Secondary philosophy or primary philosophy

VHS

Ad Honorem
Dec 2015
4,174
Brassicaland
#1
Many, if not most, people may not read primary works of philosophy, such as the original works of Hegel, Kant, Bertrand Russell (to me, he was more a popular writer than a philosopher), Karl Marx, or more.
Consequently, we are often dependent on encyclopedia or secondary works.
Open Society and Its Enemies is a good example of "secondary philosophy".
Even for religions, many followers depend on the works of clergies or the monastic orders rather than the primary texts (and most of the time, these works are translated works.)
What renders primary philosophical works inaccessible to the public?
Why are we dependent on others' evaluations?
Note: wikipedia is a tertiary source and should be introductory; however, most of us lack the energy and time to fully investigate most matters.
 

VHS

Ad Honorem
Dec 2015
4,174
Brassicaland
#2
The irony is that most of us find tertiary references convenient, why is this the case?
 
Feb 2011
6,025
#3
Because many secondary sources are written to be convenient so people will buy it.

A lot of primary sources ARE accessible to the public, people just don't read them because they're not exactly page turners. But I recommend reading primary sources because some authors tend to inject their own bias into their works to the point that it makes the primary source sound different than what it's actually saying.
 

Fox

Ad Honorem
Oct 2011
3,834
Korea
#4
The irony is that most of us find tertiary references convenient, why is this the case?
Why would it not be the case? Imagine in a discussion I hear about a particular argument by a particular historic thinker and wish to learn more. One option is to go to the library or book shop and try to find some of their works, committing time and effort to the project. Conversely, I can look them up in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, read a summary of their life, works, and ideas, and then be much better positioned to know whether further investigation is warranted. After all, the set "writers worth reading in detail to any particular person" is going to be a small subset of the set "all writers," so anything which introduces some economy of time and effort regarding such matters is welcome.
 

Chlodio

Ad Honorem
Aug 2016
3,230
Dispargum
#5
It's not just philosophy. All disciplines struggle to find a balance between primary and secondary sources. While secondary sources may contain the author's flawed biases, there's also the advantage of gaining the author's informed opinion of the primary material. Not everything that secondary authors have to say is worthless. If we only read primary sources, all we have is our own opinion of the primary material. Secondary sources give us access to other, perhaps more informed, opinions of the primary material. Of course one should never blindly follow a secondary source. The best approach is to read both the primary and secondary material and form our own opinions based on our evaluations of the cogent arguments presented.

I find that if one asks ten experts the same question, one gets ten different opinions. If one has the time and inclination we get the most satisfying results by studying the material to the point of becoming an expert in our own right. But most of us lack the time and inclination to do so. In most subjects, one must be content to accept the opinions of others. This works in fine in areas that are less important to us. If the subject is so important to us that we are reluctant to accept the opinions of others, then we must become our own experts. As to the OP, 'Why are dependent upon secondary philosophy sources?' It's because most of us lack the time and inclination to become expert philosophers.
 

Linschoten

Ad Honoris
Aug 2010
14,990
Welsh Marches
#6
One needs quite a lot of preparation before one is able to make any sense of, say, Aristotle or Kant in the original, and secondary works can provide that preparation; but most people are never going to make the effort and rely on secondary works without passing any further, which can be better than nothing if they rely of good secondary works, but can be worse than nothing if they rely on bad ones. Also, any philospohical needs to be viewed in its historical context and in terms of the broader of philosophy if it is to be properly understood, and secondary works provide that historical perspective.
 
#7
I'd also add that coming up with creative, original and important ideas is a very different skill to making ideas accessible and understandable to the general public. If I want to learn about general relativity, reading Einstein would be a terrible choice, there are simply better textbooks about that topic written since. This is not a phenomenon limited to the sciences.

The only real reason to read primary sources in philosophy is if you are interested in "What did X say about Y?" rather than "What is Y?"
 
Apr 2012
6,653
Romania
#8
I'd also add that coming up with creative, original and important ideas is a very different skill to making ideas accessible and understandable to the general public. If I want to learn about general relativity, reading Einstein would be a terrible choice, there are simply better textbooks about that topic written since. This is not a phenomenon limited to the sciences.

The only real reason to read primary sources in philosophy is if you are interested in "What did X say about Y?" rather than "What is Y?"
As someone who has spent a lot of years in this domain I tell you that reading X you may get insights about Y which you would have never been able to reach otherwise. And don't trust too much books about X's philosophy in general, because be informed that the vast majority of such books are from poor to worthless, the good ones usually treat only a certain aspect of X's thought and they suppose that the reader is already acquainted with what X actually said.
 
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Apr 2012
6,653
Romania
#9
One needs quite a lot of preparation before one is able to make any sense of, say, Aristotle or Kant in the original, and secondary works can provide that preparation; but most people are never going to make the effort and rely on secondary works without passing any further, which can be better than nothing if they rely of good secondary works, but can be worse than nothing if they rely on bad ones. Also, any philospohical needs to be viewed in its historical context and in terms of the broader of philosophy if it is to be properly understood, and secondary works provide that historical perspective.
To read in original may take a lot of preparation indeed, but there are some good translations with notes and commentaries and lexicons which explain very well the meaning of Aristotle's etc. "technical" vocabulary. From my own experience I tell you that most "non-technical" secondary works, more so those that claim to cover Aristotle's etc. entire philosophy, present their subject in a caricatural or even distorted manner (disregarding if they are biased or non-biased, a lot of them being biased in a way or another). Re: the historical context, I would rather recommend a good history of philosophy focused on a certain period.
 
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