• removedmembershiprc
    113
    http://www.umsl.edu/~alexanderjm/ScholarsAndSoundbites.pdf

    There is a link to a pdf by Graff, which is a paper he wrote about the fact that academia has an unjustified culture of obtuse and obfuscatory communication styles. This is not just limited to overly-jargonized communication to other specialists in a narrow field, but also to general academic discourse and literature, which is written in esoteric manners, which are often inaccessible to general audiences.

    The general thrust of the paper is that this is an unnecessary addition to the academic process.

    My personal take on this situation, is that even in philosophical conversations, the likes of which occur in this forum, can become overly pedantic and obtuse, to the extent that any meaningful communication is sacrificed on the altar of self aggrandizement. I think there is a lot of value in a sort of "blue collar philosophy," where the object is clearly communicating ideas in ways which are in line with the common patterns of communication. The objective being transferring information to another person, who very well could be a lay person or a non-specialist, as opposed to posturing as a deeply intellectual savant.

    I would be curious to hear anyone else's opinion. One final thing I would add here, is the quote from Einstein,

    "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough."
  • S
    11.4k
    I wholeheartedly agree.
  • Fooloso4
    1k
    While I am in general agreement, one's level of education must be taken into consideration. What may seem to be clearly stated to someone with the requisite knowledge of the subject matter may sound like nonsense to someone who is not familiar with the terminology and issues. If one wishes to discuss the work of philosophers then one needs to move beyond the level of ordinary discourse, which does not adequately address such matters.
  • tim wood
    3k
    ↪rlclauer I wholeheartedly agree.S

    Wow! I wonder if Mr. rlclauer appreciates this reply of S's.

    As to the OP, I agree as to jargon, but @Fooloso4's point is not to be gainsaid.
  • removedmembershiprc
    113
    I do agree with you, as that is what is implied with the whole idea of jargon being time-saving. I guess I should have been a bit more clear as to my target I was aiming at. I was really meaning to talk about conversations in this forum, wherein we do not know who we are speaking with, and it appears that some conversations just get lost in this sort of "intellectual posturing."
  • SophistiCat
    822
    Don't automatically assume that what seems to you like an abstruse post is a sign of "intellectual posturing." A forum is not a school or a public service; no one here has an obligation to make their posts intelligible and accessible for the widest possible audience. All sort of people post here, with all sorts of backgrounds and motivations. If you don't understand something, just ask. Who knows, you may actually challenge yourself and learn something.
  • StreetlightX
    4.1k
    Titles thread: "Obfuscatory Discourse".
  • Fooloso4
    1k
    ... it appears that some conversations just get lost in this sort of "intellectual posturing."rlclauer

    I am often of the impression that it is a way of hiding one's ignorance from both one's self and others. The gaps and jumps get covered over by reference to a specialized terminology and conceptual apparatus.

    One of the most difficult things is to speak simply and clearly. Nietzsche said:

    The misfortune suffered by clear-minded and easily understood writers is that they are taken for shallow and thus little effort is expended on reading them: and the good fortune that attends the obscure is that the reader toils at them and ascribes to them the pleasure he has in fact gained from his own zeal. — Nietzsche, Human All Too Human, Part 1, aphorism 181, Twofold Misjudgment

    Many years ago I made a "business card" that said:

    Philosophies for All Occasions
    Specializing in the Obfuscational
  • Baden
    8.4k


    Generally, what makes philosophy difficult is understanding concepts and how they relate to each other both contemporaneously and historically. So, no matter how clearly something is written, if you don't have the right background knowledge to contextualize it, you'll likely find yourself lost. And to expect philosophical writers to provide all that background knowledge and not presume some of it would be unreasonable. So, sure, deliberate attempts to overcomplicate or obscure in order to self-aggrandize can be frustrating, but as @SophistiCat pointed out, some stuff is just very difficult.
  • removedmembershiprc
    113
    I agree, and I usually try to ask people to clarify things, unless they just have a such a different world view, than I usually just agree to disagree
  • removedmembershiprc
    113
    I never thought about that. I guess what I perceived as "posturing," could easily be a veiling. My description made it sound more pernicious so I actually think your's is preferable. Thank you for sharing that Nietzsche quote, very nice.

    Philosophies for All Occasions
    Specializing in the Obfuscational

    Hilarious!
  • T Clark
    4.2k
    "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough."rlclauer

    I'm with you and Einstein. If you can't explain it to your son, you don't understand it. I have found myself using philosophical terms more than I used to. Some of it is useful and even when it's not needed, it's good to use the same type of language as the rest of the people on the forum. There's nothing mysterious about reality, knowledge, or morals, so no weird language is required.

    Nobody on this forum should be making up new philosophical terms unless they're ridiculing something or someone.

    And since we're on the subject of clarity, I'll make my usual pitch for defining important terms in the opening post or as they come up. At least 50% of the arguments on the forum come from people using different meanings for the same words.
  • Fooloso4
    1k
    Philosophies for All Occasions
    Specializing in the Obfuscational

    Hilarious!
    rlclauer

    Most who asked for an explanation did not see the irony.
  • removedmembershiprc
    113
    I do not disagree with this. One thing I was noticing in this forum, that occasionally I will be speaking with someone, and we are talking about something that in my view, is relatively straightforward, like "freedom," for example. What I find is that their description is unjustifiably complex and esoteric, and in my opinion, this is not helpful. If you want to have a complicated discussion about something that is complex in its nature, I would agree wholeheartedly with you. However, if you are speaking with something that can be simplified, and you simply refuse to put it into more understandable terms, I don't think that is evidence of complexity, I think that is a pedagogical error.
  • removedmembershiprc
    113
    Definitely agree with this, and I like the way you phrased it, with regard to being able to convey the idea to your son. (I especially like the part of defining terms in advance.)
  • Bitter Crank
    8.2k
    This difficulty is near and dear to me. Your title demonstrates the concept: Obfuscatory Discourse is an example of obfuscatory discourse. :wink:

    The corpus of English is extremely large, and is larded with rarely used and/or obscure terms often coined from Latin and Greek roots relatively recently in the history of the language. Words like

    sessile - fixed in one place, immobile; from the Latin verb sedere, to seat
    callipygian - nicely shaped buttocks - aka, nice ass - late 18th century: from Greek kallipūgos (used to describe a famous statue of Venus), from kallos ‘beauty’ + pūgē ‘buttocks’, + -ian.
    minatory - expressing a threat, late Latin minat- "threatened"
    cenacle - a discussion group - late Middle English: from Old French cenacle, from Latin cenaculum, from cena ‘dinner’. The Philosophy Forum is a "cenacle".

    Obscure words, or more common words strangely twisted into obscurity are a way of demonstrating that one's word stock is very big, and that one is dealing with such deep and difficult concepts that they simply can not be expressed in ordinary language for worms like us.

    I expect to encounter difficulty when I open a book on quantum mechanics (something I assiduously avoid doing) but not when I open a book about English literature, or sociology, or history, or any number of topics which deal with the lives and experiences of real people. Employing obscure vocabulary and terribly complex sentence structure does not signal insight, It is a bright flashing light leading us to an author who knows less than he or she seems to know.

    The use of a core of perhaps 25,000 English words that have been in use since the 1400s, and is made up of Anglo-Saxon and Old French words, forces a writer to reveal what he really knows, or does not. Obfuscation is much more difficult in plain language -- as George Orwell said his essay, Politics and the English Language:

    A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink. — George Orwell

    In general, then, write in the simplest possible language to honestly convey the content of one's mind.

    In my past work, I have found that many professional people really hate abandoning their particular argot (not to be confused with ergot).
  • Terrapin Station
    12.5k
    I agree with the initial post in the thread, but I also think StreetlightX's crack about the title you chose is spot-on.

    The usual defense is that some ideas require difficult, dense expression. But I think it's rare that the sort of writing we're talking about couldn't be communicated just as well in a much clearer, simpler way . . . even if it would still have to be relatively challenging.
  • Fooloso4
    1k
    I am reminded of Arthur Koestler's definition of philosophy:

    The systematic abuse of a terminology specially invented for that purpose.
  • Bitter Crank
    8.2k
    While I am in general agreement, one's level of education must be taken into consideration. What may seem to be clearly stated to someone with the requisite knowledge of the subject matter may sound like nonsense to someone who is not familiar with the terminology and issues. If one wishes to discuss the work of philosophers then one needs to move beyond the level of ordinary discourse, which does not adequately address such matters.Fooloso4

    I assume you are an educated person, like most of us here. Educated, one way or another.

    Would you rather read philosophy (or pedagogical theory, sociology, history, literary criticism, etc.) that was expressed in familiar language (using words ranked in the most frequent 25% of the English corpus of 172,000 words -- that's still about 43.000 possible words -- or would you like to read texts composed with many of the least frequently used words (like cenacle) and freely borrowing from languages with which you are not familiar? Add to that clumsy sentence structure and other sins of composition.
  • Terrapin Station
    12.5k
    When I was a kid, a friend and I read Aleister Crowley's The Book of Lies and we were fascinated by it, because it was so subversive and weird and inscrutable to us. We spent a lot of energy trying to emulate its style. I often get the impression of people doing the same sort of thing with respect to Heidegger, Derrida, etc.
  • Fooloso4
    1k
    Would you rather read philosophy (or pedagogical theory, sociology, history, literary criticism, etc.) that was expressed in familiar language (using words ranked in the most frequent 25% of the English corpus of 172,000 words -- that's still about 43.000 possible words -- or would you like to read texts composed with many of the least frequently used words (like cenacle) and freely borrowing from languages with which you are not familiar? Add to that clumsy sentence structure and other sins of composition.Bitter Crank

    Much of the philosophy I read was not written in English and much of it is not by contemporary writers. As to clumsy sentence structure and other sins of composition, some influential philosophers have been accused of this. While I think there is some justification of this, I am not so quick to put the blame on them. Perhaps the fault is in my understanding.

    When it comes to others, however, I am generally intolerant of writings that take what is found in academic journals as the model of good writing.

    Added:

    I often get the impression of people doing the same sort of thing with respect to Heidegger, Derrida, etc.Terrapin Station

    Yes, that too!
  • removedmembershiprc
    113
    beautifully said. thank you for your contribution. As usual, you have provided a valuable insight.

    Employing obscure vocabulary and terribly complex sentence structure does not signal insight, It is a bright flashing light leading us to an author who knows less than he or she seems to know.

    Perhaps this bright flashing light is meant to be blinding, so as to protect the position from opposition
  • removedmembershiprc
    113
    I do not disagree that to be challenged can be a good thing, and often esoteric communication can draw out the mind into a wider range of possible thoughts and symbols, which can deepen one's understanding.

    My main complaint is that the point of communication is the transference of ideas, not the flexing of intellectual muscles or deliberately complicating what should be simple.
  • Bitter Crank
    8.2k
    Much of the philosophy I read was not written in English and much of it is not by contemporary writers.Fooloso4

    Translation and age of the text is a separate issue, altogether.

    But just in English, some writers in past periods (Edwardian, Victorian, Georgian...) have had styles which now seem at least very tedious, if not verbose. Addison's long and lively Tom Jones was written out by hand and one would have thought he would have been more economical, given the labor of writing longhand. Samuel Johnson (1709-1785 author of the first English Dictionary, editor of an edition of Shakespeare, and more) and his close friend and biographer, James Boswell (1740-1795) were both fine writers, imho, and are readily accessible. There are writers in the Victorian period I find just plain tiresome to read because of the style of the times--long winded, erudite, complicated structure. Samuel Pepys, 1633-1703), an administrator in the English navy, wrote his famous diary in very contemporary sounding prose.

    Point is, English has had several episodes of rather heavy language, in academic fields as well as in literature.
  • Baden
    8.4k
    and we are talking about something that in my view, is relatively straightforward, like "freedom," for examplerlclauer

    Probably not the best example of a straightforward philosophical concept there.

    https://plato.stanford.edu/search/search?page=1&query=freedom&prepend=None
  • Coben
    832
    A suggestion: turn the thread into case studies. While reading other threads come back with what you consider obfuscatory language in a quote, plus a link so we can see the context. I doubt we will all agree, but I think specifics will tease out at least the different criteria. And we can actually test out the critieria.

    One criterion seems to be: there is a simpler way to say it. We can see if the examples pass this test. For example.
  • removedmembershiprc
    113
    That is a good suggestion. I agree, this idea should be scrutinized, and I should not be allowed to just use it as a fall back position if I feel cornered in a debate, for example.
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