How To Read Philosophy

Since typical philosophical texts are difficult and dense, you should read a text at least twice. But each reading should focus on different things, which we can identify with questions.

 

What you will need: 1-2 hours, a comfortable chair, a piece of paper, and a pen or pencil.

 

First Reading:

Your objective: to get a handle on what the author is trying to do, on what her goals are, and on how she is trying to meet those goals, on the structure or organization of her paper.

 

(i) What are some of the authorís goals?


 

Defending a view?

By giving reasons to think it is true?

By showing that an argument against it is no good?


 

Or criticizing one?

By giving reasons to think it is false.

Or by showing that an argument in favor of it is no good.

 


 

(ii) What are the views at issue? Notice where the author formulates or state them.

 

††††††††††† (iii) What are the key paragraphs?

 

††††††††††† (iv) If the text is divided into sections, you should ask these questions about

each section. If it is not, then try to find the divisions yourself.

†††††††††††††††††††††††

Second Reading

Your objective: to pin down as precisely as you can the main issues or topics, and what the author is saying about them: to do this, you must clearly distinguish questions about meaning, from questions about reasons and truth.

 

††††††††††† Meaning:

(i) How does the author formulate or state the views at issue?

††††††††††† Does she formulate them in different ways; what are the differences?

(ii) What are the most important words; how does the author define them; how

would you or a dictionary define them; what are the differences?

(iii) Formulate the views at issue in your own words.

 

††††††††††† Reasons/truth:

††††††††††† (i) What evidence does the author put forward to support her views?

††††††††††††††††††††††† If she is criticizing a view, what are her complaints against it?

††††††††††††††††††††††† If she is defending it, what are the complaints against it, and how does she

address them?

††††††††††† (ii) Try to reconstruct the authorís reasoning in your own words.