David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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In Bo Dahlbom (ed.), [Book Chapter]. Blackwell (1993)
Reading these essays has shown me a great deal, both about the substantive issues I have dealt with and about how to do philosophy. On the former front, they show that I have missed some points and overstated others, and sometimes just been unable to penetrate the fog. On the latter front, they show how hard it is to write philosophy that works--and this is the point that stands out for me as I reflect on these rich and varied essays. Philosophical books and articles routinely fail to achieve their manifest goal of persuading their intended audiences of their main points. Does this make philosophy any worse off than other writing endeavors? Most published novels are failures of one sort or another, and the press has reported a recent study (whose methodology I wonder about) that concludes that the median number of readers of any paper published in a psychology journal is zero. But it seems to me that philosophy displays a particularly feckless record, with such a huge gap between authorial pretense and effect achieved that it is perhaps more comic than pathetic. In one weak moment I found myself thinking that perhaps some of our French colleagues have the right idea: deliberate obscurantism and the striking of stylized poses--since the goal of persuading by clear, precise analysis and argument is so manifestly beyond us. But that worldly weariness passed, I'm happy to say, and my cock-eyed American optimism returned. My ambition continues to be to change people's minds, and not just to win people over to my way of doing philosophy, as Bo Dahlbom suggests. But I admit that it is harder than I had thought. It's hard enough to get a good idea, but sometimes it's even harder, apparently, to get others to see what the idea is, and why it's good.
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