The Philisophical Canon

One of the big challenges in philosophy is choosing what to read.  I’ve said before that one aspect of philosophy that is different from science is that philosophers don’t go out of style – Plato is still read today despite the hundreds of thousands of works written more recently.  Whether science is right to disregard its early theorists is a question worthy of its own post, but never throwing out material creates its own problems.

One of feminist theory’s interesting contributions to philosophy is articulating the importance of paying attention to norms.  One of these norms in philosophy is its philosophical canon – the works that are and are not read.  There is too much philosophy to read all of it, at least in a meaningful way (I’ve been reading Hegel’s Phenomenology for about five months of accumulated time and have barely past the half-way mark).  As a beginner, there is no real way of discriminating between the different works except for trusting in the judgement of your peers and instructors.  This can lead to the problematic situation where certain ideas are unjustly ignored.

So… what should we do about this?  I don’t think there is a knock down solution of any sort – it is one of our limitations that we can only process so much information.  We can not make a truly informed decision on how to justly distribute our attention between different authors.  I think that, ultimately, it is one of the many things that we need to be aware of as we go about our philosophical activities.  The works that we read are usually of high quality, but there are many political and societal aspects to what we do and do not read.

Let me know what you think,


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