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Philosophy 101

Does a reference to Descartes go right over your head? Use this cheat sheet to better understand the big ideas of some of history’s greatest thinkers.

By Mark Adams
Illustration of Rene Descartes' quote  Heads of State

Back to School

If you are interested in revisiting or learning about some of philosophy’s greatest thinkers, check out Real Simple’s reading list of introductory philosophy books.

  • Heidegger and a Hippo Walk Through Those Pearly Gates: Using Philosophy (and Jokes!) to Explore Life, Death, the Afterlife, and Everything in Between, by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein (Viking, $20,
  • Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar...: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes, by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein (Penguin, $12,
  • The Consolations of Philosophy, by Alain de Botton (Vintage, $15,
  • Story of Philosophy, by Will Durant (Pocket, $8,
  • What Would Socrates Say?: Philosophers Answer Your Questions About Love, Nothingness, and Everything Else, by Alexander George (Clarkson Potter, $20,
  • A Beginner’s Guide to Philosophy, by Dominique Janicaud (Pegasus, $19,
  • Philosophy Made Simple, by Richard H. Popkin and Avrum Stroll (Butterworth-Heinemann, $40,
  • Philosophy for Beginners, by Richard Osborne and Ralph Edney (Writers and Readers, $15,
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