Home > Book Writing, Nonfiction, Philosophy > Philosophy books should be for everyone

Philosophy books should be for everyone

We need to start moving philosophy out of academia’s grasp and into the limelight of the layperson. One should not have to memorize all of the philosophical terminology and jargon to read, understand, and enjoy a book about an important philosophical topic.

There are philosophers out there who think using big philosophical words gives them an air of authority. Indeed it does, but it is all hot air. What it also does is make their books difficult for the average person to read and understand the topic. People that philosophy would be important to. It places the book into a bin of academia, and it never leaves that bin.

These books become relics of intellectual thought that serve no real world purpose. It is not because the book does not have real world considerations, just that those real world considerations are never considered by the majority population. These books are large, boring, and hard to read books that are riddled with ambiguities and confusions. They require a study of words that far surpass what the general population care to take the time and effort to study.

And it is not necessary.

If I were to make the statement: “epistemology should precede ontology”, those that are familiar with philosophy would know exactly what I mean by those words. They know what epistemology is, and they know what ontology is. I could have made the statement: “the study of knowledge should precede the study of existence or reality”. Which one of these would be clearer to the layperson? Which one is more specific? Which one has the larger audience? Sure one takes more words, and we might have to do some further explaining, but the goal is to be as clear as we can – for as many people as we can.

Some people read philosophical books and they think they were written well. They think the usage of philosophical jargon, and the authors large vocabulary, is good writing. Good writing is having the ability to write in a way that is understandable to the majority of readers. If you have an important philosophical understanding that you want others to understand, does it make more sense to limit your audience?

I would suggest that writing with jargon is actually easier than writing for the larger audience. It is more difficult to make every sentence be meaningful to everyone, than it is to use words and not explain them. To force people to have to refer to a dictionary of philosophical terminology. Not to mention it makes it much easier to appear like you know what you are talking about when you do not. Many philosophers hide behind a pile of ambiguous and confusing words. Those who have not immersed themselves into understanding the jargon read the words and think “this guy is smart”, even if they cannot fully parse the words.

Some philosophers know this, and use this to their advantage. Some philosophers search for layperson clarity, but this does not seem to be the common goal of many.

Don’t get me wrong, at times technical words are required in a work of philosophy. When one is used however, it should always be defined and clarified prior to its usage. Once it is clarified what the author means by the word, certainly they can use the word instead of a longer description each time. Many times, however, such words are not needed at all. The sentence can be made clear without the words.

That is, if the author cares about having a wider audience, which to me, seems silly not to care. The whole point of philosophy is not to stroke your own ego and look smart. The whole point is to make the world a better place. At least this is what I believe the focus of philosophy should be about.

Philosophy should be for everyone, not just those in small academic circles. Everyone should be able to read and understand it. Removing unnecessary jargon is not dumbing down the subject matter, it is making it better.

What do you think? Should philosophers be looking at the larger audience?

  1. May 20, 2011 at 8:57 PM

    It’s been hit-or-miss for me with various authors. It isn’t always the jargon that impedes my understanding; the style of writing some authors, such as Jerry Fodor, simply makes it harder for me to follow all of the aspects of the arguments presented (and I admit the possibility that it may simply be my fault). It gets better with practice, but I can’t ignore the fact that some authors are very readable despite writing many years ago.

    • May 20, 2011 at 9:38 PM

      Indeed – excellent point. The style of writing is yet another obstacle, and most of the time it is not the reader, but rather the writer, who needs to learn what is more readable. I should have mentioned that it is more that just jargon that is unnecessary.

      Thanks for the comment.


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