Thursday, 5 September 2013

On length of material and examples

From Kant's 1st preface to A critique of pure reason:

Abbot Terrasson has remarked that if the size of a volume be measured not by the number of its pages but by the time requred for mastering it, it can be said of many a book, that it would be much shorter if it were not so short.

This idea is interesting in itself in exploring the tension between making a book short (because of the lack of breaking down of ideas and examples to clarify or simplify ideas) and making a book longer but perhaps easier to read due to use of examples to clarify complex or even abstract ideas in simple human examples.

However Kant counters this with his own explanation for why he uses so few examples and illustrations of the points he makes, instead using logic to 'prove' or explain his ideas. He contradicts Terrasson's statement, saying:
Many a book would have been much clearer if it had not made such an effort to be clear...aids of clearness, though they may be of assistance in regard to details, often interfere with our grasp of the whole.