More on Susan Sontag on Aphorisms

Dave Lull spotted the Maverick Philosopher‘s musings on the very same passages about aphorisms from Susan Sontag’s diaries. The Maverick Philosopher has his own issues with Sontag’s take on aphorisms, but agrees with her that an aphorism is not an argument. “An aphorism that states its reasons is no aphorism at all,” he writes. “But the reasons are there, though submerged, like the iceberg whose tip alone is visible. An aphorism, then, is the tip of an iceberg of thought.” So, naturally, he takes issue with my argument that aphorisms are arguments (“An aphorism is only one side of the argument, though,” I wrote. “It’s up to you, the reader, to supply the other side…”), writing: “It appears that Geary is confusing a statement with an argument. Consider Nietzsche’s ‘Some men are born posthumously.’ This is a declarative sentence but certainly no argument. An argument requires at least one premise and a conclusion. To argue is to support a claim with reasons. Nothing like this is going on in the one-sentence aphorism just quoted.” I don’t wish to be argumentative (I am, Sontag would surely say, too well-bred for that) so suffice it to say that the submerged arguments lurking beneath the tips of those icebergs of thought are the very things on which so many philosophers founder.


  1. The Maverick Philosopher seems to be conflating a *formal argument* with an *argument*. Not that my reassurance means anything, but I think you’re absolutely correct here.

  2. Your site interests me very much and I refer to it often, but until now, I’ve never posted a reply. The ‘Paul’ above who posted the comment ‘It is always a fear …’ isn’t me, even though there’s a link to my page on Aphorisms. I don’t agree with the comment attributed to me. ‘Paul’ has posted two earlier replies, again with links to my Aphorisms page, quoting two aphorisms of mine (with a modification to one of them) but again. they weren’t submitted by me!

    The discussion you’ve initiated on the aphorism and argument is a fascinating and important one – many thanks.

    Best Wishes,
    Paul Hurt