15 Philosophy Books Every Business Student Should Read

by Staff Writers

By Katheryn Rivas

There's a lot of wisdom to be gained from philosophers — hailing from both this century and those of ancient times. Not only have they helped educate some of the best and brightest at universities and in classrooms around the world, they also serve as education and inspiration for those in the business world. These philosophical tomes touch on ideas like morality and ethics, human nature and leadership– all of which can be directly applied to aspects of business as diverse as management and marketing. So if you're a business student looking for a little inspiration in your studies or new insights in seeing the world, don't miss out on these amazing reads.

  1. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand: First published in 1957, Rand considered this book her magnum opus. The novel is dystopian in nature, focusing on a future where society's best and brightest minds are stifled by a government who resents not being able to exploit them. Eventually, this society self-destructs, as without the initiative to create and earn a profit civilization simply cannot thrive. In this book, Rand also lays out some of the themes that would become part of her theory of Objectivism– a must-read for those interested in the role of government in individual enterprise.
  2. A Treatise of Human Nature by David Hume: Scottish philosopher, historian and economist Hume is regarded as one of the leading figures in Western philosophy, and while this treatise was one of his earliest works, it is also one of his most important. Within the pages of this book, business students will find an examination of the nature of ideas, space and time and perhaps most importantly, morals.
  3. Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals by Immanuel Kant: Kant's work is notoriously dense and hard to get through, but for students who stick it out, there's a lot to be gained. This work, published in 1785, argues for an a priori basis for morality. What does that mean? Kant focuses on the idea of a categorical imperative, which is a bit of a fancier version of the Golden Rule whereby reason is the basis for sound moral choices. As a businessperson you'll be faced with many moral choices, so get some insights on how and why to make them from this read.
  4. A Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction by Walter Benjamin: What meaning does art have in a world where nearly everything is produced en masse? It's an interesting point for any business to contemplate. Do you want your products to be unique or do you want them all to be just the same? There are arguments to be made for each, and Benjamin starts the discussion on what art means in the modern age within this text.
  5. The Republic by Plato: This ancient work may have been written thousands of years ago, but the information and wisdom it imparts can still be useful today. The Republic is a dialogue where Socrates and some of his followers examine the meaning of justice and the role of art and philosophy in society. Readers will be asked to think about what true justice and morality is – something every business leader will need to consider at some point in their career in order to be a good manager and citizen.
  6. Truth and Method by Hans-Georg Gadamer: Gadamer published this work in 1960, aiming to unravel the nature of human understanding. The reason it can be useful to those in the business world is the argument that it makes for a "historically effected consciousness." What this means is that human beings are embedded into the culture and history that shaped them. So, different people will interpret the same text, or anything else, in a way that is unique and different. This can be a big deal in advertising and marketing, where the attitudes and histories of your target demographic are essential in developing your brand.
  7. The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus: In this retelling of the classic Greek myth of Sisyphus, a man condemned to a futile task for all eternity, Camus espouses his philosophy of the absurd. Camus believes that even if man's search for meaning, God or external truths is futile – it does not mean that life itself is not worth living and that perhaps the journey through life can be enough on its own. This lesson can serve as great advice and inspiration for anyone in business, especially those who meet failure in their endeavors.
  8. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius: In this collection of short personal writings by Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, readers will not only get a taste of Stoic philosophy, but also learn a thing or two about how to look at and appreciate their lives. Aurelius ruminates on those that have provided him guidance in life and ways he could improve, making it a particularly inspirational work for anyone to read.
  9. Tao Te Ching by Laozi: With so many business and self-help books being about the Tao of this, that or the other, it's essential to learn more about the actual tenets of Taoism. This ancient Chinese text is the ultimate source of education, being fundamental to this outlook on life, and is full of great information that will help you better understand it. You may even find a few pointers that help you be a better student and businessperson along the way.
  10. Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle: A businessperson must always be concerned with ethics. After all, no one wants to get caught up in a business scandal. This book examines the fundamental question of how men (and women) should best live. Aristotle argues that ethics are practical matters, not theoretical, and that our discussions of ethics should not simply posit how someone should live well, but also help people to become more ethical. It's not light reading, but it could help you understand how and why to be a good person, even when it's more profitable to do otherwise.
  11. Lectures on the Philosophy of History by G.W.F. Hegel: Originally given as a series of lectures at The University of Berlin, this collection of writings presents Hegel's idea of the progress of history being due to the working of an common spirit. Today, we know that idea of a spirit more commonly as a zeitgeist, representing the thoughts, feelings or characteristics that represent a particular period of time. As a business owner or operator, you'll need to be aware of this idea of the spirit, whether you agree with it or not, because it will largely determine how and what you choose to sell.
  12. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke: One of Locke's most famous works, this essay addresses the foundations of human knowledge and understanding. At birth, Locke believes we are all a blank slate with our perception of the world and ourselves gradually being developed through language and ideas we glean through experience. How does this apply to business? Think about how many of our everyday experiences involve purchasing items or seeing advertising.
  13. The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli: If you want to gain a better idea of how to be a great leader, or in this case how not to be a terrible, "Machiavellian" one, read this book. This famous treatise was revolutionary in its times and its lessons about leaders who perpetrated criminal deeds while in politics hold just as true today as they did then.
  14. Enchiridion by Epictetus: Looking for some ethical advice that can guide you as a business leader? This book may be a good source of philosophical insights to complete your education. Within it, you'll find a collection of practical, though perhaps a bit too stoic for this day in age, lessons that you can apply to everyday life. Take this for example, "Don't demand that things happen as you wish, but wish that they happen as they do happen, and you will go on well."
  15. Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder: If you're looking for a great primer on all aspects of Western philosophy that's both interesting and accessible, you can't do much better than this book. It presents many of the major ideas of philosophy in the setting of a novel so that even the most casual reader can appreciate them.