Key features of the text

  • Incorporates numerous pedagogical features - opening "First Reactions" discussion questions, study questions, side bar discussions, and chapter summaries - that make the text an interactive guide for students, requiring them to reconstruct arguments in their own words and answer questions on content.
  • Emphasizes contemporary writings and encourages students to explore connections between works from western and eastern traditions and different time periods.
  • Commentaries provide a gloss on difficult passages, explain archaic or technical terminology, and expand on arguments, making philosophical texts more accessible.
  • Contains several selections in Eastern philosophy, which are integrated into the various topical categories.
  • Includes portraits of philosophers, title pages of famous works, and 12 specially commissioned cartoons, making the text more attractive to students.

General Introduction

This topically organized text is a flexible tool for introductory courses and parts of it might also prove useful in more advanced courses. A wide selection of primary source materials allows a diversity of approaches to major figures and themes. A large part of this text consists of selections from contemporary philosophers. There are also texts from older influential works in Western and Eastern philosophy, including selections from many of the major works from Plato to Kant usually covered by historical anthologies. But the major distinction of this text resides in its attention to pedagogical issues

Most philosophy instructors find that introductory courses with primary texts as the main required reading pose multiple pedagogical problems. Many students will not read the material at all, and even students who do attempt to read the material typically do not understand it very well. Consequently, few students come to class with the kind of focused questions that can facilitate good discussions. This text attempts to address these problems by combining primary text, commentary, and study questions. The study questions are enclosed in "Ask Yourself" boxes.

All the selections are presented in short and manageable sections with organizational headings and subheadings added. There are some new translations or newly revised translations that appear here for the first time. Other translated material is corrected and adapted for clarity. The writings of various English language philosophers such as Hobbes, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Reid and Mill present special problems because of their dated style and vocabulary. In these texts, spelling and punctuation are modernized, parentheses are introduced when appropriate, longer sentences are divided when possible, and bracketed words are added for clarification.

The commentaries provide a gloss on difficult passages, explain archaic or technical terminology, and expand upon allusions to unfamiliar literature and arguments. Philosophers over the past 2,500 years have written for particular audiences. The intellectual and cultural worlds of ancient Greece or China, for example, differ in important ways from the cultural worlds of today. Consequently we may sometimes be confused by an argument or claim or way of speaking that would have been clearer to readers of the time. The study guides and explanatory comments attempt to minimize these problems.

The following further features of the book should also enhance instruction.

First Reactions

Each chapter and section in this book begins with some general questions on the philosophical issues at hand. The purpose of these First Reaction questions is not to quiz readers on the subject matter. Instead the questions aim to provoke wonder, puzzlement and discussion on the topic - the kind of puzzling that philosophers themselves have engaged in as they explored and proposed various accounts of the topics in each section. These are the kind of questions that go beyond the philosophy classrooms and the selections from the philosophers themselves. They are in fact questions that continually arise in everyday life, though often only in a crude form. In fact, many of the sections in the text begin with illustrations from daily life, the sorts of things that we read in newspapers or journals, or learn about from TV reports.

Thinking Logically

Thinking Logically boxes in the text discuss particular arguments which students may need to understand in order to appreciate the answers to the philosophical questions being discussed in a given selection.

The Can of Worms

Philosophical questions overlap in a multitude of ways and generally cannot be isolated entirely from one another. At the end of each section of a chapter, there will be a box titled The Can of Worms. These explore how questions in one section of the chapter relate to issues dealt with in other sections or in other chapters.


At the close of each section and chapter there are summaries of the part in question. These should prove helpful for review purposes. But it might also be very useful to look over these summaries before studying a section, in order to get a sense of the general topics in that section.


A glossary of key terms appears at the close of this book. Like other disciplines, philosophy has some technical and semi-technical terms, and most of them will be briefly defined in the glossary.

Suggestions on Class Conduct and Use of the Study Guides

First Class

In classes with fewer than 25 students the first day can include individual introductions to the entire class, perhaps using "icebreakers." Larger classes can break into smaller groups for introductions. Some familiarity with classmates will facilitate discussion and the instructor will also be acquiring name familiarity. The syllabus should be gone over carefully, with grading procedures a particular focus. Students need to know exactly what to expect. To that end a sample paragraph could be displayed on monitors or overheads followed by a question or two from the text. Students can break into groups to decide on answers, or be called on individually.

In large classes in may be helpful for students to break into groups of two or four to discuss the best answer to a study guide question. Even though some students may be tempted to rely in an inappropriate way on classmates when preparing guides, discussion should be encouraged.

Some instructors will use only a selection of those questions provided in the texts, perhaps those at the easiest level, or those requiring filling in blanks, etc. Opening exercises should reflect these decisions. In any case, some attempt should be made right at the start to indicate how much philosophical reflection begins with puzzlement over apparently obvious matters, such as how it is that words can mean, or how it is possible for many things to be, in some sense, one.

Alternatively, some instructors may prefer to simply begin with a very informal discussion of some typical puzzle, one that is relatively easily understood. The opening class can easily model the most typical procedures planned for the semester.

It is worth stressing to students that the kinds of skills in reading comprehension and critical thinking which the use of the study guides can develop are crucial to intellectual success in nearly all disciplines and vocations.

Subsequent Classes

Although lecture and unplanned discussion can figure importantly in any philosophy class, the use of some selection of the study questions as discussion starters is particularly recommended. If the students expect to be called on to present their answers in class they are more likely to have worked through the assigned material on time. This is particularly important when a study guide is assigned which is due after a class or two.

Students can even do some work in class on selected questions. In some cases the instructor will want to model for students how to read a passage and then work out an answer. Opportunities for explaining points about argument ( deductive validity and the like) are provided by some of the questions and explored in the "Logic Boxes." Students should begin to learn to identify arguments, determine what are the premises and conclusions, note missing elements, and reflect on the logical relations involve.

Students are sometimes required to relate parts of a given text to earlier discussions, so that a continuous review of material already covered is facilitated. The importance of continuous review, particularly where conceptually difficult issues are involved, can hardly be overestimated.

The study guide format for the presentation of classic texts has been found helpful by the majority of student users so far; in fact, a majority claim that the guides are indispensable for reading comprehension and good class preparation.

Further Notes on Uses of the Guides

The anthology is not designed for students to write answers in the book itself, but, instead, to record their answers on a separate piece of paper or in an essay booklet that can then be evaluated by teachers, secretaries, or student assistants. This is of particular benefit for classes with large enrollments since it adds a systematic written component to a course's requirements.

The guides could also be submitted electronically

The study guides were designed with several possibilities in mind.

  1. All questions in any assigned section can be assigned, or alternatively selected questions can be assigned.
  2. The study guides can be used primarily to determine that the students have indeed read the material. Some of the questions are designed merely to determine that the material has indeed been read, and with at least minimal comprehension. Many instructors will agree that even such a modest aim is significant given the study habits of large numbers of students in introductory courses.
  3. Some of the questions require more than minimal comprehension, and some are intended to provide an impetus to independent philosophical rumination. Some instructors will want to stress these questions and omit others. These questions can also help students to focus in a way that enlivens class discussion.
  4. Questions can be assigned with the specific intention of provoking class discussion. Students can be advised ahead of time that they will be asked to comment on certain questions in class.
  5. Instructors often have difficulty knowing which parts of a text are most challenging. Students can be encouraged to bring up difficulties they are having with any question. As a result instructors will often find that topics need further explanation which they may have thought obvious or already sufficiently covered.
Historical Use

This text is also useable for more historical approaches which stress readings in major historical figures. There are numerous selections from major western philosophers from the pre-Socratics through the 20th century, and from several major eastern figures. These could be grouped together for a more historical treatment, though the topical introductions to each section should probably be used also.

Website Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy
Please send comments or suggestions about this Website to