Hello LessWrong,

I just (finally) finished Good and Real, by Gary Drescher. It was a very stimulating read, and I'd like to continue learning philosophy on my own. However, I'm running into a bootstrapping problem. I don't know what I don't know, and therefore, I don't know where I should get started. I've tried searching the LessWrong archive to see if anyone has made a post outlining a curriculum for someone looking to teach themselves the fundamentals of modern philosophy and logic, but either my Google-fu is weak or no such post exists. So, what should someone who is looking to reduce the inferential distance between themselves and modern philosophical thought read, and in what order?

Or, do you all think this is a quixotic quest that I should give up on?

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You may want to change the title to "Analytic Philosophy" or "Contemporary Philosophy" since Modern Philosophy usually refers to something far removed from anything related to "Good and Real" by Drescher.

And that's exactly the sort of advice I'm looking for. I'm at such a low level, I don't even know what the proper name is for the thing I want to study! I've changed the title to "Contemporary philosophy". I think that's better reflects the sort of things I wish to learn more about.

That list certainly does look promising. I've read a few things on that list, and I look forward to reading the rest of them. I've also followed the link to Lukeprog's The Best Textbooks on Every Subject, which also has quite a few philosophical texts. Enough, at least, to keep me busy for at least a few months at my current rate of study. Thanks for the pointer.

Reading this sequence should give you some good hints, and the current final post is a list of book recommendations: http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Rationality_and_Philosophy

Philosophy does a lot of different things. Good and Real is trying to correct some confusions which people tend to have early in their lives, as is someone like Hume or Descartes. Something like Nietzsche or Aristotle is aiming at somewhat older people in a lower trust context. Not smarter or wiser, but in more adult situations. Kant is partially trying to support and influence a political order. Deleuze is trying to take one down. Foucault is essential reading for understanding how contemporary institutions violate the principles that justify them and originated through the evolution of institutions we would today consider abhorrent via the modification of superficial features. He's the author I would expect a recent "Sequences" grad to get the most benefit from.

For general philosophical background I'd recommend Sophie's World. It's mostly history-of-philosophy, but I think it works well as a fairly light way into the field.

Notice though that Sophie's World only goes into philosophy up to Freud. The philosophy that Starts with Russell and ends with Drescher doesn't get any say on it.

It is a very fun book about very bad philosophy. But so is "A History of Western Philosophy" by Russell himself.

Yeah, it's mostly history, but I think even for modern philosophy it's worthwhile for background and inspiration.

Regarding philosophy:

Do you have any specific research interests?

Generally speaking, the Stanford Encyclopedia is the best online source of information about philosophy. I would recommend reading the following article:


Here are the titles of what are considered to be the most influential works of the 20th century:


It depends on what you're looking for. If you're looking for Drescher style stuff then you're looking for a very specific type of contemporary, analytic philosophy. Straight off the top of my head: Daniel Dennett, Nick Bostrom and some stuff by David Chalmers as well as decision and game theory (good free introduction here).

If you're interested in contemporary, analytic philosophy generally then I can't really make suggestions because the list is too broad (what are your interests? Ethics? Aesthetics? Metaphysics? Epistemology? Logic?). Good general resources, however, definitely the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (which is a great resource), Philosophy Bro (for a lighthearted take), Philosophy Bites (for a podcast). The list here, cited by someone else, is a good guide to prominent papers some of which will be harder to understand without background knowledge than others.

If you have specific questions during your self-study, feel free to PM me and I'm happy to try and help (I'm far from an expert but also know substantially more philosophy than the average person).


The Open Society and Its Enemies by Sir Karl Popper surveys Western philosophy up to the mid 1900s.

Probably more useful for understanding Popper than for understanding the people Popper writes about. Not that understanding Popper isn't worthwhile, but this should definitely be supplemented by other sources if you want to understand any of the historical figures Popper talks about. Admittedly, I'm having trouble thinking of a really good history of philosophy without an agenda of some kind; perhaps the best way to go is to read things like this (or Russell's A History of Western Philosophy, another notoriously inaccurate work mentioned elsewhere in the thread) and remember to always take it with many grains of salt and do further research on anything that seems important.

The Porverty of Historicism is another book. BTW, the overall approach, making theories restrictive enough.