ON THE “OBSCURITY” OF CONTINENTAL PHILOSOPHY: the case of Foucault

AGENT SWARM

In a talk discussing Paul Grice’s four maxims of cooperative conversation (quality, quantity, relation, and manner), analytic philosopher John Searle seeks to illustrate the fourth maxim (maxim of manner) by recounting an amusing anecdote about a conversation he once had with Foucault. Grice’s maxim of manner asserts that in a cooperative conversation one should avoid ambiguity, be brief, be orderly, and avoid obscurity. Searle seems to think that these four conversational maxims (strictly sub-maxims) of manner should apply to philosophical discourse, and he ridicules “certain schools” of philosophy that systematically violate them.

To illustrate this idea Searle quotes from a conversation where he asked Foucault “Why do you write so badly?” and Foucault replied “If I wrote as clearly as you, people in Paris would not take me seriously, they would think it’s childlike, it’s naïve”. Searle is implying that many Continental philosophers violate the maxims for reasons of conformism…

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