Selecting Material

Selecting course materials has become much a much more challenging problem in recent years.  As your bookstore manager will tell you, the cost of books has risen dramatically. Textbooks in other subjects frequently cost over $100, and the most popular introductory anthologies in philosophy are almost that much.  As a result, students are refusing to buy the assigned books, and instructors are putting more material on the web, which also raises problems about intellectual property and copyrights. In this selection we talk primarily about more mainstream course materials.  See also our collection of Non-traditional Resources  (films, novels, etc.).


  • Trade paperbacks. Most of the classic texts used in intro courses are available in (relatively) inexpensive editions from publishers such as Hackett, MacMillan and Penguin.

  • Course Management Software. With the cost of textbooks going sky high, many faculty members are teaching textless classes, putting all of the material on the classroom management system (such as BlackBoard). There is a great deal of material that is either public domain, on a website, or that can be used under existing copyright laws (which you need to understand). The advantage is that the material is there, as the students need it.  The disadvantage is that students often hate to print out material, so they may not have the material available during class time.  Or they will want to bring their laptops to class, which can cause other problems.

  • Create your own homegrown anthology. TΦ101 has had great luck with creating anthologies of materials that are either public domain or covered under fair use.  Before you start this you'll have to have a solid understanding of what materials can be used legally. The anthology is then converted to a pdf file and e-mailed to the student (or put on the course management software). Students are then encouraged to take the pdf to a local print center and make their own book. 

  • On-line Anthology. Lander University publishes a solid web-based introductory anthology using historical sources and there are a variety of introductory philosophy materials at MERLOT (search under Humanities - Philosophy) including  Philip Pecorino's on-line intro textbook.

  • Logic Texts.We don't usually discuss logic on this site, but you might want to look at the on-line logic text by David Marans.

  • Anthologies. Many instructors use commercial anthologies, we list some of the more popular ones below. 

  • Latin American Philosophy. With more and more Latin American students enrolled in our courses and with the growing importance of the Spanish speaking world, it is worthwhile looking at Latin American materials. This Latin American Philosophy Homepage is a good place to start.

  • Jonathan Bennett's EarlyModernTexts.  TΦ101 strongly recommends all intro instructors to seriously consider Bennett's internet source for classical early modern texts including Hobbes, Descartes, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Kant, and Mill.  Our detailed discussion below makes clear some of the pros and cons of this site. 

  • Contemporary Plato translations.  Many of the English language classics are available on line, and Bennett has terrific translations of the early modern classics, but most of the on-line translations of Plato are outdated (e.g., Jowett's translations).  Cathal Woods has published contemporary Internet open-source translations of Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Meno, and the Death Scene from Phaedo.  Woods also has a translation of selections from Republic. Students can use these at no cost. 

  • Web sources.  There is now a great deal of excellent contemporary material that is available on the Internet.  Unfortunately, there is a great deal of pirated material on the Internet.  This raises an ethical dilemma for instructors who ask their students to read this material.   TΦ101 has discussed this with an intellectual property attorney, and as TΦ101 understands it, the obligation to obtain permission for reproducing the material lies with the person who creates the website.  The professor who requires students to consult such a website is not legally liable. At the same time, we should respect intellectual property. TΦ101 is not your lawyer and does not give any legal advice, so you should confirm this with your own institution's general counsel.   

  • Coursepacks and custom anthologies.  There are a number of sources, such as XanEdu, that will take your material, obtain copyright permission, and produce a custom coursepack or book.  Proteus produces custom anthologies primary source texts. Check with your bookstore or local copy centers for details.   

  • Obtain permission.  Obtaining permission to reprint material is actually rather easy, and the Copyright Clearance Center will also do this for you.  Sometimes permission is available at no cost, but often there will be a fee. It is probably not a good idea to be selling materials in your classroom, but your bookstore will sell the materials for you and handle all of the paperwork. 

  • Audio philosophy texts.  Librivox is a source for audio recordings of public domain material. They have recordings of Plato, Hume, Kant, etc. We understand that the recording and reading quality is uneven; those who wish to make recordings may also do so on a volunteer basis.


Detailed Discussion:


Early Modern Texts by Jonathan Bennett


As you will see, Bennett's site offers versions of classic early modern texts, including most of the ones used in intro courses.  Bennett's theory is that these materials are intellectually difficult enough for students, without also asking intro students to wrestle with such obstacles as "difficulties of syntax, length and complexity of sentences, words that are no longer current, still-familiar words used in meanings that they now do not have, [and] arcane references to other philosophers which today’s students will seldom understand or be required to follow up."  In the case of the English texts, he has modernized the originals while attempting to preserve their meaning and philosophical complexity, and he has produced free translations of the non-English texts.  Obviously Bennett's project raises serious pedagogic and methodological questions, and only a scholar of Bennett's reputation would have dared to do this. Some critics say that a text cannot be divorced from its original language, and a student who reads Bennett's Hobbes version, for example, is reading Bennett rather than Hobbes.  Others agree with Bennett that much of the language and style is a distraction and students will learn more if they can read a modernized version.  Bennett's translations of non-English texts are particularly worth considering. The English language classics are, after all, available on the Internet, but the non-English texts are only available in antiquated translations.


Several faculty members have attempted to do some informal experiments to see how students react to Bennett's texts.  John Immerwahr gave his intro students a passage of philosophy that they had never seen as an extra credit question on their final examination, and asked them to rewrite it in their own words.  Half received the original version (from Hobbes) and the other half received Bennett's version.  Without having an opportunity to compare versions, the students were more likely to say that the Hobbes original was difficult to read.  However, they did equally well in understanding it.  Another faculty member in an e course on early modern philosophy gave one section the original text, and another section the Bennett version and found much higher comprehension among those who worked with Bennett.  This implies that, under ideal conditions (plenty of time, and high motivation), students can understand the original without the benefit of Bennett's rewriting.  But given the distractions and pressures of students' daily lives, may do better if their text is more readable.Below we offer some a comparative passage to give a sense of how Bennett works.















































Popular Anthologies.   This list was generated from Amazon.   TΦ101 searched for books under the keywords "philosophy, introduction, textbook," and then sorted the results by "bestseller."  These were drawn from the top 100 responses to that search (most of which were not intro philosophy texts), adding one or two others that didn't come up for some reason or other.  They are listed here alphabetically by title.  If  you have an anthology that you like, or if you have something useful to say about one of these, please send us the name and author with a few sentences about your views. 


  • Archetypes of Wisdom: An Introduction to Philosophy by Douglas J. Soccio

  • Doing Philosophy: An Introduction Through Thought Experiments by Theodore Schick and Lewis Vaughan

  • Introduction to Philosophy: Classical and Contemporary Readings by John Perry and Michael Bratman

  • Logic and Philosophy: A Modern Introduction by Alan Hausman, Howard Kahane, and Paul Tidman

  • Classics of Western Philosophy, ed. Stephen M. Cahn

  • Philosophic Classics: From Plato to Derrida (5th Edition) (Philosophic Classics) by Forrest E. Baird and Walter Kaufmann

  • Philosophy: An Introduction to the Art of Wondering by James L. Christian

  • Philosophy: The Quest for Truth by Louis P. Pojman

  • Questions that Matter: An Invitation to Philosophy by Ed L. Miller, and Jon Jensen

  • Reason and Responsibility: Readings in Some Basic Problems of Philosophy  by Joel Feinberg and Russ Shafer-Landau

  • Twenty Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy by G. Lee Bowie, Meredith W. Michaels, and Robert C. Solomon

  • The Great Conversation: A Historical Introduction to Philosophy by Norman Melchert

  • Voyage of Discovery: A Historical Introduction to Philosophy by William F. Lawhead


Author: John Immerwahr
Update: February 28, 2013