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May 22, 2005
When you sit down to summarize an author's
arguments, it often gets hard to figure There's a tenet of
out exactly what the point was they were intellectual writing
trying to make... that you're supposed
to anticipate possible
Sometimes it seems to me like a symptom of counter-arguments and
cowardice: there was something simple they deal with them in advance.
wanted to say, but they were afraid of it
for some reason -- it sounds too extreme, In practice, this
it would be too easy to argue against, produces some
clarity is not conducive to tenure, etc extremely tangled
pieces of writing
So instead, they complicate the thesis, from people who at
or worse, *pretend* to complicate the least claim to be
thesis, acting like they've dealt with trying to be clear
a contrary position simply by mentioning about something.
that it exists.
This suggests a critical strategy:
Address yourself to an This would become a
imaginary position. "straw man" argument
*only* if you pretend
Make up an abstract point that the author is
of view that illustrates identical with it.
the core features of the work
at hand, even though the author Just make it clear
would deny being an adherent that this isn't so:
of that point of view.
"The pure Minimalist position
Listen to the work you're on this -- which is discussed
commenting on, but try to by the author, though not held
hear some other voices within by him -- might be..."
the voice -- select the ones
singing a simpler, cleaner
song. The point is that when
you come right down to it
there isn't a lot of reason
Penrose does something to care precisely about
like this with his whether the author has
"Shadows of the Mind", screwed up on some point,
laying out a series the question is whether the
of positions that he viewpoints discussed are
refers to as A, B, C at all illuminating...
and D (in cursive caps).
(In passing he mentions
that the actual authors
writing in this field NEOLOOGIES
often adopt a position
somewhere in between
And a similar strategy applies to
writing original works. It might
seem that the right way to go about
it is to make up your mind about
what you believe and then write
about it. But that can lead into
endless hang-ups... as you think Almost as bad: authors who
further about a subject you might obsesses about describing the
begin to get nervous that you've reasons for their own changes of
backed the wrong candidate, and heart over the years. You are
worse you might start rigging the not the most interesting thing
contest to make sure you can reach about the subject.
the conclusion that you set out for...
Though to be fair, when a
subject is politicized,
Much simpler than choosing explaining your shifts in
a true position is to pick position may seem necessary to
a plausible one, and then cut off crys of "hypocrisy".
see how good a case can be
Don't be afraid
to speak your minds.
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