Newbie...Suggested Reading?

I’m rather new to politics and philosophy, but I’m planning on majoring on these two fields in college. What are some of the suggested readings in these fields. Right now I am reading or have read a lot of post-modernist/post-structrualist stuff like:

Judith Butler
Ernesto Laclau
Chantal Mouffe
Edward Said
Slavoj Zizek
Deleuze and Guattari
FOUCAULT (like everything Foucault)

College Freshman

Franic Fukuyama’s End of history and the last man should provoke some big thinking. And Prospect magazine should keep you alert too.

Syght – first of all, good taste in majors, i’m in the same program :wink:
i would suggest going back to the classics, especially because you have a basic knowledge of the currents. i won’t list all of the great political thinkers here, but you would probably be well off if you started with some john stuart mill.

First, Hi, nice boards.

The first thing I read was ‘Sophies World’ by Jostein Gaarder. Don’t laugh, it’s a really easy introduction, people criticise it for being incomplete, but it covers lots of history, and ideas, and wraps it up in a story to make it easier to swallow. In the end, I thought the story turned our really useless, but it has a nice ironic twist. Avoid his other books.

Then I read ‘An Introduction to Political Philosophy’ by Jonathan Wolff, which is a lot easier to read than you might think, even though it is academic. It goes right from: What would it be like without the state? How can we justify the state? Who should rule the state? Then goes on about liberty, property and all the other ideas.

Then I read ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’, which I would reccomend as general reading, but not really as part of your education. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. It’s about a motorbike trip, and a man trying to create a philosophy which brings together science and mysticism.

This made me read several other things: ‘Tao Te Ching’ because I wanted to know more about eastern philosophy, which ZatAoMM touches on. ‘Who’s afraid of Schroedinger’s Cat’ because I wanted to read about quantum physics, and see what it means philosophically.

Then I tried Existentialism, I read Camus, Sartre, Nietzsche and Kafka.

I read Nozick’s ‘Anarchy State and Utopia’, because I am interested in anarchism (partly because of Palahniuk)

I also plan to do Philosophy or Politics when I go to Uni, but I doubt I’ll be able to do them together.

I’ve also been reading stuff on international relations, and psychology. But I want to read more philosophy really, so any more recomendations are welcome! edit-particularly, if anyone knows of a good introduction to economics, thanks.

Yeah, definitely read from the tradition alongside the (near) contemporary authors. I couldn’t imagine reading Foucault without a good understanding of Nietzsche. Otherwise, it becomes buzzword soup. For the authors you mentioned, I’d suggest reading a good study of and/or some major writings of Nietzsche, Marx, Freud, Hegel.

Also, don’t get stuck just reading from and for the po-mo canon. These writers are all part of the same scene and that whole scene has very serious limitations which you should, at least, appraise critically. Fukuyama is good contemporary alternative to investigate, and the tradition is loaded with them.

Sophie’s world is a fairly good introduction, I’ve read it too :blush:

Personally I’d avoid Hegel, perhaps one of the most overrated philosophers of all time, he’d be forgotten by now if it wasn’t for Marx!

Philosophy books which I found a real pleasure to read and thought provoking, off the top of my head, J.S. Mill’s Utilitiarianism, Descartes’s Meditations and Discourse, Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. If you’re just looking for polticial philosophers, I’ve not read much more than Mill!

The Ego And His Own by Max Stirner is very readable and thought-provoking, and I agree with everyone else that mentioned J.S. Mill. Btw, could you try and define postmodernism for me please? I can’t find a decent description of it anywhere, so far the impression that I get is that it’s a repackaging of nihilism but I have no idea if that’s correct or not.

Grave Disorder – this is the definition that i have been given in class, straight from my course website. i am not that familiar with the area so i would have to agree with it:

Postmodernism- A philosophical concept that allows the perceiver to perform analysis on any given text without the presupposition of boundires, limits, or structures. In essence, postmodernism assumes hypertextual mediums which are inherently fragmented in nature. Simply, this mode of thought is a rejection of modernist structuralism. Instead of determining absolute truth, postmodernism seeks to achieve relative coherence. Postmodernism rejects the modernist scientific/methodological approach of binary opposition and instead, adopts the art of semiotics. In short, postmodernism relies on arbitrary signs and signifiers to produce a relative form of signification or meaning. Postmodernism can be closely related to the arts and modernism can be related to the sciences. In actuality, the two terms are polar opposites.

From what I interpreted of your definition Trix, postmodernism is a binary term used to represent the idea of non-binary thought. How ironic.

:laughing: Brilliant, Matthew E.

Here’s a few notes toward a defintion of post-modernism or post-structuralism.

Post-modernism starts with anti-foundationalism. The whole idea of linguistic reference is suspect. There is no certain ground upon which to build knowledge. All statements are flawed and opened to criticism. “All interpretations are misinterpretations”–Derrida. Don’t ask how it is that you can understand that statement; it’s a straightforward liar’s paradox. This doesn’t phase anyone, though.

There’s a guy on these boards called “postmodern” who keeps claiming that we should discard all language as artificial and suspect–perfectly postmodern–and turn “within” to find the “truth”–not postmodern at all. A real postmodernist would deny that there is a “within” as opposed to a “without” and would also dispute the notion that some priviledged presence of truth could be found there as opposed to anywhere else.

You see, all language is a pattern of differences, of distinctions, and all distinctions are politically motivated. When I say “West,” regardless of what I intend, I am asserting my identity against the “East.” That is, I am a racist imperialist and I have no choice in the matter; language and its pattern of distinctions makes this so. When I say “I love you” I am also saying “I hate that other guy.” Nietzsche thought that heaven was invented in order to de-sanctify the world, and that when a priest blesses something, he is, in effect, cursing the rest of the world, giving himself a monopoly on meaning and value.

In this, it is built upon a long tradition of critical philosophy–Freud, Marx, Nietzsche principally–that claims to see beyond the mundane meaning of statements into their hidden psychological, ideological, or affective content (respectively). In this tradition, you no longer engage in a conversation with other thinkers in the tradition, you merely overhear and diagnose them.

Because there is no “truth,” all statements must be evaluated on political grounds. That is, nothing is “true” or “false,” “good” or “evil.” Statements are analyzed based on whether they support or undermine power structures, ideologies, etc.–in other words, whether they are more or less politically correct. Art becomes evaluated not on the basis of its quality–quality, like all values, is a mask of power!–but on the basis of how it depicts oppressed social classes, etc.

A friend of mine recently summed postmodernism up pretty well: “If you believe O.J. killed his wife, you’re a racist. If you believe he didn’t, you’re a sexist.”

You will note Foucault runs away from all questions about the truth or falsity of the “discourses” he analyzes. They are merely unique relations of power that exist in a particular place for particular purposes. It doesn’t matter whether someone is right or wrong, but rather how his words galvanized the society, government, classes to certain actions, creating certain institutions, enacting certain laws. That is, the operative dimension of language.

The Achilles heel–and great appeal–of all this is that it elevates the intellectual to a godlike position. Only he is able see beyond the naivete that “words” actually “mean” things. Except the referential and semantic dimension of language is absolutely essential in reading and understanding these authors in the first place! And also, without it, the world and history become incomprehensible–we can’t understand why certain ideas might have moved people to do the things they did. To my way of thinking, it is a kind of bad faith, an attempt to pretend that one is not human.

Nietzsche, and even Marx and Freud were already much smarter than many postmodernist writers about these things, but their ideas have been caricatured and placed in the service of an absurdity that any 1st year philosophy student could dismiss were he able to withstand the sheer weight of all those tedious volumes and multitudinous polysyllabic neologisms.

Thanks Blauboad, I found that very useful. If I understood correctly you mean that while society, language and so on are built on the assumption of ultimate truth postmodernism rejects this assumption in favour of deliberate self-contradciton, absurdity and the encouragement of questions to which it makes a point of not providing answers… as a relativist I agree with some aspects of this philosophy, but it seems to me to be taken way too far- similar to the nihilist who claims so earnestly that nothing has any value then derides others for not having the metal strength to accept his viewpoint…

Personally I can vouch for the Postmodern Encounters series- an excellent collection of short and very readable books

That book has been refuted so much that Nozick doesn’t even bother defending it anymore.

— I’ve read a lot of Foucault. His project is how the individual is made a subject in power relations. As Blauboad said, it helps to read Nietzsche first (especially about will to power, master and slave morality, etc). Foucault seems to be a historian of sorts. His literary criticisms in his 3 volume collected works rule!
— Grave Disorder. Can you recommend anything else by Max Stirner? and can anyone give me a critique or recommendation of Jose Ortega Y Gasset’s work?

Stirner didn’t really write anything major other than The Ego and it’s Own, however there are some essays here

— Thanks Metavoid! I’ve perused Nozick’s The Nature Of Rationality and may even have understood some of it :unamused:
— I haven’t read the pragmatists and intend to read them as little as possible, except perhaps dewey.

— God is dead. Nietzsche.
— Man is dead. Foucault.
— Philosophy is dead. The postmodernists.

— Enough to make you an objectivist,
— all the living attempting to emulate the dying.

— We certainly are trapped in language, but that in no way, should mean that we cease to be men or philosophers. Noam Chomsky has eloquently researched language AND helped the cause of humanity.