29 March 2014

Deepity

This concept got its name from Daniel Dennett, who defined it in 2009 (in Intuition Pumps And Other Tools for Thinking) as:

A deepity is a proposition that seems both important and true—and profound—but that achieves this effect by being ambiguous. On one reading it is manifestly false, but it would be earth-shaking if it were true; on the other reading it is true but trivial.

The category is so useful (I have already invoked it on this blog) that it must have been discussed before Dennett. The only reference I can find that goes pretty much in the same direction is Wittgenstein's Tractatus (propositions 4.46-4.4661):

The truth-conditions of a proposition determine the range that it leaves open to the facts. (A proposition, a picture, or a model is, in the negative sense, like a solid body that restricts the freedom of movement of others, and in the positive sense, like a space bounded by solid substance in which there is room for a body.) A tautology leaves open to reality the whole—the infinite whole—of logical space: a contradiction fills the whole of logical space leaving no point of it for reality. Thus neither of them can determine reality in any way. (4.463)

That is if I understand the text correctly, which is not the obvious assumption here, and even so Wittgenstein considers logical limitations rather than errors in reasoning. So, who was really the first to discuss deepities?

[UPDATE 27/10/2014] Some other discussions of the term (posterior to Dennett's):

1 comment:

  1. Great finding. This made it into a story I'm writing "As they keep saying - everything happens for a reason [..] There is no need to worry for all of our worries will soon fall deepity-dope into the well of ignorance" :) It's interesting how many times it happened before to find that a term exists for something I was only superficially aware of - internally aware - yes - but not being able to reference it in a formal, concise abstraction. But I think the point over whether logical limitations or errors are to blame could be extended to accommodate a third: a cultural placeholder which while logically not trivial to explain can be seen useful when needing to get more complex cultural constructions across to others. Silly - I know. But true in my mind :)

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