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Opening lines of philosophy articles
May 28, 2013 6:46 PM   Subscribe

Eric Schliesser is collecting some memorable opening lines of philosophy journal articles.
posted by LobsterMitten (40 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
"In the beginning there was nothing, and it has been getting worse ever since.". - Paul Ennis, Bleak Theory.

Perfect.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 7:11 PM on May 28, 2013 [9 favorites]


"I once followed a trail of sugar on a supermarket floor, pushing my cart down the aisle on one side of a tall counter and back the aisle on the other, seeking the shopper with the torn sack to tell him he was making a mess. With each trip around the counter, the trail became thicker. But I seemed unable to catch up. Finally it dawned on me. I was the shopper I was trying to catch."
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:17 PM on May 28, 2013 [11 favorites]


Quine's writing style reminds me of James Joyce, but people usually disagree when I tell them this. I am definitely pointing to his review of Ways of Worldmaking from now on: "Ways of Worldmaking is a congeries. Not indeed an incongruous congeries, as of congers and costermongers, but withal a congeries to conjur with."
posted by painquale at 7:21 PM on May 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


Quine is trying a bit too hard to be clever there, isn't he?
posted by thelonius at 7:22 PM on May 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


I like Quine's "On What There Is":


A curious thing about the ontological problem is its simplicity. It can be put in three Anglo-Saxon monosyllables: ‘What is there?’ It can be answered, moreover, in a word—‘Everything’—and everyone will accept this answer as true. However, this is merely to say that there is what there is. There remains room for disagreement over cases; and so the issue has stayed alive down the centuries.

posted by Schmucko at 7:25 PM on May 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Leave it to philosophy readers to apparently not understand what a line is.
posted by Apropos of Something at 7:37 PM on May 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Not sure I agree with Quine's use of "withal" in that sentence.
posted by uosuaq at 7:43 PM on May 28, 2013


It did drive me to the dictionary.
posted by painquale at 7:52 PM on May 28, 2013


It's a book, not a paper, but I quite like the zeugmatic intro of Fodor's Hume Variations:

"Back (way back) when I was a boy in short pants and graduate school, there was a substantial philosophical consensus about how to read Hume; or, more precisely, about how much of Hume is worth the bother of reading."
posted by painquale at 7:59 PM on May 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Fun.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:59 PM on May 28, 2013


" It can be answered, moreover, in a word—‘Everything’—and everyone will accept this answer as true."

Huh? I don't see it. Shouldn't the answer be "Everything that is"? (Unless you are using a very narrow definition of 'everything' or relying on an implied, appended "that is possible, in some form or another.")
posted by oddman at 8:00 PM on May 28, 2013


that is possible, in some form or another.

Ah yes, but that misses the subtle ontological claim of that famous line.

In any case, this is great. And hilarious. Oh philosophers. Often so brilliant yet so bad at writing.
posted by Lutoslawski at 8:02 PM on May 28, 2013


Quine is trying a bit too hard to be clever there, isn't he?

That seems like an apt description of basically everything Quine wrote.

And then there is my friend Justin Sytsma's "On what there is of poetry," which takes the first words from "half a column" of Quine's "On What There Is" to produce this:

Is we things unlike less?
And when we shift the sets?
For other would be most counterfeit–
Of notion.

Pegasus;
Otherwise nonsense is.
Has, seen… but:
Elementary subtler.
Precept their theories–
Pegasus.

Misguided McX’s;
More to minds named by us.
Wyman has being… but:
When we say such saying–
Pegasus.

Not the saying–
“Pegasus.”
Not with that case are…
Entity being–
Unquestion.

By way–
One who is united,
Ruining despite espousal.
He is the exister,
Preserving illusion.

Of bloated universe,
Says our sense,
Pegasus.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 8:10 PM on May 28, 2013 [12 favorites]


Actually, the introduction of Fodor's Hume Variations is one of the more funny and audacious intros I've come across:

"How this work came to be:

I happened, one day, to mention to a colleague who is a historian of philosophy my intention to teach a seminar on Hume's theory of mind. I'm sorry to say that he took it very hard; though whether it was laughter, tears, or merely scholarly rectitude that convulsed him was unclear to me. "But how can you?" he inquired when the spasms had abated. "You don't know anything about Hume."

I wasn't offended, exactly, though his italics struck me as perhaps not called for. But I was perplexed. And troubled. It's quite true that I don't know anything about Hume; my ignorance of the history of philosophy is nearly perfect. Much like my spelling, it is a legend to my friends and students. But the thought that one ought to know a lot about what one teaches hadn't occurred to me, nor did my previous practice much conform to it. "Are you quite sure?" I asked. He said he was.

Frankly, I was inclined not to believe him. "I'll bet," I said to myself, "that I can too teach a seminar on Hume without actually knowing anything about him. Why, I'll bet," I added to myself, "that I could even write a book on Hume without actually knowing anything about him." In the fullness of time, I did. The outcome has been, I guess, equivocal. On the one hand, here's the book; on the other hand, there's perhaps not a great deal in it that's clearly about Hume."
posted by painquale at 8:14 PM on May 28, 2013 [22 favorites]


If titles are alright, I really love this gem: This Article Should Not Be Rejected by Mind, which was, in fact, not rejected by Mind (a very prestigious journal, at that).

And if endings are alright too, I love this gem by PW Anderson in his "More is Different", who though a physicist is relevant reading for philosophy:

"In closing, I offer two examples from economics of what I hope to have said. Marx said that quantitative differences become qualitative ones, but a dialogue in Paris in the 1920's sums it up even more clearly:
Fitzgerald: The rich are different from us.
Hemingway: Yes, they have more money."
posted by SollosQ at 8:18 PM on May 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Leave it to philosophy readers to apparently not understand what a line is.
posted by Apropos of Something at 9:37 PM on May 28
[1 favorite +] [!]


I bet if they had majored in a STEM field they would have been able to follow the damn instructions.
posted by Unified Theory at 8:25 PM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Eric was asking for first lines, plural. All the proffered entries fall well within bounds. What's the problem?
posted by kenko at 8:27 PM on May 28, 2013


(I was making fun of someone upthread, if that's not obvious.)
posted by Unified Theory at 8:31 PM on May 28, 2013


You may take my comment to be directed at the same person.
posted by kenko at 8:33 PM on May 28, 2013


(Don't worry - we philosophers are just insecure when it comes to comparisons to the STEM fields)
posted by SollosQ at 8:34 PM on May 28, 2013


No we're not.
posted by oddman at 8:43 PM on May 28, 2013


A while ago there was also a fun post at Crooked Timber (which I posted here, and people contributed some gems) for opening paragraphs of academic works in any field.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:52 PM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


"I once followed a trail of sugar on a supermarket floor, pushing my cart down the aisle on one side of a tall counter and back the aisle on the other, seeking the shopper with the torn sack to tell him he was making a mess. With each trip around the counter, the trail became thicker. But I seemed unable to catch up. Finally it dawned on me. I was the shopper I was trying to catch."

I believe that was co-authored by Profs. Pooh and Piglet.
posted by yoink at 9:07 PM on May 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


Unless the goal is simply to be witty without content (a la Fodor and Quine) I've long been unable to best this from Sellars, which shows up in the comments:

"The aim of philosophy, abstractly formulated, is to understand how things in the broadest possible sense of the term hang together in the broadest possible sense of the term."

and the continuation:

"Under 'things in the broadest possible sense' I include such radically different items as not only 'cabbages and kings', but numbers and duties, possibilities and finger snaps, aesthetic experience and death. To achieve success in philosophy would be, to use a contemporary turn of phrase, to 'know one's way around' with respect to all these things, not in that unreflective way in which the centipede of the story knew its way around before it faced the question, 'how do I walk?', but in that reflective way which means that no intellectual holds are barred."

Sellars "Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man"
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:15 PM on May 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


In terms of both rhetoric and content, I think it's hard to do better than the first paragraph of Word and Object. It's the fourth line, not the first, but I've always been enamored of "Entification begins at arm's length; the points of condensation in the primordial conceptual scheme are things glimpsed, not glimpses." It's a gorgeous denial of sense data theory.

And again, it sounds Joycean to me, like something out of the Proteus chapter of Ulysses. Actually, the first paragraph of Proteus makes very nearly the same point that the first paragraph of W&O does. ("Then he was aware of them bodies before of them coloured.")
posted by painquale at 9:39 PM on May 28, 2013 [2 favorites]




"LIKE MOST English philosophers (Bradley being the great exception--corrupted no doubt by Hegel), Whitehead is a pluralist, as were Occam, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, and Bertrand Russell."--Charles Hartshorne, "Whitehead's Revolutionary Concept of Prehension."

Berkeley was Irish, and Hume was Scottish, not English.
posted by John Cohen at 10:45 PM on May 28, 2013


And wasn't Russell Welsh?
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:51 PM on May 28, 2013


You want a thesis statement?
Human reason has this peculiar fate that in one species of its knowledge it is burdened by questions which, as prescribed by the very nature of reason itself, it is not able to ignore, but which, as transcending all its powers, it is also not able to answer.
Put that in your synthetic unity of apperception and... well, I'm not sure what you'd do with it there, but whatever it is, do that!
posted by ubernostrum at 12:27 AM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


"The weekly Magazine of the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung regularly issues Marcel Proust's famous questionnaire which is answered each time by a different personality of West German public life. One of those recently questioned was Rudolf Augstein, editor of Der Spiegel; his reply to the question "Which property do you appreciate most with your friends?" was "that they are few."

-Godehard Link, The Logical Analysis of Plurals and Mass Terms: A Lattice-theoretical Approach
posted by tractorfeed at 12:39 AM on May 29, 2013


Across the campuses of the world, philosophers are suddenly finding it that little bit harder to get started on writing their papers.
posted by Segundus at 12:55 AM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I definitely read this as Eric Schlosser and was impressed with his wide-ranging expertise.
posted by threeants at 1:12 AM on May 29, 2013


"Human skin is the one authentic criterion of the universe which philosophers recognize when they appraise knowledge under their professional rubric, epistemology."

The unfortunately entirely forgotten Arthur Bentley, The Human Skin: Philosophy's Last Line of Defence. It's full of brilliant gems:

Symbolic logic, that curious mixture of skill and superstition...

He [the philosopher] will assert that it is necessary to get behind the process in some highly specialized way [...] "Getting behind" is, of course, a necessity in all research; it is also a characteristic of all behavior, including as Jennings found that of the infusoria.

...closer descriptions are very greatly needed here as in all cases in which vehemence of belief is found in direct proportion to extent of ignorance.

Under the old approach—the philosophical—the pint-pot dreams of the ocean. Under the new approach—the scientific—the pint-pot begins to get the measure of a pint, and epistemology goes to join alchemy and astrology in the limbo of man's crude endeavors.


And so on.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 2:52 AM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I like the opening line of Derrida's Disseminations:

"This, therefore, will not have been a book".
posted by poetix at 3:54 AM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not impressed. It's a book - I've seen it.
posted by thelonius at 4:14 AM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Quine is trying a bit too hard to be clever there, isn't he?

That seems like an apt description of basically everything Quine wrote.


Amen.

I spent several years of my life reading way too much Quine. I was raised an analytic (or whatever we are now), and so raised to think that Quine was some kind of paragon of rigor. I learned my way around his work pretty well, and ultimately concluded that he tended to substitute clever (or...hmm...something like clever...) writing for actual argument at crucial points. So much so that it was hard for me to shake the hunch that it was, to some extent at least, and in some cases at least, something akin to intentional dishonesty. But that's a serious charge, and I report it only to indicate the depth of my conviction that something, intentional or not, was seriously amiss. "Epistemology Naturalized," for example, is, IMO, something like a crime against philosophy.

I kind of winced when reading this post, because I think (post-)analytics (or whatever we/they are now) are really bad at trying to be clever in papers, and I fear this might initiate a fad...
posted by Fists O'Fury at 5:42 AM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


"One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit." -- Harry Frankfurt, "On Bullshit."

Nice.

"Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his share"

My day is complete.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:17 AM on May 29, 2013


I had no idea that Quine was such a Battlestar fan.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:56 AM on May 29, 2013


David Burrell's 'Analogical Predication' (in Aquinas: God and Action) begins: "Aquinas is perhaps best known for his theory of analogy. On closer inspection it turns out that he never had one."
posted by verstegan at 1:30 AM on May 30, 2013


"One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit." -- Harry Frankfurt, "On Bullshit."

Harry G. Frankfurt on The Daily Show
posted by homunculus at 3:44 PM on June 3, 2013


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