- Discourse on Method, by Rene Descartes. Descartes was the father of modern rationalism as Francis Bacon was the father of modern empiricism, the two branches emerging from the nominalism of William of Ockham. Descartes establishes the modern quantitative view of reality that, in conjunction with empiricism, dominates all later Western thinking. The quantitative view sees all reality as a sort of mechanism. His method of completely ignoring all previous thinkers in his philosophizing and relying entirely upon individual reason to the exclusion of tradition also provides the model for the method of most modern thinkers.
- Emile, by Jean Jacques Rousseau. The Ur-text for modern public education objectives and methodologies. It is this book, a tract on philosophic romanticism, that influences modern ideas on education more than any other except possibly Democracy and Education, by John Dewey. His book The Social Contract performed an almost as influentual role in modern political philosophy.
- Phenomenology of Spirit, by Friedrich Hegel. Famous for its explication of the "Hegelian dialectic," this book established idealism as a major school of philosophy and served later to provide on of the excuse for Marxism, Fascism, and modern atheistic existentialism.
- Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin. Established the theory of evolution as a biological theory, and used later to under gird a broader philosophical evolutionism that is now taken as dogma (and defended as such) by many thinkers in various disciplines.
- Utilitarianism, by John Stuart Mill. Explication of the ethical and political theory of utilitarianism, the idea that action should be judged the best which results in the greatest good for the greatest number. The theory is broadly assumed in modern political discussions.
- Das Kapital, by Karl Marx. A manifesto of social and political theory that is the basis for much of modernist and postmodernist thought. Although Marxism, a materialist dialectic ("turning Hegel on his head" was how Marx put it) applied to society and political systems, has not had the success in the West as a practical political theory that it has had in the East, it has at times dominated in Western academic institutions and still survives either as a positive principle or, in the case of postmodernism, a foil against which much of its theory is a reaction.
- The Will to Power, by Friedrich Nietzsche. The book thought to constitute the "end of philosophy" (although some would attribute that honor to Heidegger's Being and Time) explicates Nietzsche's repudiation of traditional premodernist notions of truth and morality as well, ironically, as modern scientism and issues a call for a transvaluation of values. This is where atheism eventually leads--for those intellectually honest enough to take their beliefs to their logical conclusion.
- Democracy and Education, by John Dewey. Despite Dewey's sometimes incomprehensible prose (which William James termed "damnable; you might even say, God-damnable"), his instrumentalist ideas were hugely influential on American thought in general and on the public education establishment in particular. Considered the father of the progressive movement in education--the idea that schools should be used as a means to change society, he later repudiated the movement when it was taken over by the pragmatist faction, which saw schools not as a means to change society, but as a way to adjust children to society as it existed. The perennial contest between the progressivists and pragmatists still largely dictates what happens in the nation's schools.
- The Ego and the Id, by Sigmund Freud. In which Freud inverts the traditional privileging of the conscious over the subconscious, resulting in the idea that the subconscious has the major influence over our thoughts and actions. This book, among others, helped to establish the most influential of the three great modern schools of psychology, along with with Carl Roger's humanist psychology and Jungianism. Freud's views are now broadly assumed and applied well beyond the sphere of human psychology, and, along with Marxism, are the touchstone for post modernism.
- Pragmatism, William James. James' explication of his pragmatist philosophy that the value of a truth depends on its usefulness to the individual. Another philosophical speculation taken now as dogma.
- Principia Mathematica, by Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead. A book which every competent logician was expected to read for close to 100 years which sets forth the ultimate scientific language first proposed by Gottfried Leibniz. Made up in large part of a sort of logical calculus, Russell and Whitehead proposed that rational thought could be captured in a formal system. This quantitative idea of logic conflicted with the classical view of logic held since Aristotle that it was a descriptive, not a prescriptive discipline. One of the step children, one might say, of Descartes quantificationism.
- Being and Time, Martin Heidegger. Heidegger, building on and reacting to Nietzsche and others, such as phenomenologist Edmund Husserl, tried to bring philosophy back to the question of being as such, rather than just beings. His view of truth--as aletheia, the Greek idea of truth as an "unveiling," was set forth as a response to the modern view of truth as a "correspondence with reality." Heidegger's active support of National Socialism in the Germany of the 1930's and 40's, although reprehensible, seems to have been more a function of practical politics than of the ideas which constituted his academic writings. Heidegger's philosophy provides a contrast to the positivism of Russell and Whitehead (as well as A. J. Ayer and the earlier Ludwig Wittgenstein) and is the basis of much of modern existentialism and post modernism.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Twelve books that changed the modern world
The following is a list of books by modern thinkers that have had a long-lasting and deep impact on the way we act and think.