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How do/did philosophers like Zizek, Cornel West, Derrida, Sartre study philosohy? Did they focus on primary sources or secondary? Both at the same time? I am currently reading a primary source and would imagine it would take a very long time to be proficient in understanding just one field/subject. Also, when reading do you take notes on what you agree/disagree upon or write down your thoughts on the reading? Since I am not yet in an academic environment, I just read and write down what I think about it/summarize. What is the most effective way to study so that one day I might be able to contribute to the field?

P.s. What do you do?

  • you can bet that they all read Greek and/or German, and English, and probably lots of other languages as well. you could be a great philosopher with only one language, but in the academic world a monilingual philosopher cannot and should not be taken seriously. learning languages in order to read primary sources is just a given. – user20153 Mar 12 '17 at 21:32
  • iow, start studying languages, the sooner the better. it does take a long time, and it's very hard work, but that's why you should start now. and learn to enjoy it! – user20153 Mar 12 '17 at 21:35
  • p.s. always and only primary sources. just imagine sonebody pontificating on Plato who has only ever read translations. That's fine for amateurs, but preposterous for professionals. – user20153 Mar 12 '17 at 21:38
  • of course nobody can read everything in the original. but in your area of expertise you absolutely must read the key works in the original. if you don't, then you're just a journalist, not an expert. – user20153 Mar 12 '17 at 21:41
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it's an interesting question and one I struggled with when I started studying philosophy. For me the answer really does depend on the writer, and even on the work. For example Sartre's Being and Nothingness can be absurdly dense, but that is in part (at least I found) because it presupposes knowledge of Heidegger's work that proceeded it, whereas Existentialism and Humanism was written as a public lecture and is therefore much more accessible.

In my experience it is always better to engage with secondary sources where possible, particularly critical ones. This will allow you to build a more robust understanding of any theory and you can benefit from the work of all these philosophers and avoid 'going it alone'.

My method usually begins with a primary source, depending on whether I can make any sense of it with my current knowledge. If not I usually look for reader's guides, which can be really illuminating. Otherwise I will read through the source, making notes and summarising much as you do. I take notes, and after each chapter/section/paper I try to answer the following questions:

What assumptions are being made by the author in this text?

What is the main point/thesis of the text?

What are the authors objectives?

How is the text organised/structured?

How does the author support their argument?

Another thing to keep in mind is when you are reading, identify the parts that you think are clear and are not clear, try to discern what makes something more readable and understandable, and what obfuscates issues. This will set you in good stead for when you start your own academic writing.

Edit: I know that Sartre formed a lot of his views during the second world war. Before French occupation Sartre worked as a meteorologist for the French army. A leisurely job that involved sending up balloons and tracking their progress across the sky. He was then captured and held as a prisoner of war, during which time he is said to have first read Heidegger.

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One suggestion - avoid reading only secondary sources.

When studying philosophy, is there a prioritization of primary or secondary sources/texts?

You should always at the very least review the primary source. Also, it's never a bad idea to at the very least verify what is referenced in secondary sources (or any written work). It's a good scholarly habit to get into. As a skeptical reader, this will help dial in your take on an author depending on the accuracy of their use of cited works. That said, start reading what interests you and explore - have fun!

How do/did philosophers like Zizek, Cornel West, Derrida, Sartre study philosohy? Did they focus on primary sources or secondary? Both at the same time?

I think it is arguable that none of those authors are philosophers except in the sense that "philosophy" is used as misnomer for "my way of looking at things". Philosophy is of course "love of wisdom" i.e. respect for obtaining knowledge. To answer your question such that you may obtain the knowledge you are pondering, I'd suggest researching the former two and emailing them to ask the "primary sources" themselves directly.

Slavoj Žižek: sz21@nyu.edu
https://www.facebook.com/prof.slavoj.zizek/

Cornell West: lpollock@uts.columbia.edu
http://www.cornelwest.com/contact.html#.WMT2phiZPeQ
https://www.facebook.com/drcornelwest/

I am currently reading a primary source and would imagine it would take a very long time to be proficient in understanding just one field/subject. Also, when reading do you take notes on what you agree/disagree upon or write down your thoughts on the reading? Since I am not yet in an academic environment, I just read and write down what I think about it/summarize. What is the most effective way to study so that one day I might be able to contribute to the field?

Writing summaries is another great practice to get into. If you want to get published and contribute to the field, contact publishers to get access to better works.

Even with primary sources of non-English, older and ancient works, there is the variation of translations to consider. Heck, that it is dense is one thing, but even the vernacular in Russell's "On Denoting" is difficult to parse as a contemporary English speaker - and it's only 100+ years old. If you are having trouble with a primary source, sure, check out a few different secondary readings, and then go back to the primary source - you might have a better perspective on how to parse the primary sources rhetoric/vernacular.

P.s. What do you do?

Reading, writing and arithmetice; logic, rhetoric and reason.

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