I am an English and Economics student but I’m incredibly interested in
philosophy. What is a good, easy place to start when beginning my
Answer by Geoffrey Klempner
There was a time — I am embarrassed to say — when I would have scoffed at the notion that there can be an ‘easy’ way to get into philosophy. The whole point about philosophy and its value is that it is difficult and not just some amusing pastime.
But I get it. I admit that I have on occasion resorted to reading easy introductions to certain philosophers in preference to their own original texts because I was working hard on other things in philosophy and needed some processed snacks to keep me going. For you, your university studies must take precedence. Of course.
Then again, we all know about the harm that processed snacks can do to your health. Difficult as he is, it is better to read what Hegel says about Hegel — for example in his ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’ or ‘Greater Logic’, or in their more condensed versions in his ‘Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences’ — than some academic commentator’s more or less conjectural or bastardized account.
Pursuing the food analogy, you need to keep your philosophical digestion in good working order. That can never happen if you look for all your thinking to be done for you. Your ‘interest’, if it is genuine, must involve willingness to take on hard work and a challenge — with the implication that you will inevitably come up against your own intellectual shortcomings. (‘A man’s got to know his limits,’ as Clint Eastwood’s ‘Dirty Harry’ character observes.)
When I set out to write my six Pathways to Philosophy back in 1995, I had the idea to write a different kind of ‘introduction’, one that required persistence to make any progress, but also rewarded the student at each stage of the course. After every three chapters there were six test questions to write essays on. Students who enrolled on the program received tutor feedback.
That program has now ended but the six texts are available in book form:
The Possible World Machine
Searching for the Soul
The First Philosophers
Language and the World
Reason, Values and Conduct
The Ultimate Nature of Things
I have written enough about these over the years so I am not going to add more here. Look for yourself. Like all my books, they are available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle eBook.
More recently, in my ‘Philosophizer’ trilogy (Philosophizer, Philosophizer’s Bible, The Idiotic Conundrum’) I have grappled with the question of what it is to be ‘interested’ in the questions of philosophy. How far down does this interest go?
My answer is: All the way or not at all. My view is black-and-white, while the answer you would get from most academic philosophers is some shade of grey. In my austere view, the ultimate questions of philosophy have never been solved and you or I are unlikely to solve them. Which is no reason to give up on the attempt.
It’s a paradox, of sorts. What exactly is it, that I am attempting to do — given my belief that such ‘attempts’ cannot ultimately succeed? The best answer I can give is that all this — the answers posted here, for example — is ‘testifying’, saying how things are from where I stand, here and now.
Don’t take my word for it. Decide for yourself. The Pathways Introductory Book List is a good place to start. You will need to read a lot before you have any sense of what you are looking for, or what kinds of philosophical texts are best suited to your intellectual appetite.