I read philosophy books on my own accord, and I have run into a bit of an issue: it is taking me much too long to read through longer texts. My system is as follows: I read a book, then I watch videos on said book, or read commentaries on it that explain the core concepts in a scholarly way. This works with books like, say, the Meno, or maybe treatises by Hume, but when I am faced with a much longer text like The Republic, I feel genuinely swamped by the magnitude of it. I imagine such will become even worse while reading Kant's CoPR.

Is my way of reading simply too inefficient? Is there any terrific value in severely analyzing every text I read, or should I simply overview such texts?

I spent nearly two weeks getting through The Republic along with commentaries and I Still feel as if I need more.

  • I think that there's some objectivity that can be found in this question but also a lot of subjectivity. A lot of the real answer to this question (or phrased as these questions "Is my way of reading simply too inefficient? Is there any terrific value in severely analyzing every text I read, or should I simply overview such texts?") is going to be subjective. What do you want out of philosophy? What are your goals? It's hard to give an objective answer to "is what I'm doing inefficient?" if there isn't a clear goal. Is your goal justo understand what philosophers have thought? How deeply?
    – Not_Here
    Mar 11, 2018 at 22:21
  • You could take a graduate seminar for a semester that focuses entirely on one text, or you could take an intro undergrad class that surveys the entire history of Western philosophy over one semester. Neither of those are bad in and of themselves, because they have different goals. What are your goals?
    – Not_Here
    Mar 11, 2018 at 22:25
  • It is hopeless trying to read through the entire literature. It is usually enough just to browse a decent paper-back dictionary summarising the views of philosophers. You won't pass an exam but you'll save a lot of time. Just ask - did this philosopher understand the topic or have something interesting to say? This will largely solve the problem.
    – user20253
    Mar 12, 2018 at 9:21

1 Answer 1


I recognise very well the problem you are facing. It was a huge problem for me when I began reading philosophy for a degree. I can only offer suggestions that may help, not a magic keep. To illustrate my parallel experience, it took me six weeks to read Richard Robinson's 'Plato's Earlier Dialectic'. I calculated that at that rate I would not cover more than a fraction of the required reading.

I adopted two strategies :

1 Faced by a long text I would read it through quickly, not taking notes but just getting a sense of the topics covered. Even from this light reading I could tell that not everything in the book was equally important. The second reading, the close reading, was much easier because I knew what was coming. Also I knew the text did not need to be read throughout with equal minuteness. When I first, quick-read the 'Republic', for instance, it was obvious that on a philosophy course I was not going to face questions on the early education of the guardians or, fascinating though it is, the Myth of Er. It was clear that the central books, IV-VII, were where the tough philosophical problems were located.

[I now read the 'Republic', all parts of it, for its endless suggestiveness but I am now a retired lecturer, not a desperate student !]

2 Books are terribly time-consuming. Some you have to familiarise yourself with but not all. I quickly discovered that articles were a lifeline. Two or three, or three to five, good articles will present you with a variety of viewpoints, all you need, and if of high quality they will give you sharply focused material that you can absorb and apply to impressive effect. Most books contain some or a lot of material that you don't need. This is seldom so with an article; and when it is so, the brevity of the article allows you quickly to spot it.

3 Make use of journal articles, many of which are online in most libraries. Also subscribe to a magazine or two : 'Philosophy Now' or 'The Philosophers' Magazine' but also a journal such as 'Philosophy' (issued by the Royal Institute of Philosophy) of higher intellectual stamp.

That's all I can offer, I'm afraid. These methods worked for me. They could well help you as well. All best wishes to an aspirant philosopher !

  • What a thoughtful response. I hope to see you elsewhere, perhaps on the chat 'The Symposium' for this site, or via email after sometime, as I am sure I could benefit from your years of experience. Would you suggest reading articles of, as an example, Descartes Meditations and be done with it, or should I couple the articles with the original text itself? I do not wish to bombard you with questions, but I am altogether young and inexperienced in reading philosophy.
    – Sermo
    Mar 11, 2018 at 21:55

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