Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The duty of readers

Finally, if you just read this book because you're looking for an argument, and you only want to assess the argument, then you have missed the point and you are the main person who needs to read the book.  The point is that this isn't just some argument.  There are real people in this debate with hopes, desires, loves, and fears.  If you don't care about all that, that's the problem.

That's rather patronizing and ill-conceived. On the one hand, a classic mistake reviewers make is to fault a book as a failure because it didn't address a question important to the reader. But of course, authors write about what's important to the author. So I understand why authors find reviews like that aggravating.

On the other hand, a reader has a perfect right to read a book with an eye to what's important or interesting to the reader. He shouldn't blame the author if the book doesn't share his priorities, but by the same token, the reader isn't obliged to share the author's priorities. 

For instance, I read lots of stuff by atheists and Roman Catholics. Their intention is to persuade the reader to be an atheist or Roman Catholic. I, by contrast, read their stuff to spot flaws in arguments for atheism and Roman Catholicism. My motivation for reading their stuff is diametrically opposed to their intentions, but it's perfectly legitimate for a reader to have a different agenda than the author. 

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