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How to Write Like a Philosopher

Bob Fitter introduces a new labour-saving device.

I first came across the following idea in Sir Ernest Gower’s The Complete Plain Words. The actual example used there is taken from the Canadian Ministry of Defence, so the only originality I can claim is to have modified that example sufficiently for it to have some relevance to philosophy. The whole scheme operates around a diagram called a Buzz-Phrase Generator. I have merely revised the original diagram, so before I give any further information I had better illustrate the Generator itself:

If you, the reader, happen to have lots of good philosophical ideas with a clear understanding of what you want to say and the command of words with which to say it: well, you can move on to the next article. The only additional piece of advice I would give is to avoid using any of the words listed in the Generator. If on the other hand you happen to be a philosopher with a deadline approaching and not an idea in the world to write about: read on.

By using the Buzz-Phrase Generator it is possible to generate pages of apparent philosophy of such a level of complexity and sophistication that no one is ever going to be able to form a reply to trouble you. Unless they use the Generator as well, of course. In this way philosophers can fill the pages of learned journals for a decade or so without fear of comprehension, let alone refutation. The Generator given above is designed specifically for the philosophy of mind, but this can be quickly and easily amended to feature words used by your own speciality.

All you need now are the instructions for use. These are simple and obvious; the only effort required is finding a system for generating numbers. Birthdays, lucky numbers etc all work admirably, but the easiest way of all is the common or garden telephone directory. For example: a page selected at random provides 701903, 55830 etc., so just run these numbers together and keep going:-

7019035583042737659901 …… and so on

These now need to be split up into blocks of four as follows:

2737 ……. etc.

Now select the first number and use this to generate words from each column of the Generator moving from left to right. The number ‘7019’ generates the words:


There is of course some work to do, but only as much as it takes to link these words together, eg:

“Any philosophy which wishes to quantify a significantly normative taxonomy …..”

Time now to add a few more words. And if you run out, just generate a few more with the aid of the directory. To develop the example given earlier:

“Any philosophy which wishes to quantify a significantly normative taxonomy will have to discriminate an evidentially functioning requirement within an overall attempt to classify the evidentially manifested relationship. Providing, of course, that it avoids any attempt to rationalise an extensionally correlating circumstance …….”

Need I go on? I thought not. Just dig out those telephone directories and copies of Philosophy Now and we can all be cognitive scientists by a week on Tuesday. A wet Sunday afternoon profitably spent will have the manuscripts in the post to an American publishing house, and we can all sit back to wait for the royalties to roll in. And if, as a result of this generated income, you happen to feel grateful : remember who put you on to it. Thank you in anticipation.

© Bob Fitter 1993

Bob Fitter is completing a PhD at the University of Hull, and under various assumed names is the author of 317 recent learned articles on the philosophy of mind.

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