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Looking Again at Clarity in Philosophy: Writing as a Shaper and Sharpener of Thought

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 November 2014

Abstract

Bryan Magee's recent paper ‘Clarity in Philosophy’ argues that instead of focusing on clarity at the sentence level, writers should emphasize formulating their ideas clearly before any writing takes place. In part using text-analysis of three well-known philosophers, I will uphold Magee's assertion that clear writing is not necessary in order to be considered a great philosopher. On the other hand, I will challenge his ideas regarding the relationship between language and cognition by reflecting on ways in which writing aids the development of ideas.

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Discussion
Copyright
Copyright © The Royal Institute of Philosophy 2014 

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References

1 Clarity in Philosophy’, Philosophy 89 (2014), 451462.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

2 Accounting for the Great Divide: Features of clarity in analytic philosophy journal articles’, Journal of English for Academic Purposes 15 (2014), 2736.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

3 Op. cit. note 1, 454.

4 Joll, Nicholas, ‘How Should Philosophy Be Clear? Loaded Clarity, Default Clarity, and Adorno’, Telos 146 (2009), 7395.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

5 Some readers are likely to disagree with Magee's assessment of these three philosophers' clarity of writing and of ideas. That aside, examining the textual features of these three very different writers helps the reader come to her own conclusions about the interplay between discursive and presentational clarity.

6 Op. cit. note 4, 80.

7 Different disciplines have different conceptions of clarity. In this paper, as I mentioned earlier, I am referring only to clarity as defined within philosophy.

8 The Process of Writing – Growing’ in Dialogue on Writing (eds) DeLuca, Geraldine, Fox, Len, Johnson, Mark-Ameen, and Kogen, Myra (Routledge, 2001), 141156.Google Scholar

9 The Dynamics of Idea Generation During Writing’ in Writing and Cognition (eds) Torrance, Mark, van Vaes, Luuk, and Galbraith, David (Emerald Group Publishing, 2007), 125150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

10 Berthoff, A. E., Forming/Thinking/Writing: The Composing Imagination (Rochelle Park, NJ: Hayden, 1978).Google Scholar

11 O'Leary, Zina, The Essential Guide to Doing Research (Sage, 2004), 205.Google Scholar

12 Bean, John C., Engaging Ideas: The Professor's Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom (John Wiley & Sons, 2011), 18.Google Scholar

13 Elbow, Peter, Writing without Teachers (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973)Google Scholar, 15.

14 Professional writing expertise’ in The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance (Cambridge University Press, 2006), 389402.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

15 Fulwiler, Toby, ‘Writing: An act of cognition’, New Directions for Teaching and Learning 12 (1982), 1526.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

16 Op. cit. note 1, 458.

17 Rorty, Richard, ‘Philosophy as a Kind of Writing: An essay on Derrida’, New Literary History (1978), 141160.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

18 Op. cit. note 1, 459.

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