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How Much Does Style Matter

Why do some philosophers write clearly while others are obscure? Is the style an important part of the ideas, or does it just help or hinder us to understand them?

Samuel Wheeler in his book Deconstruction as Analytic Philosophy tells an anecdote about meeting the French philosopher Jacques Derrida and presenting him with a copy of Saul Kripke’s classic book Naming and Necessity, often extolled as a model of clarity in philosophical writing. Derrida, it turned out, had looked at the book but not been able to understand it. “In contrast, he said, Heidegger was very clear. So: you are an analytic philosopher if you think Kripke writes clearly; you are a continental philosopher if you think Heidegger writes clearly.” Does it matter how a philosopher writes? Can we “translate” a thinker whose style is difficult into clearer terms, as we could with a scientist? Do some philosophers simply write obscurely because they have nothing substantial to say, as has been said many times of Derrida? Or is the style inseparable from the thought, a part of the journey we must go on if we claim to understand it? Is it worth reading large, sometimes opaquely-written books when we are so short of time and pithy, modern summaries are easily available?

The discussion will be led by Dr Mark Rowe, a Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of East Anglia with a background in aesthetics whose current research includes work on the idea of style in philosophical writing.


Dr Mark Rowe | talks


Date and Time:

30 August 2011 at 8:00 pm


3 hours



The Wheatsheaf
25 Rathbone Place

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Organised by:

Big Ideas
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For more information, visit www.bigi.org.uk

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