How to Self-Learn Philosophy: The Complete Guide

While some scientists argue that philosophy is dead, more individuals are waking up to the need to embrace the discipline. The numerous benefits of learning philosophy transcend disciplinary divides, which is why we have many people choosing to study philosophy, outside their main discipline—most times via self-learning.

To self-learn philosophy, you have to first understand your convictions for picking up the discipline. Are you seeking to add to your intellectual arsenal or preparing for academia? Once done, you can begin to chart a learning course that can guide you towards actualizing the goal.

This article will take a look at everything you need to know about self-learning philosophy, including where to start from, and the resources that can help you reach your objectives for embracing the discipline.

Why Self-Learning?

A few decades ago, learning disciplines such as philosophy was only possible in a conventional classroom, but thanks to the technological advancements we’ve seen over time and an increasingly connected world, learning has since left the classrooms.

Self-learning has many advantages:

  • It is more affordable. You don’t have to pay the full tuition for a conventional degree in philosophy, but you can still follow the curriculum of most top universities from any part of the world.
  • You can learn at your own pace. If you are learning philosophy alongside another program or job, you’ll need the flexibility that comes with setting your own learning hours. That’s a major benefit of self-learning. You’ll always remain in complete control of your timetable.
  • It simplifies classroom learning. If you choose to enroll in a school during or after your self-learning, you will be better prepared to assimilate the teachings—especially if you are already of the concepts being discussed.
  • You can learn from anywhere. Whether you are taking a course through any of the MOOCs providers or reading books you’ve downloaded online, all you need to complete your self-learning is a computer or smartphone. It doesn’t need to be connected to the internet always.

Why Choose Philosophy?

Philosophy helps you grow a fascination for wisdom by asking questions about the nature of the universe and human thought, as well as the connections between the two principles. With this in mind, you can see more clearly, why the discipline holds the following advantages:

It Prepares You for Success in Different Careers

Studying philosophy can help you develop important traits like re-thinking, reasoning, learning, writing, reading, dialogue, and organizational ability. These are all abilities that can make you a highly valuable asset in the modern business world.

You Can Get Higher Scores in Evaluations

Since philosophy sharpens your writing, reading, and critical-thinking abilities and also helps you to pinpoint poor-reasoning, it is no surprise that philosophy students get higher scores on average in tests when compared to everyone else. Standardized exams like LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, and GRE test for these skills, so acing them is another benefit of learning philosophy.

It Can Improve Your Earning Potential

Philosophy majors tend to earn more money than their counterparts in sectors like business administration by the middle of their careers, after starting off slightly behind.

It Can Improve Your Handling of Complex Conversations

Philosophy can help you to understand the logic behind your ideas better, making sure you can readily see how they stand in comparison to the ideas of other people. This comes in handy in complex conversations or high-stakes meetings.

You’ll Get Prepared for a Career in Law

Philosophy can help you develop relevant skills, like criticizing and making arguments. It can also help you to understand how to read complex texts. Combine these with the fact that it can help you sharpen your writing skills, and you can better understand why philosophy can help you prepare for a career in law.

It Can Bring You Deeper Insights to Your Career

Some of the professionals that self-learn or enroll for philosophy classes are engineers, doctors, and scientists. They take up philosophy because it helps them to think deeply about the work they do and how it affects other people. By taking philosophy classes, you’ll not just understand the “whys” and “why nots?” related to your career.

You’ll Better Understand Ethical Principles

The philosophical concepts you’ll learn apply to all spheres of life, including social, family, and work. These concepts make it easier for you to identify and respond to ethical issues when they arise during your everyday interactions out in the real world.

You’ll Be More Informed

To be an informed citizen in the world today, you need to have a high intellect to process the information you consume on a daily basis. Studying philosophy will equip you with the necessary tools you need to separate propaganda from facts—especially when it concerns political and social conversations.

You’ll Learn What Success Means to You

What is your definition of success? Learning philosophy will help you confront your nature and your values, helping you to answer that question more logically.

You’ll Be Able to Challenge the Status Quo

Since philosophy encourages critical thinking, you’ll be able to unearth the creativity and innovation that will make it easier for you to challenge existing norms in any environment.

Sources for Philosophy Lessons

When you are done reading the foundation books on philosophy and ready to start taking new courses, where should you look?

Listenable: for Brief Audio Courses

If you are combining learning philosophy with your other everyday activities, you may find it difficult to make out the time needed for your courses. Using mobile apps like Listenable means you can take your courses with you on the go. The courses are split into five-minute audio lessons, helping you to keep learning even while out on your evening walk or doing the chores.

Highbrow: For Small-Sized Courses

Highbrow is an interesting online learning platform that offers courses in 10-day courses delivered in emails that are easy to digest. These courses range from basic philosophical ideas to the history of famous philosophy. There are also courses based on specific topics such as utilitarianism.

The small-sized nature of the email from Highbrow makes the courses less daunting and easier to understand, compared to reading a book. The emails are also sent out in the morning when many people are most alert. With the course delivered this way, there is a higher chance of finishing it compared to when you have to make out time to wade through a book.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: As a Guide and Resource

With the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, you get a resource hub of all things philosophy that is updated regularly from time to time. You can always be certain that you are reading the latest information in the field.

The encyclopedia goes beyond history and overview information, to provide published works on philosophy concepts based on current research. This tool is, however, designed for academia, so it may be harder to read and understand for people that are new to the field of philosophy.

Partially Examined Life and Philosophy Bites: For Podcasts

Podcasts are a great way to learn some of the complex concepts in philosophy. Hearing an expert talk about these concepts in a conversational tone can make them less daunting compared to reading them directly from books. Again, since you can listen to podcasts on the go, they are an excellent way to brush up on concepts you’ve read about while you’re out and about.

Partially Examined Life is a philosophy blog and podcast. They hold roundtable discussions analyzing philosophical concepts and ideas. The conversational or casual tone used makes the episodes interesting for everyone, especially the philosophy newbie.

Philosophy Bites, on the other hand, invites respected philosophers to discuss a particular concept per episode. The podcast isn’t as conversational as the Partially Examined Life, but it is a good podcast to use in your self-learning.

Philosophy Tube and Wireless Philosophy: For Video Lessons

Do you learn better with video? You should incorporate watching videos into your self-learning plan. Philosophy Tube is a YouTube channel created to share ideas and allow people to learn philosophy at their own pace. Most of the videos focus on a philosophical idea and are typically less than ten minutes long.

Wireless Philosophy is another good video resource to use. The channel uses animations to discuss philosophical concepts, and they work in partnership with professors from Yale and MIT to explain philosophical concepts. The content is designed to be entertaining, but ultimately, it will come down to the presenter for the episode. Some are more entertaining than others.

Tips for Self-Learning Philosophy Successfully

As you’ll quickly find out when you start, it takes a lot of discipline to engage in self-learning. It is even more so with a field like philosophy where it is easy to get bored or distracted. To achieve your goals of self-learning philosophy successfully, here are the things you need to do.

Start on a Clean Footing

As a human, you most likely have your belief systems that have guided you for years. To self-learn philosophy, you need to have the humility to accept the fact that your existing beliefs could be wrong. Go into the learning process with an open mind for a real chance at understanding all the important philosophical concepts.

The Socratic Method is a technique that can be used to understand your viewpoints on life. These open-ended and participatory questions are generally the foundation of many philosophy classes because they are useful in helping students to dissociate from what they already know and show them what they don’t.

Be Prepared to Learn at a Gradual Pace

While it may be tempting to breeze through philosophical works like a typical fiction novel, the reality is that you most likely won’t learn much by adopting this approach with your philosophy classes. 

You’ll need to take the time to understand premises and the reasoning for an argument, or you won’t be able to see why the conclusion on a topic has been reached. Here’s an excellent video that can introduce you to the world of logic:

You should focus on closely and slowly reading one paragraph and concept until you understand it completely, making notes where necessary before you proceed to the next concept or paragraph.

Read During Your Prime Hours

When do you feel you concentrate best? When are you most productive? This is when you should be reading your philosophy books or lessons. Some of the materials will be a bit difficult to grasp, so you need to read when you are typically the sharpest to increase your chances of grasping concepts and generally having a useful session.

Pick Philosophy Branches That Are Interesting to You

Philosophy is divided into various sub-disciplines you’ll need to get through to complete your learning. However, you don’t have to start dabbling into all of them at the same time.

Are you interested in government and justice? Start with Political Philosophy. If you are inquisitive about art and beauty, you can start with Aesthetics.

If you’d like to question what you know and how you’ve come about the knowledge, Epistemology is where to start. Metaphysics deals with the ultimate nature of reality, while Logic and Ethics deal with the structure of arguments and the study of morality, respectively.

Choose one based on your unique interests, and focus on courses that can guide you through it. Once you are done, you can proceed to the other categories.

Keep a Philosophy Dictionary Handy

One of the reasons why many people find philosophy hard to follow is the fact that philosophers tend to use words and terms in a non-conventional manner. With a philosophy dictionary, you’ll be able to understand what each term means. A better understanding of the context will simplify the learning process for you.

Start With Refresher Books

Books like Will Durant’s “The Story of Philosophy”  and Bertrand Russell’s “A History of Western Philosophy” are highly regarded as good foundation books for self-learning philosophy.

A History of Western Philosophy is generally rated as one of the most comprehensive books covering Western Philosophy. It covers the teachings of some of the most popular philosophers in history, such as Kant, Plato, and Aristotle. The book, published in 1945, explains the concepts on which almost all Western Philosophy is based on.

The Story of Philosophy, on the other hand, also contains the teachings and theories of the greatest philosophers of all time. However, it is writing in an engaging manner, making it a great overview book for anyone that is new to philosophy.

If you are looking to take a dive into the minds of the world’s greatest philosophers, these books are a great place to start.

Set Realistic and Reasonable Goals

When creating your self-learning plan, you need to ensure you are creating goals that are a realistic fit in relation to your other commitments. Simple things like assigning a number of chapters to read per week or how many concepts to cover—taking the hectic nature of your schedule into account—can help get you closer to achieving your goals.

Choose Learning Methods That Work for You

As you’ve seen above, there are various ways to self-learn, ranging from reading text to watching videos or listening to podcasts. Go with the options that work best for you. You should also think about the note-taking method that allows you to retain knowledge better. Do you prefer handwritten notes to typing on a note app on your mobile?

Review Your Notes Same Day

It may seem tedious, but leaving your notes for later is not an effective way to learn. Reviewing them immediately will increase your chances of retaining the knowledge gained from the session. With philosophy concepts, taking steps that can help you absorb the material is an excellent way to reduce the need for cramming in the future.

Keep Sessions Short but Frequent

There’s a reason why philosophy platforms Listenable and Philosophy Tube are huge hits with self-learning students. Breaking up materials into bite-sized content means you don’t have to stare at books or your computer for too long. This ensures you are always focused, allowing your brain to absorb the material a bit better.

Create a Designated Study Environment

While learning on the go is fun, you need to have a study space at home or work where you can review your notes or take on new course content. The mental conditioning that comes from studying in the same space can help sharpen your focus. Once you settle into the chair in that space, your brain will get in the mood to learn.

Conclusion

Self-learning philosophy is a great decision that will almost always yield results in the medium to longer term. Apart from the numerous ways it can make you better in other fields, a career in philosophy can also be richly rewarding on its own.

However, you need to be willing to put in the work required to acquire the knowledge you need. Start by creating a course plan for yourself, and then judiciously see it through. Here’s a rough guide of what a philosophy course plan should look like from the Atlantic International University.

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