Quora Answer: What’s a good way for a beginner to approach philosophy?

Jul 06 2013

Best way is to start thinking about ultimate questions like What is the Meaning of Life? Why do I exist? What is the Right way to live one’s life? What is significant to me? What do I believe in what has implications for my behavior? Who should rule? There are myriad questions of this sort that are pertinent to one’s life. Pick one and dive in. Then when you get stumped read a book about that question by anyone, not just philosophers, but any book you find of interest on a subject that fascinates you. Then when you finish that book, pick any book referenced that seemed really fascinating, and read that, and just keep doing that until you exhaust your fascination or all good books worth reading. Turns out that there just are not that many really good books and they can be hard to find, but the way to find them is to read other books and see who those authors are reading. All the time while you are reading whatever fascinates you, keep thinking only combine that with thinking about the things the authors you are reading have to say. And when you run into an author you really like read everything of theirs you can get your hands on. Find out who he read, and then the most interesting of those authors pick one that is fascinating, and read everything he has written. In the meantime while you are reading, and thinking, start writing working papers where you write down your own thoughts, and notice that when you do that you will discover things that you can think that you did not even know were possible, so start writing early and often, working papers and make sure that if you have a significant thought to write it down in a journal Then as you are thinking and reading, and writing, start creating syntheses of ideas by drawing diagrams of the relations between your various ideas so you can think about how the concepts related to each other and so you can organize your thoughts before you write even more working papers, and when you get a series of ideas and you think you know how they related to each other, start reading everything you can about those ideas and their relations to each other. Then just for grins go to the library and start reading all the titles sitting on the shelves to see if there is anything you have missed that is out there but is important. When you read a thinker read the original first and then the commentaries. Read lots of commentaries on those thinkers that are important to you. Draw maps of all possible interpretations, including all those that people have actually given to a thinker, and then try to figure out what they have missed. Eventually you will see that although there is a lot written little of it is relevant to anything of interest. And also you will see despite myriad scholars there is a lot that has not been even discussed except by a few that is still interesting and is the frontier of research in whatever discipline you have suggested. Eventually you will find something that everyone missed, and then write a book on it yourself. When you first write that book, you are really just asking the question as to what is happening in your area of research, and what you come up with will raise all sorts of other questions, and so redouble your research until you understand it better, the write another book on it. One of these books could be your Master’s Thesis, another could be your first Ph.D. another could be your second Ph.D.  Basically there is no end to knowledge and the search for it, and fundamentally we are all beginners. Those how think they know are often the most ignorant as Socrates suggests. So never leave off beginning, and you will never go wrong in your intellectual adventure.

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