A Philosophical Canon

What follows below is my problematic attempt to list a canon of philosophical works that are representative
of the key texts a philosophy major might study at a university. Each bolded portion (e.g. Ancient Philosophy,
Medieval Philosophy, etc.) represents roughly a semester’s worth of reading — possibly more.
Also note that for each philosopher, I’ve only listed one book. This was quite a challenge for me,
as there are philosophers who’ve published as many texts as what are listed here all by themselves!

All that said, it would take a person about five years to get through this list with proficiency.
Most people who know these texts have a graduate degree in philosophy. I list them here
not as an expectation but simply as a set of possiblities. Maybe pick one up. Read it, and if you like it
read another from the same list. When you’re done, feel free to come by my office to discuss it!

These are the treasures with which philosophers spend a lifetime wrestling. And the list is growing!


  • Ancient Philosophy
    • The Works of Pythagoras
    • Plato | Crito
    • Plato | Apology
    • Plato | The Republic
    • Aristotle | Nicomachean Ethics
    • Aristotle | Politics
    • Aurelius | Meditations


After the fall of Rome, the Abrahamic scriptures (i.e. the Hebrew Bible, New Testament, and Qur’an)
will become the central focus of Western philosophy until the beginning of Humanism (i.e. Petrarch).


  • Medieval Philosophy
    • St. Augustine | City of God
    • St. Boethius | Consolations of Philosophy
    • Maimonides (Jewish) | Guide for the Perplexed
    • Averroes (Muslim) | On Plato’s Republic
    • Scotus (Christian) | On the Will & Morality
    • St. Aquinas | Summa Theologica
    • Petrarch (Christian) | The Secretum


After the Humanists, the Early Modern period will embrace skepticism, political optimism, and scientific discovery.


  • Early Modern Philosophy
    • Montaigne | Essays
    • Descartes | Discourse on Method
    • Spinoza | Ethics
    • Hobbes | Leviathan
    • Locke | Second Treatise on Government
    • Hume | An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding
    • Kant | Critique of Pure Reason


“Modern Philosophy” will break off into distinct German, British, and Existentialist branches.
In Germany, after Kant, the Idealists focused on how we percieve the world through our own subjectivity.


  • Modern Philosophy: German Idealism
    • Hegel | Lectures on the Philosophy of World History
    • Schopenhauer | The World as Will and Presentation
    • Schelling | The Ages of the World
    • Husserl | Logical Investigations
    • Heidegger | Being & Time

Meanwhile British philosophers came to denounce the obscurity of German Idealism, in favor of clarity and formal logic.
The Analytic philosophers attempted to systematically reduce philosophy to mathematical propositions. However,
Wittengenstein will come to see philosophical claims as less like math and more like an ever-changing language game.

  • Modern Philosophy: the British Analytic Tradition
    • Russell | The Problems of Philosophy
    • Frege | The Foundations of Arithmetic
    • Moore | Principles of Ethics
    • Wittgenstein | Philosophical Investigations
    • Ryle | The Concept of Mind

Most of Continental Europe will eventually leave the traditional systematic approach of previous philosophies,
finding instead 
the authentic, absurd, lived experiences of the self to be the primary philosophical subject.
Kiekegaard will begin with the premise that meaning develops from within ourselves.
Levinas, a Holocaust survivor, will find meaning in our response to others.


  • Modern Philosophy: the Existentialists
    • Kierkegaard (Danish) | Either/Or
    • Nietzsche (Prussian, sort of) | Beyond Good & Evil
    • Dostoyevsky (Russian) | Crime & Punishment
    • Sartre (French) | Existentialism is a Humanism
    • Levinas (French) | Totality & Infinity

Industrialization brought massive inequality to Europe. Classical Liberalism and Socialism became the two dominant responses.
In the Post-Civil War United States, these political ideologies evolved into Libertarianism (Nozick) and Progressivism (Rawls).

  • Modern Anglo-American Political Philosophy
    • Mill | On Liberty
    • Marx | The Communist Manifesto
    • Hayek | The Road to Serfdom
    • Rawls | A Theory of Justice
    • Nozick | Anarchy, State, and Utopia


After the 1930s (c.f. Fascism, Nazism, Communism, etc.), German Idealism shifted to social critical theory —
claiming that “ideology” and all the new “-ism’s”  are socio-cultural barriers to reason and freedom.


  • Post-Hegelian Critical Theory
    • Marcuse | One-Dimensional Man
    • Adorno & Horkheimer | Dialect of Enlightenment
    • Barthes | Mythologies
    • Foucault | The Order of Things
    • Habermas | The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere

Meanwhile, Political and Existentialist thought eventually coalesced into four historical waves of Feminist philosophy.

  • Feminist Critique
    • Mill (1st wave) | On the Subjection of Women
    • Beauvoir (2nd wave) | The Second Sex
    • Noddings (2nd wave) | Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics & Moral Education
    • hooks (3rd wave) | Ain’t I a Woman?
    • Haraway (4th wave) | A Cyborg Manifesto


And most recently, the American Pragmatists abandoned both the Idealists’ and Analytic philosophers’ search for “objective truth,”
instead seeking to understand and express philosophical problems in terms of contengency, experience, and utility.


  • Postanalytic American Pragmatism
    • Quine | Two Dogmas of Empiricism
    • Dewey | Logic: the Theory of Inquiry
    • James | The Varities of Religious Experience
    • Rorty | Consequences of Pragmatism
    • Putnam | Pragmatism: An Open Question


Of course, there are many more outstanding philosophers who’ve made amazing contributions but are not on this list.
As Gödel put it: you can have consistency or you can have completeness, but you can’t have both. Here I’ve aimed for consistency.

After you’ve completed the readings on this list, you may go on to this page...