Sunday, May 06, 2007

Notes and Links

* An interesting review of a work on Mulla Sadra at NDPR.

* One of the most famous [Protestant] scholastics is Lutheran Johann Gerhard. You can get a taste of his work by reading his discussion of the state of exinanition and exaltation (PDF) of Christ. Exinanitio is the Latin term for kenosis. His Sacred Meditations (PDF) are also online; as you might expect from a Lutheran, the chapters on faith are the most interesting.

* SFFAudio points to a list of online lectures by Courtney Brown (Emory) for his Science Fiction and Politics course. I've begun listening to them, and from what I've heard the lectures on Asimov's Foundation novels -- born of a little bit of cribbin' from the works of Edward Gibbon -- are definitely interesting.

* Kenny Pearce has an interesting excerpt from his paper on the ontological economy of idealism.

* Ralph Luker posts an awesome presentation by Hans Rosling on graphical presentation of data on global economy and health.

* One of the reasons I went off a bit on Warburton's interview about clarity in my post on the subject is that much of Warburton's advice struck me as just plain silly. If you must offer rules of thumb for writing philosophy clearly, surely one could do much, much better. Frank Wilson at Books, Inq. responded with some thoughtful comments. I do think he's right about addressing general readers; while I wouldn't make the ability to communicate the subject to general readers a test of understanding it does seem to be a sign of it, assuming that we're talking about an ability to communicate the subject without distorting it. But I don't think Warburton can put this forward as a defense of his advice, because his explanation of why clarity is important puts heavy emphasis on the collaborative aspect of philosophy. I was also simply puzzled by his choice of examples, which are supposed to show the clarity that contributes to collaboration and the obscurity that impedes it, seem to be simply chosen on the basis of taste and familiarity, not on the basis of any serious reflection. It all just seemed muddled, even allowing for the conditions of an interview.

Warburton has given much better advice before. 6 on that list is just the usual arbitrary nonsense people repeat uncritically when giving advice about writing. I wish people would stop telling students not to write long sentences and instead tell them how to write long sentences well. Similar things may be said of all the other advice in 6. It's absurd to tell people to use adverbs sparingly when what they need to know is how to use them discriminatingly; it is silly to tell them to avoid complex syntax when what they need to know is how to balance that complexity. It's like telling people that the best way to do maintenance around the house is to throw out any tool bigger than a breadbox. Not only does such advice not tell people how to do maintenance, it would limit their tools for doing it. The same must be said of all these Thou-shalt-nots people hand out for writing. They are not a guide for writing well, and they lead to writers who try to avoid altogether instruments of language that are profoundly useful when well-applied. Much of the other advice in that post, however, is salutary, and could form the basis of a better account of clear writing than given in the interview, so perhaps it was just an 'off day' for Warburton. The muddle around the concept of 'clarity' exhibited in the interview, however, seems to me to be quite common among philosophers. I think it dangerous to good reasoning.

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