Some Thought is Rigorous but Superficial

Something can be intellectually difficult because it has clear concepts and a very precise way of working out the relationship amongst these concepts but still ignore such important parts of human experience that it is superficial.  For example, micro-economics works out the consequences of rational agents interacting and is a very difficult discipline, but its more superficial proponents ignore questions such as “are people rational?”  “what is rationality?”, “why be rational?” and “why do people want the things they do?”   Physicists who say “the only statements that are true are the ones that actually work” are being superficial if they ignore the questions “what does it mean for something to “work”?”  “does the same thing work for everyone?”  “who decides what works and how?” Rigorous disciplines that ignore asking profound questions are superficial.

If you have a deep reason why all deep questions are meaningless you might be, in Nietzsche’s phrase,  “superficial out of profundity”.  Of course you might also be wrong and/or kidding yourself.


5 thoughts on “Some Thought is Rigorous but Superficial

  1. Mikey says:

    Something’s superficial if it doesn’t have philosophy in it? Does that mean it’s bad to be superficial?

    This is the story of the Superficiality Machine, which used arguments along the lines you’ve used above to decide whether or not someone was superficial. The philosophers built it, in conjunction with the mechanics, of course, and with special attention to why they were doing it and what superficiality meant. But once the machine was up and running it was much more effective than they’d anticipated. It identified potentially superficial targets, analysed them, found them superficial and then dispatched the Sticker Robots who would scurry out from the Machine with a Superficiality Sticker which said SUPERFICIAL on it. The robots would find the target, stick the sticker on and then scurry back to the Machine and everyone would know that there was one more bit of superficiality in the world. The rest of the story came very naturally and exactly as you’d expect. The philosophers rested on their laurels, making biscuits and falling in love instead of tending to the Machine. Without anyone to ask the deep questions, the meaning of superficiality was forgotten by the machine. Eventually it identified itself as a target, sent out the robots, stickered itself and carried on with its work. It’s still there, churning out stickers, but no one listens to it any more.

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