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The Denver Philosophy Meetup Group Message Board › NYT - Is Philosophy Literature?

NYT - Is Philosophy Literature?

Marc W.
user 31668402
Littleton, CO
Post #: 13
Good article and excellent list of contemporary philosophers to build your author/book wish list . . .­

A former member
Post #: 395

Thanks for this posting, Marc. It's always interesting to see what sort of confusion the NYT will sow next. Just when you think no more complete obfuscation is possible, there they are with even more astonishing junk.

Let's take the lead question posed by Mr. Holt: "Is Philosophy Literature?"

Jimmy Holt, in his best Gomer Pyle, USMC voice answers his own question in this way: "Is philosophy literature? Do people read philosophy for pleasure? Of course it is, and of course they do. Surprise, surprise, surprise!"

But what does this question really mean? Mr. Holt seems to think it has something to do with people reading philosophy for pleasure. It does not. The mere act of taking enjoyment in reading philosophy clearly does not suffice to convert it to literature. If we enjoy reading, say, Scientific American, is the science therein somehow converted to literature? No.

Not at all.

Surprise, surprise, surprise.

Up to this point in his article, we should already require Mr. Holt to don his dunce cap and sit in a dark, dark corner, there to contemplate the embarrassment of publicly displaying rank stupidity, on the strength of his "answer". But Mr. Holt is not content with his initial display of dumbitude: no, he goes on to foster a confused, if common, vision of the mission of philosophy.

Here we go: "Today, analytic philosophy has a broader scope than it used to." Says Mr. Holt. "It’s less obsessed with dissecting language; it’s more continuous with the sciences," he explains.

Well, no. We have philosophy of science, to be sure. But there's no real continuity with science. Science is concerned primarily with the empirical. The philosophy of science is concerned with the conceptual, and not the factual side of the sciences. But Mr. Holt tells us that W. V. O. Quine said it's continuous, so it must be true. But, no, I'm very much afraid Mr. Quine was lost in a fog. We need not follow him there. All of this confusion was straightened out very capably by Brand Blanshard in Reason and Analysis, which Mr. Holt has clearly never read. Too bad.

But all of this dreary erroneousness might still be -- well, not forgiven, but perhaps overlooked, if only he hadn't continued with this:

"But what is literature? That in itself might appear to be a philosophical question. Yet the most persuasive answer, to my mind, was supplied by a novelist, Evelyn Waugh. (Well, not just a novelist — also the most versatile master of English prose in the last 100 years.) “Literature,” Waugh declared, “is the right use of language irrespective of the subject or reason of utterance.” Something doesn’t have to rhyme or tell a story to be considered literature."

No. Wrongo, Jimmy. Evelyn Waugh, go to the corner with Mr. Holt. Stay there. Never return.

Literature has very little to do with the "right use of language." It MUST tell a story to count as literature, otherwise a phone book would be right up there with, say, The Iliad. If the language in a story isn't quite right, well, it would be preferable if it was, but if it wasn't, but it did indeed tell a story, it would still be literature.

And anyway, what does what Waugh said have to do with Holt's initial criterion for qualification as literature: reading with enjoyment? We have "right use of language" on the one hand, and reading with pleasure on the other, and never shall the twain meet, or at least not essentially.

This jerk isn't even consistent.


The New York Times: nothing there fit to print. Run away, run away!

Marc W.
user 31668402
Littleton, CO
Post #: 16
Excellent critique, Ken. I just liked the list. :)

I find the NYT good for stimulating minds (and criticism).

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