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Sunday, 12 June 2011

Ciaran's Philosophy Reading List

Hello people.

This article isn't for everyone.  It's just for people who want to actually develop their own abilities as philosophers.

It's not an exhaustive list, but it is the list I would give my younger self as the absolute best place to start.

When I say start, what I mean is to start on the genuinely new path of Global Philosophy.  To find out more about what that is, check this link.

I'll start with Western Philosophy first.

Your absolute number one port of call here is a man I continually reference, called Bryan Magee.  He metabolised the entire Western Tradition.

He is a model of clarity, famed for it.  His writing is crystal clear, and he never obfuscates or claims more than he knows.

The first book you want to read is called

Confessions Of A Philosopher.

It is a semi-autobiographical work that contains a crystal clear analysis and overview of the entire Western Tradition.  It also gives a brilliant account of Karl Popper's work on the philosophy of science, which is instrumental to the new approach.

Once you've read that, then check out "The Great Philosophers" by the same guy, Bryan Magee.

The Great Philosophers is a set of interviews with the world's top specialists in the work of these people.  Magee is just like the light cutting through the darkness here, and his ability to bring clarity to this body of work is unreal.

Once you've read that you've geared yourself up to fully appreciate his magnum opus - The Philosophy Of Schopenhauer.

It is superb.

He's written scores of books, and not a one is less than excellent, but these are the three.  The reason you want to read them in this order is that by the time you finish, you will have got a crystal clear understanding of every major central idea of the Western tradition, all set in clear context, with the high-watermark of Western philosophy in clear view.

Three books to read - that's a pretty big payoff.  I do recommend you do it like this - this is the advice I would give to young Ciaran had I a DeLorean equipped with a flux capacitor.

Now, Eckhart Tolle is a very different kind of writer to Magee.  He's has all the flaws of an Eastern thinker - intermittent vagueness, and an occasional urge to use the word 'energy' in a way not strictly recognised by physics - but he also has this intense clarity of communication and a very stripped down way of talking about things, that I can only assume comes from his background as a Cambridge academic.

The Power Of Now is a brilliant piece.  It really Westernises Zen as much as it can be Westernised without dropping the reverence.  What this did for me was give me an 'in' - a clear understanding of enough of the core shape of what Eastern thought is all about that when I then came to hit the harder tomes of ancient wisdom, I wasn't just giving myself a headache.  I could see far deeper into them all, and that's because of the simplicity of Tolle's insight.

He's not flawless in the way he talks about it, and his style may grate for some, but I have found nobody who can bring the insight from the Eastern tradition into as clear a focus as he.

The Eastern texts I would highly recommend that you read personally are these:

1 - The Platform Sutra. - It is basically the equivalent of the Bible, but for Zen.  A tour de force.  Free online.

2 - The Tao Te Ching - The one work of Lao Tze.  It's up there with the most beautiful best poems ever, and it's profound to boot.  Free online.

3 - The Bhaghavad Gita - This is beautiful, there's no getting away from it.  Like a distillation of the Hindu Upanishads (the core basis for Indian philosophy).  When you read it, really search hard to get a version that is not relentlessly embedded with some scholar giving a page of theological analysis after every paragraph.  Just the Gita, thanks.

Those are probably your big three.

As for more modern pieces, it's really Advaita which has the heavy hitters.  Two really rise above the crowd.

1 - Ramana Maharshi's "Be As You Are" - a collection of dialogues collated by a fellow called David Godman if memory serves.  Free online on Scribd.  He's very good.

2 - Nisargadatta Maharaj's "I Am That" - again, this is free online and is a collection of dialogues.  This man has the patience of Job.  More edge than Maharshi, not quite as cuddly.  Brilliant.  Free online.

That's Eastern thought.  There is, however, another wisdom tradition that's far closer to home.  If you're from where I'm from.  Not if you're from India, or something.  Obviously.

There are three pieces of Christian Philosophy which I have encountered that are genuinely magnificent.  They are stunningly deep pieces, and I would recommend that you read them yourself, and find out what I mean.

1 - The Great Divorce, by C. S. Lewis.  This is the book that started me on philosophy.  It's incredible.

2 - The sermons of Meister Eckhart. -  He's amazing.  All his stuff is free online.

3 - The Gospel Of Thomas. - The person who you will meet in these sayings is very far from meek or mild.  Free online.

I think that's probably enough for now.  Of all the stuff I've read it's these things which have stayed with me, and which I would, with no reservation, recommend to you as the core part of your research into philosophy.

Have fun...


  1. Glad to see you're regularly posting again.

    Is Bertrand Russels "A History of Western Philosophy" worth reading?

  2. No, it's total dross. It's basically a sales pitch for a kind of philosophy that emphasises logic instead of honesty. It's pretty nasty. Well written, but a very nasty piece of work nonetheless.

    If you want to get inside what the problems are with Russell's approach, check this thread in the Duelling Ground, it's a stand up fight between me and one of his acolytes.

  3. Would you please remove the IP ban on me so I can read it.

  4. I've started reading "Confessions of a Philosopher". My God, the honesty, the sheer honesty with which he writes... it's like a drug.

  5. @ Velorian - Yeah man. You'll see more than that before you're through. My whole philosophical method of honesty, and 'my' Rule 1 of philosophy. It's all in that book.

    @ Danny - You should be fine now.

  6. Ciaran,

    Have you had the time to check out Vasistha's Yoga and if you've found the text to be useful at all?

    If you haven't, I would suggest at least a peek at it.

  7. Dude, it's 32000 lines long. Uh.... yeah.

    This takes four words, mate. There's no you, look.

    I'm sure it's very profound and all, but having looked at it, I just felt that between the Bhaghavad Gita and the work of the Advaita sages Maharshi and Maharaj, you've got a serious handle on Hindu philosophy.

    Now shit - yeah. Read it, by all means, take the time.

    But here's my issue. Here's a quote from Wikipedia regarding this piece:

    "The traditional belief is that reading this book leads to spiritual liberation. The conversation between Vasistha and Prince Rama is that between a great, enlightened sage and a seeker who is about to reach wholeness. This is said to be among those rare conversations which directly leads to Truth."

    Dude, we have a fucking book, a free ebook that can be downloaded free called Brutal Beginnings, where liberation is spread from person to person to person to person.

    You have chains of liberation, live, complete. Nothing was taken away.

    On this blog network there are scores of these things.

    If you go into the arena, there are over 100. Well over 100.

    100+ examples of actual liberations in real life, that actually occurred, and you can read exactly what was said on both sides. We've even taken to posting the link to the actual liberation in the list where they are logged for ease of access.

    The blunt fact is that a 32000 line piece of flowery, and very profound Hindu prose, is now no longer (I know this is a shock) the cutting edge when it comes to this.

    We're a little beyond a 32000 line piece which involves ONE liberation. This thing is VAST.

    My best record, for instance, is from someone saying hello over google chat to me freeing them, in something like 50 minutes.

    The standing record from being liberated to liberating someone else is held by Kakistos, who did it in three days. That's recorded in full in Brutal Beginnings, alongside maybe 10-15 other live, full, real liberations.

    So yeah. Uh. Yeah.

    I'm not saying it isn't profound and everything. Hindu philosophy is exceptional. My point is that I'm not putting this reading list up for everyone to geek the fuck out with.

    We have work to do, and the world, regardless of the claims of the mystics, does not appear to be in imminent danger of freeing itself.

    The reading here will give you a solid core understanding of each tradition, and yes, you can then - and should - go on to really start poking around properly.

    But I'm not going to take a month of my life out to read that. Sorry.

    Someone else do it, and give me the York Notes.

  8. And me saying that Brutal Beginnings has 10-15 live liberations isn't because some of those were flaky. It's because I have genuinely lost count of how many liberations are fully recorded in that book.

  9. BTW, I still hold that Kakistos's record is broken. I liberated Kiro over two phone conversations within 35 hours of becoming liberated myself. I'm pretty sure she confirmed this in the Arena. If not, I'll ask her to.

  10. Cool as fuck, V, get that confirmed.

    You see this, liberatedself? I mean, look at the timescales we're looking at now, this is totally outside the established boundaries for the spreading of this freedom.

    Oh - and if you're thinking "really?" about this - go to the Arena. Everything is recorded. Check it out, Velorien's liberation, then Kiro's. It's all there, links and everything. Take the time. Care enough. Check.

  11. Oh no doubt, but you being historian, I would think you would might find some interest in reading for reading sake.

    The no you approach that you first wrote about while Brutal Beginnings was still being composed liberated me. Its silly because I had read Nisargadatta and tons of other gurus including close to half of vasistha, and it wasn't until I read your post about no you that I finally saw it.