Top 5 Books For A Level Philosophy | Summer Reading For Students

Continuing our 'Summer Reading' series, Neville picks out his top 5 books for any budding philosophy A Level student.


A Levels are daunting, and the topic of Philosophy can often be confusing, archaic, or rather abstract – but reading about it doesn’t have to be! Here are my recommendations for some of the best Philosophy texts: they’ve been chosen on the merit that they’re informational, engaging, but still easy to read and understand.


This list is aimed at students moving into their final A Level year, as well as moving from A Levels to study Philosophy at University. I would suggest reading in reverse order, starting at the fifth text, and moving upwards. With that said, in at number 5…


5) ‘Think’, S. Blackburn | A Modern Introduction to the Arcane Subject


· Who is this literature for?


‘Think’ is for anyone who studies or is considering studying Philosophy.


· What is this text about?


The text includes a variety of entries. In essence, the book is designed to be an introduction, description, and explanation of some of the key pieces of literature in Philosophy. For example, the work talks through the basics of understanding Descartes’ ‘Meditations’: there are brief summaries of each area/seminal philosophical work, and equally concise explanations.

· Why read this book?


This book is one of the first pieces of ‘Philosophy’ I read. It is such an easy way to get to grips and gain familiarity with some of the most famous philosophical thinkers. The book is not written as a piece of philosophy in its own right; instead, the book seeks to simplify others’ works so that the aspiring philosopher can better understand the field.


Even if you are familiar with the works described within ‘Think’, the text is still worth a read to refresh your knowledge of the detailed texts, and perhaps gain a new way of analysing such work.


4) ‘The Problems of Philosophy’, B. Russell | A Whistle-Stop Tour Through The Main Conundrums


· Who is this literature for?


In my humble opinion, this work should be read by all philosophers at some point in their academic study. The work is especially helpful and insightful for those who are entering A Level Philosophy, or those who are taking Philosophy at University, but have not studied Philosophy at school.


· What is this text about?


The text focuses on Epistemology – the philosophical study and analysis of knowledge. Russell seeks to, through an analytic method, uncover what ‘truth’ and ‘knowledge’ is. During such analysis, Russell questions our senses, and delves into philosophical scepticism, realism, and more.


· Why read this book?


Although the text can be heavy going at some points, the work is analytically cohesive, meaning that it is easy enough to follow along and track Russell’s arguments and train of thought. Reading this work will give one a sense of how important reasoned, logical, and concise arguments are. Furthermore, it gives a more detailed and challenging introduction to Philosophy – reading this work is a great way to stimulate thought on Philosophy and consider some of the oldest problems that the subject has faced.


3) ‘Meditations on First Philosophy’, R. Descartes | Tackling Some of Philosophy’s Core Questions


· Who is this literature for?


Much like Russell’s work, this text is incredibly important for philosophers: the work is of a seminal nature and is integral to the study of epistemology and metaphysics. This work should be read multiple times over the course of one’s academic study of Philosophy – this will give a fuller appreciation of the work, and also allow for lengthier contemplation on the problems highlighted within the text.


· What is this text about?


The text centres around a discussion of the senses. Descartes begins the work by questioning what he knows – how does he know what he knows, and how can he be sure that he knows it? In order to answer these questions, Descartes strips back all the details of his perceived world, searching for something that he can be certain is true.


Buried in this work is the commonly heard phrase ‘cogito ergo sum’ – 'I think, therefore I am’: the content of the literature is so influential that it is transcends the bounds of academic Philosophy.

· Why read this book?


The book is a slightly harder read than the rest of the texts on this list: however, it is arguably one of the most important works to have read, and to keep reading. Descartes was one of the greatest advancers on the subject of scepticism (although he himself was not a sceptic) and questioning the sense-perceived world.


The work is a keystone for modern Philosophy, so to understand epistemological/metaphysical modern texts, it is critical that one has first read their progenitor: Descartes, ‘Meditations’.


2) ‘Five Dialogues’, Plato | Ancient Yet Still Of Great Relevance


· Who is this literature for?


This literature is not essential for A Level Philosophy (although some of the dialogues do appear on AQA’s Philosophy recommended reading list), however, the dialogues are an easy read and should engage novice and experienced philosophers alike.


In addition, if you’re keen on drama, theatre, or even fiction – the dialogues are a fun way to learn Philosophy (they’re even better enjoyed with friends reading different characters’ lines!).


· What is this text about?


The text is composed of five key Platonic dialogues: Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Meno, Phaedo. AQA cites the Euthyphro dialogue, and the Meno dialogue as ‘recommended reading’. The dialogues are varied in content, here are what the two dialogues, that AQA points out, are about:


1. The Meno is about virtue – what is virtue, can it be taught, can we have knowledge of anything?

2. The Euthyphro is about piety – what is pious, what do the Gods love?


· Why read this book?


Other than the fact that the exam board recommends that one reads this some of these dialogues – they are just a bit of fun too! The Socratic style of discussion and prose allows for an easy, understandable, and enjoyable read – the content is designed to be understood via a discussion, and when reading these texts, it feels as if you are genuinely part of the discussion that occurred all those years ago. The content, even though created in ancient times, the dilemmas presented are relevant, and still deliberated on, today.


1) ‘Conscience and Conviction: The Case for Civil Disobedience’, K. Brownlee | A Modern Political Philosophy Classic


· Who is this literature for?


This text is perfect for those who have an interest in Philosophy that goes above and beyond the classroom. Such a book is ideal for those looking to study Philosophy at University, or those who are already in University. Equally, those who want some stretching at A Level will find this book engaging, easy to read, and thought-provoking.


This is a must read for those interested in Philosophy, Politics, and Law.


· What is this text about?


The text is quite detailed and long. To summarise the content, Brownlee discusses the case for civil disobedience. By doing so, Brownlee analyses the legal framework in which society operates, legal philosophy, and whether civil disobedience, if enacted due to moral conviction, should be deemed legally permissible.


· Why read this book?


The text discusses ethics, morality, law, politics, and more. It is by no means a small feat to read the whole text, but Brownlee’s excellent writing style makes the journey easy, thrilling, and very intriguing. If one has an interest in any of the above areas, I cannot recommend this text highly enough – it is challenging, yet not too much, and packed full of holistic, useful knowledge.

Blog Post Crafted by Neville

Neville is currently working towards his BA in Philosophy at Warwick University, having bagged three A* grades at A Level.


He has entered the Times Advocacy Competition three times, and each time was shortlisted into the top ~20 candidates in the country. In his free time he writes his own scripts, as well as other fictional and non-fictional works.

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