Should philosophy be easy to understand? | Page 2 | INFJ Forum

Should philosophy be easy to understand?

Discussion in 'Philosophy and Religion' started by Ren, Sep 4, 2018.

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  1. Pin

    Pin "Magnificent Bastard" / Ren's Counterpart

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    I prefer simple to understand philosophy. Theoretically, it should be easier to apply to one's life.

    Heidegger and Hegel are a bitch to read for someone with little time.
     
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  2. OP
    Ren

    Ren Pin's android and co-founder of Stoic Café

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    Ha, you're right actually! I had never thought about it that way. My first reaction was: "It can also be about doing!" - but it's more about thinking about the doing, maybe... Though I can think of a possible exception: Diogenes of Sinope and the Cynic school, who flourished around the time of Plato. They were defenders of virtue as embodied in action rather than in theory.

    That's an interesting idea, actually. Allowing for works to be read at different levels of interest. I imagine it's no easy feat to achieve. Do you have philosophers in mind who in your opinion achieved that in a satisfactory fashion?
     
  3. OP
    Ren

    Ren Pin's android and co-founder of Stoic Café

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    We are pretty much in complete agreement here, I think. I do believe that philosophy must consist in challenging one's own mind, and that that must come with challening the language of one's own mind. This makes me think of a quote I came across recently - can't remember if that was on Merkabah or somewhere else:

    [​IMG]

    Presumably, if somebody - philosopher or other - were to articulate or re-articulate that language, people would not easily understand them at first. They might be thought mad, or obscurantist.

    Yeah, Heidegger and Hegel are known to be among the hardest to read, lol. I think Hegel is harder, though. Once you become used to Heidegger's style and develop greater familiarity with his ideas, reading him is no longer such a challenge, although it always requires great focus. With Hegel, however, that doesn't really happen. I don't know anyone who is a hundred percent sure they understand Hegel :tearsofjoy:
     
  4. John K

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    Coming with a mathematical background, my feelings are that there is a need for
    • precision , comprehensibility, refutability, utility (in developing further deep insight), etc
    • comprehensibility, enthusiasm, supprt, utility (in everyday life, politics, personal development), etc
    These are not fully compatible.

    Let me give you an example from maths - here is a statement and proof of Green's theorum:
    It can't be made any more comprehensible to a layman than this and retain the precision and facility with which it is expressed - you need to have a maths background for that level of understanding. But a layman could understand that it relates what happens around the boundary of something very precisely to what happens throughout the interior. It's like being able to say precisely what is going on at every point within a meadow by simply surveying what is happening along the hedge around it. Very important in understanding things like how complex fluid flows behave.

    I feel the same about philosophy - there needs to be two ways of expressing it to achieve both these needs. One for the guys who are steeped in it, are developing it and are working on the boundary of understanding maybe; and another for the interested "lay-people" who would like to understand and even participate, but not at the level of a professional. There are many really superb popular science books that do this sort of thing brilliantly, written by people who themselves are very able professional scientists.
     
  5. Hostarius

    Hostarius Level 10 Cynical Optimist

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    Hi Ren,

    I was thinking about this myself actually after one of your recent notebook posts. In it, you actually said something like 'I write in thick, difficult, tangled prose... to stimulate the minds of my readers' and my first reaction was 'for God's sake Ren are you fucking with us?'

    In general, as a matter of style I think any idea should be presented as simply as possible - like the mathematical concept of 'elegance', there is a definite beauty to simple but precise expression. Purple prose and grandiloquence should be avoided (I was a git for this myself in the past btw), as a lot of the time additional verbosity actually serves only to dilute the power of an idea rather than clarify it.

    Someone mentioned the French postmodernists, and yes they can be a pain to read. Take Foucault's _The Order of Things_. I've got to say, that first chapter analysing the painting was _just obnoxious wank_. It may be the case that that was his point to a certain extent ('language cannot adequately represent vision') but did he have to write the most obnoxious chapter in philosophy to make it? There are some great ideas in that book, and when we get to them, I often feel like they coukd be expressed much more easily.

    So there is my literary reflection. Efficiency, elegance and simplicity are not only preferred with regards to style, but I find that the firmer the idea I have, the more concretely I can express it - weak, misunderstood or ill-formed ideas tend to have the quality of vagueness.

    Now there's another problem, and it relates to scientific testability. Your idea needs to be expressed such that it can be tested. This lends itself to simplicity. Popper wrote about this (and I can find you the reference if you'd like), but:

    When you express an idea in more complex language you risk (but not necessarily actualize) introducing what Popper called 'subordinate clauses'. These are adjunct ideas to the main idea that actually serve to erode the main idea's testability, sometimes to the point of making it unscientific. They try to explain away its weaknesses.

    Someone published a sociological paper which summarises this rather nicely: 'Fuck Nuance'.

    Subordinate clauses - or 'nuance' - are the hallmarks of fearful and evasive writing and should be avoided at all costs. Derrida is rightly lambasted for his obscurantusm fir thus reason.

    So in these senses simplicity, elegance, efficiency are all preferred. Otherwise you risk dilution and erosion of your concepts.
     
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  6. John K

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    This makes a lot of sense to me Hostarius. I think I’d just make one qualification and that is to make a distinction between exploratory work in progress and the exposition of a completed, stable and integrated set of work. To use another analogy, the path of an explorer setting out into unknown territory is going to look very different to the road and railway network connecting places within the same territory 100 years later. It would be unfair to ask the explorer to provide a road atlas - but a cogent journal should certainly be a reasonable expectation.
     
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  7. Hostarius

    Hostarius Level 10 Cynical Optimist

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    Yes, you're right of course, and in most cases that would be clear from the context.

    However I do feel that, however the work is being presented, it should aspire to those qualities of elegance, &c. as much as possible, be it in casual speech or in a monograph.

    But yeah, it would be unreasonable and somewhat self-defeating to expect that all ideas are presented fully formed, but even so that doesn't mean they become exempt from critical observations - quite the opposite, I feel.
     
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  8. John K

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    What I find is a serious obstacle to my understanding a lot of philosophy is vocabulary and there have been several references to terminology and language in the thread. Perhaps the greatest problem I have in this regard is when a colloquial word, in everyday use, is given a very precise and esoteric meaning by a philosopher - particularly when the same word is also used by other philosophers with equally esoteric but different shades of meaning. Words of existence are examples, but there are plenty of others. At the point of definition, I can usually grasp what is meant, but later in the work, dense with ideas built on top, I'm a learner driver out in traffic for the first time desperately trying to remember how to use the clutch and gears all over again while trying not to run down a pedestrian. My understanding automatically reverts to the colloquial meaning of such words and can only be forced away from it by a conscious and tedious effort of will. Equally difficult to my understanding of vocabulary is that a given philosopher is often assuming that the reader is familiar with all the work of other philosophers antecedent to them - together with their vocabularies and philosophical method.

    Another problem of this sort for me comes from an attitude of mind that is virtually hard-wired into everyone's everyday language and terms of phrase. It's extremely difficult to express a thought about open monism for example without slipping into an instinctive primitive dualistic perspective linguistically which invalidates the question or point almost immediately. Again, it takes me a lot of conscious effort to avoid this, and I'm afraid the result looks like the equivalent of a 4 year old's drawing of mummy or daddy.
     
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  9. Hostarius

    Hostarius Level 10 Cynical Optimist

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    Haha, yeah, I think I've developed a fear of italics because of this. Like, what does this mean?

    Background

    It could mean what it means in normal colloquial English.

    It could mean that, but emphasised for some vague reason.

    It could actually refer to John Searle's concept of the Background, though, which is more like the epistemic structure we all exist within and which gives meaning and context to our utterances. In this sense, you now have to read 'Background' as 'cultural epistemic context'. Then multiply this jargon manifold for the same work and you can get lost pretty easily.

    So I greatly prefer when jargon means nothing in English, like habitus or episteme to describe similar ideas.
     
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  10. Puzzlenuzzle

    Puzzlenuzzle Community Member

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    My 2 cents:
    I guess that I don't think it should be easy to understand.. because that provokes perhaps more expansion on the subject.
    But then, it should be comprehensive so that the rightful message can be delivered.
     
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  11. OP
    Ren

    Ren Pin's android and co-founder of Stoic Café

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    Ooooh, this thread is becoming quite interesting :grinning: Lots of amazing contributions, thanks guys.

    Will be writing something more substantial later. @Fidicen we need to team up to put an end to that preposterous positivist, @Hostarius
     
  12. Infjente

    Infjente Community Member

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    Being kinda resistant to learning when the purpose is to teach me something I intuitively could and/or would want to figure out by myself - I don't really read much philosophy etc. It's a defense-thing.

    However, if I decided to be more flexible and you wanted to trick me into reading your work:

    The language would have to be light and easy to understand - nailing the simple/complex-balance.

    Any hidden agendas/manipulating the reader would have to be non-existing or very well hidden unless it was a novel. Humbleness, responsibility and authenticity would have to shine through for me to believe that you were giving me something of great value, no charge, and not just selling decorated ideas so you finally could get something published.

    If the language was cryptic or overly advanced, I would possibly/probably write it off as pretentiousness compensating for lack of content, and lose interest fast.

    If it was somewhat clear that the language had to be complicated, it would be too heavy for me to follow anyway, since I have to "Ni" a lot between the lines.
     
  13. Wyote

    Wyote Con Risa Absoluta
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    How dare you
     
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  14. Wyote

    Wyote Con Risa Absoluta
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    So before you ask what's the meaning of life
    Just remember my friend we're dumb and so blind
    We're specs on this earth of no consequence
    We're meaningless parasites an insignificance!


    Kelvin Rush
     
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  15. Hostarius

    Hostarius Level 10 Cynical Optimist

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    Ah, if only you actually believed in ends :hmmm:

    Haha:laughing:
     
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  16. Asa

    Asa Resident palindrome

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    Good point.

    I do think how smart a person is, and what kind of smart they are, ultimately decides whether philosophy is easy to understand. It's such a broad topic. It's like asking, "Should thinking be easy?" Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates, as well as Nietzsche, Kant, and Marx are fairly well integrated into the fabric of modern societies, so yes, easy to understand (at least on a superficial level), but it takes a certain kind of brain to sit down and read Language, Truth and Logic in Mathematics by Jaakko Hintikka.
     
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  17. John K

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    Are you into the philosophy of mathematics yourself Asa?
     
  18. OP
    Ren

    Ren Pin's android and co-founder of Stoic Café

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    Interesting perspective and comparison, John. I agree with you for the most part. It does suggest, however, that philosophy in its "pure form" should not be too concerned with accessibility, for fear of making too many compromises in terms of subtlety, precision, depth, and the like. In other words, that philosophy need only be accessible to some people - who may then be able, in turn, to make it accessible to a larger audience, if they think the work is worth it. Do you think some philosophers have a proclivity for difficult, original thought, and others for making the thought of others accessible, though they may not have original ideas themselves? Or is there no correlation to speak of here?

    I share your frustration with the first chapter of the Order of Things, haha. I wonder if the 2018 version of Foucault would be still happy with it. The style and writing of the chapters that follow is much more palatable. In fact, I think Foucault can write beautifully sometimes. I think that the Order of Things is a very profound book, perhaps the most influential on my doctoral thesis. It is probably unfalsifiable for the most part, though.

    Which brings me to the heart of your post. It's possible for philosophy to take scientific method either as its law, or as its guide (I feel). In the former case it follows it strictly and systematically; in the latter, more loosely, allowing itself departures from it, though the general direction is towards striving to be as scientifically sound as possible. Personally, I can see two arguments for taking the method as a guide only:

    - The first is that, like @John K was saying in a recent post, when you're engaged in a philosophical investigation, you're not really doing the same work as when you're presenting the results of that investigation in a clean book. I very much sympathize with Popper's notion of subordinate clauses, and I think he's right about that in a lot of cases, but subordinate clauses can actually be quite useful heuristically speaking, when you're just investigating, feeling your way around, trying things. When you have found something, and articulated it, you might then clear the clauses that were only brought into the picture for investigative reasons and only keep what is essential to the concepts.

    - The second is that, well, maybe certain subjects of philosophical exploration are not adequately tackled with the tools of science. It's possible to see certain domains of aesthetics under that light, and perhaps of ethics too. Existentialism, phenomenology, etc. are not likely exhausted by purely scientific method. I think it's no surprise that analytic philosophers have often excluded such fields (including ethics and aesthetics) from their purview. Personally, I think this leads to a potential impoverishment of philosophy. Some of the questions that it asks probably require answers of a non-scientific kind. I feel like the "postmodernists" fall into that latter category. Derrida included.
     
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    Ren

    Ren Pin's android and co-founder of Stoic Café

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    I do believe in ends!

    Well, one end to be precise.... it's called.... O P E N M O N I S M :hearteyes2:

    (jk)

    I agree that Nietzsche and Marx are easy enough to understand, but Kant... Oh Asa, tell me how you do it :sweat: Haha!
     
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  20. Asa

    Asa Resident palindrome

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    Well, what I mean is that he is well known, often quoted, and the general public understands those quotes and general concepts.

    For example, it is not difficult to understand this:

    "He who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men. We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals."


    Similarly, people generally understand Plato's concept of The Cave because so many authors (novels, screenplays, etc) reference it, but that doesn't mean they've read The Republic.
     
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