to Kant's philosophy in A Critique of Pure Reason. I don't believe Kant mentions Berkeley, but his book can be seen as an attempt to take Berkeley's idealism, remove God, and then use it to solve Hume's Problem. I strongly recommend against trying to tackle Kant without having first read an introduction. The other books I've mentioned are all quite readable (Meditations is the most difficult), but Kant's writing is not for the faint of heart.

After you have read the above, you will have a strong grounding in the other side of the philosophy of science. You will then find a lot of philosophers who have comments on these works, either arguments against them and in defense of scientism, or arguments against the arguments against them.

  • Good answer. However the kid is only 17, and therefore in high school. I tried to start off with a bit simpler of a set of texts, so that he has more of a grounding in how to think philosophically. Popper's Tanner Lecture, and What is it like to be a Bat, would also introduce him to some more contemporary threads of anti physicalism.
    – Dcleve
    Feb 21, 2022 at 22:57
  • @Dcleve, you may be right. I was thinking that I started reading philosophy just three or four years older, but now I think I must have been in my late 20s. My first real philosophy book was A New Theory of Vision, which I read because I thought idealism was stupid and I wanted to prove it. Reading that book was a defining point in my intellectual development. It made me realize that the world is a lot more complex than I had realized. Feb 22, 2022 at 1:02
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    Nancy Cartwright follows up on this theme by pointing out that physical laws are literally false; that they are only abstractly true, in How the Laws of Physics Lie This is true only if you look at simplified models which are understood to be approximate; there is no good reason to doubt the common scientific view that if we could exactly compute the full dynamical evolution of every single particle or other basic component making up a system, using the most fundamental laws of physics, we could derive all the quantitative features of its real-world behavior.
    – Hypnosifl
    Feb 22, 2022 at 2:15
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    It is the political power and social talent of a theory's proponents that leads to a theory's wider acceptance or rejection. I don't think Kuhn ever denied that better ability to predict the results of a wider range of quantitative measurements was a major reason new theories become accepted--can you point to any quote by Kuhn where he said "power and political talent" were the primary factors? The SEP article on incommensurability says he thought "it is rational to choose theories that are better problem-solvers" for ex.
    – Hypnosifl
    Feb 22, 2022 at 2:20
  • @Hypnosifl, I will let the descriptions stand because doubt I could come up with any brief description of any book of philosophy that wouldn't be prone to some misunderstanding or other. The only text that truly describes the author's intent is the book itself. Feb 22, 2022 at 2:42
  • Psychology: Because you mention you want to know yourself I would like to point to any primary source from Sigmund Freud, e.g. New Introduction to Psychoanalysis.
  • Neuroscience: A text by Paul or Patricia Churchland, e.g. Paul Churchland: The Engine of Reason, the Seat of the Soul.
  • Philosophy of the 20th century: Karl Popper: Objective Knowledge
  • Philosophy of enlightenment: Immanuel Kant: Answering the Question: What Is Enlightenment?
  • Antique philosophy: Platon: Allegory of the Cave, in: Republic (514a–520a)

I'm sure, if you start reading these books you will find many hints to related literature.

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