Writing the first post to my blog, I hesitated a lot. Should I really say this? Should I put it like that? – My point was that such hesitations can be seen as conversations with our potential readers and former selves. You might burst out with an idea and then refine it in the light of second thoughts or amend it because you remember someone saying that this idea was no good. If we take our hesitations seriously, they might actually turn into interesting philosophy. Why? Because hesitations are often dialogical and such dialogues display more of the actual thought process, providing refinements that sharpen our understanding of an issue. In the following, I’d like to give some hints at what this might mean and how this can be turned into writing.
Let me give you an example: Initially I wrote above “My point was that procrastination can be seen as a conversation … ” – But then I thought: No, what I mean is hesitation. – But in my last post I also spoke of procrastination, didn’t I? So is procrastination a form of hesitation? – Well, I suppose some is and some isn’t. So, some forms of procrastination might qualify (I guess watching telly doesn’t qualify, but reading blog posts or staring into the distance might). So, sometimes when I procrastinate I engage in a dialogue. — OK, this is a lame example. But now you’ve seen more of my thought process than in the first paragraph. The upshot is: Not only hesitation but also some forms of procrastination might be dialogical. You wouldn’t have got that refinement, had I not added this paragraph. Now, if you want a really thrilling example of the phenomenon, go and read Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations again. – Still, you might ask: what’s so great about hesitation?
I said that hesitation is dialogical. But dialogical writing, it seems, isn’t much encouraged in academia. So how can this idea be applied? – One of my greatest worries in writing was and often still is that I can’t say everything at once. I’m not joking! Having to write a paragraph about x and leave you, dear reader, with the idea that this is really all I have to say about x might be embarrassing. To amend this impression before it could even arise, I initially wrote very long paragraphs. Yes, horrible. But then I noticed that other people don’t do this. Good writers have no qualms to say very little or even something blatantly false about x. How do they get away with it? – Well, they write a second paragraph! And then they challenge what they said in the beginning. This simple scheme of thesis-question-refinement-question does not only display a thought process but often provides very intriguing refinements. (If you look at scholastic quaestiones you can see how it’s turned into a labyrinthic art.)
Of course, this is a simple technique of implementing dialogue. But it can be applied easily to regular papers without having to bring in Theaitetos or Socrates. What’s tricky about it is that some readers still stop reading after the first paragraph…