17.375 reification

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Date: Sun Nov 02 2003 - 03:46:12 EST

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 17, No. 375.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                         Submit to: humanist@princeton.edu

             Date: Sun, 02 Nov 2003 08:34:31 +0000
             From: Stephen Ramsay <sramsay@uga.edu>
             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: sramsay@uga.edu
    web: http://cantor.english.uga.edu/
    PGP Public Key ID: 0xA38D7B11

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