Monday, November 09, 2009

Quiz: which Great Thinker could this not refer to?

"His prose is so dense that some scholars have said it could be interpreted to mean anything, while others have dismissed it altogether as gibberish. He is nonetheless widely considered to be one of the century’s greatest and most influential thinkers." - Patricia Cohen, NYT.

11 comments:

Paul Gowder said...

Russell. Only a lunatic would accuse him of being anything but lucid.

PG said...

Er... J.S. Mill, Peter Singer, Robert Nozick, Amartya Sen, Michael Walzer... is this a trick question to reveal how many E-Z-Reading philosophers one has read, who do not actually measure up to the Great Thinker standard?

Of people who have influenced my thinking, John Rawls is probably the only one whose prose I'd consider dense, and even then the point he is making is clear and certainly cannot "be interpreted to mean anything" or be dismissed as "gibberish." It is mostly dense due to repetition and caveats.

Phoebe said...

My point was that the description did not seem especially Heidegger-specific, but rather encompasses the way a good number of Important Thinkers could easily be described. Not all, but lots. Along the lines of this quiz.

Andrew Stevens said...

The title of the post certainly seems to imply all, not just lots. In fact, the paragraph can apply to, in my opinion, almost no great thinkers. Great thinkers tend to speak and write clearly because they think clearly. There is only rarely depth to be found in obscurity. I realize that I am in a significant minority in this belief.

Phoebe said...

OK, the contrarian tenor here has gone overboard. I thought this was a funny quote about a philosopher, given that they tend to write in a way most people (myself included, often) would see as dense, that their ideas are often considered ridiculous, and that some are nevertheless highly respected among those who understand them. That was all. Again, like the quote about Jewish mothers from a while back.

PG said...

Phoebe,

Those of us who differ with you perhaps are coming from the Anglo-American philosophical tradition, whereas your reading is presumably more concentrated among Continental philosophers whom you inevitably are reading either in translation or in a language that is not your first. With the possible exception of Foucault's work on prisons, I'll cheerfully consign the French and Germans into the "dense and ridiculous" pile.

Withywindle said...

I thought it was funny.

Andrew Stevens said...

So, there's a vote for PG's theory. People steeped in Continental philosophy found it funny, the Anglo-Americans didn't get it.

Phoebe said...

I'm not steeped in any philosophy. I may happen to be in grad school, but not in philosophy; this was a layman's attempt at humor. A failed one, apparently.

Britta said...

I thought it was funny too. I'm also in grad school, and not philosophy. Before I clicked on the link, I thought it might have been referring to Derrida, actually.

Matt said...

I found it funny, and though I suppose I work in the "analytic" tradition, I can say that there are lots of obscure writers within it, and that there's lots to be gained from reading some Foucault, Sartre, Heideggar, Habermas, etc. There was also an interesting discussion of that article mixed in (oddly enough, though perhaps not so oddly given the post's author) with a discussion of typesetting on crooked timber today. (Not just any typesetting, Nazi typesetting.)