The philosopher Socrates about to take poison hemlock as ordered by the court...
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by Scott Hughes
One could define philosophy as the general inquiry of the fundamental nature of existence, knowledge, morality, beauty, and all aspects of being, value, and quality. Philosophy uses contemplative theorizing rather than hands-on experimentation. This introduction to philosophy will help you on your way, but cannot replace actual philosophizing.
Since philosophy addresses the most fundamental aspects of being, life, and the universe, you already have enough knowledge to participate. In other words, simply living your life acts as an introduction to philosophy.
Other subjects often require some specialized background knowledge. For example, you probably could not understand many engineering books without a background in engineering. In another example, reading a book about the finer points of interoffice management would not do much unless you had a business degree. In contrast, philosophy addresses questions about that which you already have experienced. With simply life experience and an ability to read, you can pick up a book by John Locke, Descartes, or Aristotle.
The best introduction to philosophy may consist of simply reading a few philosophy books by some philosophers in which they express their philosophy. Some of the following common philosophers' books may interest you:
Of course, you can also find books about philosophy. However, such books do not actually contain philosophy. They contain plain facts relating to philosophy, such as the date of Socrates's birthday. If you want to start by learning background information about certain philosophy or philosophy itself, then go ahead, but remember that a full introduction to philosophy must involve actual philosophy. After you get finished reading books about philosophy, go get some books of philosophy.
When reading philosophy you want to remember a few differences between philosophical writing and other writing. Philosophy texts address very abstract and theoretical issues in an intricate and contemplative manner. For that reason, you want to read slower and spend more time thinking about and absorbing what you read. You may have to reread certain passages to fully understand what the author wants to convey. This will happen not only during your introduction to philosophy, but also as a veteran reader of philosophy. It takes much more to comprehend a philosophical passage than to understand a sentence that merely wants to get across a quick and simply fact.
Do not get discouraged if you feel a little intimidated or overwhelmed at first. Just remember that the philosopher himself intends to address that which he himself finds hard to understand. Philosophy addresses those hard-to-answer questions or even impossible to answer questions. Do not focus on getting the answer, but rather enjoy the inquisition itself. In fact, the words 'philosophy' refers to the inquisition itself.
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