Perhaps there is no branch of philosophy more perplexing, exciting, and confusing than metaphysics. Metaphysics (Greek translation = after/beyond the natural world) is a branch of philosophy dealing with the reality of subjects, existence, objecthood, and the relationship these entities share with one another. The list of books I’ve put together is suitable and enjoyable for those of all philosophical backgrounds. Whether you’ve mastered the works of classical Western philosophy or never picked up a philosophy book in your life, these books will prove to be an excellent read and a good source of fine tuning your understanding of the world and our place within it. I’ve also taken the opportunity to include both spectrums regarding schools of metaphysical thought: idealism and materialism. I’ve included within my list the author’s name, the title of the book, publication information, and a brief annotation.
1. Loux, Michael J.
Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction
New York: Routlidge Publishing.1998. (288 p.)
Commentary: This book provides a very thorough, while easy to understand introduction to metaphysics and the philosophical concepts included within. The author tries to compare contemporary metaphysics to some of the classical sources on metaphysical philosophy (Aristotle). The reading level seems to be directed towards under-graduate college students, some of the chapters require some understanding of basic philosophical terminology. Each chapter includes a brief summary of important points, and covers a variety of topics such as realism/nominalism, ontology, restrictions on realism, and concrete particulars.
2. Collingwood, R.G.; Martin
An Essay on Metaphysics
London: Oxford University Press. 1940. (354 p.)
Commentary: This book describes metaphysics at a more experienced level. Collingwood’s work would be more than suitable for a third or fourth year philosophy major, and contains discussions that would require one to have a concrete understanding of metaphysics and its application in physical science (particularly Newtonian physics) and aesthetics amongst others. The book is rather short, but the subject matter is rather difficult. It deals with subjects such as metaphysics and anti-metaphysics, irrationalism, and religion (series of chapters regarding the existence of a god).
3. Aristotle; Lawson-Tancred, Hugh (translator)
Boston: Penguin Classics; New Ed. 1999. (528 p.)
Commentary: This book is the classical work by Aristotle in which he describes his philosophy of metaphysics. He looks at deep questions such as, “what is existence?” and “How is change possible?” The first part of the book is composed of Aristotle exposing the errors maid by his mentor, Plato. The book (for the most part) contains Aristotle’s philosophy, his definitions and arguments regarding the nature of “substance,” as well as his theology. The content is rather easy to follow; however, the translation is poor, especially considering this is supposed to be a revised new edition. Certain areas within the text reflect a poor translation from its original Greek, such as the use of words that are no longer in modern English.
4. Taylor, Richard
Metaphysics 4th Ed.
Prentice-Hall: Englewood Cliffs, NJ. 1991. (168 p.)
Commentary: This book is clear, concise, and truly an introduction to metaphysics. The focus of the book seems more on particular subjects within metaphysics, such as personal identity, space and time, differentiation between mind and body, and determinism. Perhaps this book should be used before diving into the other sources. It is straight-forward, an easy-read, and more than likely directed at high-school students and other first-year philosophy students. It’s relatively short and talks about a number of issues that are imperative to a further understanding of metaphysics.
5. Pinker, Steven
How the Mind Works
New York: W. W. Norton &Co. 1997. (672 p.)
Commentary: This book, while rather long, takes a more scientific view of metaphysics and the human mind. This stems beyond the simple introduction of metaphysics, and seems to be more of an application of it to the human mind, cognitive science, and psychology. This book can bring about some controversy; if you take a more secularist/humanist/atheist philosophy, you will find less to argue about. Overall, the book is an excellent source for metaphysical application to the deep philosophical question of “what is real.” The summation of Pinker’s philosophy resides in this quote taken from the book, “…the mind is a system of organs of computation designed by natural selection to solve the problems faced by our evolutionary ancestors…”