Philosophers Club: Reading List for Teens
As Catholic homeschoolers, it is imperative that we include philosophy and logic as part of our core curriculum. This can seem daunting to those of us who did not receive a good classical education ourselves. If you’re like me, I offer this teen philosophy reading list as well as a full slate of online philosophy and logic courses from Homeschool Connections to make your homeschooling easier.
Philosophy: A Core Discipline
Philosophy is one of the core disciplines of a classical curriculum. From the ancient Greeks on up to the 20th century, philosophical study was considered integral to a well-rounded education. Philosophical study not only teaches particular truths about life and the human person, but it inculcates students with a disposition of truth-seeking. It makes us reflective people, teaching us to think about the ultimate questions of existence. Philosophy teaches us to question how we know what we think we know, testing our assumptions against the weight of truth. Philosophy thus challenges us to be critical thinkers.
The benefits of philosophical study should be evident. But how do you actually homeschool philosophy? I can already hear the objections piling up: “I never took philosophy myself!” “I don’t understand philosophy!” “I’ve never read Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason – I don’t even know who that is!” Don’t worry; homeschooling philosophy is not as challenging as you fear. It’s just like working through any other subject that is not your forte—you just need the right approach and the right resources!
Philosophers at Heart
The good thing is, we are all philosophers at heart. Aristotle once said, “All men by nature desire to know” (Metaphysics I:1). People are inherently curious We want to ask questions about life. And children are particularly curious.
Teen Philosophy Book Club
You can harness this natural curiosity to put together a book club for budding philosophers. In a homeschooling book club, you can use literature to introduce students to ideas. Discussion of the text facilitates deeper exploration of the book’s concepts. Over time, everyone, including you, becomes more knowledgeable about the subject matter and can work their way up to more challenging texts. I did this in my own local homeschool group for many years. I lead teens in a Socratic discussion and they grew over time to be enthusiastic about philosophy and logic.
All you need is a group of interested students, a parent facilitator, and an epic booklist. You have to get the students and parent on your own, but we can help you with the book list (just scroll on down)!
The key is to start with the easy and advance from there. You want your philosopher’s book club journey to begin with texts that are fairly simple and straightforward. From there you can advance to more challenging texts, depending on the comprehension of your students. Here is my recommended booklist, beginning with the simple and ascending to the most challenging:
Philosophy Reading List
Click on the book title to read reviews at Amazon.com (affiliate links). For the best price on books, we recommend checking BookFinder.com.
Socrates Meets Jesus and Philosophy 101 by Peter Kreeft.
Peter Kreeft is probably the most accessible philosopher in the Catholic world today, and these two books are excellent introductions to the study of philosophy. What is philosophy? Why should we study philosophy? What is a philosopher?
Sophie’s World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy by Jostein Gaardner
This novel that teaches about the great philosophers through a fictional story. Should be read by parents first as it is a secular book and there is an inappropriate reference late in the book regarding a teenaged couple.
Toward the Gleam by T.M. Doran
This is a fictional novel that uses dramatic storytelling to elucidate philosophical truths. An English professor in the 1930s finds a mysterious manuscript in a cave. The translation of the manuscript and the search for its origins become a life-long quest for the professor, turning into a metaphysical journey that critiques some of the major philosophical ideas of the 20th century.
The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis
Though not strictly a work of philosophy, this classic by C.S. Lewis delves into foundation questions of ethics and human motivation and is an excellent introduction to the study of morality.
Aristotle for Everybody or Difficult Thought Made Easy by Mortimer J. Adler
Mortimer Adler presents Aristotle’s teachings in a current, delightfully lucid way. He brings Aristotle’s work to an everyday level. By encouraging readers to think philosophically, Adler offers us a unique path to personal insights and understanding of intangibles, such as the difference between wants and needs, the proper way to pursue happiness, and the right plan for a good life.
Plato, one of the most eminent philosopher’s of ancient Greece, presents four dialogues on the trial and death of his teacher, Socrates (contains Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, and Phaedo). Plato’s philosophical writings were constructed as “dialogues,” making them easy to read for amateurs.
An Introduction to Philosophy by Jacques Maritain
Jacques Maritain was perhaps the best known Thomist philosopher of the mid-20th century. His 1931 An Introduction to Philosophy is a book has stood the test of time as a clear guide to what philosophy is and how to philosophize. Maritain looks to Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas to shape a philosophy that is driven by reason and engages the modern world. I’ve linked to the Kindle edition, since the print editions are a bit pricey.
The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas and A Summa of the Summa by Peter Kreeft
The pinnacle of Catholic philosophical texts in the Latin west is undoubtedly the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, wherein the great Angelic Doctor fuses Aristotelean philosophical principles with traditional Catholic theology to create his masterpiece of Scholasticism. However, if the Summa Theologica is still too lofty, you can direct your students to Peter Kreeft’s A Summa of the Summa, Kreeft’s commentary on Aquinas written in everyday language intended to make the ideas of St. Thomas much more accessible.
The Confessions of St. Augustine
The Confessions of St. Augustine is a perennial classic of western literature. In his great autobiography, St. Augustine describes his journey from paganism through various philosophies and heresies to his reception into the Catholic Church. Though not strictly a work of philosophy, Augustine’s reflections on his journey through the intellectual circles of the late Roman Empire is a profound philosophical commentary in its own right.
So there’s a solid booklist to get you started.
I also want to remind you that Homeschool Connections’ has an excellent line-up of philosophy courses. As of the writing of this article, our Unlimited Access catalog has 27 courses in philosophy and logic in addition to our live, interactive Catholic homeschooling courses! Your book club students can watch recorded course lectures concurrently with their readings (either individually or in a group) to help build more of a context for what you are reading and talking about. Personally, I watched the lectures to better prepare myself for our monthly book club meetings!
Hopefully this has helped you to see that you, too, can homeschool philosophy! With the right books and a smart game plan, you can introduce your students to the greatest ideas of human history!
PS Want to go even deeper? Here is a Beginner’s Philosophy Booklist just for YOU!
PPS Here is an article I wrote many years ago but still helpful in starting a Socrates Cafe or Philosophy Club: Catholic Mom Socrates Cafe.