Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 17, No. 375.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
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Date: Sun, 02 Nov 2003 08:34:31 +0000
From: Stephen Ramsay <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: 17.372 reification
> As I said, I've no problem with us imagining something that doesn't exist
> and has never existed. The basic problem I have is with pretending, to
> ourselves, that such a never-existent pseudo-thing like "the" semantic web
> is analogous to a house that hasn't yet been built. Worlds of difference.
The house and the semantic web are not analogous. The use of the
indicative mood is, I think, directly analogous.
Why must "the semantic web" be aliased to a concrete thing -- or
even a single idea? It's interesting to me that Marshall and
Shipman, after surveying the various possibilities for a semantic
web, then propose to use this information "with an eye toward
possible outcomes as Semantic Web efforts move forward" (notice the
It seems to me that the objections Willard is making could be made
of nearly any sufficiently complex construct from string theory to
Marxism. There is no "it" to point to, no unified set of beliefs,
no concrete behavior that unambiguously corresponds to the construct
(in the case of string theory), and no entity that corresponds to
the ideal (in the case of Marxism). Yet we can speak of these
things and be more or less understood by our interlocutors.
There are certainly many cases in which the indicative mood is used
to fool people, but I think it is as often used as a shorthand among
members of a bounded discourse community to signify the object of
debate. When a newspaper talks about "the semantic web" to people
outside the circuit of that discourse, they surely do a disservice
to their readers. But that does not mean that people inside the
discourse are fooling one another.
-- Stephen Ramsay Assistant Professor Department of English University of Georgia email: firstname.lastname@example.org web: http://cantor.english.uga.edu/ PGP Public Key ID: 0xA38D7B11
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