I'm Jonathan. These are things that interest me.


Philosophy is not wordless profound insight. Philosophy is prose. Philosophy happens not in mystical moments, but in the creation of mundane sentences. It happens on the page, in the pen, through the keyboard, in dialogue with students and peers, and to some extent but only secondarily in private inner speech. If what exists on the page is not clear, the philosophy is not clear. Philosophers, like all specialists, profit from a certain amount of jargon, but philosophy need not become a maze of jargon. If private jargon doesn’t regularly touch down in comprehensible public meanings, one has produced not philosophy but merely a fog of words of indeterminate content. There are always gaps, confusions, indeterminacies, hidden assumptions, failures of clarity, even in great philosophical prose stylists like Hume, Nietzsche, and David Lewis. Thus, these philosophers present ample interpretative challenges. But the gaps, confusions, indeterminacies, hidden assumptions, and even to some extent the failures of clarity, are right there on the page, available to anyone who looks conscientiously for them, not shrouded in a general fog.

If a philosopher can convince the public to take him seriously — or her, but let’s say him — being obfuscatory yields three illegitimate benefits: First, he intimidates the reader and by intimidation takes on a mantle of undeserved intellectual authority. Second, he disempowers potential critics by having a view of such indeterminate form that any criticism can be written off as based on a misinterpretation. Third, he exerts a fascination on the kind of reader who enjoys the puzzle-solving aspect of discovering meaning, thus drawing from that reader a level of attention that may not be merited by the quality of his ideas (though this third benefit may be offset by alienating readers with low tolerance for obfuscatory prose). These philosophers exhibit a kind of intellectual authoritarianism, with themselves as the assumed authority whose words we must spend time puzzling out. And simultaneously they lack intellectual courage: the courage to make plain claims that could be proven wrong, supported by plain arguments that could be proven fallacious. These three features synergize: If a critic thinks she has finally located a sound criticism, she can be accused of failing to solve the interpretive puzzle of the philosopher’s superior genius.


"My point is not that everything is bad, but that everything is dangerous, which is not exactly the same a bad. If everything is dangerous, then we always have something to do. So my position leads not to apathy but to a hyper- and pessimistic activism. I think that the ethico-political choice we have to make very day is to determine which is the main danger."

Michel Foucault, “On the Genealogy of Ethics: An Overview of Work in Progress,” in Hubert L. Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow, Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, Second Edition With an Afterword by and an Interview with Michel Foucault (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1983), pp. 231-232.

(Hat tip to Pritch for this one.)

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