Cover: Reading Philosophy, Second Edition by Samuel Guttenplan, Jennifer Hornsby, Christopher Janaway and John Schwenkler

Reading Philosophy

Reading Philosophy is a series of textbooks offering interactive commentaries on selected readings, and covering the major sub-disciplines of the field. Each volume contains a number of topical chapters each containing primary readings, accompanied by an introduction to the topic, introductions to the readings as well as the commentary. Edited by leading scholars, the aim of the books is to encourage the practice of philosophy in the process of engagement with philosophical texts.

Reading Philosophy, First Edition
Samuel Guttenplan, Jennifer Hornsby and Christopher Janaway

Reading Philosophy of Language
Jennifer Hornsby and Guy Longworth

Reading Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art
Christopher Janaway

Reading Epistemology
Sven Bernecker

Reading Metaphysics
Helen Beebee and Julian Dodd

Reading Ethics
Miranda Fricker and Samuel Guttenplan

Reading Philosophy of Religion
Graham Oppy and Michael Scott

Reading Philosophy

Selected Texts with a Method for Beginners

Second Edition

Samuel Guttenplan
Jennifer Hornsby
Christopher Janaway
John Schwenkler

Logo: Wiley

Preface to the First Edition

Philosophy is intriguing even to those who know little of it. But the sort of philosophy studied at universities is difficult to enter into on one’s own. The reactions we had to a previous, shorter version of the present material convinced us that we had hit upon a particularly useful way of taking people into the subject – one that preserves what is most fascinating about it while facilitating serious study. We became convinced that there would be a wider audience for a book with these aims.

Reading Philosophy will have appeal both to those beginning their study of philosophy at a conventional university and to those who want to engage with the subject on their own. Unlike introductory books which confine themselves to telling you about the subject, this one requires you to do philosophy. We think that its direct approach makes the book valuable for both students and other readers. It can be used as the set reading in seminars in introductory courses: it is based on material that has served this purpose at our own Birkbeck College. But the book is also suitable for individuals working without a teacher. Whoever uses it will be well prepared for further study in philosophy, and, we hope, will be encouraged to pursue it.


Preface to the Second Edition

Philosophy is intriguing even to those who know little of it. But the sort of philosophy studied at universities is difficult to enter into on one’s own. Reading Philosophy was designed to overcome this difficulty. It is a book for those who want genuinely to engage with the subject, either on their own or in the context of taught introductory courses.

Reading Philosophy has a history. In the 1990s, Guttenplan, Hornsby, and Janaway all taught at Birkbeck, University of London, and compiled an unpublished version of some of the present material. Students’ reactions convinced us that we had hit upon a particularly useful way of taking people into the subject – one that preserves what is most fascinating about it while facilitating serious study. Certain that there would be a wider audience for such a book, we added some material for the publication of the 2003 edition of Reading Philosophy. It has been well received by both students and teachers. After our experience at Birkbeck, this didn’t surprise us. Unlike introductory books which confine themselves to telling you about the subject, this one requires you to do philosophy. We think that its direct approach makes the book valuable for both students and other readers.

When Wiley‐Blackwell suggested a second edition, we decided to add chapters so as to expand the range of topics while retaining the book’s innovative character. It was at this point that John Schwenkler joined the project. John’s experience of using the book in a course he taught led him to make suggestions for an additional reading in Chapter 1, as well as suggestions for revising several other chapters. He also compiled two new chapters. This expanded second edition still serves our original aims: to introduce students to philosophy while preparing them for further study, and to make it possible for those studying on their own to appreciate the richness of our subject.

SG, JH, CJ, and JS

Sources and Acknowledgements

The publisher gratefully acknowledges the following for permission to reproduce copyright material.

  1. Anscombe, G. E. M., ‘Causality and Determination’, from an inaugural lecture published by Cambridge University Press in 1971, reprinted by permission of the publishers and author.
  2. Boyle, Robert, ‘The Origin of Forms and Qualities’ from Selected Philosophical Papers of Robert Boyle , ed. M. A. Stewart (Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1979).
  3. Churchland, Patricia S., ‘The Hornswoggle Problem’, from Journal of Consciousness Studies , 3 (1996), pp. 402–8.
  4. Descartes, René, ‘Meditations’ from Descartes: Meditations on First Philosophy: with Selections from Objections and Replies , trans. John Cottingham (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1987).
  5. Feagin, Susan L., ‘The Pleasures of Tragedy’ from American Philosophical Quarterly , 20 (1983), pp. 95–104.
  6. Foot, Philippa, ‘Moral Dilemmas Revisited’, from Moral Dilemmas and Other Topics in Moral Philosophy (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2002), pp. 175–80.
  7. Lemmon, E. J., ‘Moral Dilemmas’, Philosophical Review , 71 (1962), pp. 139–58, copyright 1962 Cornell University. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.
  8. Moore, G. E., ‘Proof of an External World’, from Proceedings of the British Academy , 25 (1939), pp. 273–300.
  9. Nagel, Thomas, ‘What Is it Like to Be a Bat?’, from The Philosophical Review , 83 (1974), pp. 435–50.
  10. Nozick, Robert, Anarchy, State and Utopia (Basic Books, New York, 1977).
  11. Nussbaum, Martha C., ‘The Costs of Tragedy: Some Limits of the Cost–Benefit Analysis’, from Journal of Legal Studies , XXIX (2000), pp. 1005–19.
  12. Ryle, Gilbert, ‘Descartes’ Myth’, from The Concept of Mind (Hutchinson, London, 1949), pp. 11–24.
  13. Schopenhauer, Arthur, Prize Essay on the Freedom of the Will , ed. Günter Zöller, trans. F. J. Payne (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1999).
  14. Stroud, Sarah, ‘Epistemic Partiality in Friendship’, from Ethics , 116 (2006), pp. 498–524.
  15. Williams, Bernard, ‘The Idea of Equality’ from Problems of the Self (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1973), copyright Bernard Williams .
  16. Williams, Bernard, ‘The Self and Its Future’ from Problems of the Self (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1973), copyright Bernard Williams.
  17. Wolf, Susan, ‘Asymmetrical Freedom’, from Journal of Philosophy , vol. 77, no. 3 (1980), pp. 151–66.

Every effort has been made to trace all the copyright holders, but if any has been inadvertently overlooked, the publishers will be pleased to make the necessary arrangement at the first opportunity.

Primary Sources

  1. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, trans. W. D. Ross.
  2. Berkeley, George, Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous (1713).
  3. Berkeley, George, A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge (1710).
  4. Hume, David, A Treatise of Human Nature, Book I: Of the Understanding (1739–40).
  5. Hume, David, ‘Of Tragedy’ (1757).
  6. Locke, John, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690).


Central to the study of philosophy are certain persistent, sometimes elusive, and always puzzling questions. Anyone who thinks at all is likely to have reflected on at least some of the following: the contingency of our birth and the inevitability of death; the nature of consciousness; our propensity to find moral value in various kinds of action and character; our tendency to create political and social institutions; our sense of choosing freely; our appreciation of those objects we classify as art; our capacity to construe sounds and marks as meaningful, communicatively useful elements in languages. Reflection on such aspects of human existence leads to many questions. How much can we really know? Does human life have a purpose? Is the world essentially material? What is value? Can we define art and beauty? Should some people be more important to us than others? Do we owe special kinds of obligation to societies or governments? What is human freedom? How can sounds possess meaning? These are a small sample of the sort of questions characteristic of philosophy.

It is one thing to be puzzled, another to formulate clear questions which both capture the puzzlement and are precise enough to offer hope of resolution. Throughout the recorded history of human reflection, enormous effort and intelligence have been devoted to sharpening and answering such questions – in the attempt, one might say, to reduce the giddying wonder of it all. Some of these efforts have produced large‐scale theories about human life and knowledge, some have been devoted only to quite specific issues. And attempts to answer questions have generated new questions.

The consideration of philosophical questions has produced a written record going back more than twenty‐five hundred years, which has contributors from every age and culture. With a little imagination, one can conceive these contributors as participants in an enormously complex polyglot conversation. Think of those now joining this discussion – a position that you might well be in. What is the likelihood of being able to pick up its thread without some kind of guidance? ‘Close to nil’ would seem to be the answer. It is difficult enough to pick up the thread even of ordinary conversations that have been going on for some time in your absence.

Of course, it is fanciful to think of the whole of philosophy as literally a conversation. Many of the supposed participants know nothing of one another, and do not even speak or read one another’s languages. And different participants have been occupied with different questions. It might be more realistic to think of philosophy as made up of a great number of more circumscribed conversations, in which the participants have actually communicated, directly or indirectly. There would then be a range of discussions to join. But the point would remain: newcomers to each discussion need some guidance.

Participants in philosophy’s conversations will constantly assess the answers others offer to questions, and refine the questions asked. Ideas proposed and conclusions reached are not the property of any one participant. The project is a shared one and has truth as the common goal. Moreover, in order to persuade one another that genuine questions receive true answers, participants will at least implicitly have to agree on what counts as a good argument. This means that the conversations of philosophy have the form of reasoned debates with a logical structure.

The image of philosophy as a conversation of this kind makes a further useful point. Joining in a reasoned debate requires more of you than simply knowing what others have said: you must be prepared to contribute something of your own. You count as having joined in this or that stretch of philosophical discussion only if you participate actively.

Reading Philosophy is designed not only to help you pick up some threads, but also to encourage you to find your own voice. It is a book for beginners – for those newly joining in philosophical conversations. There is nothing special that we expect readers to know before coming to the book: all we assume is some interest in the subject. The book is distinctive in that it teaches you a technique for reading and analysing philosophical texts, and gives you the opportunity to practise and refine the technique as you go. From the start you will be learning actively, and acquiring the skills which experienced philosophers use in reading and in generating thoughts in response to those texts.

You might wonder why there would be any question about how to read philosophy. Unless it contains technical jargon (which we have tried to keep to a minimum here), a page of philosophical writing usually looks like ordinary prose. If you can read a newspaper article or a short story, surely you can read philosophy too? The answer is that you can, but you will most likely need some practice before you can get the most out of it. One way to acquire such practice might be to read and keep reading and hope that you will gradually see how philosophers go about their work. Many introductions take that approach, and it can be effective. But our aim is to instruct you from the start on how to read philosophy well. This is why we have included interactive commentaries in this book.

By using our commentaries, you will be able to reflect on the process of your own reading and, we hope, acquire some of the basic skills of philosophy more quickly and in a more structured manner. Structure is everything in reading philosophy. A piece of philosophy is never a mere list of points. As you read and take notes, you should always be making connections between premises and conclusions. (An author’s premises are the assumptions on which his or her reasoning is based. The conclusion of a piece of reasoning is its endpoint or destination – a destination which the author intends you to reach from the premises.) We try to help you to make such connections. We involve you actively in reading, by making explicit what sort of questions you should be asking, and where to look in the texts for answers.

The texts in this book provide samples of high‐quality philosophical writing spread over eleven philosophical topics. Our selection has been made so that:

  1. Each text presents a clear, well‐argued answer to a central philosophical question.
  2. They are accessible to the beginner without being over‐simple. None of the pieces was originally written to be introductory – they all take you straight into serious philosophical work ‘at the deep end’ – but in most cases we have edited them with an eye to the needs of the newcomer to philosophy.
  3. Each text gives the reader plenty of scope for discussion and argument.
  4. Taken together, they cover a wide range of topics drawn from different areas of philosophical enquiry: ethics, philosophy of mind, aesthetics, political philosophy, metaphysics, and epistemology (or theory of knowledge).
  5. They acquaint the reader with philosophical writings from different historical periods. Philosophy is a subject in which there is no prejudice concerning the age in which something was written. Many of the texts in this book are taken from twentieth‐century work; but also represented are ancient philosophy (Aristotle), the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (Boyle, Locke, Berkeley, Hume), the nineteenth century (Schopenhauer), and the present century.

As currently practised, philosophy has much greater diversity than could be represented in a single book. We believe that the historical range of Reading Philosophy gives a rich sense of what philosophy is, and prepares the reader well for different approaches to the subject. Most of the writers we have selected might be described as belonging to a tradition of analytical philosophy. Analytical philosophy started as a movement concerned with specific issues in logic and the sciences, and it has probably been the dominant approach to the subject in the English‐speaking world since the early twentieth century. But the recent writers we have chosen are analytical philosophers only in a very broad sense: they attach especial importance to argument and clarity of expression and try to avoid dogmatic pronouncements. In this respect you should find the texts by analytical philosophers little different from those by earlier philosophers such as Descartes, Hume, or Schopenhauer. So while it is fair to say that we concentrate on a certain style of reading philosophy, the skill we want you to acquire should enable you to read any philosophical material with greater confidence and fulfilment.

A chapter in the book has the following pattern:

  1. A general introduction to the problem.
  2. The first text, with arrow markers, preceded by a brief introduction and followed by an interactive commentary using the text’s arrow markers.
  3. A second and sometimes also a third text, presented in the same way.

Our system of arrow markers – image, image, and so on – will enable you to link our commentaries with detailed portions of the relevant text. The texts include the markers clearly in the margin, and commentaries invite you to study selected parts of a text rather than skimming through the whole.

We envisage the reader using a chapter in something like the following way. Start with the chapter’s introduction. Tackle one text at a time. First read it through to gain a general idea of the argument, then read it a second time more carefully, pausing and taking a few notes, if that is helpful. Then read the commentary on that text slowly, stopping at the boxed questions or tasks. ‘Zoom in’ on each question or task in its own right, and work on it before moving on. If you use the commentary in this way, you will find yourself continually going back to specific passages in the original text, taking your guidance from the arrow‐marker system.

The commentaries can be described as interactive because they do not simply explain and comment, but give the reader tasks to carry out. Here are some examples:

In all these cases the material in the shaded boxes prompts you to think through a specific question for yourself. In the last two examples the boxes guide you to parts of the text that are most important to re‐read; you will find these parts of the text easily using the marginal arrow markers. We believe that the method of boxed questions and tasks, combined with the system of arrow markers, is a novel and effective way of leading the reader through the experience of active, engaged philosophical reading.

It is not essential to read every chapter. We have arranged them in an order so that the material we think of as more demanding comes later on. You may be on a course which emphasizes metaphysics, in which case the most relevant chapters will be those on self, mind and body, personal identity, free will, consciousness, causality, and the qualities of material things. You may be mainly interested in thinking about topics in ethics, political philosophy, or aesthetics, in which case other chapters will be more obvious choices. But whatever else you read, it is advisable to start by working through Chapter 1, whose first text is a short extract from Descartes; the commentary on this is particularly detailed, and it gives general advice on how to read – advice that you can apply to the remaining texts. Chapter 2 follows on naturally from Chapter 1, but the reader (or course organizer) can use the remaining chapters selectively.

Philosophy is a challenging and exciting activity, but not all philosophical questions fascinate everyone equally. Sometimes a topic has to get under your skin and perplex you somewhat before you can work on it for any length of time. For any given reader this may happen with only a few of the topics in this book. For this reason, it is good advice to devote your time to those topics that most attract you. Doing so will improve your philosophical abilities more effectively than trying to spread your attention evenly over everything in the book. When you find some particular topic fascinating, you will want to explore further and read more about it. The online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy ( is a very useful source.

If you find yourself wanting to re‐read a particular piece several times, if you feel impelled to write a couple of pages giving reasons why one of our authors is wrong, if you become keen to discuss and discover more about one of the issues we present here – then you are really doing philosophy.