17.193 meaning for "theory"

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Date: Thu Aug 21 2003 - 01:44:08 EDT

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                   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" <ciula@media.unisi.it>
             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
    history.

    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.

    Arianna Ciula
    Dottorato in Scienze del Libro
    UniversitÓ degli Studi di Siena



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