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Write Now with Scrivener, Episode no. 12: Damon Young, Philosopher

Damon Young is a philosopher, and has also written poetry and children's books.

Damon Young is a philosopher, poet, and an author of fiction for children. As a philosopher, he has written about reading, the garden, and sex, and he has also written a half-dozen children's books. He also writes regularly for newspapers and magazines, and is a frequent guest on radio and TV.

Show notes:

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Damon Young is a philosopher, and has also written poetry and children's books.

Damon Young writes books about philosophy for general readers. While he has also written for an academic audience, he wants to write for a broader audience, and has done so with more than a half-dozen books of popular philosophy.

Young fell in love with the discipline during his first philosophy class in university. "I knew it was what I wanted to do." Philosophy allowed him to ask questions like, "What are you doing? What is that? What are you saying?"

Most people don't really understand what philosophy is. People in the English speaking world "think it's psychotherapy, or they think it's just purely about kind of consoling life lessons or Instagram quotes with with pictures of Plato, or Benjamin Franklin, or whoever is being misattributed today."

Philosophy means "love of wisdom," but that's not a definition of what it actually is. "That's its name, and it's astonishing, actually, that it still has its name. It can be a love of wisdom, it can be a sense that you're impelled by a desire to be wise. But I think the best general description of philosophy is that it's a critic of abstractions."

We live in a world of abstractions. "Most of the time, we have these ideas of the world, of our selves, of one another. And they're abstractions. They're not the world; they're our pictures of the world that we have gathered together in our experience, and we use them to understand ourselves in the world. And philosophy comes along and says, you know, that's an abstraction. You know, that's not actually the world. That's just how you represent it to yourself. Is it true? Is it complete? Does it fit together? Is it harmonious? How is all this working together? A philosopher is someone who's always trying to say, 'I know you think you know that. But do you actually know that? What do you mean by knowing that?' And that's an annoying thing to do to someone. But it's valuable, because we do it to ourselves, too, hopefully."

These days, there is a bit of an overlap between neuroscience and philosophy that are both trying to explain that abstraction in the world. "Philosophy ought to be informed by the sciences, we ought to at the least be challenged by some of their findings. And some of the findings from neuroscience, for example, saying, 'when you think that you're thinking this, at this speed, your brain is actually doing something else at another speed, and you're not even aware of what your brain is doing.' That's a really important philosophical insight that someone like Nietzsche might have suggested: he said that the brain is a giant wisdom, and so much of what our body's doing, we're not even aware of it. Neuroscience is constantly telling us things like that, about ourselves. But there's also a danger that our first person experience of the world is not captured by neuroscience."

Young writes many different types of books: nonfiction, fiction, poetry, and children's books. One genre isn't enough for him. "I am enthusiastic about all kinds of literature. I love to read and I always have, why would I not write all kinds of literature? I started writing fiction and poetry relatively early. In fact, my first published works were poetry, and then essays, and then later philosophy books, and then children's books."

There has been a trend in books of popular philosophy in recent years. Why are people attracted to this sort of book? "I think the first thing is that people are curious. Curious is partly just the pleasure of exercising your mind. There is a pleasure in reading serious books. There is pleasure in challenging your intellect or expanding the range of your experience."

Young has been using Scrivener for about five years. "I saw its modular character, where you write a block of text, and then you're happy with it, and then you can move it around. And that, to me is the dream, where, instead of having this Word document just goes on and on. You've got this beautiful little Corkboard of things that you can move around as you see fit. It gives you a great architectural view of your work."

Young uses a non-linear approach to his writing. "I like to be able to see these little units of thought, and impression, and feeling. And then shift them around if need be, and then see what that does to the structure of the work, to the structure of my thought, and how I'm feeling about how it all runs together."

During our interview, I noticed a collection of swords in the room behind Young. "I do historical fencing. If you think of Olympic fencing, it's what came before that, when the people who did it wanted to keep themselves from dying, rather than to win a sport. It's essentially a martial art with swords, and we use proper steel swords of the proper weight that they would have been historically. My main style is English broadsword from Shakespeare's time."

Kirk McElhearn is a writer, podcaster, and photographer. He is the author of Take Control of Scrivener, and host of the podcast Write Now with Scrivener.

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