Tips for writing philosophical texts

post by Jan_Rzymkowski · 2014-08-31T22:38:38.332Z · score: 4 (5 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 16 comments

For about four years I am struggling to write a series of articles presenting few of my ideas. While this "philosophy" (I'd rather avoid being too pompous about it) is still developing, there is a bunch of stuff of which I have a clear image in my mind. It is a framework for model building, with some possible applications for AI developement, paradox resolving, semantics. Not any serious impact, but I do believe it would prove useful.

I tried making notes or plans for articles several times, but every time I was discouraged by those problems:

So the core problem is that to show applications of the theory (or generally more interesing results), more basic concepts must be introduced first. Yet presenting the basics seems boring and uninsightful without the application side. This seems to characterise many complex ideas.

Can you provide me with any practical tips as how to tackle this problem?

16 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by shminux · 2014-09-01T03:38:58.346Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Write a draft of one idea and ask for feedback, here or in PM/email to someone you think can evaluate it. People love giving advice.

comment by torekp · 2014-09-01T17:33:41.244Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This. What level of knowledge do you want to write for? I'd classify myself as "beginner" on the topics you mention except AI, where I am "less than beginner". I'll volunteer if I'm in the right audience.

comment by Jan_Rzymkowski · 2014-09-01T20:09:42.523Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'd say the only requirement is spending some time living on Earth.

Thanks, I'd get to sketching drafts. But it'll take some time.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2014-09-01T01:08:57.641Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Motivate the reader upfront with a description of payoff at the end of the trip, and an outline of the path to get there, and why that path is necessary to get to the payoff.

It's simply death for an article to start by introducing a bunch of concepts that the reader knows nothing about and has no idea why they're being presented.

comment by TheAncientGeek · 2014-09-01T20:22:53.910Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

You could point the reader to an existing text explaining the basic ideas, and present your original work as a reaction to, or commentary on, it,

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-09-01T00:14:18.877Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

With philosophy something that might seem too obvious to you might not be obvious to other people. Expressing obvious ideas in a clear manner is very useful.

comment by LizzardWizzard · 2014-09-01T08:43:53.617Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Explore "The back of the napkin" by Dan Roam - it can prove useful

comment by tkadlubo · 2014-09-01T14:34:18.585Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Ship it. Get feedback from some readers. Use feedback to improve your ideas and your writing. Repeat.

comment by cameroncowan · 2014-09-02T19:26:50.148Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The best way to overcome this is to take 50 or so pages and give the reader a basic overview of the background. Limit your discussion to 200-300 years back if that applies. So for example, if I am going to talk about test for existence I will not start at Decartes I will start with Nietzche (less time to transpire). Philosphical texts also tend to be self filtering. The people who would read that sort of thing in most cases have read and therefore already have the necessary knowledge at the hand.

No concept is superflous if you are writing about it, that alone makes it important especially if you are saying something new or adding a new voice to the topic. That goes for being obvious. Often times the most obvious idea is a complete mystery to another person.

For example take the game of The Green Glass Door:

Behind the Green Door there is green, glass, and doors, There are wheels but no bikes, books but no writers, stuffed things, and so on. Get the idea?

When I first hear this game I couldn't make the connection but once he told me what it was it was like it slapped me in the fact and I didn't notice.

GAME SOLUTION: The world of the Green Glass Door only has things with double letters.

comment by MrCogmor · 2014-08-31T23:05:37.683Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Present the complicated problem and then break it down into understandable parts. Much of philosophy is basic but not widely understood because it is obfuscated by multiple meanings and ends up arguing about definitions such as "What is consciousness?". It is helpful to disambiguate these questions by choosing an objective interpretation and then answering that. For example "What is consciousness?" can be defined as "What makes a creature aware of it's environment?" "What process produces thoughts?" "What process produces sensation"?

comment by TheAncientGeek · 2014-09-01T20:11:37.752Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Consciousness is subjective, so that approach misses the mark.

comment by MrCogmor · 2014-09-02T00:30:52.773Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That was my point. Philosophy uses subjective words in order to confuse meanings. Once you translate it into one of it's objective interpretations it becomes simple. A good example is the concept of free will.

comment by TheAncientGeek · 2014-09-02T09:48:54.006Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

No. Consciousness is subjective as a thing. If you disregard a thing essential characteristic, it is you who are confusing yourself,

comment by [deleted] · 2014-09-02T01:11:30.811Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

What is an 'objective interpretation' of a concept?

comment by Transfuturist · 2014-09-02T09:03:44.846Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

"Concept" here is being used to mean a contestable term, and "objective interpretation" is presumably an operational definition obtained from one of the many possible interpretations of the contestable term.

comment by TheAncientGeek · 2014-09-02T09:50:24.925Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

A Procrustean bed.