Reading Philosophy from the Past

It’s usually a good decision to dedicate some time to studying past works in any discipline one wishes to explore. The knowledge of the historical background, or “how we got here” can make it easier to see why certain issues are being debated now. In the Internet age, the ability to access old philosophical texts is greater than ever before, but in a strange way it might become a problem.

There is an abundance of philosophical texts available nowadays, but beyond their sheer amount, there is a problem of preserving meaning in translations over time. When dealing with a guide, summary or commentary, there’s always the risk of confusing what the interpreter thought the author meant and what the author really meant. The fact that, in philosophy, the author’s actual meaning is in many cases debatable doesn’t help. For this reason, while translations can still be a source of confusion (as the meaning of words can shift over time), they are usually less risky. But even the most faithful translators have to adjust the wording to fit the audience (and time) they’re translating for. And when they do err, their mistranslations can linger on for a long time, causing confusion. (see “hexis”)

Now that I’ve given this warning, I thought I would share a link to a collection of texts that were translated and had their original vocabulary and sentence structure changed for the sake of accessibility, landing somewhere between the two categories. If you’re interested in philosophy classics and wish to go closer to the source, you can find a collection of works of various thinkers from the early modern period – Machiavelli’s political advice, Spinoza’s attempts to geometrize ethics, and a lot more – available at .


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