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.

6 Comments:

Blogger Khadimir said...

Nietzsche? Kierkegaard? (late) Heidegger? Plato?

It seems that there are many to me.

1:34 AM  
Blogger Colin Caret said...

khadimir -- I haven't read Kierkegaard, but the other three folks on your list have, by my lights, terrible style. They are awkward and clunky and plodding to read. I always thought Quine had a fantastic style of writing, as does Graham Priest. Then again I suppose judgements like this are largely a matter of personal taste.

8:22 AM  
Blogger Khadimir said...

Caret, I would disagree that this is merely a matter of personal taste. Though I do not wish to engage in discussions of what constitutes proper style, I note that you select writers that are easy to read. I have selected figures who employ style as essential to the argumentation and philosophy, for that is a more difficult task. Are we to praise the author who writes to the common person, or one who amazes with an uncanny grasp of (written) language?

Given John's and your selections, I suspect that we may be evidencing our participation in different traditions.

8:27 AM  
Blogger Proteus said...

John Gardner's "Grendel" is certainly no philosophy textbook, but I would rank it aside Sartre's and Camus' novels as a powerful existentialist work, and I would rate its humor and style well above theirs.

5:58 PM  
Blogger vitali said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

2:42 PM  
Blogger vitalinew said...

for me, they have style:

Alex Blum
Daniel Robinson
Eddy A. Nahmias
Frederick Copleston
G. E. M. Anscombe
Graham Priest
Hans Reichenbach
Harry G. Frankfurt
Ian Hacking
J.L. Austin
James D. McCawley
Jan Lukasiewicz
John Perry
Kent Bach
Larry Laudan
Michael and Lise Wallach
Peter van Inwagen
William James
Yuval Dolev

3:07 PM  

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