The Metaphysical Pluralist on Philosophical Apologetics

Davis over at the Metaphysical Pluralist has a lengthy post on The Lord of the Rings and Philosophical Apologetics.  He compares the (often difficult and thankless) job of being a philosophical apologist with the task of the Rangers of the north in Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings.  So he quotes Strider:

…Travellers scowl at us, and countrymen give us scornful names. ‘Strider’ I am to one fat man who lives within a day’s march of foes that would freeze his heart, or lay his little town in ruin, if he were not guarded ceaselessly. Yet we would not have it otherwise…

Davis points out that while it is often said that philosophers should “take their work down from the ivory tower,” this call is often unrealistic.  He gives several reasons, one of them being:

…not every idea discussed amongst philosophers is easily made accessible to non-philosophers. Granted, our society has ‘dummies’ books for just about everything, but that doesn’t mean everything should be expressed like that. There are some subjects that even academics have a difficult time with, like quantum mechanics. This is where Neil Postman’s arguments presented in his important book ‘Entertaining Ourselves to Death’ come in. Often times the demand to make something ‘accessible’ is more of a reflection of society’s intellectual laziness. Instead of becoming smarter and working hard to understand something, we want the subjects to become less challenging, packaged in a one hour special.

I should say that while I appreciate Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death and other books in its vein (I am thinking of David Wells’ No Place for Truth), there is something about them (I don’t know if its the whiff of ‘far above the fray’ elitism) that irks me.  This said, I can only give half-hearted endorsment to Postmanesque arguments.  I suppose the demand to make some philosophical arguments ‘accesible’ can be a reflection of society’s “intellectual laziness”, but I wonder wether this has more to do with the increasing specialization and esoteric nature of certain fields of study.  I mean, lets face it, analytic philosophy is more often than not rather abstruse.  It is a discipline that is mastered by a few, who study for a long period of time, and even then with the mixture of many errors (to steal from Aquinas). 

I think Davis use of Postman here actually undermines his otherwise excellent case.  He is right; simplifying specialized ideas is not easily done.  But heck, if anyone is interested in some philosophical idea being made “more accessible”, I say, let’s try our hand at it.  This anyway seems a better alternative than simply labeling them as “intellectually lazy.” 


3 Responses to The Metaphysical Pluralist on Philosophical Apologetics

  1. Heather says:

    I have always thought that the mark of a truly good teacher was the ability to take a topic, however ungraspable it may seem, and make it accessable. This doesn’t mean watering it down or misrepresentation, either, but a true gift not only of learning, but of explanation and guidance. Why must philosophers be compared to Strider, and not Gandalf? Cannot some serve as a wise guide that can even convey such esoteric ideas as evil to those so simple as a Hobbit?

  2. Just another Professional Military Officer says:

    Funny, when I was thinking of an under-appreciated military versus an un-appreciative American, (Brit, what have you) public and meeting the needs of the nation at the possible loss of life for a “calling” it never occured to me that it really sang more to the Philosophical Apologist. See ya in Mosul. Don’t spill your tea, Butterbur. Love the site. We chat about it once in a while. (Another Professional Military Officer, Musings, 2008, 12)

  3. Keith says:


    First, thanks for stopping by our blog. Would you please elaborate the point of your comment, though? You know, I’m sure, that Strider (though called a “Ranger”) wasn’t an Army Ranger. Also, who said anything about an “unappreciative American”? The “one fat man” referred to in the first quote wasn’t American. He resided in Middle Earth (quite some distance from North America), several days journey from the Shire (another make believe place).

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