I am a college sophomore who is curious to find good books to read.  I have not had an introduction in philosophy, but I do wish to begin to study the subject in the future.  I have had thoughts on becoming a Dominican Friar one day (perhaps if I can get Masters or Ph.D. in Mathematics).  I wish to study philosophy, in particular, Metaphysics and Ethics, so that I may be a mature, humble, and wise Catholic (or at least be a Catholic more mature, humble, and wise than I am now).  Are there any good pieces of literature that you could recommend to me?  Thank you for your time.



I commend your intention!  Considering your hopes, my first suggestion is to get a good liberal arts education.  This doesn’t mean that you have to pursue a liberal arts major, such as philosophy, but whether or not you do, you need to read widely in the classics of Western civilization.  Be careful, because in our strange era, even many teachers who do assign the classics poison the well.  The best remedy is to read so well that you can tell when the water is fresh.

My second suggestion would have been not to neglect mathematics, which is a good discipline for the mind.  But I see that you are already interested in mathematics – excellent!  Your studies in logic will probably focus on the rules of inference.  These will help you to avoid formal fallacies, but you should also be familiar with the informal fallacies, which are sometimes called fallacies of distraction.  An example of an informal fallacy is argumentum ad misericordiam, or argument from pity:  “What he says must be right, because can’t you see that he’s suffering?”

Third, I am providing below a very short list of classics, just to get you started.  You’ll notice that on a great many points, the outlooks of the authors differ widely.  Calling a work “classic” doesn’t mean that it’s right about everything; it means is that it set a kind of standard that other works have to reach in order for their challenges to its ideas to be taken seriously.

Not counting the Bible, my short list includes only eight authors.  Even so, these works will keep you going for a long time; a wise man said that it is better to read a few books well than a lot of books poorly.  You’ll notice that I’ve included only ancient and medieval writers.  Of course you should read the moderns too, but first learn the classical tradition, then read their challengers – not the other way around!

There will be no great surprises here:

The Bible, both Old and New Testament

Homer, Iliad

Homer, Odyssey

Plato, Republic

Plato, Apology of Socrates

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics

Vergil, Aeneid

St. Augustine, Confessions

St. Augustine, The City of God against the Pagans

Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy

St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae

Dante Alighieri, Comedy

Not every one of these works should be read straight through in order, from the first page to the last.  For example, on your first pass through the Old Testament I would suggest focusing on Genesis and Exodus, then the key passages of the historical books, then just excerpts from the Wisdom books, the Psalms, and the Prophets.  You can skip the genealogies (although it’s true that they are there for a reason).  In Isaiah, focus on the Songs of the Servant of Yahweh.

Again, if you try to read the entire City of God straight through, you’ll bog down.  In my political philosophy seminars, I usually assign Book 2, Chapters 2 and 18-21; Book 5, Chapters 12-21; Book 12, Chapters 1-8; Book 14, Chapters 1-9 and 28; and Book 19, Chapters 1-7, 12-17, 21, and 24-28.

And on your first pass through the Summa Theologiae, begin with the opening questions on God; these are in the First Part.  Then go to the First Part of the Second Part (sorry, that’s what it’s called), and read the opening questions on happiness and ultimate purpose (I’m writing a book about them now).  Next, read just the most crucial questions on the nature of virtue – I would suggest the selections I included in another of my books, which you can find listed here.  Finally, read the questions on the nature of law -- eternal, divine, natural, and human.

Happy reading!  By the way, check out the link below too.

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