Monday, March 26, 2007

Philosophy, Literature, and Good Writing

A course I'm co-teaching has forced me to think more about the relationship between philosophy and literature. For one thing, since the course is historical, it's highlighted how some writing doesn't fall neatly into one category or the other. Emerson's essays are one example.

It's also made me think about questions of style in philosophical writing. One question I ask colleagues is whether they can name a philosopher that they just enjoy reading: a philosopher you'd read no matter the topic, someone who is just a good writer, plain and simple.

I have to confess that my list is pretty short: I get a kick out of reading J.L. Austin; I think William James has his moments; J.J. Thomson has a style that I think is pretty terrific; I'd probably also mention Cheryl Misak, Arthur Fine, and...then I begin scratching my head. I've probably missed a few philosophers, but I don't think I've missed many. And sometimes I've managed to convince myself that Dewey is a good writer, but then I usually recant.

Maybe I've missed some others, but there aren't many philosophers whom I'd say have style.