When fear of obscurity produces obscurity

Pär SegerdahlObscurely written texts make us angry. First, we get annoyed because we do not understand. Then comes the fear, the fear of being duped by a cheat. Our fear is so strong that we do not dare to acknowledge it. Instead, we seriously suspect that there are madcaps who for some inscrutable reason write tons of nonsense. We had better take shelter in the house of reason!

Certainly, there are chatterboxes who talk nonsense. My own fear in this post is that fear of the obscure will make us shallow. Insightfulness easy appears as obscurity. It takes time to understand insightful texts. We often reread them; we age with them. If we do not give us that time, but demand immediate gratification, we might reject insightful texts as obscure and perhaps even dangerous.

There is an ideal of eradicating all obscurity: Write verbally explicitly, without any holes in the chain of reasons! The works of great thinkers are often scrutinized according to this ideal: Are there overlooked holes in their arguments through which truth might slip out? Can the holes be repaired, or will the ship sink with its cargo of truth claims?

A problem with this ideal of reason is that it can undermine our own literacy. The ideal can make even plain texts seem obscure, which reinforces the fear of being duped by cheats; hordes of them. Suddenly, one wants to correct all humanity, who apparently has not yet learned to be reasonable.

The ideal of reason becomes a demand for a small circle of intellectual ascetics who write intricately argued texts to each other: texts that, however, become incomprehensible to the rest of humanity. Like impregnable walls, protecting the house of reason.

Fear of obscurity risks making us both shallow and obscure. Therefore, take care of your fear! That is also a way of being reasonable. Perhaps a more insightful way.

Pär Segerdahl

This post in Swedish

Minding our language - the Ethics Blog

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