Introduction to Philosophy

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-PLAY3594-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2015
Retrieved March 30, 2017, from

Article Summary

REP can be approached at so many different levels: philosophers at any stage can lose themselves in the interconnected web of entries.

My first piece of advice for those wanting an introduction to philosophy is: let yourself wander through the entries. Every entry includes a brief account of its content at the beginning so you always know what you are going to get in the rest of the entry.

First, use the ‘Browse’ tab on any page and choose ‘by subject’ to get an idea of the broad categories used by the REP.

The ‘Overview’ articles might be the next stop. To start your introduction I can think of no better overview than the one on Metaphysics by the great founding editor of the REP, Edward Craig. Once you have got the taste for metaphysics, you might then want to try Causation by Nancy Cartwright, and follow it up with Causation, further themes by Peter Menzies.

Many people come to philosophy because of their interest in ethical or religious questions. A fantastic introduction to ethics is Roger Crisp’s Ethics. Once you have read this, you can find out more about specific theories in ethics, for example by looking at the excellent Utilitarianism, by Roger Crisp and Tim Chappell. Out of the entries on particular moral philosophers, I particularly like Bernard Williams, by Ross Harrison and Edward Craig.

Those interested in philosophical issues in religion should go to Eleonore Stump’s Overview article on Religion, Philosophy of, and then for a bit more detail, the beautifully lucid Religion, history of philosophy of by William P Alston.

Then you might want to turn to the philosophy of art: Aesthetics by Malcolm Budd gives an authoritative introduction, and Abstract Art by John H Brown explores the kind of questions about the meaning of abstract art which occur to everyone who thinks about these things.

Or if politics is your thing, you should first try David Miller’s Overview Political Philosophy. After that, try Democracy by Ross Harrison. Those interested in feminism should try Susan James’s excellent entry Feminism, and Language and gender, by Sally McConnell-Ginet.

Of course, an introduction to philosophy must also involve an introduction to the great philosophers of the past. Here the REP has a wonderful selection of articles, written by some of the leading philosophers of today: René Descartes, by Daniel Garber, Aristotle, by Terry Irwin, and Immanuel Kant, by Paul Guyer (these are all terrific: tough going, but worth it). The article on Martin Heidegger by Thomas Sheehan is a lucid guide to a difficult thinker. The Phenomenological Movement by Lester Embree provides useful background here.

The REP also has fantastic introductions to philosophers and thinkers who have had a huge influence outside the confines of academic philosophy: take a look at Sigmund Freud, by James Hopkins, or William James, by Ruth Anna Putnam.

For me, one of the great things about the REP is that I can keep educating myself, by stumbling upon things that I previously knew little about: Hermeneutics, by Michael Inwood is a really useful article, as is Islamic Philosophy by Oliver Leaman. And moving further away from the heart of philosophy, I learned a lot from the entry on Roman Law by PBH Birks.

Finally, as someone who is no expert in logic but occasionally reads logic-rich material, I would be lost without the invaluable Glossary of logical and mathematical terms, by Michael Detlefsen David Charles McCarty and John B Bacon. Something to be used when necessary, rather than read from beginning to end, but it is the best short online logic terminology guide I know.

Citing this article:
Crane, Tim. Introduction to Philosophy, 2015, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-PLAY3594-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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