11 Best Philosophical Books to Expand Your Mind in 2020
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Do you have any questions about the universe? What about human existence? The fundamental basis of your general values?
I know that when I even try to consider how to make sense of it all, I get so overwhelmed that I often give up. However, according to Socrates, “The unexamined life is not worth living”.
But how can you really reflect on these abstract concepts surrounding our reality?
One way is to read books on philosophy that offer other people’s ideas and theories on this topic.
People tend to find philosophical books to be difficult to understand because philosophers typically write for other philosophers rather than ordinary people. This can discourage the everyday person from reading this genre because the precise language often reduces readability. However, the solid arguments in these books are made in the manner that they are in order for the authors’ ideas to not be misinterpreted.
The truth is, reading philosophical books can grant you with a level of self-awareness that’s essential to have in order to live a healthy life. While it can be scary to engage in introspection, it's important to do if you want to live authentically. You can use philosophy to help you gain a better understanding of your mind and take better control of your future. Reading other people's ideas can help you start to analyze your own existence outside of external influences.
Reading philosophical books can also help you recognize the evolution of human thought. With that said, let’s look at 11 of the best philosophical books that you can read to help expand your mind in 2020.
What You Will Learn
- 11 Best Philosophical Books to
Read in 2020
- 1. Plato: Five Dialogues: Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Meno, Phaedo by Plato
- 2. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
- 3. The Laws of Human Nature by Robert Greene
- 4. Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder
- 5. Start With Why by Simon Sinek
- 6. The Art of Strategy: A Game Theorist's Guide to Success in Business and Life by Avinash K. Dixit and Barry Nalebuff
- 7. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
- 8. Tao Te Ching by Lao Tsu
- 9. Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle
- 10. Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche
- 11. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values by Robert M Pirsig
- Final Thoughts on These Philosophy Books
11 Best Philosophical Books to Read in 2020
Many argue that all Western philosophy stems from Plato. If you’re new to reading philosophy, you can gain a basic appreciation by reading the works of Socrates’ most famous student, Plato. This book presents readers with five dialogues that are great examples of Plato’s philosophical wisdom.
Euthyphro offers the argument that it’s impossible for morality to derive from gods–regardless of whether or not gods exist. Apology summarizes Socrates’ defense statements from his trial where he was being accused of immorality and the corruption of the Athenian youth, where he was condemned to death. In Crito, Socrates takes a look at the concept of justice and proposes one of the first versions of social contract theory. Meno focuses on the idea of virtue as well as the idea that knowledge can be defined as established true belief. Finally, Phaedo recounts the last moments of Socrates’ life, where he explores the soul and the afterlife.
This collection of dialogues illustrates great ideas, writing, and philosophy. This translation can feel a bit literal at times, but it’s still understandable. Readers appreciate the footnotes that explain Socrates' expressions and historical references made in this book. After reading this book, you will have an understanding of early philosophical thoughts.
2. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
This is one of the most classic psychiatric texts in history that has intrigued generations of people. In this memoir, Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl recounts life in Nazi death camps. Based on his own experience in addition to the first-hand stories Frankl heard from his patients, the lessons in this book surrounds the idea that while people cannot avoid suffering, it is possible to make the decision of how you will cope with it, find its true meaning by learning from it, and move on with your life.
This book has been said to be one of the most influential works of our time, with over 12 million copies have sold around the world. This book offers one of the first arguments for finding the silver lining in life’s challenges and always looking for lessons that come out of hardships. This version offers a foreword by Harold S. Kushner, as well as endpapers, supplementary photographs to Frankl’s original work, and many of Frankl’s letters, speeches, and essays that have never been published before.
3. The Laws of Human Nature by Robert Greene
In this book, Robert Greene brings ancient wisdom and philosophy into a modern text for people who want to understand humans’ innate motivations, even when people are unconscious of these things for themselves.
Greene argues that we are social animals, as our lives greatly depend on the relationships we have with other people. Without knowing why people act how they do, we could never have a truly successful society.
After reading this book, you will have learned how to detach from your own emotions in order to gain self-control.
Greene draws from the ideas of icons including Pericles, MLK Jr, Queen Elizabeth I, and many others to help readers develop a sense of empathy that morphs into insight.
By reading this book, you will gain a strong perspective on how you can look beyond people's facades and develop your own unique sense of purpose by resisting conformity.
The lessons in this book offer distinguished tools for success and self-improvement, whether you’re focusing on a relationship, your career, or simply shaping your own environment.
Reading this book will help you learn how to become a calm, strategic observer and avoid the emotional turmoil that causes people so much stress today.
4. Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder
This easy-to-understand book is one of the most quintessential philosophy books for beginners or anyone who wants to simply gain a broad overview of philosophy in a quick and fun way.
Gaarder wrote this book in the form of a novel, where Sophie, a 14-year-old girl, goes on a journey working as an apprentice for an aging philosopher. Throughout her experience, she learns the history of philosophy and Gaarder is able to make the lessons of historical philosophers relevant to a more recent era.
Sophie discovers the most critical philosophical concepts on her journey, beginning with the lessons from the first Ancient Greek philosophers, and ending with mid-twentieth-century philosophers.
By reading this book, you will gain insight on a variety of historical methods of thinking and how they have shaped our world as it is today, including Renaissance, Romanticism, Existentialism, Marxism, Communism, etc.
5. Start With Why by Simon Sinek
In this bestseller, Simon Sinek starts by asking a basic question: Why are some people and companies more influential than others? What is the key to making someone innovative or an organization profitable?
Simon Sinek created a movement in 2009 to encourage people to feel more inspired at work, and then be able to spread their own sense of inspiration to their colleagues and clients. Since his movement, millions of people have been impacted by Sinek’s ideas, and his TED Talk that is based on this book has become the third most popular TED Talk of all time.
In this book, Sinek explores the commonality among people like Steve Jobs, the Wright Brothers, and Martin Luther King Jr.–they all started their success by asking, “Why?”
By using examples from these famous people, Sinek shows that without answering the “why” behind a product, idea, -or service, you can’t gain customer loyalty or have enduring success.
He shows that the greatest influential leaders all communicate the reasoning behind their ideas, a strategy that you can implement into your own life to become a powerful leader or achieve a new level of excellence.
6. The Art of Strategy: A Game Theorist's Guide to Success in Business and Life by Avinash K. Dixit and Barry Nalebuff
This book offers practical insights through a variety of case studies that show how both business and personal interactions involve a need for strategic thinking that helps predict another person’s next move. This “game theory” integrates common sense with innovative ways to look at the world in order to be one step ahead of everyone else.
The authors provide many relatable examples of how readers can make good decisions, especially if they have an idea of the probability that something will go one way or the other. By reading this book, you will enhance your decision-making skills and learn how to strategize in situations where you know your opponent is aiming to strategize against you as well.
7. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
While this book is sometimes categorized in the psychology genre due to its modern arguments using scientific methodologies, it answers an age-old question from Socrates’ era: How does one live well?
The main topic presented in this book is flow states, which is when you lose yourself in your work or activity. Csikszentmihalyi offers in a very comprehensive explanation of why flow states occur and how to enter this state of mind. He makes the argument that one’s entire life can be structured in a way that makes it a flow state, which can have many benefits on your well being.
First, this will help you gain clarity and a sense of purpose in what you do. You will be aware of exactly where you’re trying to go and what you need to do to get there. Second, you will begin to find yourself enjoying mundane activities such as chores and seemingly boring tasks.
Readers appreciate the step-by-step approach that is offered in this book that shows how a positive state of flow can be controlled rather than left to chance.
8. Tao Te Ching by Lao Tsu
This is the foundational book of Taoism, which literally translates into “the way”. This quick read offers readers the central ideas of Taoism as well as its intellectual foundation.
The main concept of Taoism demonstrates how to live in harmony with the Tao, which is the source of everything in existence as well as the rhythms of the universe. This is different from other religions such as Judaism or Christianity in many ways, however, this book is still interesting to those of us living in the Western world.
First, the ethical system described in this book is more relaxed than other popular religions in the world. Taoism is not so focused on “doing good acts”, as the ethical emphasis is largely on becoming a good person and living in harmony with oneself, nature, and other people.
Second, the concept of wu-wei is largely discussed, which is the notion of “acting without intention”. In Taoism, the universe directs the flow of the world, and your actions should be in line with this flow. If you act with intention, you may be going in a different direction than that of the Universe, which creates disharmony and can lead to negative consequences.
Readers appreciate the readability of this book. the life lessons it shares and find the wisdom of different perspectives to be enlightening.
9. Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle
Aristotle’s main question in Nicomachean Ethics is: what is the best thing for people? His answer to this question is the ability to live a particularly good type of life that provides overall happiness.
In his argument, happiness is comprised of activities that allow people to cater to their strengths. In doing so, people are able to flourish in their communities by engaging in reflection that is relevant to their own lives.
Readers enjoy this book because it is authentic while still offering clarity. While some find the writing to be dense at times, this book includes footnotes that help explain things in more everyday language. This is a great read for those who are striving to live a life of virtue.
10. Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche
This book by philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was published in 1886, and it builds on his ideas that were published in previous works. Nietzsche accuses philosophers that came before his time to have lacked common sense and blindly believe in Christianity, which strongly influenced their own ideas of morality. Nietzsche specifically focuses on philosophers’ tendencies to implement systems with the idea that good and evil are opposites. Instead, he argues that they are the same, they just have different expressions of impulses.
This is a very helpful book to read if you’re interested in modern philosophy and it will help you consider your own ideas about what is “good” and what is “bad”. Even if you don’t agree with what Nietzsche says, you will gain new insights by reading this book and feel engaged by his lively writing style.
11. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values by Robert M Pirsig
In this book, philosopher Robert Pirsig offers a deep examination of how people currently live and how people could live better. He tells the story of a father and son’s summer motorcycle trip which turns into a personal and philosophical adventure of questioning how one should live their life.
The relationship between the narrator and his son leads to self-reflection, and the task of maintaining their motorcycle acts as a metaphor for harmonizing science, religion, and life. If you often resonate with the common confusions surrounding human existence, reading this classic book will offer you a touching and transcendent look at life.
Readers appreciate the analogies in this book, which makes it readable and relatable. It is an insightful read on some of life’s most perplexing subjects.
Final Thoughts on These Philosophy Books
Philosophy is what you make of it.
You can read what other people believe on a certain topic and then choose whether or not you agree or want to try to incorporate their theories into your life. But reading a variety of philosophical books will help you develop critical thinking skills and help you understand why you make the choices that you do or even why you choose which goals you want to pursue.
If you want to get more motivated then reading some of these books in 2020 to gain a better understanding not only of philosophy but also of yourself.
Connie Stemmle is a professional editor, freelance writer and ghostwriter. She holds a BS in Marketing and a Master’s Degree in Social Work. When she is not writing, Connie is either spending time with her 4-year-old daughter, running, or making efforts in her community to promote social justice.