Possibly True. Necessarily Entertaining.

Reason and Action banned for obscenity

with 9 comments

"I don't know what 'affordances' are, but I do know it's pretty perverse to say the family dog goes around all day thinking, 'Is that F-able?' about every object it sees."

Provo City Library in Provo, Utah, pulled Larry Hall’s Reason and Action from its shelves this week after complaints by library patrons prompted an official review. Upon review, the library board found the book to be in violation of PCL’s obscenity policy.  The move comes as a surprise to Hall, who describes the book, a study in the philosophy of action, as “rather dry, really.”

While library officials won’t disclose the number of complaints or their specific contents, one of the complaints was filed by Heather Lord, who chose to come forward to comment on the incident.  “Every page was ‘F this’ and ‘F that,'” says Lord, who found the book in her teenage son’s backpack.  “And not just people, either. It talked about animals F-ing, robots F-ing—it was some pretty shocking stuff.”

Head librarian Geoff Vigot says that the book was evaluated in light of the library’s long-standing obscenity policy.  “The decision wasn’t even close,” he explains.  “In one particularly lurid passage, Hall writes, and I quote, ‘While I may not have a reason to F unless F-ing would satisfy some desire of mine, it is not chiefly from my desire to F that I am able to derive the expectation of imminent F-ing.’  It’s certainly not the type of thing that young children should be exposed to.”

The book did have one defender on the review panel, however.  Assistant librarian Suzanne Carol, herself having majored in philosophy as an undergraduate, pressed for a more thorough reading of Reason and Action, hoping that context would vindicate Hall’s work.  “Unfortunately, that’s when we got to the chapter on group action,” Carol explains, handing me what is now her personal copy of the book, opened to a highlighted passage.

In order for there to be a group F-ing, it is not sufficient that a number of persons individually engage in acts of F-ing within close proximity to each other, nor even that every pairwise combination of such persons be engaged in acts of mutual F-ing.  The individuals must, as a group, be coordinated, flexible and sensitive in order for there to be a successful group F-ing. (207)

“And that,” says Carol, “pretty much sealed the deal.”

While she pointed out that ‘F’ is being used to stand for some unspecified action, Carol’s colleagues were not convinced.  “You ask me to believe that Hall uses ‘e’ to abbreviate ‘event,’ ‘t’ for ‘time,’ ‘s’ for ‘subject’ and ‘p’ for ‘proposition,’ but he uses ‘F’ for ‘action’?” asks Vigot.  “I don’t think so.  That may be the cover story, but I think the author’s intent is pretty clear.”

This is not the first time that Hall’s work has come under public scrutiny.  His first book, Holes: Probing Nothingness, drew criticism from advocates of abstinence-only sex education in several states.  And, while a significant contribution to the philosophy of perception, the follow-up work, A Sensual Investigation of Minor Entities, failed to convince Hall’s critics of his pure intentions.

While Hall has no plans to challenge PCL’s decision, he does say that the ban has led him to reconsider his next book, forthcoming in 2014.  “The working title had been ‘The Personal and the Effable,’ but now I’m having second thoughts.”

Written by fauxphilnews

March 16, 2012 at 12:02 am

9 Responses

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  1. Stop, stop! I can’t stop laughing! I seriously haven’t laughed this hard in a very long time! 🙂


    March 16, 2012 at 6:07 am

  2. This is so brilliant! I am glad I postponed reading this to AFTER deliverimg my essay, because I won’t be able to think about anything related to my essay for a while now!


    March 16, 2012 at 6:56 am

  3. Paul Weiss once lectured on the Aness of Bness. When informed of the cause I’d the class tittering he switched to the Pness of Qness.

    Jerry Dworkin

    March 16, 2012 at 1:27 pm

    • Wonderful! I had a similar experience, but with a physics teacher who abbreviated “analysis” as “anal.” on the blackboard. It caught us off guard when we weren’t paying attention, suddenly looked up, and didn’t understand why that was written on the board. It didn’t help that he described some physical systems as “kinky”, too (which meant something about them having a lot of kinks to be worked out, I think).


      March 17, 2012 at 2:35 pm

  4. PCL is F-ing Hall’s book, aren’t they? Brilliant post!

    Luis Rosa

    March 17, 2012 at 12:47 pm

  5. Wonderful!
    I feel philosophers often have to learn to avoid certain letters of the alphabet. I have heard more than one work-in-progress presenter talking very seriously about some property P and then going on to talk about the “Pness” of an object to much stifled laughter (before changing it to some other more sensible letter). You think we’d learn.


    March 22, 2012 at 6:54 pm

    • Ahh! I can’t believe I overlooked ‘Pness’ in writing the article!

      Frustration at a missed opportunity aside, that is quite hilarious to hear about those presenters.


      March 22, 2012 at 9:00 pm

      • Hysterical stuff!
        My friend and colleague uses a joke like that when lecturing about properties. He first introduces the “ness -ity-hood” principle as a way to turn adjectives and nouns into properties: property of being open = openness, property of being circular = circularity, property of being a brother = brotherhood, etc. Then he has the students try it with several innocuous examples. The last example the students are encouraged to answer is, “what is the property of being a giant green pea?” He never fails to get a big laugh from the students.

        Eric Moore

        April 8, 2012 at 5:55 pm

  6. Let’s face it, in philosophy there are occasionally cases where P(n,s) —-> A(n,s).


    June 7, 2013 at 7:39 pm

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