Students of Classical Realism – Books Dr. Jonathan Dolhenty Recommends

I have been asked many times what books I would consider recommended reading for beginning students of Classical Realism if they had limited funds and very little book-space.

So I have put together a list which, in my opinion and my opinion only, I consider to be at least a minimum bookshelf. I probably missed some this time around. If so, I’ll add them later.

Understanding Our Being: Introduction to Speculative Philosophy in the Perennial Tradition, by John W. Carlson

“New and Highly Recommended”
In the encyclical Fides et ratio, Pope John Paul II called upon teachers of philosophy “to recover, in the flow of an enduringly valid philosophical tradition, the range of authentic wisdom and truth.” Understanding Our Being responds to this call with a much-needed introduction to speculative philosophy.

Written as an undergraduate textbook, Understanding Our Being treats central topics about our knowledge of being, the being of the natural world, and, via the latter, being as such. It then treats the special character and implications of our human, personal being — in particular, our intellect, free choice, and reason-conditioned sociality. Finally, it considers God as Source and End of being and it discusses the “problem of evil” and the nature of religious faith.

In addition to presenting essential elements of the “perennial” philosophy, as developed in the tradition of Thomas Aquinas (especially as interpreted by Jacques Maritain and others), this book discusses contemporary challenges to the critical realist approach. These include scientism, historicism, and nihilism, as well as religious fideism. The author also encourages students to think for themselves, and he offers them resources to do so, via questions for reflection at the end of each part, a comprehensive bibliography, and a glossary of key philosophical terms.

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“I used Sullivan’s old textbook in philosophy when I was a student. It was a good general introduction to classical realism. This is a newer book and an excellent introduction for everyone. I highly recommend it to all.”



Mortimer J. Adler is the “philosopher for everyman.” This book is a guide to the big questions of the human condition, the questions all of us ask at some point during the course of our life. Drawing on his extensive knowledge of the literature, history, and philosophies of Western civilization, Adler considers what is meant by language, truth, democracy, emotion, law, and other abstract concepts. This is a remarkable and contemplative distillation of the Great Ideas of Western Thought. (Edited by Dr. Adler’s long-time colleague Max Weismann.)
If you are new to philosophy in general, I can’t think of a better book to give you an overview of the subject than Philosophy for Dummies. Dr. Morris is himself a philosopher within the Classical Realistic tradition. How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren should be part of everyone’s personal library. It is a classic first published in 1940. It has never been out of print. It is now completely revised and updated, and is considered the classic guide to intelligent reading.

If you think philosophy is complicated or boring, think again! In this refreshingly different guide, author Tom Morris not only explains philosophical fundamentals, but shows you how philosophy can help you find more meaning in life, understand religious belief, and look at the world in a whole new light. Discover how to: Think about lifes ultimate questions, apply the insights of great philosophers, develop your own personal philosophy, expand your mind. Tom Morris, Ph.D., taught philosophy at Notre Dame University for 15 years and currently heads the Morris Institute for Human Values.
Aristotle’s Ethics

This book is probably the greatest philosophical work ever written on ethics and moral philosophy. It has stood the test of time and forms the basis for a commonsense philosophical view of realistic ethics.

Aristotle for Everybody: Difficult Thought Made Easy

An excellent introduction to some concepts in Aristotelian metaphysics. Highly recommended!

If you are looking for a historical overview of the beginnings of Classical Realism, then Frederick Copleston is your man. He is also a Classical Realist. The two books at the right will provide you all the information you need about the origins of the “Perennial Philosophy.”

A History of Philosophy: Ancient Philosophy: Greece and Rome

A History of Philosophy: Medieval Philosophy