By Peter Gerdes
Absolutely signed below by Diego C
In my view one of the most glaring indictments of the way philosophy and other humanities are taught and practiced is the senseless insistence on reading original works by the great masters. This is most apparent in the continued consumption of Plato, Hobbes, Aristotle and the like in philosophy but can be equally well be seen in the reverance for Chaucer, Shakespeare or other literary classics. To my horror this reverence for the original works is even being promoted in economics. So even though I gave a short reply in the comments at overcoming bias when this issue came up I’ve been meaning to discuss the question in more detail.
For the moment I’d like to set aside the issue of literature for another post and focus on subjects like philosophy and economics where (at least in theory) the aim is to genuinely progress towards a (more) accurate/useful understanding. Since I find it genuienly perplexing why one would ever feel the need to read the originals rather than the digested and improved material found in modern expositions as one does in math of physics I’ll quote Tyler Cowen’s justifications for returning to the original thinkers. Obviously these don’t represent every possible justification but they are the best justifications I’ve ever heard.
First though I’d like to be perfectly clear that the issue under consideration is whether there is some pedagogical benefit to reading original thinkers as opposed to modern summaries (of either the original thinker or simply the current state of the discipline). There is no accounting for taste so if you simply have some Plato fetish or like the way reading Plato makes you feel sophisticated you might find it more enjoyable to read Plato rather than more modern work just as someone else might prefer to have their philosophical arguments interspersed in Harry Potter slash. Also if your interest is in original….. (Continues Here)