What is Your "Road to Philosophical Understanding"?

Hypothetically, say someone came to you who wanted to know where to get started with studying philosophy, and who they should read after that.

What would be your recommended “road map” for acquiring philosophical understanding, and why?

Assuming that the individual has a rough understanding of what philosophy is (from movies, school, music, etc), I’d tell him/her this:

  • Glance over what Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle wrote, as almost every philosopher after them will be making references to them in their works. At least read an article or two about each and get an idea of what their main ideas were.

-Start by reading a little bit of Descartes. You don’t have to read everything, just get a basic idea of what his works were about. Get a good feel for the “philosophical confusion” that seems to be prevalent in his works.

  • Move on to Kant. His works are boring, a difficult read for most people, and ultimately don’t amount to much. At least read an article or two about him to get a grasp for what his main ideas were, as most philosophers after him will make references to him.

  • Read Schopenhauer’s Essays and Aphorisms. Schopenhauer succeeded Kant, and introduced a pessimistic philosophy that influenced later philosophers.

  • Now, start reading some of Nietzsche’s books. It is difficult to determine which one to read first, but if you want to go somewhat in chronological order, start with Human, All Too Human. HATH is the book I enjoyed the most by Nietzsche. It’s not really difficult to read, and the rest of Nietzsche’s philosophy had evolved from HATH. It is just as much a work on psychology as it is on philosophy.

  • Next, read Nietzsche’s “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”. Also, read a little bit about the legacy of this book, as it will give you an appreciation for it, and also help you “open up” to receiving all of the metaphors which this book is full of.

  • Read Nietzsche’s “Beyond Good and Evil”. This is mostly a work on morality.

  • Read Nietzsche’s “Genealogy of Morals”. Again, a book mostly on morality.

  • If you’re sick of Nietzsche at this point, move on. But, read as much Nietzsche as you are willing to. He is The Dude when it comes to philosophy.

From here, the path splits into Political Philosophy and Psychological Philosophy.

  • For political philosophy, read The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx
  • For psychological philosophy, read the writing of Carl Jung (also, make yourself familiar with Freud beforehand)

That essentially covers it.
It is interesting to note that philosophy builds on itself - meaning that one generation of philosophy would be succeeded by another generation where Philosophers improved on the ideas of those before them. Kant inspired Schopenhauer, Schopenhauer inspired Nietzsche, Nietzsche inspired Jung, etc. In this same way, it is most efficient to start with philosophy earlier in time and work your way towards present-day philosophy.

Now, at this point, I am sure you have become aware of dozens of other philosopher’s that were mentioned in the works of the philosophers above. Go back and read anyone that sounds interesting.

Some other philosophy-related works that I would highly recommend are:

  • Edgar Allen Poe

  • Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S Thompson. This is an example of a contemporary application of philosophy. Although its not considered “philosophy”, the concepts within it are undoubtedly philosophical. Other works by HST are good as well.

  • Ecclesiastes, Old Testament of the Bible. I recommend this for a few reasons: The stigma against theism is that everything within the Bible and other religious books is nothing but useless brainwashing drivel – this is wrong. The religious books are actually just philosophy in themselves, the common perception is to view them as “Religious” and therefore a polar opposite of philosophy. However, I could not disagree more. Ecclesiastes and Job in particular are perhaps the most pessimistic and nihilistic pieces of literature ever written. Ecclesiastes is undoubtedly nihilistic - the title of the first chapter is “Everything is Meaningless”. If you interpret the Bible metaphorically, it is at very least food for thought of a philosophical nature.

  • Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh. The movie is just as good as the book concerning philosophy, although I do like the book more. Trainspotting continuously hints at philosophical ideas, and makes the reader question things like “meaning”, “morality”, and “purpose” without coming across as being a book about philosophy.

  • Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange - very philosophical movie regarding morality and free-will.

  • For music, I highly recommend the bands Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. They produced probably some of the most artistic and philosophical music ever to be written. Also, for modern music, I’d recommend Tool (perhaps the most complex music of all time, rivaling Beethoven) and Nine Inch Nails - both are very in depth and philosophical.

Those who are most fortunate in this respect need leisure and exercises, and only a little reading. To go for many walks with the teacher, and listen to him, and think. Make good bubble baths, give back-rubs, and think. Make a fire and throw your trash into the fire. Watch the fire, and think.

Who is the teacher? Anyone from the wilderness whom you have for yourself identified as wiseman, and by way of miraculous intervention or serious monetary expense, convinced to give your beginner help. The axiom of gradation demands that the love of wisdom ought naturally begin with the love of wisemen. They invite a certain special kind of love, by their nature, and it’s exactly this that must be exercised. The love of books is called bibliophilia (necrophilia, zoophilia…) and books, I would explain graphically, ought to be the last resort, - hopefully reserved for the isolated miser.

It’s not prejudice, but rather verifiable fact that under ordinary circumstances the human brain retains no more than 10-20% of what is being read, and even that for a pitifully short time. Thus, do we realize just how often our little, trusting philosophy student will have to read, and re-read the contents of all the dusty tomes we heap on him, in order to understand and retain something of what they contain? And who would wish that on another, anyway, when they have come to us, in such a flattering manner, meekly asking for a little help to set them on the way. Moreover, how would the result of all that slow labour compare to the instantaneous insight (concerning one and the same thing), occuring out in the wilderness, where there is no one to hinder our jubilation and it flows out into the world, unstoppably making it whole! Once having learned to ride the bicycle, it is nearly impossible to un-learn.

If exercised, the skill then grows, and the description of this growth given in books does not by itself make “it” grow any faster. Working with what’s written in books - that’s a different matter! Still, there’s many a good reason why the wisest, in general, did not bother with writing books. I know the following exceptional exercise which is harmless and suitable even for children: over the course of a year or two, learn by heart two-three classical epic poems-tales in any of the languages you presently master. For those who don’t have a teacher (an encouraging quote here: “don’t have a teacher - then be sure your teacher is the Devil”) and need reasons to do anything, we can always point out the self-evident truth that by carefully reading Descartes you begin to think and write a little like Descartes; and by analogy, memorizing an epic poem you may begin to witness many things about the inner landscape changing in epic ways.

Where, after all, is the road of philosophical understanding supposed to lead? Not, I presume, to being buried alive at the utterly boring faculty of History, in one of its many auxillary closets/sarcophagi, under a laminate sign that announces: “Western Thought: Ancient to Present”.


Post scriptum for people with children and poor nerves: all I said was only a joke, and has no relation to any kind of “pedagogy of the Future” considering especially that it is an awfully ancient proposition. Of course it is always a good idea to swap reading lists and movie recommendations!

I guess I agree with you to an extent, which is why I suggest merely “browsing over” some of the philosopher’s works. It’s also why I didn’t solely recommend hardcore philosophy books - I recommended movies, music, and entertainment books as well.

Unless I’m misinterpreting what you’re saying, you make it sound like I have a fetish for books or something, like I want to have sex with them (biblophilia?) I have probably read less than 50 books in my entire life.
My mother literally has entire CRATES of old books that she has read, but she never brags about it our acts like a pompous intellectual. She’d seem like any other woman if you met her.

I guess I don’t see your point really when you describe a “lust” for books.

Well, just in case you weren’t aware, you are at a philosophy forum right now.
You could also take that nihilism and use it as a refutation against any and all human action. “Where, after all, is the road of weightlifting supposed to lead? Not, I presume, to being buried alive at the utterly boring task of repetitively moving a heavy arbitrary object for no purpose other than to accumulate muscle-mass.”
“Where, after all, is the road of Football supposed to lead? Not, I presume, to being buried alive at the utterly boring task of throwing some obscure object around on a field, running up and down a field for no apparent reason other than to tally up imaginary points, and being penalized for insubordination with some arbitrary rules.”
“Where, after all, is the road of Solitaire supposed to lead? Not, I presume, to being buried alive at the utterly boring task of organizing a deck of 52 playing cards into some obscure pattern with only a 7% probability of success.”

So then, what are the seemingly “meaningful” hobbies and activities that you partake in? Preaching to people on the internet?

If you’re going to try and find meaning in existence, the first place you’ll have to check is with Philosophy, since the very question “Where can I find meaning?” is a philosophical one.

Concerning the practice of reading, I wouldn’t say it is useless in the least. It refreshes the mind with clarity and flow, and also opens up the mind so we are able to grasp the perception of another person besides ourselves. It sharpens the mind’s communication skills, and helps us communicate with other people more effectively.

My main online hobby is surely laughing, walrus-like, while reading quirky responses such as yours - truly well done!
But, good man, if you consider bibliophilia altogether normal and healthy, why are you now apologizing yourself and your mother for it?


This is good advice. The structure of the mind is indeed more fundamental to understanding the world than any theories and models which have been stored in it.

I’d say read Plato without reading what people say about him. It’s been forever that people have claimed that in his works is a purported “theory of forms”. It’s simply not true. Read Nietzsche too. I’d also say be reflective, ponder, consider.

Hours and hours of deep introspection – particularly pertaining to internal motives and language. Then, when you discover how little you actually “know” about yourself - more introspection. When you’re not reflecting - research!

I also have a book called “The Story of Philosophy”, which was given to me by a friend who recently graduated with a degree in philosophy. Knowing that Philosophy is a general interest, and hobby, for me, I used to debate with him and pick his brain as his personal philosophy evolved. Anyway, when he graduated I became the lucky owner of all of his text books – including many famous texts. The book I noted above and Nietzsche’s “Human, All Too Human” were my first reads.

Learn from all sources


And yes introspection.

Well, as long as your being entertained by this (“Hurr hurr he must have sex with books hurr hurrr”) then I’ll gladly cooperate, simply to pay it forward.
Yes, yes, I use my old beat-up copies as a jizz rag, it makes masturbating funner. Yes, I have sex with books, that’s what you want to hear, very clever

I think it depends upon whether you prefer to be the erudite sort who can throw out scholarly references now and then to support your points or the practical sort who has developed a reasoned world view through observation and contemplation of the world around you. Or some combination of the two.

Also, as a female, I’ve found that a number of the big old boys of the Western classics wrote stuff (or based their ideas on earlier stuff) about the nature of women as it relates to reason and morality that’s just moronic to me. But I’m okay with that, because it has always required that I work my way through it…and I’ve learned a great deal as a result.

Oh, and I think it’s ignorant to ignore the eastern hemisphere when it comes to philosophical thought.


Here here! I was wondering who would actually consider Eastern philosophy. As an Asian-Canadian I was initially brought up on Western philosophy as the bulk of my educational training, but in reading up on my philosophical heritage it is clear that there is a lot missing from the Western world that only the Eastern has touched upon. Many things like cyclical thinking and complete and holistic balance.

Anyway, the best thing to do to walk down the road of philosophy is to explore. Don’t confine yourself to any one mode of thinking and expand your own definition of reality. This applies both inwardly and outwardly. Introspect but don’t forget to explore the outer world as well because they feed off one another. What you do on the outside affects how you think on the inside and vice versa.

I kind of think of it like this. Just think of oneself inside a black box with no lights. One would not know where the boundaries of the box are until one explores. If anything there may not be a boundary but you never know until you feel around and trace the walls.

“Only one who has tasted freedom can feel the longing to make everything analogous to it, to spread it throughout the entire universe. One who does not come to philosophy by this path follows and merely imitates what others do without any feeling for why they do it.”- Schelling [/size]

Only one who has discovered thinking in their own isolation and freedom, and come to philosophy by that path, will ever really understand what philosophy is. It is difficult to understand, because it cannot be taught.

And no, that really doesn’t “just about cover it.” Some of the most important thinkers you didn’t even mention.

And as for the guy prattling against reading. I know all of my favorite passages, and everything I consider important, by heart. True reading means to reproduce in your own body of experiences the basic life in a work. I could declaim to myself for a few hours and still not have exhausted what I have memorized. I have memorized entire poems, most of the Latin classics, whole books of the Bible. It isn’t impossible, and everything you consider important you should learn by heart.

So you consider hypocrisy important?


I committed the Book of Job and Ecclesiastes to memory. If you don’t think those two books are profound, I don’t know what to tell you. I am not religious by the way.

If you could pinpoint it, what would you say is the most important truth that you learned from both Job and in Ecclesiastes, Ascolo?

I would say that the greatest road to philosophical understanding is to know one’s self.

The problem is, philosophy teaches you to doubt understanding, to doubt knowledge, and then to doubt the self. #-o

If we’re lucky, philosophy teaches this. The way I look at it, to doubt and to question and then to doubt again - this is the beginning of knowing one’s self. Digging, excavation, more digging, more excavation and filling up with the right stuff or leaving empty for a time.

Agreed. I think knowing oneself is, if anything, the goal of philosophy, not the road there. :slight_smile: