Chapter Five: Preparing Academic Essays: Issues of Style, Design and Word processing on a Macintosh

William Clarkson
Dept of English

            This document is both an explanation and a guide for preparing academic papers. The faculty strongly recommends that all essays be prepared on Macintosh computers using Microsoft Word. You should follow these directions when you prepare your essays, and your essays should look like this document, except that this is single spaced to save paper. Your name, class and section, and the date should appear at the upper right of the first page. The title should be centered a few inches down from the top. Choose with care a title that is well-phrased and informative: "Marx Contra Dickens"; "Proles in Holes: Bourgeois Oppression in Dickens and Marx." Your text should be double-spaced except for extended quotations and a list of works consulted which are explained later.

            Your first paragraph should establish a topic (even if one is assigned) and present a thesis. Introduce the topic quickly and concisely. If you are to write on a poem by Keats, make that clear immediately. Don't sneak up on it after noting that poems have been written throughout history. A thesis is an idea about the topic. With luck the idea will be interesting and powerful. If your topic were the imagery of Keats's "To Autumn," you might consider these two theses:

  1. The poem presents many different kinds of images of the harvest season.
  2. The poem's imagery divides the season into three distinct stages, early, middle, and late, whose movement underscores the beauty as it reinforces the sad inevitability of the way all life moves towards death.

            The first is a trivial commonplace. The second constitutes the real idea of someone who understands something about the poem. The difference between them is real, is typical of college essays, and is often indicated by professors with letters C and A. Your first paragraph should address an intelligent audience familiar with your topic. Your first paragraph is crucial, and should be written or rewritten last.

            Paragraphs, like essays, should have topic sentences. The body of the paragraph should deal with the topic introduced in the first sentence. Each sentence should be tied to the next with logic and language. Each sentence, in other words, should reach back to the one preceding and reach forward to the one that follows. You should be able to scramble the sentences of a paragraph and reassemble them inevitably. Scramble one of yours and see if a friend can put it back together. Challenge set: see if you can do it.

            The word processor seems to make it easier to write a correct paragraph, but harder to keep clear track of each paragraph's place in the whole. If you were to list the topics of each of your paragraphs, the list should reveal obvious and compelling principles of organization that lead through your topic to explain and prove your thesis. A sure way to improve your written work is this. Print out a draft and lay out the pages. In the margin next to each paragraph write a key word or two expressing the main topic. Then look over the sequence and, if any paragraph fails to seem obviously in the right place, cross it out or draw an arrow to where it should be moved. Then consider whether an added or altered phrase at the beginning or end of each paragraph would make real connections clearer, or give the appearance of connection where there is none. (If you are using Microsoft Word, you can get an even quicker [and sometimes terrifying] view of your essay's structure by choosing the "outline" command in the view menu. Look at your work, you mighty, and despair!)

            There is no better guide to style than the advice to be found in a little book, The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E. B. White. You should own this book and read it until its contents are part of your personality. In general, aim for a clear and unaffected style in middle diction. Avoid repeated noun + preposition phrases when verbs are available for the purpose: x is the representation of y, x is certain evidence of y, x is a description of y are stronger and simpler in this form: x represents, proves, or describes y. Avoid heavy use of the verb to be that comes with overusing noun phrases and overusing the passive voice. Avoid forms like There is a movement that influences and It is cubism that is influential; instead say Cubism influences. Don't start sentences with demonstrative pronouns (notably this). Avoid empty assertive qualifiers like pretty, very, truly, virtually, incredible, and awesome. Don't overuse the vague words aspect, facet, or element, and also the words lifestyle, mindset, wellness, or relationship. Avoid the adverb hopefully.

            Quotations and other specific references to the text (including musical and artistic "texts") form the evidentiary backbone of argument in the humanities. Use brief, pithy, pertinent quotations to substantiate or demonstrate your points. Don't use quotations when summary would be quicker and better. Quotations are not necessary to establish facts of person, costume, setting, statement, and incident, but rather to substantiate judgments about language, character, motivation, values, and ideas. Judgments about writers, thinkers, and artists should be based on your observation of their own work, not on secondary opinions drawn from lectures or textbooks. A long quotation should be justified by extensive and careful analysis of the quoted passage. And always double check your quotations for accuracy. Far too many student quotations contain errors.

            According to the Sewanee Student Handbook, plagiarism is a form of cheating because the plagiarist copies or imitates the language and thoughts of others and passes the result off as an original work. Plagiarism includes failing to identify a direct quotation by the use of quotation marks or another accepted convention which delimits and identifies the quotation clearly, paraphrasing the work of another without an acknowledgment of the source, or using the ideas of another, even though expressed in different words, without giving proper credit. (20)

Avoiding plagiarism is imperative and simple. Follow these requirements:

  1. At the end of your essay, include a list of every secondary work you consult in its preparation.
  2. Before every quotation, paraphrase, or allusion involving one of these consulted works, introduce the name of its author.
  3. At the end of every quotation, paraphrase, or allusion to one of these consulted works indicate, in parentheses, the page numbers where the pertinent words or ideas can be found.

            This parenthetical system of documentation is acceptable in all semesters of the humanities sequence. It is described much more completely in the MLA Handbook, and, though this brief description will serve most purposes, that book is available at the library (on reserve) and bookstore and should be consulted by authors of more complex research papers.

            Quotations should be surrounded by quotation marks or indented, and the words in quotation marks or indented should be exactly the words that appear in the text you indicate with two exceptions that should be used sparingly. Explanatory or clarifying information may be added in square brackets, and omissions may be replaced by marks of ellipsis—three spaced dots. Here's an ellipsis in square brackets: [ . . . ]. A period is required in addition if the ellipsis occurs between one sentence and part or all of another. Three or more lines of poetry or more than 60 words of prose should be indented (in which case use quotation marks only as the author does). Introduce quotations with a clause or phrase that fits the excerpt grammatically; be sure the thought is complete.

            Punctuation of and around quotations is complicated but exact. A colon follows an independent introductory clause (Here is Searle's thesis: . . .). A fragment that fits your sentence seamlessly needs no preceding punctuation. Otherwise, a comma usually precedes (As Northrop Frye argues cogently, . . .). When quoting poetry, be sure to follow the poet's conventions of initial capitalization and indentation, and to indicate the line endings with a slash mark (virgule) or, in indented quotations, by typing your lines exactly like the original. At the end of an excerpt, period and comma precede quotation marks, semi-colon and colon follow. Question mark and exclamation point depend on the sense (Did he say "Go to hell!"?). Exception: if a parenthetical citation follows a quotation, the punctuation follows the parenthesis (see example 1). Exception to the exception: punctuation precedes parenthetical citation after indented quotations (see example 2).

Here are some examples:

  1. Romeo's "mind misgives / Some consequence yet hanging in the stars" (1.4.106-7).
  2. As he is entering the great hall, Romeo delivers his most important speech about fate:
    . . . my mind misgives
    Some consequence yet hanging in the stars
    Shall bitterly begin his fearful date
    With this night's revels and expire the term
    Of a despisèd life, closed in my breast,
    By some vile forfeit of untimely death.
  3. According to Hugh Kenner, the detail of the lady in the white gown "simply records the way Vivien Eliot looked when she was hospitalized" (33).
  4. In an early essay, E. E. Stoll contends that Shylock receives "the heaviest penalty to be found in all the pound of flesh stories" (157-58).
  5. Kenneth Myrick provides some indispensable pages on Shylock's relationship to Judaism (xxxii-xxxiv).
  6. Our editor's lengthy explanation (DiYanni 9-12) is ultimately unsatisfactory.

            Citations appear in parentheses and contain no more information than is necessary. If the author is mentioned in the text only page numbers appear in the citation. Otherwise, last name and page number appear without intervening comma or p./pp. abbreviation. For examples, see the citations above, especially 3 through 6. All of these citations mean that the words or ideas in question can be found on the cited pages of books identified fully, by author's name, at the end of the essay.

            You must proofread your essays carefully. Enlist the help of a classmate or friend if you are a poor editor. Number your pages with your name on each page. Provide a List of Works Consulted in the same form as the list at the end of this document. If you are using the Macintosh and Microsoft Word 5, specific instructions for these and other routine formatting operations are included in the following appendix.

Appendix I. Formatting an Essay with Microsoft Word 5

            When you enter the text of your essay, be sure that you type the return key only at the end of a paragraph (or line of poetry). Typing returns at the end of lines of prose makes future editing and formatting tremendously time-consuming. At the end of the first paragraph, choose the "Save" command from the File menu. Give your document a name in this form: Your last name, your subject. For example: "Peters, Plato," "Clarkson, music," or "Jones, Marx-Dkns." If you wish to take out insurance, click in the box that says "Make Backup." Before you click "Save," notice the disk and folder where you are directing your document to be saved. If you want it saved elsewhere, make the change now. Be especially careful that you don't save your essay to a friend's disk or a lab disk drive that will be locked, erased, or out of town when you return. Save frequently as you proceed. If you are working during an electrical storm, save and pray frequently.

            To indent a quotation, first type it normally with no returns or, in the case of poetry, with a return at the end of each line. Then select the quotation and click the little icon that shows a paragraph and an arrow to the right. If you don't see the icon, go to the ruler (there's a ruler command if you can't see it), and move the quotation by dragging to the right the lower of the two triangles that appear below the zero of the ruler scale.

            Run spelling check (Tools Menu) before printing your essay. Professors are often very hostile to errors SpellCheck should have caught. Then proofread. Ewe cant ketch aviary arrow bye dewing SpellCheck a loan. In the preceding sentence, only the word "SpellCheck" would be presented for correction as the other words are spelled correctly. Look for homonym errors such as there/their/they’re and were/we’re/where. Be particularly careful with proper nouns. The checking utility will present "Shakspeare" and Emily "Dickenson" for your decision. Both names are misspelled.

            Your last name and the page number should appear in the upper right corner of every page except the first. To effect this result choose "Section" in the Format menu. Click to put an X in the box next to the label "Different First Page." Click OK. Choose "Header" from the View Menu. Tab twice and then type in your last name, space, and click on the left icon in the header window (page number icon). Select the text and choose the font you intend to use for the body of your text. Close the header window.

            If you have consulted secondary sources, proceed as follows. At the end of your last paragraph type the return key once, then hold down the shift key and press the key labeled "enter." That sequence will insert a page break, and you can then enter the title "List of Works Consulted." Then enter each work you have consulted as a paragraph with a period following each of the following entries (You will find examples at the end of this document; see MLA Handbook for more complicated situations.):

  1. Name (last first) of the person who wrote what you quote. If you cite an essay from a collection you should name the author of the essay, not the editor of the collection.
  2. Title of the work, in quotation marks if a work in a collection or anthology, underlined or in italics if a complete book.
  3. If 2 was a work in a collection, this entry should provide the collection title.
  4. This sentence might provide the name of a collection editor or a translator (following abbreviations "Ed." or "Trans.").
  5. Place of publication: publisher, date of publication.

Center the title (List of Works Consulted) and then format your list in five steps:

  1. select every item in your list from first to last
  2. choose "Sort" in the Tools menu to alphabetize
  3. while all items are still selected, hold down the shift and command keys (the command key has the ? and cloverleaf symbols) with your left hand and type "T" with your right.
  4. while all items are still selected, Show the Ruler and click on the single space icon (above the 3 inch mark).
  5. while all items are still selected, click on the spaced paragraph icon (above the 4 and 1/4 inch mark) to space between each entry.

            Here are three last steps. First, set your essay in a suitable font. To set the font select the whole document (choose Select All from the Edit menu) and then make your choice from the Font menu. Header and Footnote fonts may need to be changed as well. Open those windows in the View menu and follow the same procedure. I suggest you use Palatino or Bookman 12 point. To make the text appear on fewer pages, use Times (as I have done here). To make it appear on more pages, use New York. Next choose Print Preview from the File menu and scroll through your essay. Check the header, the location and spacing of quotations, and so on. If you have not followed instructions about indentation, you will have to redo your quotations. Finally, print your essay on a laser printer or one of the personal printers that gives laser quality.

List of Works Consulted

DiYanni, Robert. "Introduction." Modern American Poets: Their Voices and Visions. New York: Random House, 1987.

Gibaldi, Joseph and Walter S. Achtert. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 2nd ed. New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 1984.

Kenner, Hugh. The Mechanic Muse. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.

Myrick, Kenneth. "Introduction." The Merchant of Venice. Revised Signet Edition. New York: New American Library, 1987.

Prentice-Hall Guide to MLA Documentation. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1984.

Sewanee Student Handbook 1994-1995 Sewanee, Tennessee: The University of the South, [1994].

Stoll, Elmer Edgar. "Shylock." The Merchant of Venice. Ed. Kenneth Myrick. Revised Signet Edition. New York: New American Library, 1987.

Appendix One: Critics of Socratic Dialectic

            We have argued that the Socratic practice of dialectical philosophy provides us with a viable model for rigorous and open-minded philosophical inquiry. We have contended that this Socratic perspective on the nature of human thinking has the significant virtue of avoiding two unjustified stances: the Enlightenment view of autonomous rationality and the extreme postmodern view of autonomous non-rationality. For the purposes of this inquiry, we will assume that our readers have read Chapter One where we attempt to argue for a Socratic vision of dialectical philosophy. In this section our task will be to take seriously two lines of criticism. Here we will seek to give both of these alternative, non-Socratic outlooks the opportunity to respond. Our aim here will be to take seriously how two important points of view would criticize the Socratic conception of philosophy as the search for self-knowledge. We will argue that Socratic dialectical philosophy withstands the critical assaults of both a Cartesian defender of autonomous rationality and the postmodern defender of the radical autonomy or interpretation.

To see how an advocate of the Enlightenment doctrine of rationality might object to Socrates' dialectical conception of philosophy, let us begin with a passage from Descartes' Rules for the Direction of the Mind. Here Descartes compares the kind of thinking worthy enough to be considered true wisdom, from an inferior alternative that can only render uncertain judgments where truth is open to further questioning and doubt:

All knowledge [scientia] is certain and evident cognition. Someone who has doubts about many things is no wiser than one who has never given them a thought; indeed, he appears less wise if he has formed a false opinion about any of them. Hence it is better never to study at all than to occupy ourselves with objects which are so difficult that we are unable to distinguish what is true from what is false, and are forced to take the doubtful as certain; for in such matters the risk of diminishing our knowledge is greater than our hope of increasing it. So, in accordance with this Rule, we reject all such merely probable cognition and resolve to believe only what is perfectly known and incapable of being doubted. Men of learning are perhaps convinced that there is very little indubitable knowledge, since, owing to a common human failing, they have disdained to reflect upon such indubitable truths, taking them to be too easy and obvious to everyone. But there are, I insist, a lot more of these truths than such people think—truths which suffice for the sure demonstration of countless propositions which so far they have managed to treat as no more than probable. Because they have thought it unbecoming for a man of learning to admit to being ignorant on any matter, they have got so used to elaborating their contrived doctrines that they have gradually come to believe them and pass them off as true. (Rules for the Direction of the Mind, pp. 10-11)

Since the Socratic follower of dialectic regards all of his/her philosophical conclusions as fallible, and therefore open to future revision, a Cartesian critic might challenge our claim that Socratic dialectic provides us with a viable method for philosophical thinking. Following the logic of Descrates, this critic would reject Socratic dialectic on the grounds that it fails to be genuinely philosophical. They would argue this because Socratic dialectic provides no means for attaining the certainty which is the proper aim of philosophical thinking.

We would, in response, argue against Descartes' claim that Socratic philosophy fails to be genuinely philosophical because it provides no means for attaining the certainty which is the proper aim of philosophical thinking. Following many critics of modern foundationalism, we believe that Descartes has an overly-ambitious vision of the proper task of philosophy. Descartes' condemnation of his philosophical forbearers for their inability to transcend uncertainty might have been justified if it were the case that his own ideals of philosophical certainty were attainable. The Socratic dialectical philosopher would argue that Descartes' ideal is, however, not attainable.

Descartes envisions establishing a system of autonomous knowledge resting upon a foundation of self-certifying, undeniable truths. As Allen notes, this Cartesian conception of philosophy is so deeply at odds with the Socratic and Platonic conception of dialectic that the two are mutually exclusive. What the dialectical philosopher may not do is simply reject this criticism on the grounds that it calls into question one of the fundamental convictions of dialectic. Such dogmatism would only betray the commitment of dialectic to be open to criticism. The appropriate response of the dialectician would be to subject the Cartesian alternative to the same kind of dialectical testing which Socrates' Athenian respondents encounter in Plato's early dialogues. The primary question to pose would be whether the Cartesian method can succeed in constructing a foundationalist structure of certain knowledge. Such is clearly the ambition of Descartes' Meditations, as well as of many important efforts of modern thought. As many contemporary critics of Cartesian foundationalism argue, "modernity" may well begin with the ambitious project of Descartes to establish a system of autonomous rational knowledge upon a foundation of self-certifying truths. Then for the next several centuries, philosophers would pursue a variety of ingenious strategies to overcome the errors of Descartes and turn philosophy into a rigorous, purely objective science.

But all of these efforts, in one way or another, self-destruct. That they all fail is not surprising. In fact, it is inevitable since the very project of modern foundationalism was untenable.  Human reason simply cannot provide a sufficient number of rational beliefs upon which modern foundationalists could actually re-order their intellectual and social lives. Either we can discover no such pure foundations at all, or the number and kind we can establish are so limited that few important philosophical problems could be solved by appealing to them. Whichever is the case, we today must accept that fact that this modern quest for pure foundations has lost its credibility. This version of story of the ‘death of modernity’ leaves open the question of whether it is wise to believe in such realities as God, freedom, and the immortality of the soul. What the "moderate" postmodernist rejects is simply the possibility of answering the classical questions of philosophy with a final and infallible certainty.

The claim that we cannot answer "the classical questions of philosophy with a final and infallible certainty" is ultimately convincing. To be postmodern in this dialectical sense requires that we accept the limits of humans and the uncertainty of what they can believe in. This rejects the quest to establish reason as an autonomous authority because it is unwise. But being postmodern in this sense also means that one is still committed to the classical philosophical enterprise of critically examining human experience in order to understand the real nature of the self. The moderate postmodernist understands that while Cartesian certainty is beyond our grasp, we must remain committed to establishing the best account we can of what is real. Postmodernism in this form rejects the Enlightenment doctrine of reason while still seeking to understand what really is.

Alasdair MacIntyre defends such a moderate version of postmodernism in two of his later works, Whose Justice? Which Rationality? and Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry. In Three Rival Versions, MacIntyre defends the tradition of dialectical rationality found in the works of Plato, Aristotle, and St. Thomas. According to MacIntyre, this classical and medieval form of philosophical inquiry is rationally superior to the alternative visions of Enlightenment foundationalism and the anti-metaphysical form of postmodernism exemplified in what MacIntyre terms ‘the tradtion of the Nietzschean Genealogist’. Though the two rival perspectives succumb to internal incoherence, the classical dialectical tradition both avoids their fundamental errors and illuminates for us exactly how and why these rival traditions are unsustainable. MacIntyre leaves open the possibility that rival traditions will emerge that are incompatible with one another but each of which is rationally sustainable. Traditions fail to be rational when they cannot survive a process of Socratic testing. The function of reason, according to this dialectical model, is not to provide us with certainty but to afford us a critical method in our quest for self-understanding.

Like Socrates, MacIntyre does not believe that human reason will ever grant us the kind of final, absolute knowledge that would render our beliefs immune from any future correction, adjustment, or revision. For MacIntyre, traditions exhibit their rationality when they succeed in clarifying their beliefs and practices and in responding to questions and objections about them. Reason functions not in the establishing of final proofs but in the giving of a logos for a historically-constituted set of beliefs and practices. According to MacIntyre's vision of a dialectical postmodern reason, the telos of reason is not to achieve a system of certain knowledge constructed upon a basis of autonomous rational certitudes. Instead, the goal is to achieve a kind of self-knowledge whereby a tradition can rationally sustain its way of life in the face of philosophical criticisms.

Acting against the beliefs of the Enlightenment, MacIntyre seeks a more humble account of human rationalism. His philosophy believes that our ability to reason successfully depends upon our membership in human communities that mold our moral character in accordance with basic intuitions about human good. MacIntyre's dialectical postmodernism envisions ethical inquiry as a journey in search of our real ethical selves. It is a quest in which we cannot be entirely certain of our success before we reach our final destination. So MacIntyre contrasts his Thomistic postmodernism to the traditions of the Enlightenment and the anti-metaphysical "genealogist".

Descartes symbolized independence from the particular bonds of any particular moral and religious community. It is due to rationality that its objectivity is inseparable from its freedom (from the partialities of all such communities). The encylopaedist gives their allegiance to reason. And this reason is impersonal, impartial, disinterested, uniting and universal. And this concept, of reason being universal and disinterested, is rejected by the genealogists, which makes their arguments thus: either reason is impersonal, universal, and disinterested or it is the unwitting representative of particular interests.

What this alternative conceals from view is a third possibility. This option is that reason can only move towards being genuinely universal and impersonal insofar as it is neither neutral nor disinterested. In other words, membership in a particular type of moral community, one from which fundamental dissent has to be excluded, is a condition for genuinely rational enquiry - especially for moral and theological enquiry. Just this possibility was presented by Plato in initiating the philosophical tradition, particularly in the Gorgias and in the Republic. What emerged from Socrates’ confrontation with Callicles in Gorgias was that it is a precondition of engaging in rational enquiry through the method of dialectic that one should already possess and recognize certain moral virtues without which the cooperative progress of dialectic will be impossible. This is further acknowledged by Plato, in the Republic, (in his identification that the practice of those virtues must precede initiation into the philosophical community) and by Aristotle (in his account of the inseparability of the moral and the intellectual virtues in both political and philosophical community). Enquiry into the nature of the virtues and of human good is, on this Socratic view, therefore bound to be sterile if disinterested. A prior commitment is required and the conclusions which emerge as enquiry progresses will of course have been partially and crucially predetermined by the nature of this initial commitment.

According to this Socratic type of postmodernism, the mainstream modern philosophical tradition embodied in the Encyclopedists were justified in their desire to find the ‘truth’ concerning what is real. Their undoing came from their failure to acknowledge the essential finitude of all human efforts to know just what this ‘truth’ is. Still, MacIntyre remains committed to the philosophical project of seeking to understand what really constitutes the human good. And for MacIntyre, our individual quest for this self-understanding can only make progress as we see our individual selves as members of a historically-constituted social tradition. Traditions of moral thought are rational when they can sustain themselves coherently in the face of criticisms generated both from within the tradition itself as well as from other, rival traditions.

In marked contrast to MacIntyre's postmodern realism, there is a much more radical point of view urged by other postmodernists. These philosophers also find the basic narrative about the fall of modern reason convincing: that according to "radical" or "anti-realist" postmodernists, the failure of the Cartesian project undermines the whole of modern philosophy and indeed of the western tradition of metaphysical inquiry. Such people regard the failure of modern foundationalism as signaling the end of philosophy as the "western tradition" has known it. The time has come for postmodernists - who have seen through the illusions of the past - to begin to address social problems and read canonical texts in an entirely new way! Because Socratic dialectic conceives of the philosophical quest as a search for the truth about the self, the more radical postmodernist might challenge our claim that Socratic dialectic provides us with a viable method for philosophical thinking.

With the collapse of the Cartesian project and of the Enlightenment, the traditional beliefs of the church and the traditional western belief in objective realities are regarded as thoroughly discredited. According to this more radical postmodern way of thinking, whatever commitments we are able to find credible in our postmodern world, they cannot be the sort that claim to have some metaphysical authority that transcends human conventions. In in particular, we can no longer put our faith in those authorities such as God or reason which have been so influential for the western traditions of church and metaphysics. To solve the problems of the postmodern world, we must not look to such authorities of our past. We must start over with a postmodern sincerity that looks with honest suspicion upon the idols of the past. For the radical postmodernist, the question of whether it is wise to believe in such realities as God, freedom, and the immortality of the soul is no longer open. To be postmodern in this more extreme sense requires that we accept the limits and uncertainty of all human beliefs and reject the quest to establish reason as an autonomous authority. But it also insists that we reject as incoherent and naive the very idea of a transcendent God or even of an objective reality existing outside of and beyond our human interpretations. As Derrida states, "There is nothing outside of the text". Unlike MacIntyre, the radical postmodernist contends that the name of the game is not the discovery of what is, but the creation of a diversity of images of self-expression. Whereas MacIntyre looks for a rationally sustainable but inevitably uncertain perspective on our true self, the radical postmodernist invites us to reconcile ourselves to living with the worlds of our own creation. So writes Francios Lyotard in a reflection entitled "Answering the Question: What is Postmodernism?"

The postmodern would be that which, in the modern, puts forward the unpresentable in presentation itself; that which denies itself the solace of good forms, the consensus of a taste which would make it possible to share collectively the nostalgia for the unattainable; that which searches for new presentations, not in order to enjoy them but in order to impart a stronger sense of the unpresentable. A postmodern artist or writer is in the position of a philosopher: the text he writes, the work he produces are not in principle governed by pre-established rules, and they cannot be judged according to a determining judgment, by applying familiar categories to the text or to the work. Those rules and categories are what the work of art itself is looking for. The artist and the writer, then, are working without rules in order to formulate the rules of what will have been done. Hence the fact that work and text have the characters of an event ; hence also, they always come too late for their author, or, what amounts to the same thing, their being put into work, their realization (mise en oeuvre) always begin too soon. Post modern would have to be understood according to the paradox of the future (post) anterior (modo).

Finally, it must be clear that it is our business not to supply reality but to invent allusions to the conceivable which cannot be presented. And it is not to be expected that this task will affect the last reconciliation between language games (which, under the name of faculties, Kant knew to be separated by a chasm), and that only the transcendental illusion (that of Hegel) can hope to totalize them into a real unity. But Kant also knew that the price to pay for such an illusion is terror. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries have given us as much terror as we can take. We have paid a high enough price for the nostalgia of the whole and the one, for the reconciliation of the concept and the sensible, of the transparent and the communicable experience. Under the general demand for slackening and for appeasement, we can hear the mutterings of a desire for the return of terror, for the realization of the fantasy to seize reality. The answer is: Let us wage a war on totality; let us be witnesses to the unpresentable; let us activate the differences and save the honor of the name.

Here Lyotard provides a vivid example of what MacIntyre refers to in Three Rival Versions as the "geneological" tradition–the perspective we have referred to above as embracing the radical autonomy of interpretation. Two features of Lyotard's postmodern vision are noteworthy. First, Lyotard condemns as illusory and even dangerous the traditional philosophical desire to understand the systematic unity and coherence of the fabric of reality. Second, having declared our liberation from such metaphysical realism, Lyotard invites us to celebrate our radical freedom through artistic, interpretative acts of self-expression. Through these acts of "presenting the unpresentable", we create, rather than discover, our selves. Both of these features deny the conception of Socratic rationality central to MacIntyre's postmodernism. Lyotard, like Derrida, declares war on all such doctrines of rationality that conceive of philosophy as seeking the truth.

We would, in response, argue against the claim that in philosophical inquiry we create, rather than discover, our selves. To pursue this line of response, the dialectical philosopher would subject the radical postmodernist's view to dialectical cross-examination. This would require proceeding in the classic Socratic style by sifting through the web of claims and arguments central to this kind of anti-Socratic postmodernism. This line of responses might prove fruitful insofar as there appears to be a tension between the act of propagating this postmodern skepticism through discourse and repeated denials that language can ever say how things really are. Extreme Postmodernists seem to be saying that what they say is true, (where "true" means how things really are, independently of public opinion or scholarly consensus, and that there is no real self and or real world beyond our interpretations). This view seems to be regarded by extreme postmodernists with a sanctity and conviction that looks very much like an attitude about how things really are. So the practice of extreme postmodernism appears to be inconsistent with its theory, and thus a dialectical failure.

And yet the claim that "extreme Postmodernists seem to by saying what is true (where "true” means how things really are independently of public opinion or scholarly consensus") would be ultimately convincing only to someone already committed to the presuppositions of Socratic dialectic. To appreciate this point let us note that the crafty postmodernist might well resist every such dialectical move with the caveat of having never meant to say how things really are. The success of dialectic presupposes that persons say what they really think and will care about self-consistency. It is unclear that the really committed extreme postmodernist intends to say anything in the form of an assertion or cares about the unity of our lives. So it may well be the case that the radically skeptical postmodernist escapes the snares of dialectical self-destruction as a result of refusing to accept the standards for responsible dialectical conversation. The charge of self-fragmentation is simply not compelling to the person who sees no reason to believe in the possibility of self-unity.

Yet the question remains of whether any human being can seriously and honestly so divorce him/herself from the activity of objective discourse or the concern for self-integrity. A second dialectical strategy against extreme postmodernism would be that of challenging not so much what the extreme postmodernist says but whether in saying it, he/she can honestly believe it. As we have alluded to in our account of the Socratic method, dialectic is more a process of recollecting the self than of constituting the self. By its very nature, dialectic tests our beliefs and commitments by asking us to state, clarify, and defend them. Such a process serves as a mirror, reflecting to the inquiring self one's pre-existing beliefs and commitments. In this way, dialectic does not expose us to learning by providing us with proofs, but by enabling us to see ourselves more clearly than we have before. It also challenges us to alter flaws and inconsistencies we notice in our selves. Dialectic can succeed only if a person already possesses certain virtues of character: the courage to risk being revealed as flawed and the humility to accept the help of others in correcting those flaws. But while the practice of dialectic depends upon the prior possession of certain traits of character, it also depends upon the desire to be a rational self - not in the abstract sense of being able to state clever doctrines but in the very real and existential sense of being unified in one's words and deeds. The manner in which the dialectician can therefore challenge the extreme postmodernist would be to urge such a person to be truthful with their own self, and to accept the challenge to show how one can succeed in giving a dialectically sustainable account of the unity of the self. From a dialectical perspective, extreme postmodernism avoids the charge of self-refutation only by turning itself into an abstraction. As a concrete, lived philosophy, extreme postmodernism fails dialectically because it presents us with an image we cannot truly believe reflects our real self. The claim that extreme postmodernism fails dialectically because it presents us with an image we cannot really believe reflects our real self is ultimately convincing to us. Which side the reader takes on this important issue is not for us to dictate or presume.

Previous Page
Chapter Four: The Goal and Structure of Reasoning
Free Features
  • free Outline $5
  • free Unlimited Amendments $30
  • free Title Page $5
  • free Bibliography $15
  • free Formatting $10
Total savings: $65
Why Choose Us?
  • 10+ years of experience in the custom writing market
  • Satisfied and returning customers
  • A wide range of services
  • 6-hour delivery available
  • Money-back guarantee
  • 100% privacy guaranteed
  • A professional team of experienced paper writers
  • Only custom-written papers
  • Free amendments upon request
  • Constant access to your paper's writer
  • Free extras by request
We accept
weaccept weaccept