Philosophy Study Guides

Need help understanding the books of the great philosophers? 

Here is information about the content of each book in the philosophy study guide series.

 

Click on a book cover  image below to see the low prices on both digital and paper versions and learn about how to order copies.

Understanding Plato is the prize-winning first book in the six-book series on the classical philosophers. The series is designed for beginning and intermediate philosophy students who would like more depth than they would ordinarily get from books that give only notes and outlines of the philosopher's thoughts and theories.
Unlike other philosophy study books, each book in the series focuses on both content and philosophical method. Each chapter breaks down arguments of the philosopher into understandable parts, showing how philosophers reaches their conclusions and how they defend against possible objections. Each chapter concludes with a set of questions for thought and discussion. Some of the questions are on topics that provide an excellent starting point for term papers. References to other books about the philosopher or the topic can be found at the end of the chapter, in footnotes, textboxes or at the back of the book.
Understanding Plato  contains a complete discussion of four of the early Socratic dialogues (Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Meno) and Plato's longer and more famous work, The Republic.

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Thomas Hobbes' 17th century book Leviathan has been called "the greatest single work of political thought in the English language” (John Rawls).  But it is not the most accessible work. Beginning philosophy students continue to struggle with Hobbes' long sentences, old-English words and difficult prose style. Professor Laurence Houlgate's guide to Leviathan solves these problems by organizing each chapter into short sections while using contemporary examples and prose to explain the more difficult arguments and ideas. The result is an understandable philosophy study guide to Hobbes' Leviathan. Professor Houlgate also provides two chapters showing how Hobbes answers the central questions of political philosophy, and compares Hobbes' answers to those of Plato and John Locke. As a bonus, each chapter ends with questions for thought and discussion, thereby helping students with exam preparation and providing ideas for successful term papers. The book concludes with an imaginary dialogue between Hobbes, Locke and James Madison on the impeachment clause of the U.S. Constitution.

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Understanding John Stuart Mill is the third book in a series of philosophy study guides on the classics of philosophy.  The series is designed for beginning and intermediate philosophy students who would like more depth than they would ordinarily get from "Notes" books that only give outlines of the philosopher's thoughts and theories. At the same time, the Smart Student's books do not delve so deeply and critically into the philosopher's ideas that they would only be accessible to graduate students and professors.

Understanding John Stuart Mill is a study guide that focuses on both content and philosophical method in the sections on Mill's famous Utilitarianism and in his later but equally famous On Liberty.  Each chapter breaks down the arguments of the philosopher into understandable parts, showing how the philosopher reaches his conclusions and how he defends against possible objections.  Each chapter concludes with a set of questions for thought and discussion.  Some of the questions are on topics that provide an excellent starting point for term papers.  References to other books about the philosopher or the topic can be found at the end of the chapter, in footnotes, textboxes or at the end of the book.

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 Understanding John Locke is the perfect philosophy study guide for Locke's Second Treatise of Government. Professor Laurence Houlgate takes the student along with him in a clear account and exploration of Locke's main theories about the nature and origin of political power, the state of nature, the state of war, the law of nature, the social contract, the origin of private property, the distinction between political, paternal and despotical power, the legitimate placing of political power, the separation of legislative and executive power, and the conditions for justifiable revolution. The book concludes with a postscript comparing and contrasting some of the political theories of Locke and his ancient Greek predecessor Plato.
John Locke is the intellectual father of two revolutions: the Whig revolt against absolute monarchy in 17th century England and almost 100 years later, the revolt of the American colonies against British rule, culminating in the founding of the United States of America. Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, George Mason and James Madison all ranked John Locke as one of the most influential thinkers they consulted during the American revolution and the formation of the liberal constitutional state that emerged from it. The primary vehicle of this influence was John Locke's Second Treatise of Government.

 

Understanding Immanuel Kant is the fourth philosophy study guide in the Smart Student Guides series..  Professor Laurence Houlgate wrote thebook to help beginning philosophy students understand Kant's notoriously difficult Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals Professor Henry Allison, the leading commentator on Kant's work, said of Grounding that it is "the single most important work in modern moral philosophy."

But It is also one of the most difficult books to comprehend, especially for beginning philosophy students. Understanding Immanuel Kant makes Kant accessible to students while at the same time showing why his writings have had such a powerful influence on philosophical ethics.
Houlgate's study guide is not a scholarly monograph on Kant, nor is it a bare-bones outline of Kant's writings. Instead, the book gives the reader an interpretation of Kant in ordinary language, explaining the technical words Kant uses ("analytic," "synthetic," "categorical imperative," "autonomy of the will") and using examples of moral problems drawn from everyday life. The book also shows how Kantian ethics differs from the theories of the other great philosophers represented in the series (Plato, Locke and Mill).

Each chapter concludes with questions for thought and discussion and within these questions students will find many topics that can be pursued in term papers.

In the eighteenth century, the words “natural religion” referred to religious beliefs based on reason and evidence instead of revelation. In Understanding David Hume, Professor Laurence Houlgate has written and designed a philosophy study guide that helps serious students get through the labyrinth of arguments for and against the existence and infinite nature of God, focusing mainly on the famous Design argument that was popular in Hume’s day and still persists in contemporary philosophical discussions.

Lengthy dialogues between two or three speakers are broken down into discrete and understandable short chapters, allowing students to easily navigate through the book. However, this is not one of the “information” study guides that are so prevalent in the study guide.  Understanding David Hume is a philosophy study guide for smart students who want to think critically about what the author writes not memorize passages so they can get through  a multiple-choice exam.

Professor Houlgate uses the same “smart student” approach to help readers understand Hume’s    other short essays in the same book: Miracles, Suicide and Immortality of the Soul.  Each essay  will get serious students thinking about some of the most fascinating topics in philosophy. 

Questions for thought and discussion and ideas for student essays and term papers are to be found at the conclusion of each section.


© 2017 by Laurence  Houlgate

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