Philosophical Reading Plans:

Layman’s Guide to Aquinas…Aquinas In Depth (Two Parts)… History of Philosophy


This plan provides a layman’s route for catching up with Thomistic philosophy. I also provide the following Plan that may serve as a refresher course for those already familiar in Aquinas’s thought.

STAGE 1 (Month 1)

  1. Fr. Brian Davies, OP’s The Thought of Thomas Aquinas (OR, from an analytical philosophy point of view, Eleonore Stump’s Aquinas).
  2. Ralph McInerny’s Ethica Thomistica.

STAGE 2 (Month 2)

  1. Norman Kretzmann’s The Metaphysics of Theism.
  2. Ralph McInerny’s Praeambula fidei.

STAGE 3 (Month 3)

  1. John Wippel’s The Metaphysical Thought of Thomas Aquinas.

STAGE 4 (Month 4)

  1. Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy: Aquinas: Summa theologiae, Questions on God.

READING PLANS FOR IN-DEPTH STUDY OF AQUINAS: 6 – 11 months and 4 – 8 months

Here is a way into the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas. By following this road-map, you will give yourself a solid foundation in Thomistic philosophy. No, this does not cover a history of philosophy. (A history of philosophy should be read after completing such a Plan as is provided below.) Yes, you only read Aquinas himself at the end of the Plan.

Reading Plan Alpha

STAGE 1 (Month 1 and 2)

  1. Josef Pieper’s Guide to Thomas Aquinas.
  2. Edward Feser’s Aquinas.
  3. Jacques Maritain’s Introduction to Philosophy.

STAGE 2 (Month 3)

  1. Fr. Herbert McCabe, OP’s The Good Life.
  2. Jacques Maritain’s Man and the State.  
  3. Brenden Purcell’s From Big Bang to Big Mystery.

STAGE 3 (Month 4)

  1. Gerard Verschuuren’s Aquinas and Modern Science.
  2. Stephen M. Barr’s Modern Physics and Ancient Faith.

STAGE 4 (Month 5)

  1. Etienne Gilson’s God and Philosophy.  
  2. Fr. Norris Clarke, SJ’s The One and the Many.


  1. Gaven Kerr’s Aquinas’s Way to God.
  2. St. Thomas Aquinas’s On Being and Essence.

Reading Plan Omega

This Plan requires your procuring/purchasing St. Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae: A Concise Translation, edited by Timothy McDermott. ($33.44 on Amazon, for example.) As McDermott explains in his editor’s note, this volume is an abridged version of the Summa,—but abridged in a way so as to provide you, the happy reader, with a completely full, if not fully complete, version of Aquinas’s Summa. It is, certainly, completely faithful. The whole range of Aquinas’s ideas are contained within. The translation is modern, approachable, lucid.

Marvelous as the English Dominican Fathers’ translation is (which you probably access all the time online), it is not always accessible to students of philosophy/theology who are new to, or unfamiliar with, the Scholastic tradition. The Concise Summa is an excellent Summa for the 21st century, and ought to be used even by experts for helping women and men outside of the Scholastic tradition, perhaps outside of the Church and all Christianity, to recognize the profundity and richness of Aquinas’s thought.

STAGE 1 (Month 1)

  1. pp. xiii-163, or rather, Part I.

STAGE 2 (Months 2 and 3)

  1. pp. 165-467, or rather, Part II.

STAGE 3 (Month 4)

  1. pp. 471-600, or rather, Part III.


There are two ways to go about reading a history of philosophy: the multi- and the one-volume way.

Multi-Volume: 15 – 28 months 

There are several fine multi-volume histories dedicated to filling you in on “the Western philosophical tradition.” It of course remains true, however: Fr. Copleston’s 10-volume set, A History of Philosophy is the preferred multi-volume history. Reading it is a long and laborious project, and will take you a year and a half to complete,—if attended to in the manner I here recommend. It requires starting with the first volume, and reading a volume a month, for ten months straight. (Brandon Vogt, for example, has provided a similar reading agenda for this sort of project here.) There are other fine multi-volume sets, like Kenny’s, yes, but we don’t recommend these here.

One Volume – Deely: 2 – 4 months … McInerny: 1 – 2 months

This is a perfectly adequate way to grasp philosophy, especially for becoming a friar. I sincerely recommend John Deely’s Four Ages of Understanding. It is an enjoyable, lucid survey. There are other fine one-volume histories, but none of them beats Deely’s. Similar to Copleston, Deely approaches the history primarily from the Aristotelian/Thomist, or realist, perspective. It is also true that he reads “the history” through the lens of a semiotician. Deely occasionally provides too little content with regard to several philosophers in the modern/contemporary camps. Deely’s volume, however, can easily be supplemented with Roger Scruton’s Modern Philosophy if one craves a fuller treatment of those thinkers. (Note: Scruton approaches philosophy from a realism-friendly, although definitely not Aristotelian-Thomist, perspective.) You need two months to finish Deely’s volume. The first two parts should be completed in the first month; the last two parts in the second. Careful attention to Deely’s volume will well prepare you for philosophical studies as a friar.

Finally, one could read Ralph McInerny’s excellent A History of Western Philosophy. McInerny was a fine Thomist who taught at Notre Dame. His volume takes only a month, and is very good, but also cursory.

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