Have you ever wondered why some of the best philosophical books out there are written in a very short format? The author tries to succinctly and eloquently punch in as many layers of meaning as possible in each of the present sentences. Each sentence contains perhaps seven or eight dimensions of meaning. Also, it is going to be a lot more painful to read than your ordinary fiction books.
So you have to tackle these books, not from the standpoint of entertainment. You don’t read this stuff for enjoyment. Although some of you want philosophy, tackle it from entertainment. But also remember that you have to read for understanding instead of experience. Otherwise, if you go through this book passively, you can only understand about 10 percent of the author’s contention.
Why Is Philosophy So Hard To Read? (Causes)
Philosophy is hard because understanding the universal causes is more complex than those of this or that particular field. A further challenge is that the conclusions of philosophy are so universal that they often will lead to moral implications of how we ought to live in.
When you start to study philosophy, one of the first things you notice is that people disagree about everything. It almost seems as if people rarely reach any conclusions in matters of philosophy, much less a consensus. This lack of clarity can lead someone to think that philosophy is not rigorous science but merely a matter of personal taste.
Modern people are often associated with abstract theories that have little or nothing to do with the real world. Philosophy is uniquely challenging among the other kinds of reason, not knowledge.
Everyone’s curious about the explanation behind the things that we experience, but not everyone is able or interested in exploring those causes to the same depth. Philosophy requires more extensive study and experience to execute with any hope of success, making it more difficult than any other science.
- The first reason philosophy is especially difficult is that it is about the most universal, most general principles of reality.
- The second reason philosophy is so difficult is its universality because it investigates the most general and universal causes.
Philosophy can have implications in how we are to live our lives. For example, Aquinas Presents is the perfect sound philosophical demonstration that nature acting for an end proves the existence of God. But the idea of God makes some people feel upset or uncomfortable, either because they don’t like the thought of being subject to a God.
Most of us can marvel at the picture and the staggering ingenuity that went into it and then move on. But emotions, inordinate attachments, and a poorly formed conscience are serious dangers in pursuing philosophy. They can drive someone to reject a conclusion for no other reason than they don’t like it.
So we shouldn’t be surprised that there’s so much disagreement among philosophers, nor should that dissuade us from pursuing these questions. When conversations get philosophical, we should take it cheerfully as a reminder that philosophy is very difficult and successfully requires experience, study, training, humility, obedience to teachers, and so on.
How to read philosophy books?
Philosophy is not the thing you can read by dropping into a chair and opening the book, expecting it to speak to you. It’s not a short story or a novel, where you can expect to be introduced to the characters early on. You will need to take some specific steps and use a method to read it. So here are the strategies that work well for reading philosophy books.
1. Get comfortable, get a pen
You are going to be marking in your books. You need to get used to marking in your books, writing things in the margins, underlining things, making notations in them. It is vital to your education. In my experience, writing books is the way to read actively and learn the material.
So think of the book as a tool that’s designed for the sake of your education. To get the best use possible out of the tool, you’re going to have to write in it. Use a pencil if you’re squeamish or sticky notes.
2. Answer these 4 questions as you read
There are four questions to keep in mind: What’s the point? What is the issue or question that drives this book? What area is it in? Why is it being written?
Second question: Why did the author bother? Why did somebody bother to write down something like this? Philosophers do not generally write things with no purpose in mind despite what you might be told. They want you to think or believe something you do not currently think or believe. What you’re trying to discover is their motivation.
Then the third question: What are they trying to prove? It is going to be their thesis, the thing that they’re trying to convince you to believe, the view that they’re trying to get you to share.
Question four: How do they try to prove it? What’s the evidence that they’re citing? What’s the argument they’re giving in favor of the point of view they are pushing?
So what’s the point? Why did they bother, what are they trying to prove, how are they trying to prove it? You should have these four questions in mind before you read the first page of the text. Before you even crack the text open, you need to prepare yourself with these questions to answer. Keep them in mind always while you are reading. Your goal in reading the book is to get answers to these questions.
3. Interrogate the text
You should think of yourself as a detective looking for clues, investigating, searching through the text, trying to find out the answers to these four questions, especially those last two, about the thesis and the argument. So you can begin by reading the blurb, reading the inside jacket copy, and the book’s back cover.
- Read the first and last paragraphs of the book, of each chapter of the particular section. Then review what you have found.
What should you expect from this work? In this sense, you’re like a detective making an initial once-over of the crime scene before investigating more deeply. What is it that we should expect to find when we look closer? Where are we going to pay close attention?
4. Make a fast read through the text
Mark horizontal lines in the margin of the text where there is a break in the text. It gives you a visual way of going back to find the beginning and end of each section. It makes it much easier to reread the text later and see the particular part you are looking for.
- On this fast read-through, it’s very important not to get bogged down with specific comprehension questions.
So if you find yourself struggling over a particular sentence or a particular paragraph, put a question mark next to it in the margin. Don’t get trapped reading the same material over and over again for fifteen minutes or half an hour. Just push on through it and figure you will come back and pick that up later.
5. Read slowly & take notes in margins
This is where you will spend most of your time going through the work paragraph by paragraph, trying to unlock its meaning and find the answers to those questions. It is also where you will annotate as you go in the pen. You can look for more structural clues, for where the author indicates the introduction, the thesis, and the argument’s outline.
There are reasons or objections to this view. It gives you a quick reference for going through and finding the bits of the essay that the author has called attention to by assigning them numbers. You can also, at this point, mark key passages. These are the parts you would have highlighted when you used a highlighter.
- Draw a vertical line in the margin to indicate a key passage. If it’s especially important, put a star next to it.
Write something in the margin for future reference about what’s happening there. It will make it much easier to go back through when you’re trying to write a paper.
- Identify which parts of the essay are doing what. If you miss a paragraph if you can’t figure it out, put a question mark next to it and go on.
- Then lastly, put question marks in the margins where you are confused, but try to indicate what confuses you.
If you don’t understand what this particular word means, circle it or underline it. Give yourself something to go back to when you’re trying to do your research.
Bonus tips – Summarize what you’ve read
Try to summarize within the first 10 minutes after you finish reading. Don’t go back and do it later, or do it in the evening. Do it immediately after finishing up with your reading. It will make your future read-throughs much easier and help to cement the material that you’ve read into your brain.
So those are the process of steps for how to read philosophy effectively. If you truly want to understand philosophy books, you need to read them aloud. Ideally, if you have friends around, have some of your friends interested in philosophy. You’re going to get a whole deeper understanding of the text. Write your friends who offer you different perspectives to look at this specific passage. I hope you will enjoy your philosophy books and gather huge knowledge.
Read more: 10 Most Difficult Philosophy Books All Time
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