Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Banham on Clarity in Philosophy

Exactly right:

Calls for clarity in philosophy are in themselves obscure since underneath them is a view of what such clarity has to consist in. It must involve the ability to translate thought into a general common medium whose own conditions of possibility are never made transparent.


I've argued much the same thing myself. And as I've noted before, when we ask for examples of philosophers who are clear, we often get people like Hume -- who is notoriously ambiguous and difficult to interpret (which in a way is good for those of us who study Hume). And when you look closely at the claims about what it is to be clear in philosophy, they always seem to be an incoherent mishmash.

Whenever this topic comes up, I'm always reminded of Mary Midgley's sarcastic comment in The Owl of Minerva:

"Philosophers are always complaining that other people's remarks are not clear when what they mean is that they are unwelcome. So they often cultivate the art of not understanding things -- something which British analytic philosophers are particularly good at."

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