Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 17, No. 193.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
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Date: Thu, 21 Aug 2003 06:31:11 +0100
From: "Arianna Ciula" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: 17.184 meaning of "theory"?
> What, then, do we gain (apart from honourific baggage) when we say that X
> is a *theory* of something, rather than, say, an idea of it, way of talking
> about it, scheme for it?
It may seem trivial, but first of all the world "theory" implies the
contraposition with the word practice; when we say a theory of something we
imply an abstraction. Surely the words "idea" or "scheme" imply an
abstraction as well, but the word theory means even a structured
abstraction. Let say even the word "scheme" implies a structure ( a
hierarchy for instance), but the word theory implies in addition an
"historical" structure. It hides a sort of past, an external and an internal
Yet, in the traditional sense a theory is usually linked to an historical
evolution. If we consider the example of a literary critic (but it is valid
for every discipline), the adhesion to a theory is realised using some
terms, values, methodologies belonging to a specific way of making literary
critic, so as to produce some hypothesis and interpretations in coherence
with the favourite theory. In this sense a theory is a more or less defined
system built up by other critics and by their works, a system with an
external history (an authority in the extreme sense).
However, a scientific work needs a theory not just as a background of
knowledge and methodologies, of perspectives and concepts, but even as a new
construction, a foundation for the current results. I guess that in the wide
discipline of humanities computing a theory might be considered in
relationship with a project. In the process of a project the theory has its
own history of meanings, an internal history then.
So saying X is a theory of something we gain a context: the historical
context in which our theory could be a development (without any judgement of
value) of one or more older theories or, in the best case, a revolution,
that is to say a new theory.
Dottorato in Scienze del Libro
UniversitÓ degli Studi di Siena
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