My View of Philosophy (and Philosophers)
Philosopher = Lawyer
In several ways, philosophers are like lawyers. In both cases, it is their
job to state things clearly, to thoroughly and precisely describe things.
In both cases, the words and phrases used depend on a long tradition of
careful statement. Of course, you could perhaps say that this is true
for any writer. But for these two professions, I believe things are
different. The point is the clarity itself, rather than the content.
In philosophy, perhaps more than in legal representation, there are
numerous opportunities to test the boundaries between clear and careful
statement and egotistical snobbery.
Philosopher Not = Lawyer
In some ways, philosophers are just the opposite of lawyers. The task the
lawyer performs is often not something you wanted, but is something you need.
What the philosopher does is, on the other hand, often useless, but great fun.
The lawyer is also occassionally aided by a certain degree of obfuscation.
I see no parallel there for the philosopher, except that in some unfortunate
cases, an author is guided in choice of word and phrase more by egotistical
concerns than by an honest desire to communicate. Do I dwell on the point?
One problem I'm having is that people doing real work on how brains work,
usually biologists, physiologists, medical people, and some psychologists,
tend to produce big, expensive books, whereas philosophers tend to produce
cheap, little books. It's a bias I am struggling to deal with.
One thing that seems to make much philosophy unnecessarily difficult to read
is the often large number of foreign-language phrases one encounters.
These are often Latin, but may also include French, German, or ancient Greek,
among others. Now, I am not completely against this practice. After all,
it is much easier to write or say "et. al." than "and other authors, unnamed".
Some of these foreign expressions are quite well known and widely used and
an author cannot be criticized for their occassional use. On the other hand,
the practice sometimes seems to get out of hand. This is particularly true
with the relatively rare items, whose use seems only to complicate the
story and perhaps make the material appear to be more mysterious or
imponderable. Would somebody please tell me how "pace Searle"
is superior to "(with apologies to Searle)"? I find it impossible
to believe that the savings in paper and ink are the primary factor. Oh, yes,
I know it doesn't mean exactly that. My dictionary says it means something
like, "(I most humbly and peacefully request the graceful exculpation of
___, whose following well-chosen words I have brutally misappropriated)".
Well, ... maybe yes, maybe no. Some items I have encountered recently include
ceterus parebus, ex hypothesi, a fortiori,
and ipso facto. If you don't use these phrases often, the effect
can be quite tedious. You either have to go look them up or just guess at
a meaning and plow on, dubiously.