Analytic philosophy is a rather difficult subject for most people, especially since (in the United States anyway) their first introduction to it isn’t until college. I realize I’ve not done much on this site to ameliorate that: my summaries presuppose a certain basic understanding of the subject at hand, and I haven’t even attempted to write any ‘here is what philosophy is all about’ articles. In this post I’ll detail a series of steps that will ensure understanding and, in time, enjoyment (the enjoyment doesn’t necessarily come straight away if the confusion is too great to begin with, but you’d better believe it comes in time!).
The steps are really rather basic:
1. Get a hold of top-notch introductory texts for each sub-field of philosophy and read them. I think it makes sense to read introductions for the whole lot of sub-fields rather than an overly broad, ‘what is philosophy’ text because I think seeing philosophy in action is the best way to understand it rather than having someone else tell you what it’s all about. Here are my top choices for each sub-field (contact me if you’d like assistance, uh, ‘getting a hold of’ digital copies of these texts):
- Problems of Knowledge: A Critical Introduction to Epistemology by Michael Williams
- An Introduction to the Theory of Knowledge (Cambridge Introductions to Philosophy) by Noah Lemos
- The Fundamentals of Ethics by Russ-Shafer Landau
- An Introduction to Metaphysics (Cambridge Introductions to Philosophy) by John Carrol and Ned Markosian
- A Survey of Metaphysics by E.J. Lowe
Philosophy of Biology
- Philosophy of Biology: A Contemporary Introduction by Alex Rosenberg and Daniel McShea
Philosophy of Cognitive Science
- Philosophy of Psychology: A Contemporary Introduction by Jose Bermudez
- Mindware: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Cognitive Science by Andy Clark
Philosophy of Language
- Philosophy of Language: A Contemporary Introduction by William Lycan
Philosophy of Logic
- You’ll almost certainly need a course in symbolic logic to genuinely grasp this stuff.
- Logic and Philosophy: A Modern Introduction by Alan Hausman et al.
Philosophy of Mathematics
- This tends to be a rarified subject concerned primarily with technical problems within mathematics and thus isn’t of concern for most of us. Issues pertaining to more general philosophical concerns — e.g., the ontological status of numbers — are already discussed in other sub-fields.
Philosophy of Mind
- Philosophy of Mind by Jaegwon Kim
- Philosophy of Mind: An Overview for Cognitive Science by William Bechtel
Philosophy of Science
- Philosophy of Science: An Overview for Cognitive Science by William Bechtel
- Theory and Reality: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science by Peter Godfrey-Smith
- Philosophy of Science: A Contemporary Introduction by Alex Rosenberg
2. Begin reading the canonical texts — journal articles, mostly — and practice your summarizing/critical evaluation skills. You simply must begin to write philosophically as well as read such material if you ever plan to be genuinely competent. You can use my summaries as a model or develop your own methods (some people like to paraphrase rather than summarize, for example).
3. Get a little book on different methods for writing philosophy. This is a popular text and ought to do you right, especially since it also covers arguments, which are the bread and butter of analytic philosophy (there’s a reason my summaries include a section that reconstructs the argument(s) of the article!).
4. Take a course or two. A classroom introduction to philosophy will be a big help for most people who want to understand more of the subject, though I don’t think it’s as necessary as some suppose (once my intro course turned me on to the subject most of the learning occurred independently of the course). Another course that is actually very important is an introductory course in symbolic logic, since so much of analytic philosophy has been bound up with logic these last 120 years or so.
4. Contact me at npapadakis0 @ gmail.com with questions!