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Fundamentals: the list

March 3, 2014

My graduate program’s qualifying exams have a rather eccentric format. The reading list, rather than consisting of several dozen or hundred books, has only twelve to fifteen works–but they must be “fundamental.” I’m not sure I could precisely define what “fundamental” is supposed to mean. It has something to do with identifying the authorities that represent the intellectual tradition into which you’ve chosen to enter; or, perhaps, with identifying the books that you most want to be friends with. In any case, the books on my tentative list (which, based on the feedback I’ve gotten, is fairly typical, save for the slight imbalance in favor of imaginative literature), will give you some idea. It’s possible, hopefully unlikely, that this list will change; if it does, I’ll update this post.

Since I’ll most likely be taking these exams in the not-too-distant future, many of the posts here between now and then will revolve around the books on this list. I mean, more than they already have been. I’m going to try to write at least once about each, and perhaps more about the ones I need to think more about. I may also post some translations of the Goethe poetry (which I’m reading in the original German).

For now, you can consider this post both a promissory note and a recommendation that you read any books on this list you haven’t already. It’s not quite accurate to say this is the authoritative list of my fifteen favorite books, but there aren’t many books I’d call my favorite that aren’t on it, and there’s none I wouldn’t re-read, even if I didn’t have to.

Imaginative Literature

Philosophy, Religion, and Theology

History and Social Theory

9 Comments leave one →
  1. March 3, 2014 11:53 am

    I would recommend this translation of the Ethics, instead of the one you have linked: Good luck.

  2. Chris Wolfe permalink
    March 3, 2014 2:25 pm

    Looks like a very good list of “fundamentals” to me- although you’ve probably just given yourself a difficult qualifying exam. I think it would be difficult to draw a thread between all of them in terms of a Tradition, but it certainly would be worth getting to be friends with each of these books.

    P.S.- Contrary to what apollodorus suggests, I actually think the Crisp translation of the NE is fine. I’ve looked at the Collins and Bartlett translation and have a few problems with it- but that’s the nature of translation. The really important thing for making for a good translation is that the translator puts his cards on the table when that is called for. I’m really happy to see that link to the Oxford World Classics “Pensees”; that press has been publishing some good books, and on the CHEAP.

  3. March 3, 2014 2:30 pm

    Thanks for the suggestions. I’ll probably also be referencing the Hippocrates G. Apostle translation of the Ethics, and the Collins and Bartlett one too, if I have time; I’ve always found translations of Aristotle particularly dissatisfying, maybe because, 1) it matters so much what exact word he uses, and 2) when he’s translated word-for-word his sentences can be difficult to parse.

  4. Chris Wolfe permalink
    March 3, 2014 3:09 pm

    The Hippocrates Apostle translations of Aristotle are especially useful when making connections with Aquinas. Apostle chooses English words which easily translate into Latin- such as potency (potential), act (actus), and mode (modus). It’s a lot harder for a Thomist to use a translation like Joe Sachs’, with all the “being-at-work-while-staying-the-same” business


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