19 May 2013

Concentrate on the Best

Sturgeon's law is usually expressed thus: 90% of everything is crap. So 90% of experiments in molecular biology, 90% of poetry, 90% of philosophy books, 90% of peer-reviewed articles in mathematics—and so forth—is crap. Is that true? Well, maybe it's an exaggeration, but let's agree that there is a lot of mediocre work done in every field.

A good moral to draw from this observation is that when you want to criticize a field, a genre, a discipline, an art form . . . don't waste your time and ours hooting at the crap! Go after the good stuff or leave it alone. This advice is often ignored by ideologues intent on destroying the reputation of analytic philosophy, sociology, cultural anthropology, macroeconomics, plastic surgery, improvisational theater, television sitcoms, philosophical theology, massage therapy, you name it.

Let's stipulate at the outset that there is a great deal of deplorable, second-rate stuff out there, of all sorts. Now, in order not to waste your time and try our patience, make sure you concentrate on the best stuff you can find, the flagship examples extolled by the leaders of the field, the prize-winning entries, not the dregs. Notice that this is closely related to Rapoport's rules: unless you are a comedian whose main purpose is to make people laugh at ludicrous buffoonery, spare us the caricature.

—Daniel Dennett, Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking

Painting: Angelica Kauffmann (1740-1807), Phryne Seducing the Philosopher

1 comment:

  1. 90 percent? That seems too high. There's a lot of good stuff out there. Or maybe I'm just lucky to stumble onto good reads.

    ReplyDelete

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