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Commentary on "The Defence of the Indians"

Reading to Understand

This particular reading is interesting and not overly difficult. Nonetheless there are lessons to be learned from it about how philosophers read texts, and also about the material we are studying. One might think of reading as simply a process of running one's eyes over a series of pages. But one can do this without understanding much of what one has read! Some people read by picking out the parts of what they are reading which they agree with and ignore the rest. They may take a highlighter and mark just those passages they agree with! If you read this way, it is hard to learn anything new, and it makes it hard to grasp what the person you are reading is really saying. You are, after all doing some serious editing! Philosophers tend to read analytically. That is, they break up the reading as a whole into its constituent parts and try to figure out how those parts fit together. What are the parts? Well, one way is to note that as philosophers we are particularly interested in the reasoning process which is going on in any particular text. What are the parts of a reaoning process? One way of getting at this is to look at Writing Philosophy Papers: A Student Guide If you look at the Table of Contents under "Basic Skills in Writing Philosophy" you will see such topics as identifying problems, defining concepts, analyzing arguments, giving examples, testing hypotheses and so on. Problems, definitions, arguments, examples, and hypotheses may all count as parts of the reasoning process going on in a text. What these parts are in this particular reading you will see as we go along.


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