Source: p 211, Philosophy; The Classics (4 ed, 2014) by Nigel Warburton BA PhD (Philosophy)

At the very end of his book [The Problems of Philosophy], Russell claims that students who want to learn more about philosophy will find it ‘both easier and more profitable’ to read some original works of the great philosophers than to turn to handbooks of philosophy. He lists works by Plato, Descartes, Leibniz, Berkeley, Hume and Kant. Russell’s assertion may reflect the kind of introductory books available in 1911. Some of the texts he recommends, notably Spinoza’s Ethics, are far from an easy read for beginning students, or anyone else.

Whilst it is certainly still true that most students would benefit from reading some primary texts early on in their study of philosophy, it is no longer true, if it ever was, that it is either ‘easier’ or ‘more profitable’ to do this than to read the best available introductory works, such as those that I recommend in the ‘Further Reading’ sections of each chapter here. This is an example of a widespread phenomenon that still persists: professional philosophers are notoriously bad at appreciating how difficult philosophy can be for a beginning student. For many students it would be just as profitable to recommend battering your head against a brick wall as to attempt to read Spinoza’s Ethics without any commentary or introduction to its main themes.

  1. What term describes the advice as summarised in the last paragraph above and here?

  2. Please see the entitled question.

Source: p xiii, Introducing Philosophy for Canadians: A Text with Integrated Readings (2011 1 ed) by Solomon, McDermid

  This dual approach offers introductory students direct contact with substantial readings from significant works in the history of philosophy, but removes the unreasonable demand that they confront these often difficult works in full and without commentary or editing, as they would in the originals or in most anthologies.

  • 2
    I personally never read any introductory works. Studying philosophy without being able to read a text, let go of personal experiences and opinions and try to understand what the text is actually saying might be possible, but not proficient. I think Mr. Warburton here mixes up knowledge about philosophy, which these books may to some extend provide, with understanding of philosophy. Students should learn what there is to know about a text before starting to read it and where to get these informations and then read the primary text imho. This should be teached, not this bar room level philosophy – Philip Klöcking Jan 13 '16 at 23:20
  • Perhaps a related thread: "What are some good introductions to philosophy" – PV22 Jun 14 '16 at 5:33
  • @alampert22 That other question appears impertinent, because I am not seeking recommendations here. – Greek - Area 51 Proposal Jan 27 '17 at 3:37
  • I think, contrary to the comment above, that the key to the answer is in the paraphrasing of Russell that you quote "Russell claims that students who want to learn more about philosophy". It is self evident that the the student who wants to know more should turn to primary texts, their inevitably containing more information than their respective summaries. The key question is whether the summaries contain enough information. This is a simple question of objective, the answer given by any philosopher would depend entirely on what you wanted to achieve by your reading. – Isaacson Jan 27 '17 at 8:24

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.