Stating the Obvious | Nature of Obvious | Obvious vs. Not Obvious

Obvious vs. Not-obvious

But what is it that Brooker means by ‘obvious’? How do we work out what knowledge is obvious and what isn’t?

If we conceptualize the idea of knowledge on a sliding scale, with the most self-evident of propositions at one end, and the most esoteric and obscure at the other, then we can view the point at which knowledge goes from obvious to not-obvious as subjective and changeable - its position, like most other elements of the scale, being unique to each person. So, one person’s obvious can be another person’s obscure, just as what is obvious to one may also be obvious to another. There are forms of knowledge that, for most of us, will fall within the boundary of obvious, including, amongst other things, self-evident empirical facts related to the most basic of human experience (knowledge, for example, derived from intuition or sensation).

It is, however, a point of contention as to whether any form of knowledge can truly be called ‘obvious’, in the sense that it would be similarly self-evident to all – the things that we regard as most self-evident begin to lose their universal clarity when subjected to rigorous philosophic analysis. However, as interesting as it may be to probe deeper into this matter, this is not the place to explore the bounds of self-evident knowledge, or whether anything can be known without doubt: suffice it to say that when we refer to ‘obvious’ we are taking it as a subjectivism.

Now, let’s visualize Brooker’s sliding scale; he was disappointed with De Botton’s programme because the insight it afforded him, in his estimation, was not not-obvious. His expectations had led him to hope for not-obvious insight, expectations that De Botton confounded with insight that, on Brooker’s sliding scale, fell short of becoming not-obvious.

It is worth noting that there appears to be an assumption at play here; that is, when we watch a TV programme like this (a programme that in some way purports to expound knowledge, or insight) we should be told things that we consider not-obvious. We watch, therefore, in order to gain knowledge, amongst other things.

If Brooker is making this assumption, then it may not be unreasonable for him to feel short-changed by De Botton’s programme; it may, however, be unreasonable for him to make the assumption in the first place. The idea that insight is achieved through gain is an interesting one, and we’ll return to it later.

Having not seen the programme it would be unwise of me to assess its various successes and failures, and an analysis of it is not wholly useful to our investigation. We are interested in the fact that it has been criticized for stating the obvious, not that it has been criticized for stating the obvious in an uninteresting way (which may, in fact, be Brooker’s real criticism, even if he himself is unaware of it). The former attacks the notion of stating the obvious, whereas the latter attacks the manner in which the obvious is stated.

To clarify; we aren’t interested in the merits of De Botton’s work, or the validity of Brooker’s criticism in regard to these merits, both of which are subjectivisms; our interest lies in an element of this exchange.

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