What Is Interesting? / by Cristian Mitreanu

Ever wondered what makes an idea interesting? In his 1971 article "That's Interesting!: Towards a Phenomenology of Sociology and a Sociology of Phenomenology," published in the Philosophy of the Social Sciences, Murray S. Davis provides some timeless insight. Here are three interesting (no pun intended) excerpts:

It has long been thought that a theorist is considered great because his theories are true, but this is false. A theorist is considered great, not because his theories are true, but because they are interesting. Those who carefully and exhaustively verify trivial theories are soon forgotten; whereas those who cursorily and expediently verify interesting theories are long remembered. In fact,the truth of a theory has very little to do with its impact, for a theory can continue to be found interesting even though its truth is disputed — even refuted!”

”We have seen that an audience finds a proposition ‘interesting’ not because it tells them some truth they did not already know, but instead because it tells them some truth they thought they already knew was wrong. In other words, an interesting proposition is one which denies some aspect of the assumption-ground of its audience, and in The Index of the Interesting we have categorized the various aspects of this assumption-ground which can be denied. Since this is the defining characteristic of an ‘interesting proposition’, it can also be used as a criterion to determine whether or not a particular proposition is interesting.”

”But even the ‘Stars’ of social science sometimes assert propositions found to be non-interesting. Why should this ever be the case? Besides the occasional fall of the Stars themselves into mediocrity, the fault may lie not in the Stars, but in their audience. Propositions are interesting or uninteresting only in relation to the assumption-ground of some audience. If an audience finds a proposition asserted by a reputable social scientist to be obvious or irrelevant or absurd, it may be because the proposition has come to the attention of an audience other than the one to whom it was originally intended. A proposition which merely affirms a particular assumption, is irrelevant to any assumption, or annihilates the whole assumption-ground, of one audience may have been formulated to deny a particular assumption, be relevant to some assumption, or harmonize with the whole assumption-ground, of another audience.
— Murray S. Davis

You can download the entire article here.