"If merely 'feeling good' could decide, drunkenness would be the supremely valid human experience"
January 22, 2005 12:51 PM   Subscribe

Squashed Philosophers is Glyn Hughes' gift to mankind. "Unfortunately, life is rather short, the little storeroom of the brain doesn't have extensible walls and the greatest of thinkers seem to also be among the worst, and the lengthiest, of writers." Try Plato's The Apology in 22 minutes, or Descartes' Meditations on First Philosophy in 26 minutes. Really pressed for time but need a lift? Maybe you'd prefer Schopenhauer's The World as Will and Idea in 12 minutes or, if it does it for you, Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil condensed to only 14%. (just add water)

Suit your fancy, take your pick: "Can machines think?", "...we men... find reality generally quite unsatisfactory.", "If merely 'feeling good' could decide, drunkenness would be the supremely valid human experience.", "Cruelty is a virtue, not a vice.", "Therefore, the earth is not flat.", "Gott wüfelt nicht (God does not play dice).", "Once freedom has exploded in the soul of man, the gods no longer have any power over him."
posted by reflection (41 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Great find, thanks.
posted by swordfishtrombones at 6:38 PM on January 22, 2005


Great link reflection. Thanks.
posted by chime at 6:39 PM on January 22, 2005


I like it. I like it a lot.
posted by Simon! at 7:52 PM on January 22, 2005


Good stuff.
posted by stp123 at 7:56 PM on January 22, 2005


I understand that this is not quite reducing philosophers and thinkers to a pithy quote or aphorism, but I think it's almost as dangerous. To me, this site seems useful as a refresher, for one to read once one has read the full work, or as a primer, to read in preparation for a full work. I haven't read anywhere near the whole list of thinkers this site contains, but I wouldn't attempt to alter my life or thinking (as, presumably, one who reads such things cares to do) based on what someone else decided was most of use to the philosopher's thought.
posted by NoamChomskyStoleMyFace at 9:27 PM on January 22, 2005


to read in preparation for a full work

The great thinkers grasp universal concepts that lie just at the brink of our imaginations, and we gather them up and put them in the context of our lives, using them to further spawn our own creativity. I don't think our method of gathering matters, and I don't think that every single word written is equally as important as the one preeceeding it, or the one it preceeds. This speaks for itself; it's why we have ellipses, quotes, and paraphrasing.

There is no need to read Alan Turing's "Computing Machinery and Intelligence" to understand the concepts it embodies. We can approach the work with our own conceptions and compare what it is of the past that contributed to the present.

In a way, it's like saying that your local public library exists only as a primer for the Library of Congress, which you will someday tackle. This is simple not realistic. Why can't I just have a taste, and tasting only what I like and however much I like?
posted by reflection at 10:30 PM on January 22, 2005


God, where to start? The assumption in play when a paraphrase or an ellipsis is used is not that you are a busy important person with things to do, places to go, and people to see. The assumption is that you have read this already and don't need to be reminded of things of which you are well aware.


There is no need to read Alan Turing's "Computing Machinery and Intelligence"....We can approach the work

Whatever. Generally speaking, most philosophers work by setting forth a series of propositions, one building upon another, step after step. In some of these steps, seemingly everyday notions such as 'duty' or 'virtue' are given very specific definitions and used in a very particular way. Skip that one step, and everything which comes after flies over your head whether you know it or not.
A lot of it is a bit like Jenga; arbitrarily yank out something from the middle and the whole thing could come crashing down on you. If you want something where you can blow off the thinkers and get the scoop from a textbook, you're looking for Math or maybe Science, which are down the hall past Arguments and Abuse. Even then, you can memorize multiplication tables all you like, but without understanding the underlying principles all you can do is recite a very dull monologue.


Why can't I just have a taste, and tasting only what I like and however much I like?

Go right ahead. You can get Kant for Dummies and learn that he thinks it's not cool to steal medicine when your wife is dying, you got no scratch and the pharmacist is being a hardon about the whole thing. You can even surmise that he was so twisted, the only place his moral reasoning belongs is in Uri Geller's utensil drawer. But so what? If you don't know how he got there, the result by itself is only really useful if you wish to appear well-read when chatting over cocktails.
To get back to the tasting metaphor, philosophy is one of those things where you really do have to clean your plate. Even the peas and spinach. Unlike parsley, it's there for a reason.
I don't mean you shouldn't touch philosophy at all unless you have oodles of free time and can read and digest all of it; I mean that if you want to understand what someone came to believe and how they reasoned themselves to that point, the only way to do that person's ideas justice is to get it from the horse's mouth rather than some glib parboiler like myself.



It's like saying that your local public library exists only as a primer for the Library of Congress, which you will someday tackle

Newsflash: the Library of Congress is itself a subset of the entire history of the written word, so we may as well stop reading anything, no? Look, it's like NCSMF said; as a refresher or secondary material, it's cool, something to help you out along the way. It isn't a substitute, and you do yourself a disservice to think otherwise.
posted by trondant at 12:25 AM on January 23, 2005


Can somebody summarize what trondant just said for me?
posted by mono blanco at 1:09 AM on January 23, 2005


you have read this already

I'm pretty sure you are the first person to have interpreted it that way. Most people understand an ellipsis to mean "skipping over a bunch of unnecessary bs to get to the good stuff." And that point pretty much concludes my argument. You do not need to read the boring ass Critique of Pure Reason to understand Kant's POV.
posted by reflection at 1:26 AM on January 23, 2005


Very nice post indeed. (Especially for a first one.) Good links as well. But couldn't you have made the description about 67% shorter?
posted by LeLiLo at 1:35 AM on January 23, 2005


His POV? Maybe. But not his argument. That was the point, really.

Anyway, it appears some folks are into the whole brevity thing, so I'll just say this: there are no shortcuts.

And I do apologize for any offense; I know that (too-long) comment came off rough.
posted by trondant at 2:16 AM on January 23, 2005


Please condense Deleuze's A Thousand Plateaus.

I'm not sure I understand it entirely, but I'm reasonably certain it's the only work of philosophy that matters today.
posted by lacus at 2:17 AM on January 23, 2005


Anyone who thinks that they don't have the time to actually read the uncondensed works yet want to learn from them is an idiot.

However, most people who think they know anything about these works know what they know via a secondary (or worse) source.

So what else is new?
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 2:56 AM on January 23, 2005


I'm not sure I understand it entirely, but I'm reasonably certain it's the only work of philosophy that matters today.

Oh dear.
posted by Wolof at 3:55 AM on January 23, 2005


Anyone who thinks that they don't have the time to actually read the uncondensed works yet want to learn from them is an idiot.

This veneration for the original is admirable, but as Glyn Hughes puts it: "Unfortunately...the greatest of thinkers seem to also be among the worst, and the lengthiest, of writers." What's so awful about separating out some of the chaff?

Passing right over the humor of EB sneering at the concept of editing things down to the clear nub of the argument, this is an immensely useful tool for anyone who wants a quick overview of some of the greats and see which they may want to delve into further.

Also, damn you reflection. I just spent 20 minutes preparing to post this, adding every freaking name to the tags. On the plus side, the double post warning is working fine.
posted by CunningLinguist at 5:34 AM on January 23, 2005


Reader's Digest Condensed Philosophy! The supercondensed version may be found at the bottom of a few pints down the pub.

...but seriously reflection/CunningLinguist; this is/would've been a good post.
posted by sciurus at 6:03 AM on January 23, 2005


Anyone who thinks that they don't have the time to actually read the uncondensed works yet want to learn from them is an idiot.

Jesus, EB, I don't expect that kind of snobbery from you.

For those of you taking the "if you don't wade through all of Kant, you have no business thinking or talking about him" line, right backatcha: if you're not going to read literature in the original, you have no business thinking or talking about it. Translation notoriously loses the essence of the original: traduttore, traditore. Anyone who thinks that they don't have the time to actually learn Russian yet wants to get something from Dostoevsky is an idiot.

So there.
posted by languagehat at 7:55 AM on January 23, 2005


Brilliant find!

As someone paid to present the ideas of these thinkers to a room full of 50 blinking freshmen every term, I find summaries like these useful for giving me a "hook" into the POV of someone encountering these thinkers for the first time.

Squashed Version: thank you.
posted by joe lisboa at 9:16 AM on January 23, 2005


If you don't know how he got there, the result by itself is only really useful if you wish to appear well-read when chatting over cocktails.

...which, let's be honest, is the real goal for most philosophy readers anyway, right or wrong.
posted by bingo at 9:27 AM on January 23, 2005


Anyone who thinks that they don't have the time to actually learn Russian yet wants to get something from Dostoevsky is an idiot.

Hell yes. Similarly with Plato's stuff. Platonic dialogues made no sense to me until I took some Greek and learned a bit about the manifold meanings of arete.
posted by sciurus at 10:24 AM on January 23, 2005


Suppose you meet someone who says that they are really interested in Football. You ask him what he thought of last week's game and he begins to recite a string of names and numbers. You ask him if he watched the game and he tells you he was too busy so he just read the boxscore from the paper. You begin to talk to him about the missed field goal and a coaching error along with two or three bad calls that might have changed the outcome. He looks at you blankly. He begins talking about who had the most rushing yards in the last game and who had the most passing yards. Baffled, you ask him if he has ever watched a football game, and he says that no, he has never actually "watched" one because everything he needs to know is right there in the back of the newspaper, and anyway he is always too busy.

There is a HUGE difference between the problems of translation and those of summarization. Do you think that reading the Cliffsnotes of, say the Brothers Karamazov, is equal to reading the Brothers Karamazov? If one student read the Cliffsnotes five times and another read the book itself five times, it is quite likely that the former would actually present a better facsimile of knowledge about and engagement with the work than the latter. However, the latter would be able to understand the wholeness of the work as more than an abstract notion; s/he would see it as an organic and autonomous work of literature, while the Cliffsnotes reader would have a potemkin village consisting of talking points. Someone who has actually read the work will be able to martial claims and arguments outside the neccesarily limited scope of the summary. The reader of the digested work is always at the mercy of the digester for his understanding of the work, and so his concerns about the work will always be limited in that way.

At its worst "summation" as a literary form suggests that there is a "finite" amount of knowledge within a work to be distilled from it and to be collected by the thirdhand reader. I believe that in a work of philosophy, as with any other literary work, its wholeness, its totality, is irreducible. The length of a work cannot be separated from its "meaning". A philosophical system cannot be redacted to a series of "points" without losing something essential. A good example of this is the Socratic dialogue, where the composition and development of arguments, the interplay of characters, and the errors and mistakes made along the way are as important to understanding the work as is the idea of an ideal state; the process of determining what comprises the ideal polis is as much "the point" as any conclusions made about it.

Summaries encourage people to look at philosophical works from a position that is contrary to the very heart and soul of these works. The economy of time and the marketplace (euphemisms for quotidian concerns and "making money") which are actually philosophy's antagonists are given equal consideration with the value of the ideas expressed in a given work. The work may then be reduced to a series of contextless "ideas" or terms picked at the discretion of a self-determined "expert" whose philosophical interests and preoccupations may or may not be the same as those of the reader.

The bad faith of these summaries can be seen in the pie charts contained in the index. They form a brief cost-benefit analysis, in which is carried the implicit notion that philosophy is a "waste of time," so you should read the digested form to waste as little of that precious commodity as possible. This attitude cannot be reconciled with the content and aims of philosophy (other than the "philosophy of business").

What is all the goddamned hurry?
posted by mokujin at 10:41 AM on January 23, 2005


His POV? Maybe. But not his argument. That was the point, really.

I think this a great point. Sure, you can read a summary and say "I understand Kant's point of view" and this will make you sound intelligent at cocktail parties. But if you really want to learn anything, you have to engage his ideas. Minimally, you have to ask yourself "Do I agree?" If you do agree, you should have ample motivation to explore his reasoning in order to better understand and defend your shared point of view. If you don't agree, you're really being disrespectful by saying you don't agree when you only know the conclusion, not the argument.
posted by dagnyscott at 11:12 AM on January 23, 2005


In paragraph three of my post above I wrote "the Socratic dialogue" when I should have written "Plato's Republic".
posted by mokujin at 11:46 AM on January 23, 2005


I don't know if some of these works are improved, or even more accessible by being condensed. I would also have to wonder what the criterion for editing was. Often, when reading a secondary source, the author/editor's biases can change some very basic meanings of the original text.

Plato's Apology is one piece that I don't think can be helped in any way from editing. Not only is it good philosophy, it's great literature. Apology and Symposium should be required reading, in my opinion.

Then I look over at his edit of Wittgenstein's Tractatus and think 'how does one edit this?' Tractatus is one of the most austere and condensed philosophical writings and it seems like condensing it damages its overall power. Besides, Tractatus is only part of the whole of Wittgenstein's philosophy. If someone at a cocktail party starts talking about ol Ludwig, then the person who has only read a condensed version of his first book is going to lose the thread of the conversation very quickly.

Overall, I don't think this is an inherently bad project. This could be beneficial for students who need to quickly grasp some of these texts, or for people who need to quickly review a text they already have experience with. This is no substitution for read the entire texts, multiple times, before claiming an understanding of the texts. If you really want condensed information, look to the Oxford Very Short Introduction series. Though I sometimes quibble with them, they are a great intro to philosophers and can be very helpful when reading a text for the first time.

oh, and here are some Philosophy Action Figures.
posted by elwoodwiles at 12:20 PM on January 23, 2005


Just wanted to second that nod, elwoodwiles, to the Oxford VSI series. Quite good.
posted by joe lisboa at 1:17 PM on January 23, 2005


I'm sorry, but it's just not true to think that you can't glean good insights from a summary, or that summaries are inherently bad.

I'm just not going to dine sumptuously for a few weeks on William James' opus. Not that I'm "in a hurry" (which in itself is a somewhat derisive suggestion). I just have other interests and priorities. But it's good to have an overview of what the guy had to say. And in reading the summary just now, I've noted a couple of interesting insights in his arguments that have given me food for thought.

But if some people still feel that THEY can't really learn from a summary, or that THEY really don't like overviews because it offends their sensibilities, then fair enough. Some folks are like that.

As for me, I really appreciated the link, and will use it not only to get an exposure to the few books on the list I haven't already read, but to review the ones I have. Reading the summary of Marcus Aurelius' "Meditations" reminded me why I liked that book so much when I read it 15 years ago.
posted by darkstar at 3:57 PM on January 23, 2005


"Is it cheating? Perhaps, but if it is, then so is reading Plato in anything other than unical Attic on papyrus."

Sure, yeah. Hell, why read anyway? What a waste of time, since every kind of "cheating" is just as bad as every other.
posted by koeselitz at 6:40 PM on January 24, 2005


I have read Plato in Attic. But a good translation suffices. A "summary" doesn't. Quit making excuses for laziness.

If you've already read the books, then a summary or outline is fine (but it's damn easy and inevitable to forget huge portions of what you've read and a summary can't really compensate for that because the details always matter).
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 6:29 AM on January 25, 2005


But a good translation suffices.

Bullshit. That's exactly the same as someone saying "But a good condensation suffices." Do you think Plato would agree with you, if he could somehow read a modern English translation? I guarantee you he'd insist you couldn't understand his thought unless you read his actual words. Furthermore, it's not enough to get through the text with the aid of Liddell-Scott-Jones -- you'd have to read with the understanding of a fifth-century Greek. Which brings up the issue of context: you can't understand Plato without being fully aware of all the other philosophers he's referencing, either directly or by implication -- which can't be done, because most of them have disappeared.

Do you not see that it's literally impossible to understand anything fully, that we're all constantly going on inexact understanding of incomplete material? More knowledge is better than less, and of course it's good to read whatever corpora are left us by the ravages of time, but to get on a high horse and look down on those who have not read as fully as you is to open yourself to a richly deserved tu quoque. One reason I'm as "permissive" as I am about language is that I know enough to catch out the most rigid prescriptivists in their own "mistakes." When all are sinners, who shall cast stones?
posted by languagehat at 7:12 AM on January 25, 2005


One can make the point that we don't know as much as we might think we do, and that we're really lost in a sea of information we don't know. Fine; we should keep that in mind. But these 'condensed versions' actually serve to obscure that fact by telling the reader that they've understood "the general gist" of an author before even reading a bad translation of him. (And since most of these "squashed" versions seem to have been condensed from bad translations, what do we expect of them anyhow?)

Really, to say that "we really don't know much about anything" is an argument against making translations, period. Let those who would be serious about it spend their time; better to remain silent whereof we cannot speak.
posted by koeselitz at 10:33 AM on January 25, 2005


Well, I'm willing to leave it to the reader to understand the limited nature of the "general gist" and make allowances for it (either keeping a "sort-of-understood" bookmark in one's brain or going on to read more thoroughly if one is intrigued). I'm not claiming the linked summaries provide a sufficient understanding, just mocking the reeling-in-horror attitude. "Oh dear me, this nonsense will give Tom the Tinker the idea that he understands Plato, whereas unless you've studied with Jowett at Oxford, as of course have I, you have no hope of comprehension and should leave it to your betters." That sort of thing gets my back up, it does.

Nice Wittgenstein reference, yo!
posted by languagehat at 1:44 PM on January 25, 2005


Sorry, you've not convinced me, languagehat. One reason is that you use the phrase "understand fully" which, you might note, I never used.

A good transation is one where the translator understands the original text very well, and in context. You cannot trust a summarizer for that level of comprehension. So that's one strike.

But the second, and larger problem, is that especially because it's a translation it is quite important to have the context that all the detail of the full text makes available.

And this is doubly or triply true with regard to philosophy. Philosophy is more often than not in the details. Would you expect to learn calculus by reading a summary?

There's a much larger gulf between someone whose only familiarity with a text is from a secondary source or a "summary" and someone who's read a good translation than there is between someone whose read a good translation and someone whose read it in the original language.

The perfect should not be the enemy of the good. But the good should be the enemy of mediocrity. Secondhand sources and summaries are inadequate and more often than not do more harm than good. Period.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 3:27 PM on January 25, 2005


"Do you not see that it's literally impossible to understand anything fully, that we're all constantly going on inexact understanding of incomplete material? More knowledge is better than less, and of course it's good to read whatever corpora are left us by the ravages of time, but to get on a high horse and look down on those who have not read as fully as you is to open yourself to a richly deserved tu quoque. One reason I'm as "permissive" as I am about language is that I know enough to catch out the most rigid prescriptivists in their own "mistakes." When all are sinners, who shall cast stones?"

Isn’t the difficulty of acquiring sure and certain knowledge precisely the point of philosophy? Not to mention philology? Language (parole) is fluid and changing; because it is not stagnant the descriptivist approach is reasonable and realistic. Philosophical truth (whatever it be) as it is presented in any given text is neither fluid nor changing. If you deny that fact, then you are denying not the possibility of “full knowledge,” but the possibility of any knowledge and you should probably be wearing a black armband in memory of the lately departed gallic saint of confusion.

I don’t think I am better than anyone, and I don’t see anyone here arguing that they are either. When I was younger I wasted a good deal of reading garbage when I should have been reading good books. I still do it, although somewhat less. People, especially myself, take shortcuts, read ponies, pretend to know things they do not and commit all sorts of frauds all the time. This is the way things are and the way people are. But why defend the way things are simply because they are the way they are? Does the status quo really need defenders? Are you now arguing that philosophy be normative based on your dislike of prescriptivists in language?

Because it is difficult to reach understanding, because meaning is elusive, and texts are challenging, we should throw up our hands and give up? One could easily argue that at many times and in many places Plato himself did not “fully understand” the meanings and ramifications of his writings. This is proof of the need for more rigor rather than less. Prescriptivism in language is one thing, but asking that people expend effort and challenge themselves to read things that 60 hour a week factory workers were capable of reading and discussing only 100 years ago--does that make me a bourgeois criminal? Wanting to be better myself and wanting others to be better, that is elitist? Pretentious I can grant you, but not elitist. This definition of elitist is a semantic turn that has come straight from the culture warriors at Fox News.

Any argument for the digest is, to my mind, what exalted and beloved leader (also a lover of philosophy) would call "the soft bigotry of low expectations." I simply don't understand why anyone would want to prescribe or defend faulty and incomplete knowledge to someone seeking to learn about philosophy, unless because they think that certain people just won't be able to understand the unexpurgated texts. I don't accept that at all. If someone can read, has an interest in philosophy, and is not mentally disabled, there is simply no good reason for them to settle for a summary.

I have taught Plato (in both Greek and English) and what I discovered from doing so surprised me. My students, none of whom could write a coherent essay with a single complex fucking sentence, could read and discuss the Apology and the Phaedo in a meaningful and intelligent way. Whereas Hesiod and Aristotle made them bored and slightly angry (probably my fault), they actually enjoyed contending with the ideas that Plato presents. That is one reason why I have nothing but scorn for anyone who recommends or defends summaries: if they prevent just one person from reading that original text in favor of a second-rate and inferior condensation, then they are doing harm.

The digest is a not a translation, it is a bowdlerization. It is textual criticism in reverse. Elements of the text that were fortunate enough to survive their transmission (as you pointed out) are subtracted willy-nilly for the ease of the lazy. Some concepts are emphasized while others are minimized, all at the discretion of the summarizer who claims to preserve and clarify even as he confuses and destroys. From Peisistratos to Aristophanes of Byzantium to Bentley and Housman scholars who understood the difficulties of understanding have worked to get as close to the "autograph" of texts as possible. Now should we turn our heads and shut our mouths as their important work is undone in the name of sloth and convenience simply because "more knowledge is better than less"? You should really reread Plato.
posted by mokujin at 12:39 AM on January 26, 2005


Well and forcefully said.

You touched on one very important point that I realized I had failed to make earlier: a summary necessarily leaves a great deal out. Frankly, I don't trust anyone (a summarizer, a lecturing professor) to do the work for me in deciding what's important and what's not—not to mention determining "what the author really is saying".

Republic, since we're discussing Plato, strongly comes to mind. I've always mistrusted the widely asserted claim that it's some sort of political manifesto, a blueprint for the organization of a real society. There's no denying that Plato deals with this at great length and with great detail and so it clearly is, in some sense, what's commonly claimed. Even so, the context is to discuss the organization of a state as a metaphor for the organization of the soul. This blueprint is explicitly a metaphor. This is only one thing I think one should keep in mind when reading and discussing this book. A summary creates a very sparse context—sparse enough to be misleading.

Anyway, there's a lot there, I myself wouldn't trust any of my own decisions about what's important and what's not so important that it can safely be ignored.

And, hell, we're using Plato as an example. The later philosophical works are, for the most part, increasingly dense and each sentence might well be described as relying on the previous. What to discard? Nothing.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 1:48 AM on January 26, 2005


I said:

"Are you now arguing that philosophy be normative based on your dislike of prescriptivists in language?"

"normative" should be changed to "descriptive."


Ethereal Bligh, I think that you are right about the Republic in the way it telescopes between the individual and the political. I don't want to entirely discard the political element out of a sense of duty to the professor of political theory who originally got me interested in Plato and who was strongly biased against that reading. I like the "as above, so below" element to the notion of polis as metaphor. Of course the ideal polis described in the Republic sounds very similar to Sparta, a city that Plato and other associates of Socrates with anti-democratic sentiments had real political allegiences to. But, yeah, you are absolutely right. The longer and more complex a work, the more certainty that a summary will not simply fail to capture its meaning, but change and distort it. I am too tired to actually hunt it down, but when it comes to the difficulties of representation and reproduction, I really like that Borges story about the map that was so exact that it covered the kingdom.

So, I read the summary of the Apology when this was first posted and I just went back and read it again. This is a book that in English and in Greek is at once very funny and very sad. Somehow the "squashed" version manages to lose both of those elements and the result is a new genre of humorless parody. Why would somebody who had only read that ever want to read the unexpurgated Plato?
posted by mokujin at 2:59 AM on January 26, 2005


I think you both may be mistaking my emphasis. I am not supporting the digests as sufficient in themselves; obviously it's important to read the full texts if you want to get a decent understanding of Plato (or anything else). What I am objecting to is what mokujin so "forcefully" calls "nothing but scorn for anyone who recommends or defends summaries." Fuck that noise. Feel free to avoid them yourself, feel free to urge students or anyone else to read the full texts themselves, but once you go beyond that to wholesale denunciation -- this abomination should not exist! -- you've fallen right into the pit of elitism. Summaries have their place, as do translations (however inadequate), "companions," and all other crutches. I suspect you guys would suddenly discover their virtues if you came out of the safe confines of the philosophers you're so familiar with and started investigating something entirely new to you. Life is too short to read everything and read it twice (because as we all know, to read once is barely to read at all); you have to choose between huddling around the cozy fire with the few things you've already mastered or striking out into new territory with whatever landmarks you can find. But feel free to choose the first and fling bones at the unenlightened who haven't spent as much time as you on the Sacred Masters.

Oh, and excellent point about the Republic, EB.
posted by languagehat at 9:47 AM on January 26, 2005


languagehat said:

"feel free to...fling bones at the unenlightened who haven't spent as much time as you on the Sacred Masters."

That is a gross mischaracterization of all the arguments on this page. If I am flinging bones at anyone it is at the publishing industry and at the venal authors that promote these sorts of books and webpages. And rightly so. Think of them as monsanto, and of the would be reader as a family owned farm.

Now, if we are going to throw fancy pants terms around like elitist, snob, and cloistered ("safe confines"), I have one for you: relativism. You may inveigh against philosophical relativism elsewhere, but you are in fact, in practice, a relativist yourself. Being content with received wisdom and the status quo, resigning yourself to the eternal sameness of the present, and composing kneejerk attacks on value judgements as "elitist" are good examples of lived relativism.

Now I have a question for you: If my field of knowledge were in the so-called practical sphere, would you ever think to attack me for actually trying to use my limited expertise to help others? If a car mechanic sees somebody doing something stupid with their car should they shut up about it or risk being called elitist?
posted by mokujin at 3:05 PM on January 26, 2005


For the future reference of all, I would prefer that, rather than call me elitist (see also here) or cloistered ("safe confines"), you simply refer to the following helpful list of playa hata terms for myself and my rants that I begrudgingly approve of:

ponderous
dull
long-winded
irrelevant
silly
boorish
apocalyptic
of dubious... (sanity, intelligence, worth, etc.)
willfully obtuse
strident
alienating
almost any word begining with un- or in-

I will also accept any reference to Cicero's description of Cato:

loquitur enim tanquam in republica Platonis, non tanquam in faece Romuli

"for he speaks as though he were in Plato's Republic, not, as he in fact is, in the dregs of Rome"
posted by mokujin at 3:16 PM on January 26, 2005


I'm not calling you elitist -- I don't even know you -- but your ideas, at least the version you've presented here. I have no problem with your expertise and certainly don't wish to attack you for "actually trying to use my limited expertise to help others"; I do the same when it comes to language. But to my mind the position you're taking here is as if I were to sneer at Teach Yourself books and simplified readers and insist that anyone who wants to learn a language has to study for years using immersion techniques. Yeah, that's the ideal, but to my mind anything that gets people interested in language is to the good, and if some people are motivated to dig deeper, so much the better. You seem to want to restrict philosophy to those select few who are able and willing to devote years to it, preferably in a graduate program where they can read all the texts and have plenty of time to assimilate and discuss them. If I've misconstrued your ideas, I apologize.
posted by languagehat at 6:12 AM on January 27, 2005


languagehat: The point has little to do with expertise, I think. This is stuff that everyone can enjoy- it's the coolest stuff on the face of the earth!- and it's being robbed from them by people like Glyn Hughes who think most people are too stupid or too busy to read for more than five minutes at a time.

When I was in high school, I remember when we read Moby Dick. It was the first time a book really made me happy; I'd stay up so late reading it every night that I'd be tired all the next day, and I'd be daydreaming about whaling ships all through all my classes. Then, one day, a few weeks after we'd started it, I asked some people outside of a class what they'd thought of the day's reading. They looked at me like I was an idiot. "What, you didn't actually read that, did you? We all got the Cliff's notes. It's such a time-saver." Every single person in my class said the same thing. It still makes me sad to this day; sure, yeah, maybe people think Moby Dick is boring, but I still think they were missing out on something awesome, and that at least one other person would've thought it was really cool if they'd only tried it. And I hate Cliff's notes for existing, because it decreases the quality of life for everyone; I've never met anybody who couldn't enjoy most of the good books out there.

That's really where my feeling on this is coming from. Judge it as you will. But I think people are better than Mr. Hughes gives them credit for. Life is too short for anybody (yes, even people in graduate programs) to read more than a few books in a lifetime anyhow. Why not enjoy them? These summaries weren't very enjoyable for me.
posted by koeselitz at 4:40 PM on January 27, 2005


Heh. I had the same experience with Moby Dick -- I was the only one in my class who read every chapter (the teacher only asked us to read the "important" ones). I agree about Cliff Notes; I guess the difference between us is that you make the time to read large amounts of philosophy and I don't, so I don't feel the same proprietary outrage.
posted by languagehat at 7:18 PM on January 28, 2005


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