• Jack Cummins
    3.3k
    I am raising this question because I was looking at answers in threads which I created and observed such a mixture of people coming from the basis of their reading of others' ideas from reading, and those based on the person's own thoughts. I realise that both are important but I do see it as a tension. I think that reading is extremely important, and keep finding more and more to read as I go along, paper books and ebooks.

    We have so much possible access to knowledge, especially in the age of the internet. Personally, I go online for a certain amount of information and research, but I prefer reading books. I like to read the ideas of thinkers from ancient times to the present in philosophy, and in other disciplines. However, I try to stand back and think independently too, as I am sure that most people on this site do. There may be some who prefer to think for themselves mostly, and this probably has some advantages too. Definitely, some people probably spend a lot more time reading than others. Of course, even participating on this forum is an aspect of reading, but it is interactive.

    There are people who place different degrees of emphasis on reading and I think that it is probably about getting the right balance. While I am in favour of as doing as much reading as possible, to widen the scope of my understanding, it may be possible to become so immersed in the ideas of others that we may start to drown our own individual voices. So, I am asking people what they think about this, and how they find the right balance for themselves. How can we improve our approaches to our reading to make it a solid basis for our philosophical adventures and investigations?

  • Tom Storm
    1.6k
    I used to ponder this a lot. In my view much of this depends on your memory and ability to process information and to recall what you read and use it. I have read many, many books I can't remember now. Sometimes the book is forgotten within a few months. So I say it is better to read deeply and carefully and reread then to turn book reading into a kind of frantic and promiscuous pursuit, without ever really getting to know the ideas properly. I think in many cases people read to confirm and build upon what they already think.
  • Don Wade
    185
    So, I am asking people what they think about this, and how they find the right balance for themselves.Jack Cummins

    I like to think of this in terms of the story: "Alice in Wonderland" and the question: "How deep does this rabbit hole go?" The more I (and maybe you) seem to learn (from reading), is the more questions that pop-up. There may be no end to it.
  • Jack Cummins
    3.3k

    I like your idea of how the reading pursuit can sometimes become'frantic and promiscuous'. I often go out reading alone, having dates with my books. Being able to remember books, and process books is important and it is not easy. Sometimes, I find it best to read a book quickly and read it again more slowly. I definitely find that my concentration varies, but I find that I can concentrate on reading more than most practical tasks. I rarely write notes on books I am reading. I do feel that discussions which I have on this forum makes them come more to life so much more than when I do not converse with others about the ideas which I have read.
  • Don Wade
    185
    I think in many cases people read to confirm and build upon what they already think.Tom Storm

    I agree! But, doesn't that create a "bias" to what you already believe? Does that bias keep one from having an open-mind? So, which is more important - an open mind, or bias-conformation?
  • Jack Cummins
    3.3k

    It is a bit like unwinding spirals, a constant search for treasures. I definitely feel that one area opens up so many more. The more I engage on this forum seems to leave me with new topics to think about and further avenues for reading. I have so many books to read and I often wonder about spending more time reading them rather than on this forum. The only problem which I end up with is that the reading life can be so lonely, because most of the people who I interact with on a daily basis read hardly at all, and definitely not philosophy books.
  • Don Wade
    185
    The only problem which I end up with is that the reading life can be so lonely because most of the people who I interact with daily barely read, and definitely believe read philosophy books.Jack Cummins

    That may be because they (and you) might be biased to what they already believe - which I just posted to Tom Storm.
  • Jack Cummins
    3.3k

    I am sure that it is true that we all come from biases in what we think and read. I am wishing to explore as widely but in doing so, it is easy to become lost. To just pursue all ideas without a commitment to any particular set of ideas could lead to a relativistic approach to knowledge.

    I am inclined to be able to enter into the world picture of many thinkers, to the point where I can be swayed to the viewpoint, for some time. But, after a while I usually gravitate back to my former perspective, but probably it takes some really powerful thinker to lead me to longer term shifts. But, generally it probably involves seeing from different positions, as you speak of in many of your posts and threads, the wide and narrow, short and longer frames of reference. I believe this applies to our reading lives as much as any other aspects of thinking.
  • Jack Cummins
    3.3k

    I just thought that in relation to your own questions, in connection to this one, we are probably all slightly different in the way in which we take in information. You are interested in the relationship between the eye and the brain, which is about processing information. I think that some people are more orientated towards sound, or possibly sound in conjunction with images. I know that some people find it far easier to watch television than read books. On the other hand, I know that I find it extremely difficult to concentrate on television, whereas I could spend all day reading and writing.
  • T Clark
    5.9k
    How important is our reading as the foundation for philosophical explorations?Jack Cummins

    Again, I'll bring out one of my favorite quotes from Franz Kafka:

    It is not necessary that you leave the house. Remain at your table and listen. Do not even listen, only wait. Do not even wait, be wholly still and alone. The world will present itself to you for its unmasking, it can do no other, in ecstasy it will writhe at your feet.

    The world is right there for us to see. It's not hiding. We don't necessarily need other people to show us the way. I carry a model of the world around inside me - Whatever was there before I was born plus 69 years of experience, learning, reading, thinking, watching... When a question comes up, it's the model I go to for answers.

    That's not to say reading and learning isn't important. I have ideas about how the world works that are wrong, either because I don't have the right information or because I've come to the wrong conclusions. There are also lots of aspects of the world I don't know about. And then there are issues I haven't thought through.

    As for reading philosophy, I find that most of it leaves me empty. The experiences and understandings that Kant, Plato, Schopenhauer, and all those guys write about are not the experiences and understandings I have. They take something I see as pretty simple and make it much more convoluted. On the other hand, Lao Tzu speaks to me in a profound way - the universe in 81 verses and 5,000 words.
  • Jack Cummins
    3.3k

    I think that we are probably best going for the authors which speak to us. I remember being on courses and having to read certain texts could be complete drudgery. In English literature at school, I had to read certain classics, some of which I could not relate to at the time. It put me off reading any novels for a few years and I only found my way back into fiction through reading cult fiction writers, like Irving Welsh and Philip K Dick, but, at some stage, I got round to more classical writers, including Jane Austen, who I detested when I had to read her for exams.

    I don't really think that ideas are hidden, although at one point I noticed the amount of non fiction books on my shelf that had titles including the word 'secret'. I think that there is a danger of looking for answers in books entirel, when it is in front of us. I don't believe that our eyes are served well by staring at printed pages or computer screens constantly.

    I sometimes feel that I should be reading Kant and Schopenhauer, and I have read portions of their writings. When I do read the philosophers I try to do so as if I was meeting them as individuals, as great minds to learn from. We can meet them without going out, but I try not to stay indoors. But, whether we stay inside or go out, read others' ideas or not, we are still alone with our own thoughts really, trying to sense of the world and how it all works.
  • Tom Storm
    1.6k
    I agree! But, doesn't that create a "bias" to what you already believe? Does that bias keep one from having an open-mind? So, which is more important - an open mind, or bias-conformation?Don Wade

    Yes, it does create a lop-sided education. The effects this has on the reader will vary. I'm not sure may people aspire towards an open mind. I also suspect that often the mind is partially closed before the reading even begins. But I am a pessimist.
  • Banno
    13.5k
    Call me a boomer if you like, but I sort of think that knowing a little bit about a topic is a not unreasonable prerequisite to entering into discussion. Further, a video on YouTube does not elicit detailed critical evaluation in the way a text does.

    Hence my enacted preference for threads based on an explicit text.

    If you don't read, you know fuck all.
  • ToothyMaw
    543
    At least I don't namedrop Zizek to sound well-read. And do you really need to give me shit in unrelated threads?
  • Banno
    13.5k
    But what you said relates directly to this thread - you happened to provide an excellent example just after my last post here.
  • ToothyMaw
    543


    I must have hit a nerve. If you are so well read then why don't you actually engage me in that thread? Put me in my place, maybe?
  • ToothyMaw
    543
    And sorry, Jack, Banno dragged me into this. I'll ask a mod to delete this shit.
  • thewonder
    1k

    I don't know, despite that ToothyMaw seems to have thought that Antifa was going to invade the suburbs was bona fide news in the wayback when Trump was in office, I do kind of feel like a university-level education ought not to be requisite for someone to voice their opinion on the internet.
  • Banno
    13.5k
    Oh, sure. But that isn't the question in the OP - it's about reading as opposed to making shit up.

    Unless one need a university education now in order to be able to read...?
  • Valentinus
    1.3k

    I am raising this question because I was looking at answers in threads which I created and observed such a mixture of people coming from the basis of their reading of others' ideas from reading, and those based on the person's own thoughts. I realise that both are important but I do see it as a tension.Jack Cummins

    In our encounters regarding books we both have read, what counts as a "person's own thoughts" shows up in the different representations of what was said to be said in the books. That sort of thing is often counted as "interpretation" but sometimes it seems different people are reading entirely different texts.

    I read more or less as my work life permits. That changing condition has given me different ways to read. Is it a specification, a menu, a joke, or a poem? The words strike differently at different times.

    I have read a number of books many times over several decades. So, that sense of familiarity and expectation prompts me to listen without having to reproduce it somehow. But the experience has also made me less certain about what is going on. It is still alive.
  • thewonder
    1k

    Obviously, you don't, but I also that there's a certain absurdity of expectations within conversation as to what a person could have reasonably read. To hold a good conversation about necropolitics, you would have to have read the book of the same title by Achille Mbembe. Though a good author to recommend, it would be absurd in most political conversations to expect for the other party to have read Necropolitics. It seems fairly often to be the case to me, especially in online forums, for people to be referred to a list of books to read so as to understand this concept or another without just simply giving them a succinct explanation of it.

    It depends on the conversation, I guess.
  • Banno
    13.5k
    SO we might proceed by citing a paper or book on necropolitics and having a conversation about that particular item. That strikes me as preferable to the alternative, in which folk reply with no context, and we end up with a thread about electing zombies.
  • Don Wade
    185
    I also suspect that often the mind is partially closed before the reading even begins.Tom Storm

    I agree. So, should we read anyway?
  • Wayfarer
    13k
    How can we improve our approaches to our reading to make it a solid basis for our philosophical adventures and investigations?Jack Cummins

    Reading serious philosophy is hard work. So you have to push yourself to do it, it's like training. Academic training can be useful in that it makes you articulate your thoughts and consider objections and different points of view.

    The other thing is to read thematically and synoptically. Philosophical literature is so vast in extent that you could read full-time and barely scratch the surface. Find some key themes or ideas and explore them through the history of ideas. Reading synoptically means reading the better secondary sources, especially useful for extremely complex works like Kant's. They will often provide an overview of the structure and intentions of a work which makes it much easier to comprehend.

    I was in one Sydney's excellent bookstores about 10 years ago and overheard a conversation between someone apparently a lecturer in philosophy and a student. Whoever this guy was, he was extremely knowledgeable with an extraordinarily melliflous voice and an amazing lexicon. He said, during the course of the conversation, and somewhat tongue-in-cheek, 'the Greeks, the Medievals, the Germans - that's all you have to know, the rest is rubbish!' :-) Obviously a polemical point, but there's something in the idea that Western philosophy is 'footnotes to Plato'. I'm painfully aware of my lack of grounding in the Classics, but am gradually remedying that - at least as you say we have unlimited access to the actual texts nowadays.

    So - read seriously, synoptically, and thematically, get a feel for the history of ideas, and don't neglect Plato. That would be my advice.
  • Tom Storm
    1.6k
    I agree. So, should we read anyway?Don Wade

    Big question. I am no authority on this. I find it hard to read these days - I get bored easily and I am too old for hard work. Plus I am not really looking for anything.

    I have an old fashioned view that younger people should try to get in a good survey of what's out there (including early fiction) just to expose themselves to ideas they might not encounter in ordinary life. I've never seen wide reading do harm. But I have met many a dull monomaniac who has only read in the area of their worldview -spirituality/politics/science/psychology.
  • Don Wade
    185
    Reading serious philosophy is hard work. So you have to push yourself to do it, it's like training. Academic training can be useful in that it makes you articulate your thoughts and consider objections and different points of view.Wayfarer

    I really like this statement.It is a good reason for reading even though one may not want to do it at the time.

    He said, during the course of the conversation, and somewhat tongue-in-cheek, 'the Greeks, the Medievals, the Germans - that's all you have to know, the rest is rubbish!' :-)
    Wayfarer

    Does this say anything about the bias he may have had at the time of his conversation?
  • thewonder
    1k

    I see what you're saying, and do, in part, agree, but am not sure that that sort of thing can be avoided here.

    Being said, and this is less common here, in casual conversation on, let's say, r/Anarchism, it does become the case that a person has a basic question about Anarchism, like, "Is a global revolution even possible?", before being referred to a series of texts that will take them months, if not years, to read before ever being able to respond within the conversation.
  • Banno
    13.5k
    Yep. It's hard work. The forum is plagued with dilettante waffle. Which are you?
  • Possibility
    2.3k
    I agree with @Banno in that entering a discussion with no background understanding of the topic in a wider context than your own opinion makes it almost impossible to engage meaningfully with the discussion. But I have to admit that sometimes we don’t recognise just how little we understand until we’ve already entered the discussion. I guess I’m a little more tolerant of ignorance because I still remember what it feels like. And I’ve entered many a discussion here only to recognise that I’m in over my head, and stepped away with some recommended reading.

    I’m here as an alternative to university - I came in with a ‘philosophy’ that has developed and changed and is finding a place in the wider philosophical context. I’ve had to do a lot of reading along the way, and come face to face with my own ignorance more than a few times.

    Reading serious philosophy is hard work. So you have to push yourself to do it, it's like training. Academic training can be useful in that it makes you articulate your thoughts and consider objections and different points of view.

    The other thing is to read thematically and synoptically. Philosophical literature is so vast in extent that you could read full-time and barely scratch the surface. Find some key themes or ideas and explore them through the history of ideas. Reading synoptically means reading the better secondary sources, especially useful for extremely complex works like Kant's. They will often provide an overview of the structure and intentions of a work which makes it much easier to comprehend.
    Wayfarer

    I have found all of this to be very helpful advice. I think we need to be prepared to have our ideas challenged when we read, and to relish it. Reading only those works with which we think we’d agree only trains us to be ignorant. We can be quite protective of our own thoughts when we read.

    One thing I’ve learned from my reading is that many of the most influential philosophers throughout history have one or both of two interesting characteristics: they are notoriously difficult to understand, and/or their philosophical position is far from static. This has been a comfort for me.
  • thewonder
    1k

    I am going to ignore your insult so as to further expostulate.

    To use Anarchism as an example. Even were you to cite a widely read text, let's say Mutual Aid, were you to cite a particular passage from that text, one that was not often cited, you couldn't reasonably expect for the other parties, even assuming that most of them have read it, to remember it well enough to hold a detailed conversation about it. Despite this, it is quite often the case that a person claims some sort of intellectual superiority because of a lack of knowledge of some particular reference or another.

    If you would like to talk about that particular passage, you could cite it in the original post and post either a section of it or a link to the entire thing. If you would like to cite it as evidence, you can do more or less the same thing. In a casual conversation about Anarchism, despite that Mutual Aid is a widely circulated text, it wouldn't be fair to cite a relatively obscure passage from it as evidence of another person's ignorance. I'm not saying that this sort of thing is too common here; I'm just saying that it's common enough online to note.

    To apply this metaphor to Philosophy, I, for instance, haven't read The Phenomenology of the Spirit. I have, however, read Being and Nothingness. In Being and Nothingness, Jean-Paul Sartre references The Phenomenology of Spirit. To understand those particular passages well enough to make arguments about them at the graduate level, you do need to read The Phenomenology of Spirit. To gain a general understanding of Being and Nothingness, you do not. To understand the concept of false consciousness, you kind of only really need to read the Wikipedia page on it. In a passing conversation on false consciousness, you only have to be aware of what the idea is. In an in depth conversation, you probably should've read Being and Nothingness. It would still be absurd, however, to be vexed at that a person engaged in a conversation about false consciousness hasn't read The Phenomenology of Spirit. Only discussing those specific passages or the relationship between the two texts would warrant that. All that I am saying is that it depends upon the conversational context. Sometimes, there's quite a lot that you should have read and sometimes you don't actually have to have read anything at all.
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