Bad Habits: Pedantry

Graham Harman, on his voluminous blog, considers some types of philosophical pedantry: Heidegger’s pedantry of attitude, Husserl’s pedantry of terminology, and Gadamer’s pedantry of indigestion.

Where to draw the line between pedantry and rigour can be a tender issue for philosophers, since most philosophy can appear vulnerable to accusations of pedantry from some points of view. Consider the height of the tedious analytic-continental divide, when both ‘sides’ would accuse each other of shallow pedantry. The deconstructionists’ close readings, aiming to tease out the contradictory oppositions texts were based upon, were dismissed as sophistic trickery, founded more upon subterfuge than subtly. But the accusation was readily slung back at supposed logic-chopping charlatans who had retreated from engagement with the world into scholasticism. This ought to be unsurprising though. Where there is a de facto pluralism of method, there are bound to be accusations that some people are excessively fixating on trivial matters.

Jon Cogburn asks for suggestions of names for a Brandomian pedantry, where we get ‘italics in lieu of argumentation’. How about ‘pedantry of emphasis’? Or maybe a little more suggestively, we could say this is a ‘pedantry of discernment’. The idea here would be that if only we lay the right stress on what we say then its truth will be self-evident, shining forth unaided.

Pedantry aside, Brandom’s formatting, which streches beyond italics to emboldening, underlining and the occasional font change, drives me mad. I guess he must think it’s helpful, but it often gives his texts the rhythmn of a Powerpoint presentation. It’s made me learn to use emphasis very sparingly, and my rule of thumb is now ‘if it’s not sufficiently clear without emphasis, just rewrite it’.