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Reading Recommendations

I made a reading list. If you want to be good at thinking and know much about the world, these are the best books to read by the best thinkers. In particular, if you don't understand Ayn Rand and Karl Popper then you're at a huge disadvantage throughout life. (Almost everyone is at this huge disadvantage. It's a sad state of affairs. You don't have to be, though.) I put lots of effort into selecting the best books and chapters to highlight, and including brief summaries. The selected chapters are especially important for Karl Popper, who I don't think you should read cover-to-cover.

Many other philosophy books, including common recommendations, are actually so bad that people think intellectual books suck and give up on learning. So I want to help point people in the right direction. (If you think my recommendations are bad, speak up and state your judgement and criticisms. Don't silently dismiss the ideas with no possibility of being corrected if you're mistaken.)

Ayn Rand is the best moral philosopher. That covers issues like how to be happy, what is a good life, and how to make decisions. There's no avoiding those issues in your life. Your choice is whether to read the best ideas on the topic or muddle through life with some contradictions you picked up from your culture and never critically considered.

Karl Popper is the best philosopher of knowledge. That covers issues like how to learn, how to come up with solutions to problems (solutions are a type of knowledge, and problem solving is a type of learning), and how to evaluate ideas as good, bad, true or false. Critical thinking skills like this are part of everyone's life. Your choice is whether to use half-remembered half-false critical thinking skills you picked up in school, or to learn from the best humanity has ever had and consciously think things through.

I made a free video presentation covering the reading list. It'll help you understand the authors, find out which books interest you, and read more effectively. Take a look at the reading list, then check out my video overview.

Watch: Elliot presents the reading list. (This video is also a good introduction to philosophy and Fallible Ideas.)

If you have some interest in learning about reason, morality, liberalism, etc, please take a look at the reading list and watch the video. This was a big project to create a helpful resource and I highly recommend at least looking it over.

I also recorded two 3-hour discussions. I talked with other philosophers who are familiar with the material. We talk about what the books say and how they're valuable, who the authors are and what they think, why people have trouble reading, and some philosophical issues and tangents which come up.

If you love reading books, dive right in! But if you're like most people, you'll find podcasts easier. Most people find verbal discussion more fun and engaging than books. The podcasts will help you get information about what the books are like, which can help you become interested in the first place.

Buy: Alan Forrester Discussion

Buy: Justin Mallone Discussion


Elliot Temple on June 21, 2017

Comments (20)

I was asked about how I compared Rand to Popper, and how I concluded Rand was the greatest philosopher:

Popper had one main **huge** thing – solving the problem of induction with a new non-justificationist evolutionary epistemology. That's **great**. That alone makes him a top philosopher in history.

Rand had several huge things (e.g., just in moral philosophy, her sanction of victim stuff, secondhandedness stuff, and altruism criticism are all huge), and she covered more topics than Popper with much more consistent quality.

Popper got various stuff wrong (e.g. liberalism/capitalism/socialism, including he advocated TV censorship). Rand's lowest points are all, at *worst*, much better than almost everyone else. Rand wasn't *dumb* about anything; Popper was. Rand also more clearly figured out what her own ideas were, and developed better writing skill so that she could communicate them more clearly than Popper communicated his.

Popper's big thing is also more flawed than Rand's big things are. I've already pointed out significant CR errors (in my Yes or No Philosophy material), whereas I've been unable to discover significant errors in Rand's big things (though it depends what you count, e.g. I think measurement omission is flawed). Despite the flaws, Popper's achievement is still a great candidate for the biggest single philosophy achievement since the ancient Greeks. But even granting Popper's achievement the highest value, I'd still rate Rand higher because she has more big achievements and much more consistently high thinking quality.

---

Note that Rand and Popper don't have a lot of overlap. Rand offers different ideas, not better versions of Popper's ideas. Everyone should learn both. I think any intellectual who doesn't know about both is at a huge, huge disadvantage.


curi at 3:03 PM on December 28, 2017 | #9433 | reply | quote

#9433 Interesting. Here's my own comparison.

DD knows more about physics than Einstein did, but Einstein can reasonably be considered the greater physicist b/c making major original breakthroughs is harder than standing on the shoulders of giants.

It's similar in philosophy: DD knows more than Popper did, but had the benefit of learning from both Popper and Rand. DD has called himself footnotes to Popper, though I consider DD's achievement larger than that and actually think he rivals Popper.

DD, unfortunately, has studied Rand inadequately. He is familiar and is a fan, but he is currently ruining his career by acting contrary to her philosophy. He is unwilling to criticize or debate her, or study her more carefully. The way he's ruining his career is by sucking up to high social status persons – compromising and seeking popularity over truth – while also stopping his interactions with high quality intellectuals who are less popular (he used to do tons of, and it's very important as a source of error correction).


Dagny at 3:36 PM on December 28, 2017 | #9434 | reply | quote

I've yet to come across a meaningful way to assign a measure of greater-than-ness. It's difficult comparing two contributions to science/philosophy to one another.

In fact, such a measure will in part be a prophesy, because the importance of certain ideas will become prevalent in hindsight only.

For example, take Planck's contribution to science: he solved the infrared catastrophe and, unbeknownst to him, he laid the foundations for quantum mechanics. People judge his theory differently now then they used to and for good reason. We now know that Planck's theory is much more fundamental than he could've known.

Furthermore, such a measure also implies a kind of hierarchy to knowledge, which I don't think exists. Are moral problems more important than epistemological ones? Is physics more interesting than biology?

Finally, I disagree that Popper only solved one big problem. He contributed to political philosophy in his Open Society and It's Enemies, but this is a secondary issue.


CritRat at 6:06 AM on December 29, 2017 | #9435 | reply | quote

There's no prophesy: Planck should not be credited for what he didn't know and could not foresee.

Philosophy is more important than shuffleboard. You should begin by recognizing that, given some framework, you can then make judgements about some ideas being more important than others. Then you should recognize that some of the judgements remain the same for categories of frameworks – including the category of all the frameworks any reasonable person uses today.

I find no difficulty comparing the contributions of Popper to those of my neighbor (who has done nothing important intellectually). I am unimpressed by your generic retreat from judgement.

I'm guessing the issue with OSE is you make the same political philosophy mistakes that Popper made, so you overrate him. These are corrected by Objectivism!

If you reread my comments, you'll find I didn't assign a measure to anything – I gave an explanation. I think you don't understand it; I can tell because you have ignored what I said about Popper being badly wrong on many topics – you don't know what they are, didn't ask, and responded as if I hadn't even said it. You ignored it so much you then offered an example of Popper getting a lot of stuff wrong as his second **huge** achievement.

Let's look briefly at OSE:

> Liberalism and state-interference are not opposed to each other. On the contrary, any kind of freedom is clearly impossible unless it is guaranteed by the state [42] . A certain amount of state control in education, for instance, is necessary, if the young are to be protected from a neglect which would make them unable to defend their freedom, and the state should see that all educational facilities are available to everybody. But too much state control in educational matters is a fatal danger to freedom, since it must lead to indoctrination. As already indicated, the important and difficult question of the limitations of freedom cannot be solved by a cut and dried formula.

Popper is in favor of some limits on freedom, and declares that liberalism is too!? Then he goes on to advocate significant state control over education, and what sounds like tax funding for education. His approach – have the government partly control education but not too much – is *wrong*.

> An experiment in socialism, for instance, if confined to a factory, or to a village, or even to a district, would never give us the kind of realistic information which we need so urgently.

Popper incorrectly believes we urgently need experimental test results about the efficacy of socialism. Popper must have known who Mises was, if not Rand, and ignored Mises' arguments.

> we must compromise

See e.g. Rand's *Doesn’t Life Require Compromise?*.

> One of these unpredictable factors is just the influence of social technology and of political intervention in economic matters.

You can make predictions about e.g. the economic consequences of minimum wage laws and other price controls.

> Since I am criticizing Marx and, to some extent, praising democratic piecemeal interventionism (especially of the institutional kind explained in section VII to chapter 17), I wish to make it clear that I feel much sympathy with Marx's hope for a decrease in state influence. It is undoubtedly the greatest danger of interventionism—especially of any direct intervention—that it leads to an increase in state power and in bureaucracy. Most interventionists do not mind this, or they close their eyes to it, which increases the danger. But I believe that once the danger is faced squarely, it should be possible to master it. For this is again merely a problem of social technology and of social piecemeal engineering.

Popper thinks we can master the downsides of government and make it work. He's fundamentally anti-liberal and he doesn't address the major liberal arguments. He doesn't carefully consider the distinctions between e.g. force and non-force, voluntary and non-voluntary, and apply them to these issues.

> As Lenin admits, there is hardly a word on the economics of socialism to be found in Marx's work —apart from such useless slogans as 'from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs'.

This text isn't a mistake but it's funny and related to one: there's hardly a word of economics in Popper's work (which is a mistake).


curi at 11:59 AM on December 29, 2017 | #9436 | reply | quote

#9435 Planck solved the ultraviolet catastrophe, not, as you said, the infrared catastrophe.


Anonymous at 2:38 AM on January 2, 2018 | #9437 | reply | quote

@critrat - you're leaking info about who you are. Is this intentional? You have a problem which is blocking you from making progress in CR and has caused your standards to slip.


Anonymous at 5:09 AM on January 2, 2018 | #9438 | reply | quote

Your response is terrible: you are very people oriented (instead of ideas oriented), and you introduce a lot of meta discussion. This is to say that you add a lot of clutter and spend little time addressing my arguments.

For example, the statement, "I am unimpressed by your generic retreat from judgement," is unnecessary. It was clear from context that you did not like the argument, so you have only added gratuitous emotions. They did not help me understand anything about the discussion at hand.

Another example is when you wrote,

>"I think you don't understand it; I can tell because you have ignored what I said about Popper being badly wrong on many topics – you don't know what they are, didn't ask, and responded as if I hadn't even said it. You ignored it so much you then offered an example of Popper getting a lot of stuff wrong as his second **huge** achievement."

Again, all of this is clutter. It's all about how the discussion went, how you think I think as a result of the discussion. It makes me have to respond to the clutter, which will make you respond to the meta discussion, then me again, then you again, ad infinitum.

As for the actual discussion, when you say that someone is better than someone else, you are making an ordered list. To make an ordered list, you need to introduce some measure. Assuming that you use explanation does not help. You are using explanation to create an ordered list.

But more importantly, the people who create the ideas are not relevant. The only relevant competition is the competition between different points of view. Ideas are only in competition with other ideas in their niche. Comparing ideas outside of their niche is not useful unless you can say "this problem is more important than that problem." Either a problem is interesting because it is soluble and fun, or it is insoluble and irrelevant.

You haven't convinced me that the rest of the text was worth responding to.


CritRat at 10:24 AM on July 7, 2018 | #10014 | reply | quote

#10014

Do you want something? What is your message trying to achieve?


Anonymous at 10:28 AM on July 7, 2018 | #10015 | reply | quote

ET went through 6 OSE quotes with commentary and explanation, and CritRat's response is to claim ET is too focused on people and meta – then to write meta discussion about ET but not respond about OSE.

> when you say that someone is better than someone else, you are making an ordered list. To make an ordered list, you need to introduce some measure. Assuming that you use explanation does not help. You are using explanation to create an ordered list.

No, you can conjecture something (e.g. Rand is better than Popper) without using a particular method of idea formation. You can just dream it up, or whatever. Ordered lists don't have to be part of the thought process. Then the conjecture can be considered critically – is there a refutation? You don't have to use a measure, just conjecture and criticism.


Anonymous at 10:48 AM on July 7, 2018 | #10016 | reply | quote

You can generate a measure suitable for ordering a two element set of {Rand, Popper} by taking ET's comments in #9433 and ANDING them together as measuring criteria, e.g.:

huge contribution AND no bottom 99% low points AND better writing skill than DD

That measure returns 1 for Rand and 0 for Popper. It orders the set.

It's only a crude approximation of what ET wrote. You could refine it until it has the full content of ET's message without introducing changes. But there's no reason to: it'd be better to speak directly to ET's arguments instead of to this proxy.

For whatever reason, CritRat decided that an ordered list of two elements is implied, and wanted that list to be ordered by a measure in his thoughts. And while he saw the implied list, he failed to see any implied measure to go with it.

CritRat could do this to pretty much anything that anyone has ever said. E.g. the set could be {[their-conclusion], [not-their-conclusion]} and he could then demand to know what measure they used to make an ordered list form that set. They implicitly brought up and ordered the set, CritRat says, so there must be a measure. But this is not helpful. You don't have to translate everything into ordered lists and measures, and generally shouldn't (it's generally doesn't help you correct errors, find the truth, etc, anymore than translating into NANDs would).


Anonymous at 11:04 AM on July 7, 2018 | #10017 | reply | quote

To #10017

The whole problem of the measure is kind of a non-issue anyway, but ET's response to that was mistaken. This needed to be pointed out.

My point was that any judgement about which ideas are most important is a prophecy. We don't know what ideas today will be most important in hindsight.


CritRat at 12:17 PM on July 7, 2018 | #10018 | reply | quote

> My point was that any judgement about which ideas are most important is a prophecy.

I think ET was judging their importance as understood today, not as it will be judged in a million years.


Anonymous at 12:21 PM on July 7, 2018 | #10019 | reply | quote

#10019

It would still be irrational to judge an idea outside of its niche. For example, you could compare ducks and wolfs and ask which one is better, but why would you do that? These animals don't deal with the same problems and aren't in competition with one another.


CritRat at 12:28 PM on July 7, 2018 | #10020 | reply | quote

I guess the person who asked about the comparison had a reason – some way they found it useful. And ET did too, or he wouldn't have compared. You are unaware of what problem(s) the comparison solves for them. You don't see the point they see. You could have just asked (or could have read and responded to something else you do see the point of).

I see no significant mystery in what problems ET's comparison is solving. He organized and presented some thoughts about Rand and about Popper. He thinks about them routinely, so this doesn't stand out. He has an ongoing project of looking at them from many angles to learn more. So I figure the motivation is the same as usual – to understand more. In this case, he looked at a particular angle: looking for some important things where there are direct comparisons (contrary to your suggestion, Popper and Rand do deal with many of the same problems – there's substantial overlap). That's a perfectly reasonable, productive angle to try out. And ET got a clear overall answer – the comparisons overwhelmingly favor Rand over Popper – so why not say so? One reason it's worth stating is it's something which could be explained, which could lead to a discovery (I think ET already has already considered this and said things with a bit of content about the results). It's not one of the most important leads, but it's a lead. (If it was more of a close call, it'd be unwise to reach an answer because the comparison is limited and incomplete. But in this case I think ET judged that the decisiveness of the results beat out the expected variance from the omitted issues.)

A reasonable way to criticize this would be to point out some important comparisons ET left out which counter his position. If ET's incomplete judgment is missing some key point(s), that you know of, say which they are. If no one has anything to add or criticize, the judgment can stand.

But you don't seem to be expressing curiosity about this. Instead you express hostility in the guise of logical corrections :(

(Maybe it's partly curiosity in the guise of hostility in the guise of logical corrections? You did talk about this stuff, after all.)


Anonymous at 12:44 PM on July 7, 2018 | #10021 | reply | quote

To #10021

Thanks for your response, I liked it.

It seems that ET thinks that Rand and Popper did not have much overlap:

> Note that Rand and Popper don't have a lot of overlap.

But if you (or anyone) thinks that they do, then I am interested in hearing how they compare.

However, I do think it is a mistake to compare Popper and Rand to one another as people or philosophers. It's about the ideas. It's fine to like one of them more than the other: if someone addresses more of the problems that interest you, then you naturally to like that someone. But I don't think there is anything fundamental beyond that.

Looking forward to your response! :)


Anonymous at 1:13 PM on July 7, 2018 | #10022 | reply | quote

> It's about the ideas.

ET *was* comparing their ideas, not their social lives, physical beauty, whatever.

> Note that Rand and Popper don't have a lot of overlap.

It's contextual (what kind of comparison are you doing, for what purpose). Rand didn't say much about induction or evolution, and Popper didn't say much about selfishness, altruism, measurement omission, or integrity. So not much overlap in that sense, which I think ET meant. But they have all kinds of overlap, like they both tried to write clear English, both wrote about thinking and learning methods, both tried to figure out which philosophical problems were important to address, and both wrote about liberalism.


Anonymous at 2:36 PM on July 7, 2018 | #10023 | reply | quote

#10023

> It's contextual (what kind of comparison are you doing, for what purpose). Rand didn't say much about induction or evolution, and Popper didn't say much about selfishness, altruism, measurement omission, or integrity.

Yes, that is actually in part my point. You cannot compare two ideas without those ideas overlapping in some sense. To claim otherwise is to claim that there is a hierarchy of problems: some problems are more important than others, and this scale is continuous.

I don't think that this is how problems work. Problems are either soluble and interesting, or unsoluble and worthless.

So if I were to be this hierarchy of problems, we should be able to claim things like "general relativity is more interesting than quantum mechanics," or, "philosophy is more interesting than physics." I don't think this is possible. And if it were, the world would be a pretty bad place: there would only be a very narrow spectrum of people would could have interesting lives.

Finally, you could argue that Popper's writing is better than Rand's or vice versa, which I agree could be a fun topic. And as long as the topics overlap, you can meaningfully make claims about them. So to that extend we agree.


CritRat at 1:10 AM on July 8, 2018 | #10026 | reply | quote

So CritRat, you think it is wrong or meaningless to say philosophy is more important than shuffleboard or that Popper is a better philosopher than curi's neighbour?


Another Anon at 4:17 AM on July 8, 2018 | #10027 | reply | quote

To #10027

The claim that philosophy is more 'important' than shuffleboard is ambiguous: what would you mean by that?

It is not meaningless to say that Popper is a better philosopher than curi's neighbour since (presumably) curi's neighbour isn't a philosopher. But it would be like saying: my dog is a better dog than my cat is.


CritRat at 5:17 AM on July 8, 2018 | #10028 | reply | quote

> (presumably) curi's neighbour isn't a philosopher

As AR and ET have explained, everyone is a philosopher. They have methods of thinking, (possibly unconscious) ideas about how reason works, moral ideas, etc. See PWNI.

CritRat, do you have any bigger goals for this conversation or as a philosopher? Are you looking for help with anything important, or to contribute to anything important? Or is the plan just say a few things that you happen to think of, then leave for months again? Also is this you? https://twitter.com/Crit_Rat


Anonymous at 10:28 AM on July 8, 2018 | #10029 | reply | quote

What do you think?

(This is a free speech zone!)