How to Read a Philosophy Text
(or How to read a text philosophically)
1. Read the text. Assume it is significant and coherent.
- Remember the components of critical thinking: Identify basic issues; clarify meanings; uncover assumptions; consider alternative points of view; evaluate arguments, reasons and criteria; draw warranted conclusions and make connections.
2. Identify key passages.
- Collect passages that have a common theme, idea, or term.
Use a marking technique. (Practice using the critical thinking abbreviations.)
- Be aware of and record your questions and disagreements. Note your judgments
that get in the way of allowing the text to speak, then set them aside.
3. Figure out what the key passages mean and how they fit together.
4. Ask "What question is the author trying to answer?"
- Use what you know of other philosophers.
- Note terminology (the special vocabulary of ideas) and important definitions.
5. Figure out the author's answer to the question.
- Find the linkage (reasons, method) connecting question and answer.
- Write a brief summary of the main ideas of the text.
7. Test your interpretation for:
- Clarity: Does it make sense on its own?
- Plausibility: Does it illuminate the key passages? Do any key passages not fit it?
- Coherence: Does it do justice to text as a whole?
8. Digest what is significant about the key ideas of the text.
- Make clear and forceful what is philosophically significant. Make connections to other philosophers, issues, ideas or aspects of your life. Raise questions about the author's question, method or answer.
9. Write a summary of the problem areas in the text or in your interpretation of it.