He tells us, in his “Prologue”, that he was born into a family who read little, that he himself has almost no appetite for reading and that, anyway, he cannot find the time for it. As a (fifty-two-year-old) professor of French literature... he often finds himself obliged to comment on books he hasn’t looked at. And yet “non-reading” is a taboo subject in the circles in which he moves. He lists three constraints that we all feel as readers: “The first of these constraints could be called the obligation to read. We live in a society... in which reading still remains the object of a form of sacralization”, particularly where certain “canonical texts” are concerned: it is practically forbidden not to have read these. The second constraint “could be called the obligation to read a book in its entirety. If non-reading is frowned on, speed-reading and skimming are viewed in as poor a light”. For example, “it would be almost unthinkable for professors of literature to admit – what is after all true for most of them – that they have merely skimmed Proust’s work”. Can this really be the case? If so, it’s a dismaying thought – presumably Bayard has had some explaining to do to his colleagues since his book was published in France earlier this year. The third constraint, and the one which most of us would take as given, is the need to have read a book in order to be able to talk about it: according to Bayard, it is perfectly possible to have a fruitful discussion about a book one hasn’t read, even with someone who hasn’t read it either. These constraints lead to a lack of openness in our dealings with each other, Bayard claims, and generate unnecessary feelings of guilt.
It's true though: how many young philosophers have actually read Gettier's famous article? It's so well-known, you don't need to. (I kind of feel the same way about the history of philosophy. I've never done any officially, or even unofficially, but you can pick up a lot just through osmosis.) Of course, you need to read a work in all its minutiae to engage with it on a scholarly level. But for general purposes, this may not always be necessary. Most fun philosophical discussion isn't had in journals, after all!
So: any other examples of philosophers or works that you're happy to discuss despite never having read them?