Sunday, April 14, 2013

Trees and taking the long view

A debate in environmental ethics revolves around the idea that if the value of nature is dependent on humans valuing it, the whales, the wolves, and the woods will be traded in for the next bright and shiny thing that catches the human eye. On the other side, there are those of us who are compelled, for philosophical reasons, to be anthropocentrists, while hoping that humans have the sense to take the long view.

Here's an article about some people who do:

It describes people who choose trees to fell for resonance wood--dense wood from which to make the best violins and guitars.
Pellegrini "gardens" the forest, as he puts it. But he gardens for people who will not be born for hundreds of years. So that there will be fine resonance spruce in the 24th Century.
These people are serious about both the wood and their woods:
Around here you would not be surprised to learn that people wear paper shirts and grate wood shavings on their spaghetti.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

No characters, no plot, no story

Jonathan Wolff (a philosopher) writes in The Guardian about how boring academic writing is.
Choice line:
It explains why academic writing is generally so much easier to put down than it is to pick up again.
He argues that a good story depends on there being a tension between what happens and the revelation of what happens. E.g, you know what's going to happen next, but the protagonist is dangerously unaware of the banana peel lurking under her boot.

Academic writing can't be this way, or it shouldn't be this way, or it's risky when it's this way. I'm not so old that I can't remember back to my way of writing as a naive philosophy student. I would pick an unpopular position, but I wouldn't reveal the argument until the last possible minute. "It's not a detective  story," my professor would say. Those papers flopped.

I still resist opening a paper with the roadmap approach: "First, I will argue that xyz-ism is inevitable. Second, I will show that given the inevitability of xyz-ism, it is also necessary. Finally, this point will be used to launch a criticism of the contingency of xyz-ism."

Although philosophy papers aren't known for cliffhangers, I can think of a few that have style. Just a touch of tension may be all that's needed.