Simon Blackburn, The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, Preface, p. vii
Seeing that it was such a slow news day, the Oracle of Ottawa thought he would share a few lessons gleaned from the ever ongoing "Thinking About Thinking Project". I have discovered that it is very useful to have a selection of philosophy guide books. I have found three of them becoming indispensable. Let us call the levels Basic, Intermediate and Advanced. Allow the Oracle of Ottawa to share with you his impressions and descriptions of these handy reference works.
Basic: My first choice in this category is called; The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, written and compiled single handedly (!) by Simon Blackburn. You can have it in paperback for around twenty Canadian dollars. It contains about 2,500 entries and the biographies of 500 philosophers. And since it was written completely by just one guy, it is a very straight ahead book that you could easily read right through. It is portable, cheap, quick and dirty for the main ideas and the basics about the main players. And I really like Simon Blackburn's writing style.
Intermediate: The Oxford Companion To Philosophy-New Edition, edited by Ted Honderich. ( A nice Canadian boy..) This is just a beautiful book to dip into any where. You can get the very posh hardcover edition in Canada, brand new for less than fifty dollars! It is illustrated, and printed on the posh creamy white clay paper. It contains 2,200 articles that are composed by a team of 249 contributors. (Only 1,056 pages...what!?) Some of whom will no doubt be the big names of tomorrow. The articles go into much deeper depth, very many are the size of a small book. Rigorous but yet mostly very readable. All in, you can't beat the value.
Advanced: Now by all rights, the Oracle of Ottawa does not feel worthy of having a personal mint copy of this fine reference work for my very own use. It is entitled The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Paul Edwards. This is considered as a monumental work of twentieth century philosophy and some swear the peak of the analytical school! (whatever that is...) All the Oracle of Ottawa can tell you is; You really really want this! Eight volumes, set into four large quarto volumes, containing over two thousand pages for a mere 1,500 articles with over 500 contributors, many of them who are today the highest and poshest names in Philosophy.
Now this is real important! You want the 1967 edition or the 1972 reprint! This work is a lot like having your own Oxford English Dictionary...(Compact Edition-1971), after a while it sort of becomes furniture, but when you need it, you really need it, it is invaluable. Now what I am telling you must be true since this work is still in print for a new price of over 600 dollars! I recently saw a very warmly worn copy in an Ottawa bookstore for a mere 250 dollars!! The Oracle of Ottawa got his copy for a mere eight dollars, and the suffering of the funny looks of the nice old lady in the thrift shop, who commented that I must have a lot of doors and windows that need stops. All the Oracle of Ottawa can say is that since I have started my Thinking About Thinking Project all this weird stuff has been continuing. I am beginning to ponder the possibility of Divine Intervention....
If all else fails...try this most excellent sight from Stanford University, and don't forget the philosophy portal at Wikipedia.