Post #1112 • January 21, 2008, 9:11 AM • 25 Comments
Paul Graham on philosophy:
The field of philosophy is still shaken from the fright Wittgenstein gave it. Later in life he spent a lot of time talking about how words worked. Since that seems to be allowed, that's what a lot of philosophers do now. Meanwhile, sensing a vacuum in the metaphysical speculation department, the people who used to do literary criticism have been edging Kantward, under new names like "literary theory," "critical theory," and when they're feeling ambitious, plain "theory." The writing is the familiar word salad:
Gender is not like some of the other grammatical modes which express precisely a mode of conception without any reality that corresponds to the conceptual mode, and consequently do not express precisely something in reality by which the intellect could be moved to conceive a thing the way it does, even where that motive is not something in the thing as such. [Footnote: This is actually from the Ordinatio of Duns Scotus (ca. 1300), with "number" replaced by "gender." Plus ca change.]
The singularity I've described is not going away. There's a market for writing that sounds impressive and can't be disproven. There will always be both supply and demand. So if one group abandons this territory, there will always be others ready to occupy it.
He makes an excellent suggestion:
Perhaps we should do what Aristotle meant to do, instead of what he did. The goal he announces in the Metaphysics seems one worth pursuing: to discover the most general truths. That sounds good. But instead of trying to discover them because they're useless, let's try to discover them because they're useful.
I propose we try again, but that we use that heretofore despised criterion, applicability, as a guide to keep us from wondering off into a swamp of abstractions. Instead of trying to answer the question:
What are the most general truths?
let's try to answer the question
Of all the useful things we can say, which are the most general?
The test of utility I propose is whether we cause people who read what we've written to do anything differently afterward. Knowing we have to give definite (if implicit) advice will keep us from straying beyond the resolution of the words we're using.
This has Apply Me to Art and Art Writing written all over it.