I keep coming back to the SEP

I keep on thinking that I’ve moved beyond the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy for one reason or another.

That’s not to say that I’ve stopped reading it. I’ve been in the habit of reading at least one paragraph of it per day for the last couple years, and it’s been good.

But I do go through phases where I feel like I have less enthusiasm about it. Somehow I feel like there are more valuable texts for me to focus on, which in some ways is no doubt true.

And yet, I keep on coming back to it. It is just such a fantastic resource.

Someday, through the combination of long years and dogged persistence, I hope to have read through and mastered all the primary and secondary sources referred to in the SEP articles that interest me — or even, if I’m feeling ambitious and very hopeful, in all the SEP articles full stop.

And yet, that goal is a long way off, and it may be so far off in the future that I will never catch up to it.

In the meantime, the SEP is so great for providing an overview and a foretaste of the things contained in those sources. It begins to remedy some of the greatness of my ignorance, and perhaps more importantly, it helps me begin to understand the contours of my ignorance.

If I read, for instance, the article on metaphysics, I won’t have become an expert on the state of the discussion of metaphysics, even if it takes me a tiny step closer to that goal. I will, however, have a much better sense of the discussions in the field of metaphysics that I would need to become familiar with before I could come anywhere close to considering myself an expert. Becoming aware of the areas of one’s ignorance is the unavoidable condition for being able to begin to remedy that ignorance.

By no means is the SEP the be-all and end-all of philosophic learning. But for the very long and arduous path that is philosophic learning, it is an invaluable early stepping-stone along the way.

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