Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Why Nobody Reads Philosophy

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Why Nobody Reads Philosophy

Article excerpt

Bryan Magee, author of Confessions of a Philosopher (1997), explains in Prospect (Feb. 2000) why philosophical writing shouldn't be, but often is, opaque.

Many philosophers will never write clearly. They are incapable of it, because they are afraid of clarity. They fear that if what they write is clear, then people will think it obvious. And they want to be thought of as masters of the difficult.[ldots]

It is essential to distinguish between difficulty and unclarity. When philosophers like Plato, Hume and Schopenhauer write about problems of the utmost difficulty, in clear prose, their clarity does not make the problems appear simple, or easy to solve: on the contrary, it exposes difficulty fully to the understanding. To suppose that if a problem is tortuously difficult it needs therefore to be addressed in prose which is tortuously difficult is to make a logical error--one parodied by Dr. Johnson in his remark: "Who drives fat oxen should himself be fat. …

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