Simplified Philosophical Texts

August 2007 · 2 minute read

Here’s a neat site I found recently: Early Modern Texts. It is a collection of edited/abridged philosophical texts from writers like Bacon, Berkeley, and Kant that has been put together by Jonathan Bennett.

Now, normally I would shy away from “dumbing down” works like these, however the last thing you want when trying to grapple with philosophy is to get hung up trying to understand the meaning of a passage. Philosophy is hard enough without having a superfluous layer between you and what the author is trying to convey.

Here’s an example of some unedited Kant:

To approach a new science - one that is entirely isolated and is the only one of its kind - with the prejudice that it can be judged by means of one’s putative cognitions already otherwise obtained, even though it is precisely the reality of those that must first be completely called into question, results only in believing that one sees everywhere something that was already otherwise known, because the expressions perhaps sound similar; except that everything must seem to be extremely deformed, contradictory, and nonsensical, because one does not thereby make the author’s thoughts fundamental, but always simply one’s own, made natural through long habit.
And the equivilent passage that Bennett has edited:
Suppose we are confronted by a new science that is wholly isolated and the only one of its kind. If we start with the assumption that we can make judgments about it in terms of knowledge that we have already gained - which is precisely what has first to be called in question ·when considering a new science· - all we shall achieve is to see everywhere things we already know, with the words sounding familiar but everything seeming (·so far as the content is concerned·) to be pushed out of shape, senseless, gibberish. That is because we’ll be relying on our own notions, which long habit has made second nature for us, instead of relying on the author’s.
He explains how the editing is done here.