Philosophy? Tedious?

In his Presidential Address at the 53nd [sic] Annual Meeting of the Florida Philosophical Association, professor David McNaughton, of Florida State University, US, revealed that he had been inspired by a 2007 Guardian article  by Jonathan Wolff (head of philosophy at University College London) which began: “Why is academic writing so boring?”

McNaughton_DavidProfessor McNaughton refined this concept to ask : “Why Is So Much Philosophy So Tedious?” He drew attention to the undesirability of what he calls ‘Oxford Obscurantism’, ‘Soporific Style’, ‘Slapdashery’, and more. But naturally the narrative was not all negative naysaying – at the end of the address, the professor provided a plurality of positively proactive and pertinently practical propositions :

The number of pages anyone is allowed to publish per year will be strictly limited (perhaps, for those familiar with the Philosophical Lexicon, to 0.01 of a Rescher). That will force people to decide what is the most important thing they wish to say, and what is the most succinct way of saying it. If this seems unduly harsh, we could allow the academic equivalent of ‘carbon-offsetting’ where those who insist on publishing buy pages from those who temperately desist.

Graduate students who have completed all their course work with distinction may petition the department to allow them to proceed to a Dissertation provided: (a) that they can satisfy two medical practitioners that they are of sound mind, and (b) they can convince their committee that the world will be the loser by their silence.

Readers will regard with suspicion, rather than admiration, books whose dust jackets proclaim that the writer is the author of numerous books and articles.

There will be an annual prize, called the Edmund Gettier prize, awarded to any philosopher who meets two conditions: (a) she has only published one article, and (b) it has changed the discipline.”

Nevertheless, the professor concluded his address on a poignant bittersweet note: “It’ll never happen. But one can dream.”


Improbable encourages readers to comment on this item by providing links to published papers, or academic presentations / videos &etc which, in their opinion, definitively illustrate the concept of philosophical tediousness.