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In the Name of God بسم الله
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Ibn Al-Shahid

Books and knowledge; how do we read?

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بسمه تعالى

السلام عليكم

How do we read a book? If I'm reading a book about a certain philosophical notion, how can I judge if this is right or wrong whilst I am just a beginner at the subject? Do I read other people's views about it? And how do I decide who's views are more valuable in terms of correctness?

This isn't only about philosophy but Islamic books as well. 

في امان الله

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If you do not already have a strong foundation of a subject, then it is impossible for you to judge if the book is "right or wrong". I like the scientific perspective of looking at things. You learn something new. Later on you realize what you learned was not completely accurate and thus you seek out the more closer truth. 

Knowledge is always based on starting with other people's views. Every subject from math, science, philosophy, to religion you must learn about what others before learned. Then we build upon that foundation. 

Probably the only way to know whose views are more valuable in terms of correctness is by judging the content by what you have learned but only if you have a deep understanding of the topic already.

Epistemology is the philosophy of knowledge and everything regarding knowledge. And not even epidemiologists all agree on what knowledge is or how to obtain it. 

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I wish someone had pointed this out to me earlier, but I had to come to the realization myself the hard way. There is a difference between reading a text and studying a text. You can read tons of books, newspaper articles, academic journals and text-books, but you may not necessarily have studied or understood them or their content. Both reading and studying seem to play an inter-dependent role with one another. You can't study properly, if you haven't read sufficiently; and you can't read effectively if you haven't studied sufficiently. 

This seems to be true with most subjects that I've had to study or have had an interest in, such as Qur'anic & hadith sciences, and history. With some basic-level epistemology and philosophy I have done and am doing, I find it to be even more true and required there.

In order to study a subject, and to eventually reach your own conclusions, you need to have read up on the subject before hand. The reading provides you the raw-data to process. The more you read, the more expansive and valuable your studies and subsequent conclusions will be. As your studies become stronger, you will encounter more questions and inquiries, which will cause you to go and read more. This reading could either be the same material that you had previously read, only with a new perspective, or new material that you haven't read before. In any case, your readings will be more efficient as you will know what to look out for. You will understand concepts and terminologies better.

As far as determining what views are correct, and especially since you mentioned philosophy - I'm assuming you are interested in that - trying to pick and decide who's views are correct or valuable is not the way to go in such a subject. As they say, in philosophical discussions, you need to try and attain صيرورة النفس (a real transformation within yourself), and if that hasn't been attained you are still essentially doing some level of taqlid. Chittick in his really interesting work Science of the Cosmos - Science of the Soul explains this dilemma beautifully and shows how it has affected Muslims. He emphasizes that tahqiq and ijthad in order to come to truths yourself is what is relevant, rather than clinging on to the views of someone (taqlid) and claiming them to be your beliefs. Of course one should not forget the significance of a proper teacher and guide during this process.

That being said, in order to form your own views and arrive at truths for yourself, reading needs to be done and then the basis, foundations and premises for what is being said need to be studied. One can start getting a feel of these foundations the more they read. The more you read and study, the various different opinions you come across will eventually allow you to be better and more adept at determining what is true/correct. In the words of Imam Ali (s):

مَنِ اسْتَقْبَلَ وُجُوهَ الاْرَاءِ عَرَفَ مَوَاقِعَ الْخَطَاَ

He who turns towards the faces of opinions, recognizes the places of error

Meaning, the more one explores different opinions and tries to understand the foundations behind those opinions, the better they will be at recognizing the flaws that exist in them.

Just my humble two cents.


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