13 November 2007

Seven Masterpieces in Philosophy

A letter in my box today from Longman announces a new collection edited by Steven Cahn, Seven Masterpieces in Philosophy:

This brief, affordable text presents the seven major works central to any
introductory philosophy course in one convenient volume. Presenting the
most respected and frequently used translations in their entirety, the works are
accompanied by insightful and accessible introductions and annotations written
by noted author and scholar, Steven Cahn.

My suspicion that no collection could live up to the definite articles ("the seven major works", "the most respected and frequently used translations") was confirmed when I saw the actual TOC. But then this raises the question: Which seven would you choose?
  1. Plato, Meno (translated by R.E. Allen)
  2. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics (Bks. I, II) (translated by Martin Ostwald)
  3. Descartes, Meditations (translated by John Cottingham)
  4. Berkeley, Three Dialogues
  5. Hume, Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding
  6. Kant, Fundamental Principles (translated by Lewis White Beck)
  7. Mill, Utilitarianism


Louis Chartrand said...

1. René Descartes, Meditations
2. Saul Kripke, Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language
3. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics
4. Immanuel Kant, The Critic of Pure Reason
5. Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality Among Men
6. Hume, Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding
7. Edmund Husserl, Meditations on First Philosophy

Michael Pakaluk said...

I suppose they need to be seven masterpieces that can reasonably fit in a single volume. I doubt, for instance, that NE I-II can count as a masterpiece on anyone's reckoning.

Cahn's list seems not to be one of 'masterpieces' but rather 'commonly assigned texts in history of philosophy survey courses'. The inclusion of Berkeley's dialogues (no doubt a brilliant work) otherwise strikes me as bizarre.

For seven relatively compact works of great worth or importance (I won't say 'the' seven such works), which can profitably be read even in isolation, I might have listed:

1. Plato, Phaedo
2. Aristotle, Categories
3. Boethius, Consolation
4. Aquinas, De Ente et Essentia
5. Descartes, Meditations
6. Mill, On Liberty
7. Frege, Grundlagen

On Liberty is much superior work to Utilitarianism. (But I agree that it might seem wrong to favor Mill over Kant.)

Obviously there's little coherence to such a list.