A guide to classical philosophy?
December 3, 2005 6:22 AM   Subscribe

My mother has asked me if I can find a book for her for Christmas. She's after something on philosophy - the classical variety in particular. Any suggested titles?

It should cover the ideas of the great Greek and Roman philosophers in a more digestible form than translations of the original texts. She's more interested in areas that apply to your outlook on life, say, than anything overly abstract or metaphysical. She'll happily dig into a pretty dense tome and it need not be dumbed down - the important thing is that the prose be modern and comprehensible, even if the subject matter is complex.

No Sophie's World suggestions please!
posted by edd to Religion & Philosophy (11 answers total)
after virtue by macintyre is a pretty dense book that looks back to greek times to find a (conservative?) moral basis. i didn't like it much (never finished it, iirc), but it's fairly well known, written in modern english, and has a strong classical emphasis. google turned up this outline which gives you some idea of the contents.

i found it heavy going and perhaps misunderstood what i did read, although its attacks on current attitudes were pretty much to the point (but tearing things down is generally easier to get right than constructing a replacement, imho), but it seems to meet your criteria.
posted by andrew cooke at 6:46 AM on December 3, 2005

I can't remember which translation I read, but the Life of St. Augustine, beyond the the philosophy, is just a rollickingly good autobiography.
posted by Sara Anne at 8:04 AM on December 3, 2005

I haven't read this yet, it's sitting in my to-read list, so I feel a little funny recommending it, but The Passion of the Western Mind sounds like it could be just what you're after, and it has pretty excellent reviews. Perhaps someone else here has read it and can let you know if it's a good one for your mother.
posted by pazazygeek at 8:18 AM on December 3, 2005

It's not a book, but The Teaching Company's "lectures on tapes" in philosophy are excellent and compelling, and taught by well regarded university scholars. Most come in tape and cd format. Along with the lectures, they have a course guidebook that suggests lots to read if one particular part of the course provokes further curiosity. I have no connection at all to the company - just a truly happy customer.
posted by extrabox at 8:38 AM on December 3, 2005

For a very readable "history" of Western philosophy, there's always Russell's A History of Western Philosophy. Scare quotes around "history" because it's quite partisan. But it doesn't sound like she's interested in hair-splitting and argument so much as juicy ideas, and Russell always writes entertainingly. It might be just the ticket.
posted by bricoleur at 10:37 AM on December 3, 2005

although only maybe a third (don't have my copy handy) of russell's history is about the classical philosophers, i think that's a great recommendation. it's just the right balance of entertaining and serious.
posted by andrew cooke at 12:28 PM on December 3, 2005

You might consider it a bit "dumbed down" but The Consolations Of Philosophy by Alain de Botton certainly meets that "applies to your outloook on life" condition.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 1:13 PM on December 3, 2005

Thanks to all so far - keep those ideas coming! AmbroseChapel - that book looks like a good choice, even if it is a bit on the dumbed down side. At that bargain price too I may get that and a second choice too.
posted by edd at 1:40 PM on December 3, 2005

Dewey's The Quest for Certainty spends a good deal of time laying out something of a history of philosophy and has a decided emphasis on "outlook on life" issues rather than metaphysics. It's not in the least dumbed-down.
posted by sennoma at 8:59 PM on December 3, 2005

It's not an overall guide, but you certainly don't want to overlook Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Very readable and often still quite relevant.
posted by scody at 12:28 AM on December 4, 2005

Coppleston is dense, but ultimately very satisfying. Plus, you can always go on to future areas. Irwin is also a top notch classical philosopher, though this book isn't totally about ethics. The reviews for this book are pretty bad, but it's actually a really great book (Flew had some PR problems recently and his books have gotten panned unnecessarily because of it). I'm on record elsewhere in AskMe recommending it.

Also, though I haven't read it, this looks a little interesting.
posted by ontic at 10:34 PM on December 4, 2005

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