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The Philosopher’s Library (Part 1)

Original interviews by Richard Marshall.


[Beckett’s bookshelf]

The philosophers of the End Times series recommended books to readers to get further into their philosophical world. As part of an occasional offshoot of that series, here’s a first selection of 15 from the very start to help you get your shelves recalibrated.

Brian Leiter:

Richard Posner’s How Judges Think, Alex Rosenberg’s The Atheist’s Guide to Reality, David Livingstone Smith’s Less than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave, and Exterminate Others, Jonathan Wolff’s Why Read Marx Today? and, a bit older but still psychologically fascinating, Li Zhisui’s The Private Life of Chairman Mao.


[Joyce in ‘Shakespeare and Company’ bookshop]

Jeff Bell

Bryan Magee
Richard Tarnas
Thomas Pynchon
Haruki Murakami
Cormac McCarthy
China Miéville


[Oprah’s bookshelf]

Eric Schwitzgebel

Oliver Sacks, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat
Olaf Stapledon, Sirius
Greg Egan, Diaspora and/or Permutation City
Jorge Luis Borges, Labyrinths
Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions


[Umberto Eco’s bookshelf]

Roger Teichmann

Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Trollope’s The Way We Live Now, Conrad’s Nostromo, Shirer’s Berlin Diary, Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations.


[Bret Victor’s bookshelf]

Eli Friedlander

Kant’s Critique of Judgment.


[Katherine S. Dreier and Marcel Duchamp in the library at The Haven]

Hilde Lindemann

Jane Austen’s six novels are important in my life – I reread them every five years or so. Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own and Mrs. Dalloway. Caryl Churchill’s plays. Anything Tom Stoppard ever wrote. And, of course, all of Dorothy L. Sayers’ murder mysteries.


[Chomsky’s bookshelf]

Al Mele

Robert Kane’s The Significance of Free Will.


[Derrida’s bookshelf]

Claire White

Consilience by E.O Wilson (for any discipline – amazing)
Sophie’s World (must read for any young philosopher in waiting)
Why Would Anyone Believe in God? Justin Barrett (intro to cognitive science of religion)
Explaining Culture – Dan Sperber
Experimental Philosophy – Knobe & Nichols (great intro to ex phi)


[Frank Sinatra’s bookshelf]

Kieran Setiya

I got into philosophy as a teenager through reading H. P. Lovecraft, who wrote pulp fiction in the 20s and 30s and who pioneered the now-familiar trope in which apparently supernatural phenomena are exposed as alien science. It’s a philosophical move and Lovecraft was interested in philosophy. I began to read the thinkers he liked – an eclectic mix of Lucretius, Nietzsche, and Bertrand Russell – and went on from there. For all its flaws, I still think Lovecraft’s short novel, At the Mountains of Madness, is quite wonderful. There are also visual artists whose work I have found inspiring: Antony Gormley, among others. His explorations of embodiment and agency strike me as extraordinary instances of philosophical art.


[Hilary Mason’s bookshelf]

Graham Priest

I’m afraid that I’m not really one of the literati. I go to the movies when I get a chance, but I rarely read non-fiction. I listen to a lot of music, though. Especially opera. When I wrote Sylvan’s Box, I wanted to write something to the memory of my old friend, Richard Sylvan, who had died shortly before that. However, the main philosophical motivation was provided by the fact that someone had said to me that it was impossible to have a really inconsistent fiction: you have to reinterpret apparent contradictions somehow. I thought that was obviously untrue, so I wrote the story to show it. To interpret away the contradictions in the story is to misunderstand it (or at least to give it a highly non-standard interpretation). I think that most people who have read the story have taken that point. I believe it changed David Lewis’ mind about the matter, for example. Are there other philosophical lessons that one can take away from the story? Probably, but I’ll leave that matter to the creativity of the readers.

Since I don’t really read fiction, I don’t think I have been influenced by it in any way. On the odd occasions I do read, I like fiction that explores philosophical ideas. The novels of Sartre and Dostoievski are obvious examples. I also love the short stories of Borges. These are the closest thing to philosophy-fiction, if there is such a genre. The same general point goes for movies. Anyway, I would not dream of recommending any of these works to people (with or without philosophical interests) unless I were very sure of their tastes. What people like in these matters is so subjective (which is not to say that what is good is subjective). Opera is rarely philosophical in any sense (though it tends to move me more than any other form of art). Wagner’s operas, especially the Ring Cycle, do have philosophical under-girding, though. I recommend Bryan Magee’s The Tristan Chord: Wagner and Philosophy if anyone is interested in that matter.


Kit Fine

Saul Kripke, Naming and Necessity, though it is as much on the philosophy of language as metaphysics.


[John Searle’s bookshelf]

Japa Pallikkathayil

The classic Watership Down by Richard Adams engages issues of authority and coercion in a very compelling way. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card is also an enjoyable read. For a more recent novel, Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell is worth checking out. For some historical accounts involving these issues, try Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell and Hiroshima by John Hersey. I also want to throw in two movies that involve these themes and are worth checking out: The Sea Inside and The Greatest Happiness Space.


[Diane Keaton’s bookshelf]

Alan Gilbert

Here are six books and two speeches or essays: Desmond Tutu, No Future Without Forgiveness (the most advanced experience of nonviolence as a way of healing without murderousness the most horrific social and political divisions – apartheid). A nonviolent movement has not continued in raising demands for South Africa’s poor, but it could. Barbara Deming, Revolution and Equilibrium – a brilliant internal critique of Franz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth which should be read along with it. Martin Luther King, ‘A Time to Break Silence‘, on Vietnam but just as relevant today for the American/British imperial aggressions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and for the US in Pakistan. Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. Amartya Sen, Development as Freedom shows many startling things, including the role of tolerance in ancient Muslim (Akbar in India) and Buddhist regimes (Ashoka) and how literacy and cooperatives for poor women lead to a drop in infant and under-five mortality, more egalitarianism, and longer life expectancy. Edward Said, Orientalism – a classic or defining work on imperial racisms toward the East… John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, especially on civil disobedience and conscientious refusal (sections 53-59). Maria Rosa Menocal, The Ornament of the World, how Arabs brought ancient Greek culture as well as a far more advanced civilization to Europe. I would also recommend the poetry and literary essays of Adrienne Rich and Denise Levertov, among many others. And the Eyes on the Prize film series about the civil rights movement, in particular numberomens one to ten (10 is on the final year of King’s life) are uniquely powerful. Each episode is 55 minutes; several can be found on Youtube.


[Rod Stewart’s bookshelf]

Patricia Churchland

The Law of Primitive Man, by E. Adamson Hoebel, first published 1954; reprinted 2006.
Practical Wisdom by Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpe
Bossypants, by Tina Fey
The Ethical Project, by Philip Kitcher
The Bodhitsava’s Brain by Owen Flanagan


[Zizek and bookshelf]

Mark Rowlands

One of the drawbacks of spending virtually all of one’s time writing is that one never has the time to read, not properly. One skims, and gets as much out of a book as one needs for one’s own purposes. It’s very sad. So, I’m sorry, but I haven’t a clue what we should be reading. For my part, however, when I can find the time, I’m looking forward to reading:
Sue Donaldson and Will Kymlicka, Zoopolis
Christof Koch’s, Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist

Recently, I have learned a lot from:
Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce, Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals
Colin Allen and Wendall Wallach, Moral Machines: Teaching Robots Right From Wrong
Frans de Waal, The Age of Empathy.

Photo on 2016-12-31 at 17.53

Richard Marshall is still biding his time.

Buy his book here to keep him biding!

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Sunday, March 20th, 2016.