philosophy as practical and potentially liberating. Why? Most of our
foundational beliefs have simply been absorbed from our parents, our peers, and our
culture generally. To the extent that we have not considered them critically, in
relation to alternative views, we haven't really adopted or chosen them; we just find
ourselves with them. Critical reflection, even if it changes none of our most basic
beliefs, can make them more truly our own. (And of course we may find that in fact
some of them do change.)
College years as a good time to engage in this sort of critical reflection. Life
goes by awfully fast; there may well be no better time than the present to seriously
ponder your most basic beliefs.
Need to read slowly and aggressively. This involves conducting a kind of
dialogue with the author of the text you are reading: continually asking questions
about what the author means and how the author's views are argued for in the piece.
P&B's example of reading the beginning of Descartes's Meditations gives a
good example of what this is like. It is very important here to note that philosophy
needs to be read not just for a general sense of where the author is coming from.
Instead, we need to do at least the following.
try to determine exactly what the author's theses are (by constantly asking questions
about what the text means and what its implications are, and then trying to answer these
questions by studying the text further).
Determine what the author's arguments for his or her position are: what reasons
are offered to try to convince us of the truth of this position? More specifically,
what are the premisses from which the conclusion is supposed to follow? Why is it
supposed to follow from them?
Evaluate the arguments offered. This involves at least two things: (a) determining
whether the arguments are valid, i.e. whether, if the premisses are true, the
conclusion must be true as well; and (b) determining whether the premisses are true.
(If an argument is valid and its premisses are true, the argument is said to be sound.)
Important skills to acquire:
analyzing statements and arguments
imagining alternatives to familiar views and situations (try to think of counterexamples
to general claims, but also try to see why someone might accept a view that seems strange
state things "explicitly, clearly, and succinctly"