I was wondering if anyone had any tips for critiquing a philosophical work. I know this is a vast topic in itself, but I really want to start analyzing philosophical writings and engaging with the text, rather than simply reading the book and moving on to the next one.

A few things I do know: The first step would be to become knowledgeable on the subject. The second step would be to read the thing you are critiquing. Other than that I'm more interested in the "how" of things.


  • What type of phil work are you interested in?
    – Neil Meyer
    May 6 '14 at 15:25
  • This isn't for academic purposes if that's what you mean. If that isn't what you mean, I'm interested in political philosophy and ethics. I'm currently reading Aristotle's Politics and was hoping to take something more substantial away from it than ideas of someone else's... I'm interested in creating ideas of my own. Granted, it would be difficult to generate original ideas by breaking down a text that is ~2,500 years old, but again, this isn't for academic purposes. May 6 '14 at 15:29
  • Actually, it's amazing how much "new" stuff you can find in even the eldest and most heavily analyzed texts --the mark of a good philosopher. May 6 '14 at 16:35
  • A fair point. Aristotle in particular had a supreme command of many logical and rhetorical devices, all of which were employed heavily throughout his works. The concepts of slavery may be a bit dated, but the relationship of the master and the slave is eternal. May 6 '14 at 16:43

Here are some things I do that I find helpful for philosophical and theological things (like you, I don't do things for academics, I do it for my own sake):

1) SQ3R is helpful. You want to start by getting the lay-of-the-land. It can be helpful to read Wikipedia articles or get an edition of the work that contains a summary. As an example that isn't quite philosophy, I found the "Landmark Herodotus" edition of Herodotus pretty accessible, simply because it contains some essays that give color to how to read it. If the thing you are reading doesn't have such an edition or a decent Wikipedia article, just skim it quickly to get a sense of what it's all about.

After scanning, come up with questions you'd like to answer after having read the text. You must have some reason for picking this text as opposed to another - why? What are you trying to get out of it?

2) Keep a notebook. As you come across an interesting passage, either write a page or two about why it's interesting to you, what it reminds you of, what questions it answers, etc., or mark the passage and come back to do the writing later. Writing something down forces you to think it through more thoroughly than simply stating it in your head.

3) Go back through your note book periodically. As you progress through a work (or read other works), you'll see different things, be able to expound on earlier ideas, come up with further questions, etc.


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