How to study philosophy

Enough of why?! Since I’ve now made the decision to embark more wholeheartedly on this journey of philosophical inquiry, it’s the how of studying philosophy that becomes important. I’m aware that previously my reading has remained as just that, reading. This no longer cuts the mustard, I need some strategies for getting more out of the time I invest in reading philosophical texts. Here are some ideas.

How to study philosophy – ideas


Bob on answerbag says

read what you are drawn to, vascillate, keep a diary, discuss your readings and observations with smart philosophers even via internet.

Pathways School of Philosophy

The Pathways School of Philosophy, headed up by Dr Geoffrey Klemper, has a rich vein to mine in this respect. The Philosophy: how to do it series aims at providing people with a philosophical toolkit. The index page is here; below are some extracts.

From Can philosophy be taught? (4) and (5)

Philosophy starts with radical wonderment about the Being of the universe; it starts with the problems of philosophy; it starts with the self. Whichever base you take as your launching point, you will eventually cover all three.

Philosophy, I have discovered, is all about dialogue, the dialogue that seeks to build a bridge between one subjectivity, one ‘I exist’ and another.

From What is thinking?

How does one acquire the skills of the philosopher? If you are a distance learning student, how do you get to practice and improve your skills? As a Pathways mentor this is a question I take seriously.

‘It’s not enough to read,’ I tell my students, ‘you have to write, you have to go through the struggle of attempting to express your thoughts and then the further struggle of seeing what you have written objectively, so that you can criticise it. You have to learn to argue with yourself.’

On reading philosophical texts, check out the pathways guide (3) – philosophy is an art.

The most important intellectual attribute of a philosopher is not the ability to follow long chains of argument (that’s something you learn, the same way you can learn to improve your memory), but the capacity for judgement: the judgement that sees that a particular line is not worth pursuing; that an argument is unsound even though it’s premisses and logic are impeccable; that knows which questions are worth asking; that knows when to wield the analytical knife and when to leave well enough alone. (Pirsig is good on this last point.)

In Socrates’ Wake

In Socrates’ Wake have this list of eight study methods that work (via Latent Christianity). here are the suggestions (without explanatory text)

  • Generate (and try to answer) your own questions about the material.
  • Create visuals representing what you read.
  • Summarize the information you want to learn.
  • Annotate the assigned readings.
  • Reconstruct arguments, differentiating conclusions from premises.
  • Chart the contrasts amongst positions by cataloging differences among arguments’ premises and conclusions.
  • Put positions in conversation with each other.
  • When studying a particular argument, summarize the argument, come up with an objection that might be raised against the argument, and suggest a way that the argument’s author might respond to that objection.


A whole raft of how to bits to explore are kept at How to Study Philosophy: tips, hints, and resources on the MCLA website covering

  • Studying Philosophy
  • Reading Philosophy
  • Writing Philosophy
  • Researching Philosoph
  • Discussing Philosophy

About Christopher J
I teach English, make digital images, write and encourage others. I believe.

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