Professor Warren Goldfarb recently sent me an e-mail message with the following very interesting and useful comment on my argument that we should read philosophical works in their entirety. Goldfarb is the latest in Harvard’s long line of philosophical logicians – a line that includes my classmate Charles Parsons, his doctoral dissertation director Willard Van Orman Quine, and his dissertation director Alfred North Whitehead. Here is what Goldfarb had to say:
“Let me add something to your reasons for reading philosophical works whole, which you posted about a few days ago.
Philosophical methodology is not a set thing. In dealing with a philosophical issue, a great philosopher is at the same time working out the tools you can use to treat the issue, what the nature of the problem really is, and so redoing the whole nature of the enterprise.
There is no way of gleaning all that by reading excerpts. You can't understand the real shift that Descartes was making without reading the whole of the Meditations and the Discourse, at least; or Hume without reading most of the Treatise (the interplay of skepticism and naturalism is certainly not something you can get by reading the usual excerpts). The idea that the philosopher is reshaping the question while trying to answer it is very prominent in my area: when Frege says "arithmetic is nothing but logic" he means something very different from what Lotze meant; Carnap means something different again, although using the same language. And of course, the interplay of methodological reshaping and the content of the philosophical question is the most important thing in all of Wittgenstein's work.”