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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Interpreting Phrases in Philosophy Papers

Ever wondered what philosophers really mean when they speak in obscure phrases? Use this list to achieve better understanding.

"Although there are no definite answers to these questions ..."
My original hypothesis was wrong, but I still want to get published.

"Additional work is required to establish principle P."
I was unable to conjure up any genuine counterexamples to principle P.

"Of great theoretical and practical importance"
It is interesting to me or else I want it to be interesting to somebody with money who can fund some release time from teaching.

"It has long been known that ..."
I don't know the original reference.

"It is believed that ..."
I believe this (and either no one agrees with me or else I didn't consult anyone).

"It is generally believed that ..."
I believe this and at least one other person agrees with me.

"This example was originally due to NN"
NN came up with it in a bar at 3 a.m. in the morning at the last APA meeting. And if it doesn't work, I don't want to be blamed.

"I do not think the proposal succeeds"
And I have no reason to think it doesn't succeed.

"Nothing of substance hinges on this simplification"
I don't know how to deal with more complex cases.

"I know of no decisive evidence against theory T"
I know of plenty of evidence against it but in philosophy no evidence is decisive.

"I have no knock-down objections to principle P but I do have a couple of worries about it"
I have no evidence against principle P, just a couple of nitpickings that are not going to lead anywhere.

"I hope nevertheless that a more unified account will emerge from these considerations."
I have no new results to report but I need to get tenure so I will offer a better way to word some well-established principles.

"This view is not as counterintuitive as it first appears."
This view is counterintuitive, alright, but I am going to try to convince you that it is not.

"The aim of this paper is to show that NN's original theory is flawed"
NN has since revised his theory. But my counterexamples undermine only the original proposal.

"NN is therefore vulnerable to the criticism that P."
NN presented a knock-down objection to my theory at the last APA meeting; now, I'm going to show him who's the boss.

"Virtually everything that has just been said carries over to the case at hand."
You work it out. I am not sure how to.

"NN's brilliant insight that ..."
NN is a friend of mine who is considering me for a position in his department, and he proposed that ...

(HT: Dr. Free-Ride, who offers an interpretation of scientific phrases)

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