Nigel Warburton

Interviews by Nigel Warburton

Ethics for Artificial Intelligence Books, recommended by Paula Boddington

Advances in artificial intelligence pose a myriad of ethical questions, but the most incisive thinking on this subject says more about humans than it does about machines, says Paula Boddington, philosopher and author of a recent AI ethics textbook. We first spoke to Paula in 2017—a long time ago in a fast-moving field. This week we caught up with her to find out what’s happened since then and which new books have taken the conversation over ethics and AI further.

The best books on How To Think (Like a Philosopher), recommended by Julian Baggini

We all have opinions about things and sometimes quite strong ones. When it comes to our values and politics we also tend to think we’re right. That’s why examining how we think is so important, argues philosopher Julian Baggini. That’s something philosophy can help with, if it’s done well. Here he recommends five books that shed some light on how philosophers think, when they’re thinking at their best.

The Best Cycling Books, recommended by James Hibbard

As a professional cyclist, James Hibbard looked to philosophy to provide some of the answers he was looking for. He describes that quest in his book, The Art of Cycling. Here, he shares some of his own favourite cycling books, from the best cycling novel to the true story of cyclists who aim to ride the entire length of the United Kingdom in 40 hours. These are books that you don’t need to be a professional cyclist or die-hard fan to appreciate.  

The best books on Digital Ethics, recommended by Carissa Véliz

Philosophers have a lot to add to debates about digital technology and the moral issues raised by its rapid rise, argues Carissa Véliz, a professor at the University of Oxford’s Institute for Ethics in AI. Here she talks us through books for the general reader that introduce some of the challenges of digital ethics, from concerns about privacy and bias to the threat to democracy and the future of humanity.  

The best books on Sigmund Freud, recommended by Lisa Appignanesi

Born into a middle-class Jewish family in Moravia in the Austro-Hungarian empire, Sigmund Freud spent most of his life in Vienna, until fleeing to London just before his death in 1939. Using his classical education to illustrate his points, he introduced the idea that we have an ‘unconscious’ that plays an important role in our actions. For his sessions when patients talked freely to him about their thoughts in a one-on-one setting, he coined the term ‘psychoanalysis.’ Freud expert Lisa Appignanesi talks us through books that shed light on his life as well as his work.

The best books on Rock Music, recommended by Peter Lawlor

Successful musicians don’t necessarily need formal training or 10,000 hours of practice under their belt; what they must have is a feel for music, an innate gift. But many of rock’s brightest burning stars were lost to drugs. Here, Peter Lawlor—who combined a career as a senior economic advisor with that of an award-winning songwriter, producer and record label executive—selects five of the best books on rock music, focusing on revelatory biographies that peer behind the veil.

The best books on Philosophy and Prison, recommended by Andy West

By teaching philosophy in prisons, British philosopher Andy West was not only able to engage with core issues of the human condition, but also to come to terms with members of his own family’s experience of being in prison. Here, he talks us through some books that deal with being locked up, from Auschwitz to Vancouver Island, as well as one by a victim of violent crime.

Best Books on the Neuroscience of Consciousness, recommended by Anil Seth

Nearly every human has a sense of self, a feeling that we are located in a body that’s looking out at the world and experiencing it over the course of a lifetime. Some people even think of it as a soul or other nonphysical reality that is yet somehow connected to the blood and bones that make up our bodies. How things seem, however, is quite often an unreliable guide to how things are, says neuroscientist Anil Seth. Here he recommends five key books that led him to his own understanding of consciousness, and explores why it is that what is likely an illusion can be so utterly convincing.

The Best Books by Albert Camus, recommended by Jamie Lombardi

Albert Camus was born in northern Algeria in extreme poverty, but went on to become one of the best-known French philosophers of the 20th century. In 1957, he won the Nobel Prize in Literature for illuminating “the problems of the human conscience in our times.” Here, Camus expert Jamie Lombardi talks us through the books that best capture his work and the moral dilemmas he sought to explore.

The best books on Human Rights and Literature, recommended by Lyndsey Stonebridge

The connections between human rights and literature are profound and we ignore the humanities and reading at our peril, says Lyndsey Stonebridge, Interdisciplinary Professor of Humanities at the University of Birmingham. She recommends books that best show the complex relationship between literature and human rights, from Auschwitz to Manus Island.

The best books on Deconstruction, recommended by Peter Salmon

For the general reader deconstruction has a bad reputation. It is seen as over-complicating, arcane and wilfully obscure—but as its founding genius Jacques Derrida pointed out, “If things were simple, word would have gotten around.” Here Peter Salmon, author of an excellent new biography of Derrida, chooses five books to get you started on the text and everything inside it.

The Best Illustrated Philosophy Books, recommended by Helen De Cruz

Philosophy is a very verbal discipline with much effort made to express meaning through the very precise use of language. You might think that pictures wouldn’t get much of a look in, but you’d be wrong, as philosopher Helen de Cruz explains. She chooses five books where the philosophical meaning of the subjects under investigation are given greater depth and clarity with the use of illustrations, from ancient Chinese philosophy through to the philosopher queens of the 21st century.

The best books on The Vienna Circle, recommended by David Edmonds

Members of ‘the Vienna Circle’ had strong views on what can and cannot be meaningfully said. They’ve had an enormous impact on modern philosophy, partly because the arrival of fascist rule in Austria scattered them around the world. Here, philosopher David Edmonds, author of The Murder of Professor Schlick, introduces us to their ideas, their milieu and the poignant background to their lives and thinking.

The best books on Spinoza, recommended by Steven Nadler

In 1656 Baruch Spinoza was thrown out by Amsterdam’s Portuguese-Jewish congregation for ‘abominable heresies’ and ‘monstrous deeds’, ensuring he would be forever remembered as a radical thinker. Here Steven Nadler, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and author of a number of books on Spinoza, talks us through the life and work of the 17th century philosopher whose worldview remains, in many ways, remarkably modern.

The best books on Stoicism, recommended by Massimo Pigliucci

The Stoics offer us valuable strategies of thinking about and dealing with hardships that remain relevant for modern society, Massimo Pigliucci, Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York and practising Stoic, told us in 2016. We were interviewing him about the best books to read to get a better idea of what Stoicism is all about and why some people find the ancient philosophy, famously practised by the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, comforting today. This week our philosophy editor, Nigel Warburton, caught up with Massimo and asked him about new Stoicism books that have come out since they first spoke–and why the philosophy remains so popular in 2020.

The Best Philosophy Books by Women, recommended by Lisa Whiting & Rebecca Buxton

When it comes to the big names in philosophy, very few people think of women and the books that make the canon have, traditionally, almost always been written by European or American men. Here, Rebecca Buxton and Lisa Whiting, editors of The Philosopher Queens, a book that collects together articles about the most important women philosophers, talk through their selection of the best philosophy books written by women.

The best books on Arthur Schopenhauer, recommended by David Bather Woods

Arthur Schopenhauer was a German philosopher who held a deeply pessimistic view of the world. He was also, among other things, a misogynist. And yet, he made important contributions to a number of areas of philosophy and had a deep influence on other philosophers. He wrote in a clear style that gained him a wide readership among non-philosophers as well. David Bather Woods, a Schopenhauer expert at the University of Warwick, talks us through his choice of books on the life and work of this remarkable thinker.

The best books on Hannah Arendt, recommended by Samantha Rose Hill

Unimpressed by the response of philosophers to the rise of Nazism in her native Germany, Hannah Arendt rejected the notion of being a philosopher and said she was a political theorist. Samantha Rose Hill, writer and formerly assistant director of the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College, talks us through Hannah Arendt’s life and work—and suggests which books to read if we want to learn more about her and her ideas.

The best books on Philosophical Wonder, recommended by Eric Schwitzgebel

We think of philosophy as a discipline that interrogates complex dilemmas—the nature of will, right and wrong, human freedom—with logic, reasoned thought and argument. But what do the moments in philosophy that make us stop and look outside ourselves have to teach us? According to Eric Schwitzgebel, philosopher at the University of California Riverside, they can open up worlds of fresh possibility. Here he recommends five books of philosophical wonder.

The Best Books on the Philosophy of Travel, recommended by Emily Thomas

At its best, travel broadens our minds, expands our horizons and allows us to see the world we live in differently. But it has also played an important role in the history of philosophy. Emily Thomas, author of The Meaning of Travel: Philosophers Abroad, explores the connections between her two passions—philosophy and travel—at a moment when most of us are unable to leave our houses: perhaps the perfect moment to reflect on travel’s significance for human beings.

The Best Simone de Beauvoir Books, recommended by Kate Kirkpatrick

Simone de Beauvoir is remembered today as the pioneering feminist author of The Second Sex and a close companion of Jean Paul Sartre. But the scope of her intellectual contribution has long been underestimated, argues her latest biographer Kate Kirkpatrick, who offers an introduction to the landscape of Beauvoir’s works, from fiction to philosophy to life writing.

The best books on The History of Philosophy, recommended by Justin E. H. Smith

Today, we think of scientists and philosophers as distinct, but it wasn’t always this way. Back when the Royal Society was founded in the 1660s, figures like Newton, Descartes and Boyle all thought of themselves as ‘natural philosophers’. Justin E. H. Smith, professor of philosophy at the Université de Paris, introduces us to what he sees as the real history of philosophy.

The best books on Søren Kierkegaard, recommended by Clare Carlisle

“It’s not surprising that he died at forty-two, because he burned himself out restlessly, relentlessly pursuing this question of how to be a human being.” Søren Kierkegaard’s latest biographer Clare Carlisle recommends five books for understanding the Danish philosopher’s life and work—and shows how his work often bears witness to the complex, fraught experience of being alive.