Overstatement in Philosophy: A Joke

Whitehead observes that “the chief error in philosophy is overstatement” (Whitehead, Process and Reality, p. 7).  That sounds true to me, and, like a lot of philosophical statements, it also sounds like a joke.

It’s not that some kinds of overstatement in philosophy can be erroneous to some extent.  Overstatement is erroneous, period.  And it is not simply an error to make an overstatement.  It’s the most erroneous of errors, the exemplary error, the chief error.  The joke: Whitehead’s statement overstates a point about how erroneous overstatement is.  This joke reminds me of a classic that I heard from my dad growing up, “If I told you once, I’ve told you a billion times: never exaggerate.”  Close by are other fun self-refuting statements: There are no absolutes; Never say never; I am against polemic. 

All joking aside, Whitehead is referring to a couple kinds of overstatement and not to all overstatement, so he isn’t really overstating his case.  Regardless, I think Whitehead is the single most important thinker in the entire history of philosophy.  I’ve said that before, surely trillions of times.

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