In the West, do most contemporary philosophy students and philosophers reads the entirety of Western philosopher?

Do they, for instance, read every single thing written by Hume, Voltaire, Nietzsche, Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, etc.? Or, do they read, say, the most relevant few pieces of each philosopher?

I ask this because while reading Hume and Russell, I found that they were calling upon an extraordinary deal of philosophers that I haven't even heard of, despite that I find myself reading philosophy every day. And their ability to cite very specific passages that were actually relevant and supporting of their argument, seemed extraordinary to me. They seemed to understand everything that was every written. I know this cannot be the case, but I'm wondering how far off I am.

As an example, let's take a famous contemporary philosopher like Daniel Dennett (although he is not famous for his academic philosophical works) -- would you suppose someone of this sort has read the entirety of Plato, Hume, Voltaire, Pascal, Locke, etc.?

Stated another way, has the average professor of philosophy, in any given university, read these sorts of thinkers in their entirety or just the most relevant works? (like Hume's Natural History of Religion; or Locke's Treatises of Government; or Plato's Apology and Republic)?

  • I highly doubt whether there is such a thing as an "average philosopher." As for the average philosophy student, I would bet money that the answer is "no, they don't," but it would depend hugely on how you compute or define "average." (Isn't a C student supposed to be "average" by some definitions?) – Wildcard Feb 2 '18 at 3:19
  • Quibbles about the word "average" aside, though, philosophers are an extraordinarily difficult group to generalize across. Are you in fact referring only to modern, European philosophers? Moreover, are you only encompassing those philosophers recognized as such by Academia? – Wildcard Feb 2 '18 at 3:21
  • I've tried to edit your question down, but I hope it's still what you mean to ask... – virmaior Feb 2 '18 at 5:21

Academic philosophers begin their systematic study of philosophy through degree courses, both undergraduate and postgraduate. It would not be practicable in any degree course to read the entirety of a philosopher's work. Considerations of time and the fact that examination questions usually focus on relatively few topics, rule out the 'read it all' approach.

At Ph.D. or lecturer level, the demands of academic specialisation equally rule out an eycyclopaedic, let alone an exhaustive, range of reading unless one is writing or lecturing on a particular philosopher. There are Cartesian scholars who have read the whole of Descartes, Humean scholars who have done the same for Hume and so on across the board. But the price of specialisation is exclusion. If I am lecturing on Descartes I do not have the time to read the whole of Hegel or Husserl.

Nor would there be much point in such universal reading even if it could be done. If I am into the predicate calculus, why should I read Aristotle's outdated logical treatises ? If aesthetics is my bag, what do I gain from reading Aquinas' commentary on Aristotle's 'Physics' ?

In any case reading more than a few philosophers in their entirety is an impossible task in a normal lifetime.

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  • It is probably weak of me, but this answer was what I was hoping for. I was beginning to feel swamped and uneducated when looking at all of the texts that I haven't read. – Papabear Feb 2 '18 at 15:05
  • @Papabear. Well, you're now out of the swamp and can get on with your education ! Glad to have been of help. All the best - Geoff. – Geoffrey Thomas Feb 2 '18 at 18:13

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