Coevolving Innovations

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Philosophers squashed, discussed and read

Posted on November 28, 2007 by daviding

When I can’t figure out where an author “is coming from”, I look at the list of references. Sometimes, this leads to philosophy. The best way to learn philosophy is a slow path of discussion in a seminars. For people with less time, I’ve discovered the web version of Glyn Hughes’ Squashed Philosophers books.

Is this a reasonable way to read philosophy? Hughes comments:

Philosophers are generally appallingly bad writers and you’re after ideas, not precise words.

Hughes suggests that you might be able to pass an exam by reading Squashed Philosophers, although for Squashed Divines and Squashed Writers, you would really need to access the original texts.

In addition, the original texts of many philosophers are translations, and there are often multiple translations from which to choose.

Clausewitz’s On War — which I’ve never really considered as a philosophical work — was written in 1830 in German. The 1873 translation into English by J. J. Graham is available on Project Gutenberg and on clausewitz.com . Christopher Bassford compares the various versions, highlighting that translators have their own philosophical foundations. Hughes re-edited the 1908 F. N. Maude version, saying that it was less than 1/10th the length of Graham’s version.

Business readers may also be interested in the Squashed Philosopher‘s version of Machiavelli’s The Prince, published 1520 — in Italian, if not Latin! Hughes used the 1908 W. K. Marriott translation (also available on Project Gutenberg and at the Constitution Society), with reference to commentary by Edward Dacre in 1640.

Another less painful way of reading philosophy is the illustrated (comic book version), as the Introducing … series by Icon Books. When my sons were all under 16 years of age, I brought home a copy of Introducing Heidegger, which they all read. This led to some really interesting dinnertime conversations.

As my eyes get worse, I’m reading less, and have taken to listening to audio. Back in 2001, I learned a lot about Heidegger by listening to recordings of Hubert Dreyfus’ Phil 185 class at Berkeley. Six years ago, it was revolutionary to have digital audio on the Internet. I see that the infrastructure at Berkeley has now caught up, and MP3 audio for the Fall 2007 classes is downloadable from webcast.berkeley.edu. I don’t claim to have ever read Being and Time, but I’m generally in line with Dreyfus’ reading of Heidegger.

While discussion is best, I also see that an recording of someone reading Machiavelli’s The Prince is available on the Librivox collection of the Internet Archive. There doesn’t seem to be version of On War for Librivox, which suggested that the Squashed version may be the best alternative.

I used to listen to Dreyfus’ classes while grocery shopping … but I’ve given that task to Diana in recent years. I’m not only behind in my reading, but also my listening!

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