Writing Philosophy With Style

Lou Andreas-Salomé, who was at one time a friend and romantic interest of Friedrich Nietzsche’s, included in her book on the philosopher his “ten rules of writing.” They are:

  1. Of prime necessity is life: a style should live.
  2. Style should be suited to the specific person with whom you wish to communicate. (The law of mutual relation.)
  3. First, one must determine precisely “what-and-what do I wish to say and present,” before you may write. Writing must be mimicry.
  4. Since the writer lacks many of the speaker’s means, he must in general have for his model a very expressive kind of presentation of necessity, the written copy will appear much paler.
  5. The richness of life reveals itself through a richness of gestures. One must learn to feel everything—the length and retarding of sentences, interpunctuations, the choice of words, the pausing, the sequence of arguments—like gestures.
  6. Be careful with periods! Only those people who also have long duration of breath while speaking are entitled to periods. With most people, the period is a matter of affectation.
  7. Style ought to prove that one believes in an idea; not only that one thinks it but also feels it.
  8. The more abstract a truth which one wishes to teach, the more one must first entice the senses.
  9. Strategy on the part of the good writer of prose consists of choosing his means for stepping close to poetry but never stepping into it.
  10. It is not good manners or clever to deprive one’s reader of the most obvious objections. It is very good manners and very clever to leave it to one’s reader alone to pronounce the ultimate quintessence of our wisdom.

(via Brain Pickings and Open Culture)

That last one brings to mind Nakul Krishna’s characterization of the writing of Bernard Williams. But contemporary philosophy is not exactly known for, say, “enticing the senses” or “stepping close to poetry.” Do we need more of that? Or perhaps just more attention to style? Do you have style tips for philosophers? (—For their writing, wise ass.)

Related: We’ve previously offered up examples of philosophy that’s a pleasure to read, and had discussions about what to read to improve one’s philosophical writing. Here’s some writing advice for philosophers from philosopher-novelist Rebecca Newberger Goldstein and Cass Sunstein defending academic writing. And here’s a discussion of clarity.

The Malling-Hansen Writing Ball, a typing device Nietzsche used for a while.

The Malling-Hansen Writing Ball, a typing device Nietzsche used for a while.


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