We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

Deference is encouraged by having to take it on trust that the obscure means something important.

Mick Hartley quotes Jonathan Glover. Glover was writing in particular about Martin Heidegger. But as Hartley makes clear, this habit proved to be very catching, particularly in France.

See also the posting below, about the influence of German thinking.

16 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Laird

    I have to say, I hadn’t a clue was that quote was about until I read the linked article. It would have been helpful if you had included the last two sentences of the paragraph:

    “And since things not understood cannot be argued about, the critical faculties atrophy. Philosophy could not have served the Nazis better than by encouraging deference and by this softening of the mind.”

    Or was it your intent to emulate Heidigger?

  • PersonFromPorlock

    And since things not understood cannot be argued about,

    Well, that flies in the face of all experience.

  • RRS

    I think the point of the post by Brian was to indicate the penetration of “lines of thinking” originating in Germany, but extending into spheres of thought amongst other peoples.

    My observation may be shallow, but it has seemed to me from what reading I have done (a lot of it merely commentary on particular lines of thought) that the German inquiry tended toward “what” and “how;” whereas a great deal of the academically popularized French lines of thought seemed to be focused on “why,” and on the counterpoint that there is no purpose in concerns with “why” since reality consists simply of what “is.”

    There does seem to be some difference of approach concerning humans and humanity. There are those concerned with “what is a human?” and the related “how does the human come to be what it is?” (e.g. Hamann & Herder),as well as “what is humanity?”

    A significant amount of French thinking seems to have been devoted to “why is the human what it is;” and the related “why is humanity as it is?” Those seem to be followed by a tidal wave of “what can we do about it?”

  • Laird

    Well said, PFP! 🙂

  • Julie near Chicago

    Yes indeed, PFP. Good catch! :>((((

  • Paul Marks

    The quotation in the post is correct.

    If a person does not speak plainly when they are talking (or writing) about economics, politics or history, then they are one of two things.

    Either they are a person who had not yet sorted out their own thoughts – in which case they should wait till they do sort out their own thoughts, before speaking about them.


    They are someone who is out to deceive with their “priestcraft” – their academic cant.

    To show deference to such a conman is to be like the saps who nodded gravely (without understanding a word) when they were told that the city of Bath could not be rebuilt as it was before World War II, because to repair the (rather light) bombing damage would be “against the spirit of the age”.

    The only reply such high sounding mental flatulence deserves is a punch on the nose.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    I have had for a long time now a policy of refusing to chop logic with unclear sources, on the grounds that “Words are what we think with: people who can’t use words, can’t think.”

    (This isn’t true for things like math, for instance, but it’s true enough for most arguments.)

    Of course, this draws gasps of horror from the lumpen intelligentsia, to whom unintelligibility is proof of genius. The other benefit is that it lets me ignore Heidegger with a clear conscience.

  • Julie near Chicago

    PfP, it’s true that a lot of mathematical thinking is non-verbal. (So is a lot of thinking about other stuff.)

    But of course mathematicians do think in regular English (German, French, Hebrew, Hindi) words about mathematical issues and problems and theories. I mean, one can both read and pronounce aloud the statement, ‘A circle is the locus of a point that moves within a plane at a constant distance from some fixed point.’

    But what is true is that mathematicians do their damndest to develop definitions that are so carefully refined that, within any particular area under discussion, they refer to at most one concept. (“Concept”? Oops, no more along this line. Epistemology is harder than mathematics. *g*)

    This fact makes it much easier to judge the logicality of mathematical statements than of statements in just about any other area of human thought.

    . . .

    “Words are what we think with”: Well said indeed!

    So, we ought to be as careful to use words in non-mathematical contexts as carefully and rigourously as we use them in mathematics.

  • hennesli

    I have not read any Heidegger so I would be unable to comment on his alleged merits, but I do think a lot of the insights of so called continental philosophy are not complete bunkum. I think the problem with writers like Derrida is that they are interested not in what words mean but in how
    they mean, and it’s this attempt to analyse the way language works using the very medium (language) you are interrogating that leads to often torturously self reflexive writing.

    Tbh I find reading Hegel or Kant equally if not more difficult than a lot of po-mo philosophy, yet no one
    accuses them of being charlatans.

  • CaptDMO

    “Deference is encouraged by having to take it on trust that the obscure means something important.”
    HA! I KNEW all this global warming “data” and “computer models” were REALLY just Japanese Butterflies beating their wings funny.

  • Fraser Orr

    @Julie near Chicago
    > So, we ought to be as careful to use words in non-mathematical contexts as carefully and rigourously as we use them in mathematics.

    I’d like to agree with you, but I don’t think that is always possible. English is not a very precise language, and cultural perceptions significantly change the meaning of words. My experience with many years of arguing points on the net is that most arguments either do come down to, or can be made to come down to the specific meaning of a few words. (Actually that isn’t really true, they mostly come down to name calling and comparisons to Hitler, but I mean the good arguments.)

    For example, I can answer definitively the question “Do I have free will” as long as we can all agree on what the words “I”, “have”, “free” and “will” mean.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Oh, I quite agree with your point, Fraser. I meant that (“even”) when we’re using standard conversational language, we ought to be as careful about precision as we can manage.

    Your point is well taken (and I love the humor).

    I admit to an implied overestimate of the possibility of rigour. I apologize for beating people over the head with a stick, imprecisely. ;>)

  • Fraser Orr

    @Julie near Chicago
    You know I used to have a rule for online discussions. Whenever someone says “The dictionary definition of the word …. is…” you know that the discussion is effectively over. When it is a discussion about the meaning of words rather than the concepts that the words represent then the discussion has descended into a question of who is going to “win” rather than a discussion whose purpose is to education, inform and entertain.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Now there, Fraser, I’m afraid I disagree. Sticking to dictionary definitions (assuming a decent dictionary, which is not M-W and is not to be found on-line in any case) means people start from roughly the same place. Then, a discussant who understands, or who wishes to signify, something different from the dictionary’s definition of a given word can explain that he is going to use word W to mean B and not A.

    If the others are (a) verbally intelligent, (b) mentally flexible, and (c) interested in exploring the issues, or in explaining them to the others and in hearing the others’ ideas about them and getting it all straight, there is some chance of avoiding calling upon the guy with the funny moustache to reimpose order.

    It works better, admittedly, if everyone subscribes to the theory that clear thought and effective communication are enabled, specifically, by following the language’s rules of usage and syntax. Otherwise, you’re right, it will feel to some as though others are changing the subject, arguing against straw men, and being generally unhelpful, uncooperative, and obstructionist.

    . . .

    On the other hand, as a practical matter, if a civil and useful conversation is to proceed, it helps if at least some of the conversants are skilled at doping out what others are trying to say, even if they’re not saying it very well; and if they’re willing to proceed on that basis, rather than in derailing the conversation into (say) an E-S-L class. *g*

  • Fraser Orr

    But Julie, I understand that you claim to be *near* Chicago, but that only applies if you live in Oak Lawn. Only a fool would consider Elk Grove village to be *near* Chicago. Let me get out a dictionary to prove you wrong.

    Of course, it all depends on the context. If the goal is to determine whether you are subject to Mayor Emmanuel’s taxes then the nearness of Chicago takes on rather a different significance than if you goal is to determine if O’Hare is the correct airport to fly into to get home.

    And that is true regardless of what Mr. Webster might have to say on the matter.

  • Julie near Chicago


    “Of course, it all depends on the context.”

    Bingo! Always and forever. In this case the context is that I am “near” Chicago in relation to the thousands of miles separating LA from NYC, or the Canadian border from the Gulf. And if I signed myself “Julie near Searls Park,” I’m not sure it would quite convey my meaning to the typical Samizdatista. Though I am in fact nearer to Searls Park than to Chicago.

    I report with some gratitude that I am safely out of the immediate clutches of Mayor Hatchetface, residing neither in Oak Lawn nor in Elk Grove Village; indeed, I am a couple of counties removed from the dread Cook altogether. Which is not to say that, in Illinois, escape from Chicago’s entrenched kleptomaniacs is truly possible at all.

    Which is why I keep considering a move. But then I would have to sign everything “Julie near Yellowknife,” and, well, I would hate to further the cause of Earthly Confusion….