Philosophy (in Physics and Philosophy) Reading List

There is no compulsory preliminary reading that you need to do, but there are several things that you can do as useful preparation to help you before you arrive in Oxford. Below are some recommended texts that will prepare you for the topics you will study in your first year, ordered by topic. Note:

  • Please don’t imagine that you should try to read everything listed here! It’s much too long for that. Look at however much you have time for. At a minimum, though, we strongly suggest trying to read at least something from each of sections 1 and 2.
  • Philosophy books should be read slowly. It is a good idea to pause after every ten or twenty pages, and to make notes on the course of the argument (together with any queries or criticisms that have occurred to you).
  • Finally, we are aware that you likely have not have studied philosophy before, and may not have taken A-levels (or equivalents) that require writing essays. Therefore, we have also included a section with some general resources on essay-writing skills, which might be useful in your first term in Oxford.

Introductory books

Good for getting an idea of what academic philosophy is like; also relevant to General Philosophy, which you study in Michaelmas (Oct-Dec) and Hilary (Jan-Mar) Terms.

  • A.J. Ayer, Language, Truth and Logic (Penguin)
  • S. Blackburn, Think (Oxford University Press)
  • D. Dennett, Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking (Allen Lane)
  • J. Hospers, An Introduction to Philosophical Analysis (Routledge)
  • T. Nagel, What does it all mean? (Oxford University Press)
  • B. Russell, The Problems of Philosophy (Oxford University Press)
  • W. Poundstone, Labyrinths of Reason: Paradox, Puzzles and the Fruit of Knowledge (Penguin)

General Philosophy

Some of the core relevant texts for General Philosophy:

  • J. Nagel, A Very Short Introduction to Epistemology (Oxford University Press)
  • E. Conee and T. Sider, Riddles of Existence (Oxford University Press)
  • R. Descartes, Meditations
  • D. Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding

Logic

You will study Logic in your first two terms in Balliol. Halbach is the official course text, and you will need a copy of it before you arrive in October. Hodges is an introductory text which covers roughly-speaking the material in the course; it is more elementary than Halbach and differs from it in a few points, but it is less abstract and may help you to understand informally what logic is about.

  • V. Halbach, The Logic Manual (Oxford University Press) - Official Course Text
  • W. Hodges, Logic (Penguin)

Philosophy of Space and Time

Studied, from a historical perspective, in Trinity Term (Apr-Jun). The Leibniz-Clarke correspondence is an early-18th-century debate between Leibniz and Samuel Clarke, an acolyte of Newton, about the nature of space; it’s the course text. Barbour’s book is a (semi-popular) modern-perspective account. Huggett’s book is a helpful source book with commentary.

  • H. G. Alexander (ed.), The Leibniz-Clarke Correspondence (Manchester University Press) - Official Course Text
  • J. B. Barbour, The Discovery of Dynamics (Oxford University Press)
  • N. Huggett, Space from Zeno to Einstein (MIT Press)

Writing Philosophy essays

There are a number of helpful guides to writing philosophical essays. Those that previous students have found most helpful are listed here.

We also recommend making good use of The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy by Simon Blackburn (Oxford University Press) – especially if you feel tempted to use a term of art without knowing exactly what it means!

Adam Caulton (photo: Rob Judges)

Dr Adam Caulton, Fellow and Tutor in Philosophy

Alexander Kaiserman (photo: Rob Judges)

Dr Alexander Kaiserman, Fairfax Fellow and Tutor in Philosophy

June 2020