I can understand why tenured philosophy professors specializing in some obscurantist must read primary sources. For those who aren't, is it practical and wise to forgo primary sources written by obscurantists?

If tenured philosophy professors can't simplify, agree on, or let alone understand, the meaning of some obscurantism, then an undergraduate doubtless wouldn't, and wouldn't spot something unnoticed previously, or interpret something innovatorily or innovationally.

  • First off, welcome to philosophy.SE. Define "obscurant" here? Also "practical and wise" for what? What is the goal in reading the texts or reading philosophy in general that you have in mind? (without that it's impossible to answer your question).
    – virmaior
    Aug 24, 2018 at 6:55
  • I wouldn't assume that philosophy professors are good source of advice. If you're studying for fun or in order to understand philosophy then I'd suggest you follow your interests and not a curriculum.
    – user20253
    Aug 24, 2018 at 11:51
  • "Ought"? Who could possibly say. Would it be pragmatic if their entire goal is to have fun and engaging hard to read primary sources isn't fun to them? Probably.
    – Not_Here
    Aug 24, 2018 at 21:05
  • @Not_Here Who? Anyone at all with the capacity to offer opinion - which is precisely why ethics are not philosophy.
    – MmmHmm
    Aug 25, 2018 at 14:20
  • 1
    @Mr.Kennedy Lmao, sure
    – Not_Here
    Aug 25, 2018 at 18:01

2 Answers 2


You can read whatever you want. No one is forcing you to read "for fun." It seems you mean this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obscurantism#Deliberate_obscurity.

Therefore, I interpret the question as why read a philosopher whose work is generally obfuscating? Granted, when you get into philosophy more and more, there will be an increasingly amount of advanced ideas and concepts. At higher levels of abstraction, from say practicality or applicability, comes tightened diction. Philosophy, just like electrical engineering (EE) or medicine, can get very arcane with new and challenging argot.

Just as an EE professor who made her doctorate in communications EE does not know the specialty of power EE, so it is with philosophy. Professors do not know everything about all of philosophy. One of my philosophy professors did not know much about contemporary ethics. That doesn't mean much: Philosophy is a hugely diverse field. For that reason, I see this question as naive. It is truly a group of small questions, per ________ major works, rooted in ignorance:

Aristotle (Classic Greek)

Why read/study Nicomachean Ethics? Well, right off the bat, it's easy with Squashed Philosophers.

Kant (German)

Why read the Critique (of Pure Reason)? Duty-based theory (deontology) is a fundamental building block for contemporary ethics, such as Habermas's discourse ethics (short film). Although, few completely read the elephant. Point: Professors do not assign whole texts as this. Only sections.

Hegel (German)

Why read the Phenomenology (of Spirit)? He is the "philosopher's philosopher." Gregory B. Sadler has an awesome series: Half Hour Hegel. Furthermore, if you think a certain text is too hard, look for commentary about it. Some books and online resources even have neat in-text annotations.

Marx (German)

Why read the Communist Manifesto? His works are also available on Squashed Philosophers. Additionally, a Google search--esp. with "filetype:pdf" "site:edu"--will provide good results.

Heidegger (German)

Why read his "magnum opus, Being and Time (Sein und Zeit)"? (SEP)

If you haven't noticed by now, I didn't actually answer any of the small questions (i.e, why read ________ philosopher). That's your job. You have the tools.

  • The philosophers in my answer are from Wikipedia's list: 3.1 Aristotle 3.2 Kant 3.3 Hegel 3.4 Marx 3.5 Heidegger 3.6 Derrida 3.7 Lacan 3.8 Sokal Affair
    – adamaero
    Aug 24, 2018 at 16:29

If tenured philosophy professors can't simplify, agree on, or let alone understand, the meaning of some obscurantism, then an undergraduate doubtless wouldn't, and wouldn't spot something unnoticed previously, or interpret something innovatory or innovational.

let us take an example of obscurantist philosopher-

Heraclitus propounded a distinctive theory which he expressed in oracular language. He is best known for his doctrines that things are constantly changing (universal flux), that opposites coincide (unity of opposites), and that fire is the basic material of the world. The exact interpretation of these doctrines is controversial.

Although Heraclitus is not known to have had students, his writings seem to have been influential from an early time.

He may have provoked Parmenides to develop a contrasting philosophy (Patin 1899; Graham 2002), although their views have much more in common than is generally recognized (Nehamas 2002). Empedocles seems to have invoked Heraclitean themes, and some Hippocratic treatises imitated Heraclitean language and presented applications of Heraclitean themes.

Democritus echoed many of Heraclitus' ethical pronouncements in his own ethics. From an early time Heraclitus was seen as the representative of universal flux in contrast to Parmenides, the representative of universal stasis. Cratylus brought Heraclitus' philosophy to Athens, where Plato heard it.

Plato seems to have used Heraclitus' theory (as interpreted by Cratylus) as a model for the sensible world, as he used Parmenides’ theory for the intelligible world. As mentioned, both Plato and Aristotle viewed Heraclitus as violating the law of non-contradiction and propounding an incoherent theory of knowledge based on a radical flux.

Yet Aristotle also treated him as a coherent material monist who posited fire as an ultimate principle. The Stoics used Heraclitus' physics as the inspiration for their own, understanding him to advocate a periodic destruction of the world by fire, followed by a regeneration of the world; Cleanthes in particular commented on Heraclitus. Aenesidemus interpreted Heraclitus as a kind of proto-skeptic (see Polito 2004).


Ever since Plato, Heraclitus has been seen as a philosopher of flux. The challenge in interpreting the philosopher of Ephesus has always been to find a coherent theory in his paradoxical utterances. Since Hegel, he has been seen as a paradigmatic process philosopher–perhaps with some justification.

Now the question is - why not pick up the 'beautiful' from them ?

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