This is a big issue for many. Getting on the same wavelength, or, catching onto the flow in dialectic, of philosophers when reading their famous works, oftentimes escapes us.

I have already stated that Confucianism, and in particular The Analects, written by Confucianism, is a good start to reading philosophy.

This is because a lot of the knowledge is dense but accessible. This means that it doesn’t take five pages to make a point, and that much of the work is composed of proverbs.

According to Collins Dictionary, proverbs are “short sentence[s] that people often quote, because it gives advice or tells you something about life”. In short, they’re famous quotes.

What might this below proverb mean?

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Here’s another one, which draws on the social sciences

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Here’s one last one, from the amazing mind, body and spirit of Bruce Lee

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It may also help to read what others, more legible writers, say about a particular philosophy for the sake of clarity. Yet, even if the difference is small, one is bound to disagree with an outside interpretation upon reading the individual work.

Part of why philosophy is difficult is that a lot of it is centuries old, or even older, when speech was different.

Another reason might be in translating it to English.

In short, try reading your chosen work not from the viewpoint of an academic. This means that there’s no specific:

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Methods
  • Conclusions
  • Discussion
  • Conclusion
  • …And occasionally seemingly without any order
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  • A great example is in contrasting two works of the famous German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.
    • We have The Birth of Tragedy from 1972, while he was a professor of classical philology, working at the University of Basel (at a remarkable 27 years of age). It reads like an academic work.
    • But he’s not remembered for the work.
    • He’s remembered for his stance against academia, laid out with many other groundbreaking thoughts his works completed in the 1880’s, such as Beyond Good and Evil (1886) and On the Genealogy of Morality (1887).

Importantly: not every word, or sentence, will make sense. And many of them are irrelevant. One great thing about this is, though, that others will find meaning in passages that you don’t, and vice-versa, so that people have varying opinions of what is said.

  • Let’s bring Nietzsche back here again.
  • Both I and my philosophy professor had read the major works of Nietzsche.
  • I stated that he wasn’t antisemitic, as he stated that Jews are “geniuses” and “cast in bronze”.
  • My professor stated that he was antisemitic because of his hatred of Christianity, which was a religious offshoot of Judaism.
  • I would say that Nietzsche, overall, didn’t like people.
    • He yearned for a ubermench, or, super-man.
    • Not to mention that Christianity in the late 19th century was worlds away from Judaism.
    • Also, in the paradigm master-slave switch, he preferred how things were beforehand, which snugly fits in Jewish canonical literature.

But, it’s okay that we had different interpretations, even preferable. My main point here is that philosophy can be read in a myriad of ways, and to be skeptical about interpretations of philosophy unless it’s done as a prelude to reading the actual text.

Here’s an example of a guide to philosophy:

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Nietzsche, among all his intriguing thought, stated one of my favorite proverbs

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The most inclusive manner to read philosophy is as if you’re reading one’s journal, or, are being told when you’re reading in real-time by the author. Persistent readers will be able to catch on to the writing style.

It takes practice. Try to focus on, and capture ideas that sprout out. Then, tell them to another person in your own words. This will help you both grasp and remember what you read.

Also, leave yourself room for not agreeing with what you read. Just because a famous and popular philosopher doesn’t hold the same viewpoint as yourself, don’t disregard your own beliefs without genuine reason! It may serve here to write down quotes that you found particularly insightful, in order to solidify your viewpoint.