top of page

How to Properly Understand a Philosophical Text

(For more on communication, click here)

(As to how to be a philosophy blogger, click here)

The philosophical text often differs from other types of text. If we use a reasoning that does not correlate to a philosophical text, we will end up misunderstanding it. I have often found my own work misunderstood all because of that. This is quite ironic, considering that the intent of the reader is to truly understand what they're reading, correct?

I will divide two main types of philosophical texts and only focus on one of them. This is because the second type requires far more reflection on what one has read. Also, the second type might be more likely to be taken seriously, as wise as it would actually be. Texts of ancient Chinese philosophers are such examples for that. For content that may easily be regarded as nonsense due to its abstract and seemingly-absurd reasoning.

And as such you might not need to write like Confucius in order to pass a philosophy exam, correct? In such instances it is far better for you to be clear and on-point rather than bizarre and mystical-like. After all, philosophy is a complex subject, even if the words themselves are simple when you write them. Why then, unnecessarily complicate your readers' time and energy, when complex understanding is required nonetheless?

A good philosophical text may exist as such regardless of how much it will be misunderstood by an external reader/s. Firstly, it will contain all there is that's needed to be known by the reader, with little to no subtext.

Secondly, the text will require a bit of expertise on the reader's end. For the reader needs to have some understanding of logical fallacies to reduce unnecessary misunderstandings, given that the text takes said fallacies for granted.

Lastly, such text will aim to reduce bias to a minimum. It means that no matter how you disagree with a standpoint that's relevant to your subject, you still need to explain its own rationality. I admit I didn't do it myself and I apologize in advance. Fortunately I may revamp older material every now and then, but I digress.

This is especially true if you're advocating against something. It deserves to be understood as well.

Subtext deserves little to no place in philosophy because it's nonsensical to not include data that deserves to be included within the text. Aim to be understood through subtext, and your actual text will suffer by lacking important points. A competent philosopher is also a good communicator, for philosophy is most often than not done through any form of communication. Articles, videos, doesn't matter. The premise needs to be there, and the argument needs to be as solid as possible, if you want to either convince or contribute to your readers.

Secondly, readers who may not know what the ad hominem fallacy is, might focus on things that do not deserve as much attention, such as the philosopher themselves. Whether or not the philosopher is a snob, arrogant or whatever, is irrelevant. What matters is the text they provide and what can be learned from it.

In my case I may use personal experience. However, I only do so to provide examples to the arguments I provide, from time to time. Whenever I'm mainly writing about myself, take note that the point of it is to apply the reasoning I provide to the general picture. That is, after all, one of the points of giving out examples.

Lastly, focus too much on that which you adore and appreciate, and your text will only end up one-sided. Showing only one side, or mainly a single side, is quite anti-philosophical, given that the point of philosophy is to teach us about reality. A person who uses philosophizing to promote their own agendas, is more of an ideologist than a philosopher. I'm speaking from experience, here.

No writer is necessarily responsible to the misconception of a reader.

When a reader may attribute to me, nonsense that was never even indicated, just because they felt a "subtext" or "tone", they are only misleading themselves. I know what I wrote, and I can refresh my memory whenever needed. Quite frustrating, but true. It seems to me that, in my case, people just don't bother thinking to themselves, that I can simply write instead of give hints and clues. The philosopher does not need to imply, when it's far clearer and obvious to state all that is needed to understand their text for their readership.

If you want to improve your understanding of philosophical texts, including my own, I'd suggest learning about logical fallacies. They are fallacies because they disturb our understanding of the external world. Reduce them to a minimum and your understanding will improve.

Finally, not every philosophical text is good according to the conditions I just gave. However, it does not mean, by itself, that said texts are a waste of our time. Surely some insights can be learned from them, correct? I, regardless, strive to improve the quality of my articles. I may also delete articles that I find too low-quality, which I did before. A less-than-good text would be, for example, one that is too one-sided. Philosophy readers seek to better understand reality, not recieve propaganda.

By the way, any concept that you include that may require more than common knowledge, deserves to be explained. Be it a concrete or abstract idea, it does not matter. Your readers deserve to understand exactly what you're talking about. It's not only for their own good, but of yours as well, if you wish to be taken seriously.

If you talk about a fictional character, for example, add some context. Explain who they are and why they are relevant to your text. In fact, one of my main critiques ot many videos on fictional media, is that it is just accepted that we have the necessary knowledge. The necessary "expertise" of a franchise. It's quite bad and can alienate newcomers to said franchise. Don't just expect everyone to know who Walter White from "Breaking Bad" is, alright?

I hope this article can help both philosophy readers and writers to get the understanding and proficency that they deserve in this niche, and good luck to you all.

95 views0 comments

Tomasio A. Rubinshtein, Philosocom's Founder & Writer

I am a philosopher from Israel, author of several books in 2 languages, and Quora's Top Writer of the year 2018. I'm also a semi-hermit who has decided to dedicate his life to writing and sharing my articles across the globe. Several podcasts on me, as well as a radio interview, have been made since my career as a writer. More information about me can be found here.

צילום מסך 2023-09-14 194035.png
bottom of page