The Great Encrypted Broken Telephone Beauty Contest

A favorite quote from here:


“Ok, my question might’ve been easy to misunderstand. My point was that it seems to me that you’re not familiar with the general culture in which MacIntyre writes, and so you don’t even get what he’s saying and what narratives he’s responding to. It’s like reading Nietzsche when you don’t know what Christianity is.

So your confusions aren’t about what MacIntyre is in fact saying (some of which I think has merit, some doesn’t), but it just fails to connect at all.

And while I overall like MacIntyre, I’m not enough of a fan to try to bridge that gap for him, and unless I did this full-time for a year or so, I don’t think I could come up with something better than “well, read these dozens of old books that might not seem relevant to you now, and some of which are bad but you won’t understand the later reactions otherwise, and also learn these languages because you can’t translate this stuff”. Which is a horrible answer.

Worse, it doesn’t even tell you why you should care to begin with. I think part of that is that, besides the meta-point that MacIntyre makes about narratives in general, it seems to me that the concrete construction and discourse he uses is deeply *European* and unless you are reasonably familiar with that, it will seem like one theologian advocating Calvinism instead of Lutherism when you’re Shinto and wonder why you should care about Jesus at all. (This is a general problem for non-continental readings of continental philosophy, I think – it’s deeply rooted in European drama.One reason Aristotle is so attractive is that all European drama theory derives from him and even someone as clever as Brecht couldn’t break it, so he’s an obvious attractor. I, and I suspect many continentals, came to philosophy essentially through drama, and that makes communication with outsiders difficult. Not enough shared language and sometimes very different goals.)

So I’ll save that goodwill for some later (and more fruitful) topic, if you don’t mind.

As to MacIntyre’s meta-point of “use the community-negotiated tools and narratives you already have” instead of “look for elegant theories no one actually uses anyway”, well, I *wanted* to write a different explanation of that, but then Vladimir did it already in his comment below, and I couldn’t do a *better* job right now, but he still failed, so…”

It’s no so much as eavesdropping on the great conversation, as it is playing broken telephone with multiple messages going on. Each author has a cultural backdrop and specific understanding of what came before and you need to model these to understand what they are saying. Its like an encrypted keynesian beauty contest turned up to 11.

Given these you would expect misunderstanding to abound, people to be hopelessly confused, and debates over what was meant in the first place to drown out the original messages.





3 thoughts on “The Great Encrypted Broken Telephone Beauty Contest

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