Philosophy Reading Guides

The following reading guides were prepared for students in my introductory level philosophy and interdisciplinary courses.Rather than giving a descriptive outline, these guides direct students toward key ideas and arguments and provide the kinds of questions they should be asking themselves as they read.

Please note that, because these were originally prepared for specific courses, they sometimes include unexplained references to other works and sources.

For students in credit-bearing courses:

  • If you’re one of my students, I have probably provided you with a version customized to the context of your class, which you should be able to find on the course website.
  • If you’re not one of my students, please tell your instructor if you find any of these guides useful. That way she can tell other students – or warn you about ways in which my approach or interpretation may be misleading or incompatible with the interpretations and context presented in your course.
  • These guides mostly consist of questions to guide your reading, but they also contain some explanatory and interpretive claims about the authors and texts. If you rely on any of my specific claims or interpretations in your own student writing, be sure to cite me. Remember, your instructor can use Google just as easily as you can.

For instructors:

  • If you make use of these guides in your course I would love to hear about your experiences and about any changes or modifications you’ve made. You can find my contact information here.

For independent learners:

  • Although these guides have been designed specifically for university students, my hope is that they will also prove useful for anyone who is interested in critical reading of classical and contemporary works of philosophy. If you have thoughts about their effectiveness as tools for self study, or if you have suggestions for improvement, you can find my contact information here.

Note: All reading guides are provided under a Creative Commons “Share Alike” license (CC BY-SA 4.0). That means you are encouraged to use, modify, and share them however you like, so long as you give appropriate credit and release any modified versions with a similarly open license.

Historical Philosophers: These guides are based on specific texts assigned to my introductory philosophy students and the philosophy portion of the interdisciplinary classes I’ve taught. As a result, many cover only selected excerpts from the works listed.

Plato – Apology, with background on Socrates and the pre-Socratics

Plato – Republic, with background on Plato

Aristotle Nicomachean Ethics, with background on Aristotle

Augustine – Confessions

Boethius Consolation of Philosophy

Al-Farabi – Attainment of Happiness

Maimonides Guide of the Perplexed

Ibn Rushd (Averroes) – “On the Harmony of Religion and Philosophy”

Aquinas Summa Theologica (The Existence of God; The Treatise on Law)

Machiavelli – The Prince

Descartes – Meditations (1-2; 3-6)

Hobbes – Leviathan (Part 1; Parts 2-4)

Locke –  Letter on Toleration

Locke – Second Treatise on Government

Pascal – “On the Necessity of the Wager”

RousseauDiscourse on the Origin of Inequality

Kant “What is Enlightenment”

Declaration of IndependenceHere treated not merely as a historical text, but as a philosophical and political argument

Bentham Commentary on Declaration of Independence (full text availabe here)

Wollstonecraft – Vindication of the Rights of Woman and debates with Burke, Paine, and Godwin

Frederick Douglass – The Meaning of the 4th of July to the American Slave

Mill – On Liberty (chapter 3)

Mill Subjection of Women (Chapters 1-2; Chapters 3-4)

Marx – Communist Manifesto

Marx – “Critique of the Gotha Program”

William James – “The Will to Believe”

Contemporary / 20th Century Philosophers:

Isaiah Berlin – “Two Concepts of Liberty”

John Rawls – “Justice as Fairness: Political, not Metaphysical”

Marthan Nussbaum – “Rawls’s Political Liberalism. A Reassessment”

“Ethics of Care” As covered by the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (For full text see the IEP and SEP entries respectively).

Rebecca Kukla – Mass Hysteria (Chapter 2; Chapter 3; Chapter 4; Chapters 5 and 6; Chapter 7)

Susan Wolf – Meaning in Life and Why it Matters (Lecture 1; Lecture 2; Commentaries; Reply to Commentaries)

Peter van Inwagen – “It is Wrong, Everywhere, Always, and for Anyone to Believe Anything Upon Insufficient Evidence”

Linda Zagzebski – “Epistemic Value and the Primacy of What We Care About”

Introduction to Ethics: These are the first reading guides I created, based on the experience described in my statement of teaching philosophy. Most of them are for selections from Ethics: Essential Readings in Moral Theory by George Sher.

Brad Hooker – “Rule-Consequentialism”

Immanuel Kant – “Morality and Rationality” (part 1; part 2) – excerpts from the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals

David Velleman – “Reading Kant’s Groundwork

Rae Langton “Maria von Herbert’s Challenge to Kant” – shortened version of her article “Duty and Desolation

Thomas Scanlon – “Contractualism and Utilitarianism”

W. D. Ross “What Makes Acts Right?”

Aristotle – Nicomachean Ethics Book I and Book II

Martha Nussbaum – “Non-Relative Virtues”

Rosalind Hursthouse “Virtue Ethics”

John Doris – “A Situationist Theory of Character”

Frederick Douglass “What to the Slave is the 4th of July?”