17.187 theory

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Date: Sun Aug 10 2003 - 02:09:16 EDT

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 17, No. 187.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                         Submit to: humanist@princeton.edu

       [1] From: Han Baltussen <han.baltussen@adelaide.edu.au> (35)
             Subject: Theory and idea

       [2] From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk> (33)
             Subject: on Culler on theory

             Date: Sun, 10 Aug 2003 07:05:01 +0100
             From: Han Baltussen <han.baltussen@adelaide.edu.au>
             Subject: Theory and idea


    Imay have misunderstood the point, but as a quick and crude reaction: one
    thing one could say, I suppose, is that a "theory" would include a
    structure of rules and assumptions, whereas an idea, though flexible, could
    just be that, i.e. a concept or representation in the mind. That means that
    a "theory" (as defined above) is more dynamic, implying certain relations
    and actions (e.g. hypotheses, inferences, reasonings, application of these
    to sets of "facts"). Awareness of current ideas would, it seems to me, not
    imply theory necessarily mean proceeding more competently.

    So as to the literary person, I would be willling to claim that not having
    a theory does not make one incompetent--publishing one's ideas without a
    theory just might be considered that in certain circles ...


    Best wishes

    Dr Han Baltussen
    Associate Lecturer
    Classics (CESGL)
    School of Humanities
    Adelaide University, AUSTRALIA 5005
    e-mail (wk): han.baltussen@adelaide.edu.au
    e-mail (hm): hbaltus@ozemail.com.au
    tel. 8-8303-5288
    fax  8-8303-5241

    --[2]------------------------------------------------------------------ Date: Sun, 10 Aug 2003 07:07:34 +0100 From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk> Subject: on Culler on theory

    Thanks to Mark Wolff (in Humanist 17.186) for digging up some words on theory from Jonathan Culler, whose writings I admire. But Culler's definition-with-very-little-distinction is so inclusive that I wonder if its usefulness even comes close to counterbalancing the honorific distractions that the term "theory" brings with it. Accepting the definition (or should I call his words a description instead?) would mean that all interesting and worthy scholarly output could be called "theory" -- so that the word in effect denotes a value judgement. Perhaps the domain of theory includes everything worth doing in all disciplines. But then I'd think we'd need some new terminology to help sort different kinds of work within this all-inclusive domain, e.g. something on the nature of tragedy as a genre from something else using that understanding of the genre to explicate Lear, say. I'd think that the former would be thought of as more theoretical than the latter, however interdisciplinary, analytical, speculative, questioning of received knowledge and reflexive the latter might be.

    What's the problem for humanities computing? Precisely, I'd think, that a methodologically centred, computationally disciplined practice works toward a theoretical understanding of that which it works on. Method is exportable, generalizable. It, in itself, tends e.g. to be about tragedy rather than a tragedy, iambic pentameter verse rather than a particular poem in that metre. Even given the fact that a definition of "theory" suitable within the physical sciences would not benefit us except by contrast, even if the idea of generalizations about (or better, universalizations of) our phenomena are at best unreachable but positively motivating goals, I'd think we need an idea of the theoretical with more definition than Culler supplies.


    Yours, WM

    Dr Willard McCarty | Senior Lecturer | Centre for Computing in the Humanities | King's College London | Strand | London WC2R 2LS || +44 (0)20 7848-2784 fax: -2980 || willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/wlm/

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