Two rules about clarity

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12th July 2016

Prompted by the current debate over the Labour leadership rules, here are two rules about clarity.

First rule of clarity

To say “[x] is clear, it means [y]” means that [x] is not clear.

If [x] were clear, it would speak for itself without any gloss or explanation.

Second rule of clarity

If a thing is clear, it does not need any accompanying word.

For example, if a thing is clear then the accompanying words in each of the following would be redundant: “completely clear”, “absolutely clear”, “totally clear”, “crystal clear”.


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3 thoughts on “Two rules about clarity”

  1. Agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment here, but in more general cases dispensing with offering explanations also depends on there being only good-faith interpreters of [x] – which I don’t think is always the case.

  2. No, saying “[x] is clear, it means [y]” means that someone has claimed that it means something else – it says nothing about whether that alternative interpretation is reasonable. Imagine for a moment that you have an agreement with me and that I insist that it should be interpreted in a way that is advantageous to me and clearly not what it actually says. By your rules of clarity, if you try and offer up any explanation of what the agreement means and why it cannot be interpreted that way then you’re conceding that it is not in fact clear and can be interpreted in that way.

  3. “If [x] were clear, it would speak for itself without any gloss or explanation.”
    No, because “clear” itself is ambiguous. Something can be clear, in the sense of being unambiguous, but still not be clear in the sense of being easily understood.
    Is that clear now?

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