Plato was already wondering if virtue could be learned and answered “no” (in the Meno), in the same way, we do not “learn” philosophy, strictly speaking, we study it, we discover it, we progress in the knowledge of a theme or an author, but nothing is ever taken for acquired. Learning philosophy is the project of a lifetime.
So the following article does not pretend to give THE method to succeed in any philosophy studies, but an approach to avoid drowning in more than 2,000 years of philosophy.
Above all, do not spare yourself: progress is measured by the intensity of the practice.
Learn Philosophy: Step 1
The first step is not to delve into books, but to ask yourself beforehand what philosophy can be used for, what it can bring you.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Should philosophy bring me knowledge? If yes, you have a rational / scientific approach
- Should philosophy distract me? If yes, you have a fun approach to philosophy
- Should philosophy allow me to shine in society? If so, your vision of philosophy is worldly.
- Should philosophy answer the big questions of life? If so, you have a metaphysical approach to philosophy.
Of course, these approaches can be combined, but a dominant must arise in this questioning.
Ask yourself these questions, they help define the angle of attack for philosophy. It’s a discipline that is more than 2,000 years old, so you have to know where to start, otherwise, you will get lost.
Learn Philosophy: Step 2
To learn philosophy, you have to read, and a lot. But don’t limit yourself to paper format. Think of websites, podcast (audio), videos (Youtube has many philosophy courses for example)
Rational approach to philosophy
Descartes seems to be for you. The Discourse on Method should convince you of the interest of philosophy (article on The Discourse on Method)
Then move on to Plato, notably the Apology of Socrates, a short and accessible dialogue.
Playful approach to philosophy
You don’t want to be burdened with an arduous philosophy? In this case, prefer philosophy magazines or TV shows to major works.
Worldly approach to philosophy
Do you want to use philosophy for social purposes, launch words such as “onto-theology”, “transcendence” or “eschalotology” to impress other people?
In this case, there is no point in pushing your readings very far. Instead, read collections of quotes. If the collections are organized by theme, they will allow you to shine with quotes about philosophy (our site can also help you)
You can also read very complicated authors, like Heidegger (Being and Time) or Hegel (Phenomenology of the Spirit) that few people know, but keep in mind they are REALLY hard to read. And if you come across a connoisseur, your philosophical “varnish” will explode after less than two minutes.
Metaphysical approach to philosophy
Do you see philosophy as a means of answering the great questions of life, a source of answers? As Schopenhauer said, man is a metaphysical animal.
It’s a long way ahead, because philosophy often raises more questions than it gives answers. The philosophical question is endless. As Kierkegaard said, there is no long way, because the long is the way. But to start, we recommend the following books and philosophers:
- On God and Metaphysics:
- The Monadology (Leibniz)
- Thus spoke Zarathustra (Nietzsche)
- Being and Nothingness (Sartre)
- On Morality:
- On Politics:
Take notes of your readings and philosophical activities, whatever they are (newspaper / TV, …), these reading notes will always serve you.
Learn Philosophy: Step 3
Discuss your readings. If people around you are not receptive, several solutions:
– digital forums (leave comments on websites and blogs, post on forums), philosophy lovers will be delighted to enter into dialogue with you
– attend to conferences
Learn Philosophy: Step 4
Reread and discover new themes and new authors. Unlike literature, philosophy is not really read, but rather studied. A text read 10 years ago will call for a different analysis, enriched with your accumulated progress and all your previous readings…