The Philosophy of Reading

Today in church I thought to myself, “I hate Romans 13.”  Now, as a Christian I have a conversation with the text and I try to learn from it, ask questions, learn some more, maybe ask different questions, and hopefully accept the answers given.  This naturally brings us to a philosophy of reading.

A lot of people will approach a text that they already disagree with and they will stand as vociferous critics over it.  They will argue endlessly against every point and come away convinced about how horrid the book was and stupid the position is to hold.  However, this position seems rather inadequate to me.

Instead, we sit under the text as a student does under a teacher (or, maybe, as a student used to sit under a teacher).  We read to learn and to interpret charitably and to inhabit another world for a time.  This doesn’t mean that we accept everything we read, but that we are willing to listen, we have a conversation, and we see where things lie afterwards.  But, I suppose, any other course wasn’t really reading anyway.

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Ever the Twain Shall Meet

There are two broad approaches for showing what a technical term means.

The first is to give an explicit definition of the term.  The problem here is that once the definition is given, the proponent will tend to reject obvious counterexamples because they do not fit the definition.  If the person defining the term is trying to remain consistent in seeking for a true definition though, this will often lead to Chisholming.  Therefore, this approach must be wary of becoming too tied to one’s definition.

The second is the casewise approach.  Namely, we might not be able to give a definition of a term, but we can certainly point to examples where that term applies and thus learn more about the term.  The problem with this approach is that the person taking this line could simply go their merry way and never try to synthesize the information.  To avoid this, then, it seems that the person who uses the casewise approach should attempt to give a definition once a sufficient number of diverse examples have been used.

We now see how the term can come together.  We have some vague notions of how a term is defined, but counterexamples are often given to our current definition.  Thus, if we start to think about the things to which the concept applies, we start to adjust our definition. However, the very fact that we are adjusting our definition shows that we are still trying to define the term, but this definition is thoroughly grounded in what the concept actually applies to. Therefore, a mix of the two approaches seems to be the best way of elucidating terms and concepts.

The next post will give an example of this procedure.