I am from India and English is my third language. When I tried to get into Philosophy, the first book I picked up was Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Even though I liked the book, the archaic grammar and vocabulary of the book started to get on me. Philosophy is already hard and to make it worse, it is translated mostly by authors of 19th or 20th century which makes it hard to read and understand. I am an intermediate English reader, but reading old English is very difficult for me. How do you guys deal with it?

  • with more experience of reading and parsing philosophy and EL literature (rather than the EL itself) i have found it much easier to simply google unusual words and plug their definition into the phrase etc.. i find this with poetry also, and it is partly confidence etc., and partly fluency with the form, rather than the EL itself (i'm a native speaker). hth
    – user71226
    Commented Jan 25 at 16:48

1 Answer 1


Philosophy is an endeavor that ranges across time and space, and as you have noted language. On the downside, using complex or more archaic English can be bothersome for the student of philosophy. Some writers like Searle are rather clear and seem to value the advice of Strunk and White. Other writers like to embellish. On the upside, take heart there's an English translation so you don't have to read it in the original tongue of Marcus Aurelius, Latin!

  1. Part of your strategy has to be to take it on the chin. There's a certain requirement that reading philosophy in any language means dealing with very literate people and translations and you're going to have to learn the literary constructions. There's no getting around that. You can use English SE if you have questions. I consider myself quite literate, and there are questions that come across the site that I routinely learn from. If your questions are simpler, there's also English Language Learner SE.

  2. Find more contemporary translations. For some works, and I'd be surprised if this wasn't the case for an author like Marcus Aurelius, you can find more contemporary versions, sometimes with annotations. Your go-to is to use books.google.com in order to find contemporary works. For instance, try this search, and the first book on the list is Meditations: A New Translation (2002).

  3. Find a literate native speaker to ask questions! This forum, for instance, has a site chat.stackexchange.com. I for one have never declined a conversation regarding philosophy or language here. Many people just like to skim, but some of the denizens of our forum are looking for more active dialogue. Feel free to hit me up! There are other fora, of course.

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