How to read (part eight). Reading some Davidson (podcast)

This is a first stab at an experiment in the “phenomenology of reading”, as it were: After my first post in this series, I’ve been toying with the idea of “demonstrating” some of the ‘things rushing through my head’ when reading, without prior meditation on what to say. So the idea is not to say something particularly philosophical or scholarly about the text (although this might sound like it here or there), but focus on what strikes me as a reader. In the future, I hope to continue these kind of live-comments in dialogical fashion with guests.

To get started, I’ve just picked a famous paper by Donald Davidson, his “Rational Animals”, scanned it (please find it below), read through the first two paragraphs and started commenting. Afterwards, I added one or two minutes of introduction to the sound file. That’s all. What I try to achieve is to capture very basic steps in organising or grasping what I see on the page. It’s not (yet) about the topic, position or argument that is introduced, and there is no attempt at understanding the text as a whole.* Rather, it is mainly about what Davidson says in the first paragraphs and what sort of expectations and associations I develop in confrontation with the text.

Recording the sound file (without the intro) in one go and leaving it untouched, I didn’t do any corrections or additions. Listening back to this now, this troubles me greatly. Why didn’t I say this or focus on that or put this differently?! I really had and have to stop wanting to talk about the whole text or thoughts (as in, talking about what I know about the text), rather than just go with the flow of the actual reading experience. This reveals (to me at any rate) how much what I say is normally guided by second thoughts or by wanting to sound smart.

The goal, if there is one, of this exercise is to develop questions for reading on, from the text. In a further step, these questions could then upheld and asked when reading on. In yet another step, an understanding of the whole text would have to be established and checked against these first steps, to either correct the understanding of the whole or to refine my initial questions. What is recorded, then, is the attempt to present a first grasp, while ignoring the rest of the text or an understanding of the whole.

As I said, this is just a rough start to get going and to see what happens when I try (to comment on) reading. If you can bear with this, I’m happy about suggestions for “further reading”.


* Roughly, Davidson’s argument for rationality requiring linguistic communication (and thus being a social trait of humans) is the following:

  • Rationality requires at least having beliefs.
  • Having beliefs requires having beliefs about beliefs (so that one can distinguish between true and false beliefs)
  • Having beliefs about beliefs requires speaking a language.
  • Therefore, being rational requires speaking a language, i.e. it requires linguistic communication (which makes rationality a social trait).

Here is the paper:

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