Claude asked:

I am retired and always have had an interest in philosophy, especially the period from Bacon to Kant. How I do I prepare a self-study program and what type of ‘support’ books do I need to read and understand these philosophers?

I have loads of history books (Kenny, Flew, Russell), but I don’t feel I’m getting anywhere (deep enough). I have no problem with difficult fiction, but it seems ‘philosophizing’ is harder, especially alone.

Answer by Jürgen Lawrenz

You’ll need to frame some kind of agenda for yourself before you begin. Random reading is the worst kind; and starting with Flew, Kenny and Russell is tantamount to imposing a handicap on yourself because there is an implicit agenda already in those works that may not work for you.

You have to decide what you seek. Philosophy deals with many issues, and you need to find one that suits your temperament. For example, are you after ‘wisdom literature’? Or after philosophies which deal with the physical world (ontology), with the world of fundamental laws and principles (metaphysics), with human concerns (ethics, politics), with the principles of knowledge (epistemology), art and beauty (aesthetics)?

Another issue is: do you wish to read original texts or secondary works? Authors who write well, as literature? This is not a negligible issue. Apart from a few who are really difficult and obscure (Spinoza, Hegel), most of the important philosophers write well, but some are very dry and others quite lively.

As you can see, in order to profit from reading philosophy, you should make a list of your own desiderata first. Bacon to Kant is not really a guideline: there are at least four altogether different schools of thought in that era. It is better to say, e.g. I’m really interested in what thinkers believed makes the world tick’, and then you could read Aristotle and Bacon, Descartes, Leibniz and Kant in sequence, finding connecting links between them all. So let me encourage you to state your interests in your own words. When you’ve done it, write again and someone will be able to help you better.

Don’t forget in the meantime that Pathways is explicitly geared to people like yourself, and you could do worse than write to Dr Klempner, who might have a course just tailor made for you.