Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 14, No. 760.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
Date: Wed, 21 Mar 2001 06:37:19 +0000
From: email@example.com (Francois Lachance)
Subject: Re: method...
The little bit you quoted from Paul Standish nicely sets up the aura of
mystery surrounding method in the second quotation you offer:
In the Times Literary Supplement for 16 Match 2001, issue 5111, the
historian Michael Bentley (St Andrews) writes in "Revive the Croaker"
(rev of William Thomas, The Quarrel of Macaulay and Croker),
"But 'method' is a second-order thing; it derives from deeper
assumptions and forms a visible outcome of intuitions obliquely stated."
If I am able for an instant to abstract Standish's pride in content as
well as your invitation to profess humility in the teaching of "method", I
seem to enter into a country where the inhabitants are engaged in the
discursive game of trying to place value on sets of activities by
differently valuing which of two questions to apply: what to do and how to
do it. I apologize for the verbose formulation.
There are two skills at stake. The skill of manipulating acquired
information appers to be the skill that Standish places under the rubric
of "content". The other skill is that of acquired novel content would be
what Standish seems to mock under the appellation of "transferable
skills". I've recast the terms in a fashion that may bring to the fore the
implicit "defense of tradition" line of the argument. The sad and tired
tune of the "demise of mandarin culture" is not the best of work songs to
help rebuild a dynamic and active academy. Life long learners be they
preparing for entry into the work force or be they refreshing themselves
by returing to the leisure of intense intellectual work after a number of
years in position of paid labourers want quality in both substantive
content and meaningful ocassions to hone their skills.
I have ridden this hobby horse before and no doubt will again (with a bit
of Erasmian grace, I hope, so that I do not repeat too many of the same
phrases over and over again). While the horse is stabbled for the moment,
I thought I would invite you to contemplate a passage from Alan Pasch,
_Experience and the Analytic: A Reconsideration of Empiricism_. In the
opening chapter of his book, Pasch struggles with the analytic-synthetic
distinction (a distinction not far from your ruminations on method and
those of Standish on skill/content). At the conclusion of that chapter he
points to Carnap and the terms _internal_ and _external_. He writes:
[...] a question of degree is an external question; once a decision about
a convention has been made and a context determined, then -- and within
that context -- any question about the context is an internal question.
Furthermore, the answer to an internal question will have the form of a
definite ("yes-no") assertion, and this answer is determined by the nature
of the context which gives the question significance. The answer to an
external question, however, will be a statement of degree, or a proposal
about establishing a convention.
To some subscribers of Humanist this just might suggest a semiotic square
(degree, context, internal, external, each taking a corner). Of course,
why one might indulge in such an excerise depends upon one's knowledge of
semiotic squares and skill in operating such machines. The range of
reasons encompasses sheer intellectual curiousity and pecuniary-motivated
sophistry. As Norman Hinton can attest, Chaucer will send up an interest
that claims to be disinterested and any interest that is a little too
focussed. I wonder if Standish would count Chaucer in his his personal
stock of lore. I wonder if he (Standish) would have the skill to gloss
Michael Bentley: depth is to content as visibilty is to skill?!
I hear the hobby horse neighing about Marx and the nature of worth....
Thank you once again, inestimable comrade, for provoking a little wee bit
of thinking in this poor soul with so little skill and such meagre content
and yet ever grateful for the gleanings from the TLS.
-- Francois Lachance, Scholar-at-large some threads tangle in tassles, others form the weft http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/~lachance
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