“I view the philosophical essay as an art form whose medium is ideas.”
Why think that writing philosophy is itself an artistic endeavor? Professor Sher acknowledges the claim might be met with skepticism:
If [the idea that writing philosophy is itself making a kind of art] is not immediately apparent, it is probably because most published philosophy is not particularly artful. Much of it bristles with unilluminating acronyms, needless formalism, stultifying announcements about what will be accomplished (and, again later, what has been accomplished), and nested sequences of subordinate clauses that read like rental agreements.
But, he says, these supposedly unartful qualities should be instead understood as descriptions of aspects of the artistic medium:
Far from undercutting the idea that philosophers are working within an art-form, these annoyances only bring out the demanding nature of the conventions that define the form. Working philosophers who want to create something beautiful must reconcile the rigid formal and intellectual requirements of most journals and (to a lesser extent) book publishers with the classic range of literary requirements—clarity and elegance, economy of expression, accessibility and intelligibility, aptness of word choice, fluidity in making transitions, appropriateness of level of diction, writerly tact, and regard for the proportions and overall shape of the work, to name just a few.
The tension between truth and beauty is endemic to many forms of art, but within philosophy it’s right there at the surface and it shapes the conventions that define the form. And, because it does, the complaint that philosophical essays are too inference- and argument-heavy to count as art is no more legitimate than the complaint that haikus are too compressed.
Sher himself doesn’t think that conceiving of writing philosophy as a form of making art can itself provide a satisfying account of the point of writing philosophy, but nonetheless as an interpretation of the nature of philosophical work it has its appeal.