Blog-as-philosophy paper

MIT's Guideline on Writing a Philosophy Paper: “pretend that your reader is lazy, stupid, and mean.” 

In fact, you can profitably take this one step further and pretend that your reader is lazy, stupid, and mean. He's lazy in that he doesn't want to figure out what your convoluted sentences are supposed to mean, and he doesn't want to figure out what your argument is, if it's not already obvious. He's stupid, so you have to explain everything you say to him in simple, bite-sized pieces. And he's mean, so he's not going to read your paper charitably.

What wisdom in this guideline! And not just for writing philosophy papers, this is true even for blogging and internet discussions.

When in a discussion, I usually shoot for the most concise words I can use. Nothing more. Without this, people pick apart your argument and split hairs.


Me: "I'm celebrating Israel's 60th anniversary."

Them: "Peace is the way to go, man, and Israel is a violent, racist nation. Are you saying you love war, celebrate the death of Arabs, and are a racist?"

Me: No.

Notice the antagonist putting bait out there with all kinds of inflammatory language. How tempting to write a full essay refutation!

I could respond with paragraphs about how wrong that view is and how terrible a worldview that demonizes the world's only Jewish state.

Alas, had I said, "No, because X...", the antagonist would invariable find fault over X.

So we assume the reader is impatient and uncharitable and will pick the worst possible interpretation of our words; we answer as succinctly as possible, in this case, a single word of dismissal!

When writing, omit unnecessary details. Then before committing, remove all but the essentials. Useful for brevity; also for preventing lazy, stupid, mean readers from nitpicking your argument to death! ;-) 

The original forty-three-page summation of the case for cleanliness, accuracy, and brevity in the use of English.

As Strunk & White's Elements of Style put it,

13. Omit needless words.

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell."

Eliminate all but the essentials to withhold ammunition from your antagonist.

That said, during the last 5 years of writing on this blog, I’ve really enjoyed writing for, arguing with, learning from, and talking with you lazy, stupid, mean fine blog readers.  Here's to another 5! :cheers:

Hat tip to Atwood.


  1. Judah,

    Your post sounds like you might be stopping this blog and moving on to other things.

    Is that what you are saying?

    I certainly hope not.


  2. Nope, not at all, here's to another 5 years! :-)

    Shalom bro.

  3. Those three words describe a storeman who worked for me until yesterday. He left because I criticised him using arguments way too sophisticated.

    So this article is good advice, thanks JH!