What are your desert island philosophy essays?
September 30, 2017 4:26 AM   Subscribe

This post on Roland Barthes has inspired me to run with a long-running urge I've had to put together a greatest hits reading list of classic (but not classical) philosophy essays. The thing is I'm not, nor have I ever been a philosophy major, so my list probably has some big holes in it. I've put what I've thought of so far below the fold, what would you add?

The shorter the better, I’d like things that get an author's idea across or let you dip a toe in their worldview/thing relatively snappily. I'm not looking for companions-to-continental-philosophy type things/paraphrasings, I've got a couple of books along those lines and don't find them super-helpful, I prefer to read things in the author's own words/translation thereof.

What I’ve come up with myself so far:
Adorno: The Culture Industry
Adorno: On the Fetish-Character in Music and the Regression of Listening
Barthes: The Death of the Author (hat-tip to the FPP on the blue)
de Beauvoir: The Ethics of Ambiguity (this one’s stretching my own rules length-wise)
Benjamin: The Task of the Translator
Benjamin: The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility
Derrida: Differance
Derrida: Freud and the Scene of Writing
Foucault: What is an Author?
Foucault: Discipline & Punish, Panopticism

Forgive me if the above list is myopic, like I said I've never formally studied this stuff, I'm just a musician with an interest in critical thought. Tell me what I'm missing!
posted by threecheesetrees to Religion & Philosophy (18 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
The Iliad or The Poem of Force. (Hoping that the fact it's about Homer does not make it "classical.")
posted by BibiRose at 5:37 AM on September 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

Nagel, What Is It Like to Be a Bat?
posted by Catseye at 5:43 AM on September 30, 2017 [4 favorites]

You don't really say so explicitly, but judging by your list and the reference to the companions, you seem to be interested in 20th century continental/critical thought. I think there are two authors that absolutely have to be on there, namely Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger. I would suggest the following texts by them:

- Husserl - "Philosophy as Rigorous science" (short) and/or "The Idea of Phenomenology (longer) -- so you know what many of the others talk about when referring to Husserl
- Heidegger - "The Origin of the Work of Art" and/or "The Question Concerning Technology" and/or "What Calls for Thinking" -- there are many options and some good anthologies with translations of his essays

I'll suggest some others as well:

- Foucault - "Of Other Spaces"
- Horkheimer - "Traditional and Critical Theory"
- Levinas - "Ethics as First Philosophy"
- Levinas - "Heidegger, Gagarin and Us"
- Lyotard - "The Postmodern Condition" (actually a short book)
- Merleau-Ponty - "Cézanne's Doubt"
- Sartre - "Existentialism is a Humanism"

And maybe some Nietzsche too? Also keep in mind that many of the authors you might find interesting did their best work in monographs rather than in short essays or articles.
posted by Desertshore at 6:11 AM on September 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

Have you read Marx? I think you'd really enjoy reading Marx on commodity fetishism in The Fetishism of Commodities and the Secret Thereof.
posted by flourpot at 6:20 AM on September 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

Camus' novel, "The Plague". Not an essay but the philosophy comes through.
posted by mermayd at 6:32 AM on September 30, 2017

Kant -- Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics. Kant is fascinating and this 90 pager will give you a good feel for him with having to read 800 pages of Critique of Pure Reason.
posted by janey47 at 7:50 AM on September 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

Wilfrid Sellars -- “Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man,” in Frontiers of Science and Philosophy, Robert Colodny (ed.) (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1962): 35–78.

Ruth Barcan Marcus -- "Modalities and Intensional Languages. Synthese, XIII: 303–322 (1961). Reprinted in Modalities, Philosophical Essays, Ruth Barcan Marcus, Oxford University Press, 1993. Or, maybe just her 1947 JSL paper, "The Identity of Individuals in a Strict Functional Calculus of Second Order" (also collected in the same book).

David Lewis -- Counterfactuals, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers and Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1973, Reprinted with revisions, 1986.

posted by advil at 10:01 AM on September 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

Also, here's something to think about w.r.t. the usual sorts of lists like this that get constructed: Diversifying [philosophy] syllabi project. There are many classic things on there, though it also includes contemporary stuff, and the recommendations in the areas that I know anything about are really good.
posted by advil at 10:37 AM on September 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

Benjamin--Unpacking My Library
Spivak--Can the Subaltern Speak
Cixous--The Laugh of the Medusa
Freud--Civilzation and Its Discontents
Sedgwick--Jane Austen and the Masturbating Girl
Said--Reflections on Exile
Wittig--The Straight Mind
Sontag--Fascinating Fascism
Bhaba--On Cultural Choice
posted by PinkMoose at 10:54 AM on September 30, 2017 [6 favorites]

A few 'skeleton key' essays that come to mind:

Bataille, "The Notion of Expenditure" (which stands in for his major work) and "The Solar Anus" (which stands in for all his weird stuff)

Heidegger, "The Concept of Time" (a preliminary sketch of Being and Time) and "The Letter on Humanism" (sort of an update on the same line of thought), though I agree that earlier suggestions in this thread are more commonly taught and used in other domains

Nietzsche, "How the Real World at Last Became a Myth," "Morality as Anti-Nature," and "The Four Great Errors"--all from Twilight of the Idols, which has multiple translations online--and "On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense"
posted by Wobbuffet at 11:36 AM on September 30, 2017 [3 favorites]

(As is kinda obvious from the list, my interests lean a little less towards "dead white men with wigs" and a little more towards feminism, decolonization, ecofeminism, and disability studies.)

Jacques Derrida, "Différance"
Jacques Derrida, "Signature Event Context"
Michel de Certeau: "Making Do: Uses and Tactics"
Michel Foucault: "Panopticism"
Michel Foucault: "The Repressive Hypothesis"
Sigmund Freud: Civilization and its Discontents
J.L. Austin: "Performative-Constantive"

Angela Davis: Are Prisons Obsolete?
Edward Said: "The Scope of Orientalism"
Ngugi wa Thiong'o: "Decolonising the Mind"
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak: "Can the Subaltern Speak?"

Gilles Deleuze & Félix Guattari: "Rhizome" from A Thousand Plateaus
Donna Haraway: "The Cyborg Manifesto"
Donna Haraway: "Situated Knowledges"
Judith Butler: "Performative Acts and Gender Constitution"
Judith Butler: "Subversive Bodily Acts"
Robert McRuer: "Compulsory Able-Bodiedness and Queer/Disabled Existence"
Eli Clare, Exile and Pride
posted by fire, water, earth, air at 2:10 PM on September 30, 2017 [4 favorites]

"Literature and the Right to Death" by Maurice Blanchot
posted by Dressed to Kill at 6:56 PM on September 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

"Occupation/Collaboration" by Andrea Dworkin
posted by Dressed to Kill at 6:56 PM on September 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

Shit, last one: "A Room of One's Own" by Virginia Woolf
posted by Dressed to Kill at 6:57 PM on September 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

Nagel, “Moral Luck
posted by Pater Aletheias at 7:54 PM on September 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'd recommend a pair - Kant's What is Enlightenment, and Foucault's response with the same title.
Kant: http://www.columbia.edu/acis/ets/CCREAD/etscc/kant.html
Foucault: https://www.libarts.colostate.edu/leap/wp-content/uploads/sites/24/2017/01/Foucault-What-is-enlightenment.pdf
posted by MikePemulis at 4:28 AM on October 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you for the fantastic response everyone! This is great! I'm particularly excited by Advil's link, it contains several names I've never seen, which I suppose is the point. Heck, I'm excited about pretty much everything here. There's things I don't know by names that I do, thing's I recognise as having heard of but forgotten about without reading them, and things and people that are brand new to me.

Metafilter, yet again you prove to be my favourite place/community on the web.

Keep 'em coming!
posted by threecheesetrees at 6:33 AM on October 1, 2017

This far and no Montaigne? He invented the essay! His 'On Friendship' is probably the most famous but 'On the Cannibals' is also awesome.
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 2:54 AM on October 2, 2017

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