Reading Philosophy
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Reading Philosophy

Selected Texts with a Method for Beginners

Samuel Guttenplan, Jennifer Hornsby, Christopher Janaway, John Schwenkler

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eBook - ePub

Reading Philosophy

Selected Texts with a Method for Beginners

Samuel Guttenplan, Jennifer Hornsby, Christopher Janaway, John Schwenkler

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About This Book

A key introductory philosophy textbook, making use of an innovative, interactivetechnique for reading philosophical texts

Reading Philosophy: Selected Texts with a Method for Beginners, Second Edition, providesa unique approach to reading philosophy, requiringstudentsto engage with material as they read.It contains carefully selectedtexts, commentaries on those texts, and questions for the reader to think about as they read. It serves as starting points forbothclassroom discussion and independent study. The texts cover awide range of topics drawn fromdiverseareas of philosophicalinvestigation, ranging over ethics, metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of mind, aesthetics, andpolitical philosophy.

This edition has been updated and expanded. New chaptersdiscussthe moral significance of friendship and love, the subjective nature of consciousnessandthe ways that science might explore conscious experience. And there are new texts and commentary in chapters on doubt, self and moral dilemmas.

  • Guides readers through the experience of active, engaged philosophical reading
  • Presents significant texts, contextualized for newcomers to philosophy
  • Includeswritings byphilosophersfrom antiquity to thelate 20 th -century
  • Contains commentary that providesthe context and backgroundnecessaryfor discussion and argument
  • Prompts readers to think through specific questionsandto reach their own conclusions

This book is an ideal resource for beginning students in philosophy, as well as for anyone wishing to engage with the subject on their own.

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Introduction to the Problem

A question raised by many philosophers in recent centuries has been: ‘What can I know?’ Other versions of the same basic question might be: ‘What can I be certain of?’ or ‘What cannot be called into doubt?’ If a philosopher thinks we cannot know something – or that we cannot be certain of it, or that it must be called into doubt – then that philosopher is known as a sceptic about that thing. A sceptic is a doubter of something. Scepticism is a view that says that things are in doubt.
A traditional example would be scepticism about whether there is a world of ordinary objects ‘out there’. We usually think that we know there are such objects around us, and that we are not just experiencing the contents of our own minds. A sceptic about ordinary external objects would be someone who argued that we do not know this, that we cannot be certain of this, that this should be called into doubt. The kind of conversation which is the butt of jokes about philosophy, the ‘Can I know there is a glass of water here on the table?’ kind, is a conversation you might have with a sceptic about ordinary external objects.
Often a philosophical writer will use scepticism as a tool, in order to discover just what can be known, or what we can be certain about. Then the aim is to strengthen our confidence in knowledge by challenging it to beat the arguments of a sceptic. The sceptic need not be a real person. Rather, one may simply imagine debating with a person who is determined to show that little or no knowledge is possible.
Debating with an imaginary sceptical opponent is an instance of a common technique used in philosophical writing: the technique of conducting a dialogue. Some philosophers have actually written dialogue between two or more characters, Plato being the unparalleled master of this style. But there can be dialogue in more disguised forms in a piece of writing.
Very frequently a philosopher will make a point, then follow it with ‘But someone might object …’ or ‘Suppose someone were to say …’. An opponent pops up in the text in order that the author can ‘reply’, advancing his or her own case by answering an objection he or she has thought of. A still more disguised form is what we could call the ‘dialogue in a single voice’, an example of which we find in our first passage.

Introduction to Descartes

This short piece is one of the most famous pieces of philosophical writing. There can scarcely be a student of Western philosophy anywhere who has not read and puzzled over the First Meditation, written by the French philosopher René Descartes in 1641.
René Descartes (1596–1650) was one of the greatest thinkers of his day and is often called the father of modern philosophy. He did important work in physics and mathematics, and in philosophy was most influential for his views about the foundations of knowledge, and his distinction between mind (or soul) and body. He was in search of a complete system of knowledge, in which he would prove the existence of God, understand the nature of the human mind, and establish the principles on which the material universe can be studied. The Meditations on First Philosophy was published originally in Latin and in French. It is a masterpiece of compressed argument from the period of Descartes’s mature philosophy.
Descartes gives his First Meditation the title ‘What Can Be Called into Doubt’. He tries here to press doubt to its limit. The basic pattern is this: the author argues that something or other can be doubted, finds a reason for resisting that doubt, then invents a new reason for pushing the doubt further, then finds another reason for resisting, then invents a new reason for doubting. Hence the description ‘dialogue in a single voice’.
Descartes is not a sceptic: he is using a dialogue with scepticism in pursuit of knowledge. But he is trying in the First Meditation to give the sceptical line of thought the strongest argument he can find. The aim is to discover certainty, but to do so only after making doubt as thorough as possible.
There are six Meditations altogether and, although they form a relatively short work, Descartes announced large ambitions in its subtitle: he wanted to demonstrate the existence of God and the distinction between the body and the soul (the distinction known as dualism). But for now the reader should concentrate simply on the selected passage, which consists of the whole of the First Meditation in an English translation.

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Citation styles for Reading Philosophy
APA 6 Citation
Guttenplan, S., Hornsby, J., Janaway, C., & Schwenkler, J. (2021). Reading Philosophy (2nd ed.). Wiley. Retrieved from (Original work published 2021)
Chicago Citation
Guttenplan, Samuel, Jennifer Hornsby, Christopher Janaway, and John Schwenkler. (2021) 2021. Reading Philosophy. 2nd ed. Wiley.
Harvard Citation
Guttenplan, S. et al. (2021) Reading Philosophy. 2nd edn. Wiley. Available at: (Accessed: 15 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Guttenplan, Samuel et al. Reading Philosophy. 2nd ed. Wiley, 2021. Web. 15 Oct. 2022.