Notes on readings as an "all you can eat buffet"

William Jamison - Instructor

Narratives are easy. Technical documents are hard. Read Harry Potter once and you remember the story. Read a technical document over and over again and it might still be difficult, or even impossible, to recall. (See how this ties in with my TC quiz.) For the most part, the main texts in the philosophical corpus are technical documents instead of narratives. Some technical documents are not meant to be read from start to finish, such as telephone books, dictionaries, or encyclopedias. Most of the philosophy texts used in academic courses are meant to be read from start to finish in order to follow a linear argument. They also tend to present complex arguments. As a result, they read slowly and can be difficult to understand. The vocabulary is also often used in a way that is different than the reader may normally use it. Quite often, the vocabulary is new and the document may seem like a foreign language instead of English.

Despite this, the assignments include long readings that are difficult and seem like a foreign language! Please do not panic. Do not expect to read these texts as you might a narrative, or technical document with a vocabulary with which you are already familiar. These reading assignments are to familiarize students with the texts that will be referred to in the lectures. You may find yourself only reading several pages in depth and glancing over the rest to get a sense of the general argument.

Realize also that for most of the assignments there is a divergence of opinion on correct interpretations. The complexity involved in even the simplest of the readings is more than could be adequately handled in an entire seminar on the subject! So read them with an intention to enjoy them and not feel they have to be understood as clearly as you might like or the principles presented in them readily recalled. But also read them with the realization that they include some of the most profound thoughts in Western history.

In general my view of the point of education is volume! The more you read, the more you think, the more you speak and engage others using the vocabulary the more you learn, so the main way I evaluate progress is volume of written words. But with all of the media available we are also faced with a really significant question: how do you prioritize and select quality media and ignore the crap?


This page is maintained by William S. Jamison. It was last updated July 11, 2016. All links on these pages are either to open source or public domain materials or they are marked with the appropriate copyright information. I frequently check the links I have made to other web sites but each source is responsible for their own content.