Reading as a Philosopher

“But I had a problem. I did not know how to read philosophy. I did not know how to connect reasons to conclusions, track changes in voice, decipher nuance, evaluate arguments, or use the text to critique my own views. I knew how to read so as to extract information that I might be asked to regurgitate at some later point, but I didn’t know how to read as philosophers read… What follows is a top 10 list of the things I wish I had known when I started reading philosophy.”

TOP 10 TIPS to Reading Philosophy:

  1. “There is no such thing as reading without qualification. Instead there is reading as a philosopher, historian, cartographer, journalist, and so on.
  2. The experience of reading philosophy is strange [because…] the subject matter of philosophy … are not answered by plumbing the depths of empirical or even social objects. They are answered by drawing inferences to increase the coherence among one’s set of beliefs, and, in the unusual case, deriving corollaries from (apparently) self-evident truths.
  3. The experience of reading philosophy is often disquieting [because…] the values around which one has heretofore organised one’s life may come to look provincial, flatly wrong, or even evil.
  4. To read philosophy well one needs courage.
  5. Understanding. Set the Stage. Before reading an essay about which I know very little I sometimes find it helpful to read… [around the subject, starting with an overview from Wikipedia].
  6. Understanding. Track the structure and voice of the argumentation.
  7.  Understanding. Assess and note progress… I create paragraph by paragraph summaries as I go by writing a clause or a sentence that is a paraphrase of the central content of a paragraph.
  8. Understanding. Bring it all together. I find it very helpful to write out a summary of the argument once I reach the end of an essay.
  9. Evaluate.  Consider what additional reasons there might be to think the author is correct or incorrect… What are the implications of the author being correct? … Talk with friends about the arguments, especially those who are likely to disagree with you. Draft additional criticisms and see if you can imagine replies on the author’s behalf.
  10. Decide. After sufficient time, move from evaluating the arguments to your own conclusions. Is the author right, wrong, or, more likely, partly right and partly wrong?”


Byron Ballard – Computer Science

This is taken from David W. Concepción, who is professor of philosophy at Ball State University, chair of the American Philosophical Association, Committee on Teaching, and author of Reading Philosophy with Background Knowledge and Metacognition.



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