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Analytic Philosophy Fetishizes Clarity

When you fetishize something you get excited and entranced by it and credit that thing for being exciting and entrancing — you abstract from the human context that makes it exciting and entrancing.  The sexual fetishist gets turned on by a woman’s knee and thinks his erotic life revolves around knees. He ignores that an actual human woman is showing him her knee because she is attracted to him and wants him to be attracted to her.  The currency fetishist heaps up gold because he is excited by gold and doesn’t realize that gold is only important as a medium of exchange – -a way for human beings to let other human beings know what we find valuable.  The religious fetishist worships the wall in Jerusalem and doesn’t realize this wall is important because human beings express their desire for a fresh start at a meaningful life by building a temple and convening there, and this wall once belonged to the temple.

In philosophy we sometimes get excited and entranced by intellectual clarity.  We like the idea of saying sentences that are very clear and connecting those sentences into arguments that seem to prove things.  We fetishize clarity and argumentative rigor.  Rigor and clarity and argument are fine things when they help us get clear about something that is a confusion or a lie or a self-mystification.  But on their own they are nothing, just a symbol of liberation without the liberation.  Clear for one purpose is muddy for another.  My guide to how to hook up my t.v. does not say what color my t.v. is, but it is not for that reason vague or mysterious at all.

The trouble with fetishizing clarity is once you fetishize clarity, what tool is left for you to make yourself unconfused and unmystified?

If the salt shall lose its savor, how shall you salt it?

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One thought on “Analytic Philosophy Fetishizes Clarity

  1. The key point of how you define “fetish” is its requirement that someone be entranced by the object of the fetish. Given that requirement, I agree with you. Intense interest does not a fetish make, nor does thoughtless attribution of our own emotional reactions to the object itself. Marx talks about commodity fetishism in Volume 1 of Capital, and I think he uses it in the same sense as you do.

    As applied to analytic philosophy, I think the problem is not that we want to be clear about what we’re saying, but that we think that such clarity is the *only* criterion of worthwhile discussion. Even Wittgenstein is on board with that viewpoint, since he claims both that “what can be said, can be said clearly” and that “whereof we cannot speak, we must remain silent” — in other words, he thinks that reality is not coextensive with what we can describe clearly. Some important realities elude clear explanation.

    The problem is that when our concepts and arguments are unclear, we can’t be sure whether we’re being profound or just babbling senselessly. Or maybe that distinction isn’t as clear as we think it is. 🙂

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