• David Mo
    729
    The case of philosophers who strive to entangle their ideas is not so rare. Unexplained neologisms, distorted grammars, contradictory phrases, unusual meanings of words, endless sequences of ideas without conclusion, unstructured texts... All of us philosophy lovers have faced this more than once without knowing if this or that book was worth reading. Sometimes we have continued to read other times not.

    That is the question: What is the use of reading something that the author himself has made illegible?
  • SophistiCat
    1.3k
    From your title I assumed you meant 'gloomy' or even 'malevolent' philosophers, rather than simply obscure.

    Anyway, as someone wisely noted, "unclear writing is a sign of unclear thinking."
  • A Seagull
    610

    You mean like Kant? Probably not worth reading. If people cannot express their ideas clearly and simply, it is because they do not understand them themselves.
  • unenlightened
    5k
    What is the use of reading something that the author himself has made illegible?David Mo

    The tradition is called Esotericism in philosophy, but a similar deliberate obscurity is a commonplace way of avoiding persecution by convention and authority. The use of slang or jargon serves to identify by exclusion. Whether it is worth the trouble to initiate oneself into a particular group or not is largely a matter of taste.

    But perhaps you were not asking a serious question, but just feeling frustrated....
  • David Mo
    729
    You mean like Kant?A Seagull

    I don't mean Kant. Kant's language may seem obscure to us because he was writing more than two centuries ago. You can understand Kant with a little training and a good translator.
    In my opinion, Kant is basic to get into philosophy. But it's not necessary to read him directly. Justus Hartnack's Kant's Theory of Knowledge is a very good commentary on Kant. It is not very difficult to understand. I started to understand Kant from there.
  • David Mo
    729
    But perhaps you were not asking a serious question, but just feeling frustrated....unenlightened
    This is a very serious matter. It involves what philosophy is and should be.
    In my opinion, philosophy is meant to clarify, not to hide. However, there is a constant tendency towards "esotericism" - as you call it - in the history of philosophy. Why?

    Sorry. I'm going off topic. That's not my question. Classical rationalism has one real merit over its many demerits: the demand for clarity. But even an alleged rationalist like Hegel became Hegel the Dark. A big problem.

    I'm a rationalist on this. But I spent almost a year reading an abstruse text: Sartre's Critique of Dialectical Reason. Was it worth it? I think it was. For particular and general reasons.

    Particular: It was a personal challenge.
    General: Philosophical truth is dialectical. You can't hold a position if you haven't resisted the opponent's attack.

    My conclusion: One must read the dark philosophers if only to know why one should not read the dark philosophers.
  • Outlander
    470
    Post some examples of short passages that encapsulate what you mean.
  • David Mo
    729

    Dark examples? Or dialectical truth?
  • Outlander
    470


    "Unexplained neologisms, distorted grammars, contradictory phrases, unusual meanings of words, endless sequences of ideas without conclusion, unstructured texts..."

    Any of these from someone well known.
  • unenlightened
    5k
    This is a very serious matter. It involves what philosophy is and should be.
    In my opinion, philosophy is meant to clarify, not to hide. However, there is a constant tendency towards "esotericism" - as you call it - in the history of philosophy. Why?
    David Mo

    Nietzsche is about the only philosopher I can think of who was avowedly and openly obscure, and he would disagree with you about what philosophy is meant to do. I imagine him deriding your 'bureaucratic' view, as opposed to his own 'revolutionary' one. My suspicion with Sartre though is that his obscurity was more to do with obscuring from his own understanding something which he did not wish to face. I think this is common, unfortunately.
  • darthbarracuda
    3k
    That is the question: What is the use of reading something that the author himself has made illegible?David Mo

    So you can score brownie points with your peers by coming up with a new interpretation of the text, duh. :roll:
  • 180 Proof
    1.6k
    My conclusion: One must read the dark philosophers if only to know why one should not read the dark philosophers.David Mo
    :cry: :up:
  • StreetlightX
    5.9k
    To sort out the wheat from the chaff and then watch the chaff complain about it.
  • RogueAI
    191
    My rule of thumb has always been that good philosophy is immediately clear and understandable: Plato's allegory of the Cave is perfect, so is Nagel's experience machine, "what it's like to be a bat", Thomson's violinist analogy, Rawls "veil of ignorance" and Hume's Riddle of Induction. Here's what I consider "bad philosophy" (Goodman's modern riddle of induction):

    "For some arbitrary future time t, say January 1, 2030, for all green things observed prior to t, such as emeralds and well-watered grass, both the predicates green and grue apply. Likewise for all blue things observed prior to t, such as bluebirds or blue flowers, both the predicates blue and bleen apply. On January 2, 2030, however, emeralds and well-watered grass are bleen and bluebirds or blue flowers are grue. The predicates grue and bleen are not the kinds of predicates used in everyday life or in science, but they apply in just the same way as the predicates green and blue up until some future time t. From the perspective of observers before time t it is indeterminate which predicates are future projectible (green and blue or grue and bleen)."

    What a mess. This, to me, gives philosophy a bad name.
  • David Mo
    729

    These are some examples that I have chosen at random. There are some that are harder to swallow.

    -If mythical violence is lawmaking, divine violence is law-destroying; if the former sets boundaries, the latter boundlessly destroys them; if mythical violence brings at once guilt and retribution, divine power only expiates; if the former threatens, the latter strikes; if the former is bloody, the latter is lethal without spilling blood. The legend of Niobe may be confronted, as an example of this violence.
    Walter Benjamin: Critique of Violence, in Reflections, p. 297.

    -The only aspect of speculation visible to common sense is its nullifying activity; and even this nullification is not visible in its entire scope. If common sense could grasp this scope, it would not believe speculation to be its enemy. For in its higher synthesis of the conscious and the non-conscious, speculation also demands the nullification of consciousness itself. Reason thus drowns itself and its knowledge and its reflection of the absolute identity, in its own abyss: and in this night of mere reflection and of the calculating intellect, in this night which is the noonday of life, common sense and speculation can meet one another.
    ( Hegel: Various Forms Occurring in Contemporary Philosophy, in The Difference Between Fichte’s and Schelling’s System of Philosophy: https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/hegel/works/fs/ch01.htm )

    -Being-near-itself of the Idea in Absolute Knowledge would be odysseic in this sense, that of an economy and nostalgia, of a "homesickness", of a temporary exile in search of re-appropriation. Then the gift, if there is any, would undoubtedly relate to the economy.
    (Jacques Derrida: Donner le temps, in La Fausse monnai, p. 17)

    -The unthinkable (whatever it may be called) is not lodged in man as a twisted nature or a history that would have been stratified there; it is in relation to man the Other; the fraternal and twin Other, born not in him or from him, but at his side and at the same time, in an identical novelty, in a duality without recourse.
    (Michel Foucault: Las palabras y las cosas, México, 1968; p. 317)

    -What oppresses us is not this or that, nor is it the summation of everything present-at-hand ; it is rather the possibiliry of the ready-to-hand in general; that is to say, it is the world itself. When anxiety has subsided, then in our everyday way of talking we are accustomed to say that 'it was really nothing'. And what it was, indeed, does get reached ontically by such a way of talking. Everyday discourse tends towards concerning itself with the ready-to-hand and talking about it. That in the face of which anxiety is anxious is nothing ready-to-hand within-the-world. But this "nothing ready-to-hand", which only our everyday circumspective discourse understands, is not totally nothing. The "nothing" of readiness­-to-hand is grounded in the most primordial 'something'-in the world.
    Ontologically, however, the world belongs essentially to Dasein's Being as Being-in-the-world. So
    if the "nothing"-that is, the world as such- exhibits itself as that in the face of which one has anxiety, this means that Being-in-the-world itself is that in the face of which anxiety is anxious.
    (Martin Heidegger: Being and Time, 187/231-2)

    -The fact remains that the first moment (first for the experience: the Apocalypse may present itself as the liquidation of a series of old groups in favour of the amorphous homogeneity of a young group-in-
    fusion) suggests some observations: as the group is -first and foremost - a common praxis, but the fact remains that the community, the emergence of the praxis is reflected in the appearance of a group as an interiorization of multiplicity and reorganization of human relations.
    (Jean-Paul Sartre: Critique de la raison dialectique, p. 415)
  • David Mo
    729
    So you can score brownie points with your peers by coming up with a new interpretation of the text, duh.darthbarracuda

    You' re right. This is a good reason... for some.
  • A Seagull
    610
    To sort out the wheat from the chaff and then watch the chaff complain about it.StreetlightX

    And how do you distinguish the wheat from the chaff? Do you have some objective process for this or do you rely on popular opinion?
  • A Seagull
    610
    In my opinion, Kant is basic to get into philosophy.David Mo

    Why do you think that? For Kant meets the criteria for obscure and writing.
  • Outlander
    470


    Only chaff likes to see others complain and in misery. With or without cause. Crab mentality in a nutshell. Of course, the best chaff knows to appear as wheat, which can at times fool even the wisest of folk. And of course, no one knows what circumstances fathered a person and their mentality, views, attitude, or mannerisms. Someone awful could have secured much wealth and prosperity for a sibling who now lives in perfection that interacts with someone whom it was stolen from that now lives in anguish. You judge using a simple observation of the two you may miscategorize.

    It's not something folk are meant to do. That is, your judgement is of your own and for your own. The ultimate process is something that takes far more than any one lifetime. Besides. If it were of such urgency, the amount of chaff would be in numbers where complaining is far from their first option.
  • David Mo
    729
    Why do you think that? For Kant meets the criteria for obscure and writing.A Seagull
    Because it lays the foundation for modern knowledge theory. I share in essence his critique of metaphysical thought.

    Kant's ideas are not obscure. Or not as dark as they seem at first glance. The proof is that they have not provoked great disputes about their primary meaning -although they have provoked great disputes about their implications, which is another matter. It is not like Hegel whose sense often challenges the Hegelians themselves. Or like Heideigger who has given rise to radically different philosophies (Marcuse, Arendt, Gadamer, Sartre). and who spent his life disowning his interpreters. Or Wittgenstein, who one day changed his philosophy because he felt like it. Or Levy-Strauss, who admitted at the end of his life that he was not quite sure what he had meant before.
  • David Mo
    729
    I take the liberty of copying for you here an excerpt from an article by one of the sharpest thinkers - not philosophers - in my country.

    One day, when he left work, he went into a bookstore. Having overcome his fear of being taken for an intruder (which he was), he took a random volume of philosophy and read a page from which he understood nothing. This must be the culture, he thought, so he bought the book, went home with it and started reading it on the sofa, in front of the mute TV. Within half an hour he was exhausted. Although the book was written in his own language, it had a multitude of words that he did not understand. After deciding that the next day he would buy a dictionary, he closed the volume and turned on the television, on whose screen the drugging caterpillars corresponding to the day and the hour began to flow at once. The man put his legs on the table and let himself be invaded by the sweet evil.
    When he had been invaded he looked at the closed volume and had a revelation: the book, even if he did not understand it, was life, while the television, which he understood, was death, so he got up, took the device off the shelf and hid it under the sink, next to the dishwasher. Then he began to read those pages slowly, moving his tongue inside his mouth, without understanding anything. And the less he understood, the wiser he was. Who can explain it to him?
    — Juan José Millás

    Can you explain it?
  • StreetlightX
    5.9k
    And how do you distinguish the wheat from the chaff? Do you have some objective process for this or do you rely on popular opinion?A Seagull

    One criteria is anyone who thinks Kant is hard to read.
  • SophistiCat
    1.3k
    Kant's ideas are not obscure. Or not as dark as they seem at first glance. The proof is that they have not provoked great disputes about their primary meaningDavid Mo

    You can't be serious!

    Although to say that Kant scholars dispute the meaning of what he wrote isn't saying much. Even Hume scholars advocate radically different interpretations (there is a revisionist strain known as The New Hume), and Hume is supposed to be one of the clearest writers among famous philosophers.
  • bongo fury
    510


    How very dare you! Goodman is a paragon of virtue with respect to the vice in question. Your chosen extract is a perfectly helpful clarification of a logical distinction involving nonsense words given a technical meaning, for the best possible reasons. Obviously if you remove it from the technical context (and from a wealth of exemplary explanation) you might convince some passers by that it was willfully obscure. Well duh.

    Having said that, Goodman might have helped some readers (even more) with appropriate (but inevitably convoluted) Venn-type diagrams, which are now easily found online.
  • David Mo
    729
    Although to say that Kant scholars dispute the meaning of what he wrote isn't saying much.SophistiCat
    There may be discussions about isolated points, but the commentators I have read agree on the fundamentals.
  • bongo fury
    510
    To sort out the wheat from the chaff and then watch the chaff complain about it.StreetlightX

    So said the weavers to the Emperor.
  • 3017amen
    2.2k
    That is the question: What is the use of reading something that the author himself has made illegible?David Mo

    I think you have to pick your poison in order to make your case (whatever case you're making). I think a lot of good philosophy or philosophically good ideas, get tripped into weeds with sometimes an extraneous amount of details that otherwise distract form a good thesis. Like Kant (someone mentioned him), the jist of his arguments relate to attacking the various ways of thinking, one being formal logic and its limitations.

    As a broad brush, because philosophy lives in words, and since the way we think (our existence/consciousness) itself remains unexplained, almost all philosophy tends to get caught up in the weeds unintentionally. In a way, it's like blind leading the blind. When reading much of philosophy, I find you've got to be able to stay with the intentions behind the original theory and don't get too distracted with the extraneous stuff.

    Using a simple analogy of mechanical engineering (engines), where the basic design premise of an internal combustion engine is simply spark and fuel/air. We can discuss all the attributes of what makes it run more efficiently and more powerful. However, if one stumbles too heavily into the weeds about how gasoline, steel or electrical wiring is manufactured and/or imported, you can easily get lost in the original idea of how the engine is supposed to work.

    Or consider yet another analogy over discussing the philosophy of music. One can certainly posit theories about the harmonics and nature of music itself, and the phenomena relative to the human perception if it. And they can also discuss music theory, (chords, scales, modes, cadences, etc..) however, if one were to get into the weeds about what kind of saxophone, guitar, piano is best, including all the discussions about amplification (one guitar over the other, this amp v. that amp, ad nauseum) then one becomes equally distracted from the intention behind arguing about the philosophy of music itself. The instrument is just a means to an end, the end being creating the sounds of music.

    Some philosophy is rhetorical too... . Reminds me of Dennett's book on consciousness unexplained. It's another thick book that in the end, starts at the beginning. That beginning being mystery.
  • A Seagull
    610
    The proof is that they have not provoked great disputes about their primary meaningDavid Mo

    That hardly constitutes a proof!
  • A Seagull
    610
    One criteria is anyone who thinks Kant is hard to read.StreetlightX

    OK, then that is by popular opinion.
  • RogueAI
    191
    Maybe it's me. Maybe I'm too stupid to understand Goodman.
  • StreetlightX
    5.9k
    Ah yes, the very popular opinion that reading Kant is a cakewalk.
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