20.413 where are we?

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Thu, 25 Jan 2007 09:14:29 +0000

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 20, No. 413.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Thu, 25 Jan 2007 09:10:30 +0000
         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
         Subject: where are we?

Recently I referred via a review by Simon Blackburn, "No easy
answers", to an essay by Bernard Williams, "Philosophy as a
humanistic discipline". Having read the latter since then, I'd like
to use its central argument once again as a kind of mirror for ourselves.

Williams writes of the hope that human enquiry will be able to offer
"an absolute conception of the world as it is independently of any
local or peculiar perspective on it". He refers to the defense of the
humanities by those "who think that they have to show that nobody has
any hope of offering such a conception, including scientists: that
natural science constitutes just another part of the human
conversation, so that, leaving aside the small difference that the
sciences deliver refrigerators, weapons, medicines and so on, they
are in the same boat as the humanities are." He goes on to say the following:

>This way of defending the humanities seems to me doubly misguided.
>It is politically misguided, for if the authority of the sciences is divorced
>from any pretensions to offer an absolute conception, their authority will
>merely shift to the manifest fact of their predictive and
>technological successes,
>unmediated by any issue of where those successes come from, and
>the humanities will once again, in that measure, be disadvantaged. The
>style of defence is also intellectually misguided, for the same
kind of reason
>that we have already met, that it assumes that offering an absolute
>conception is the real thing, what really matters in the direction
>of intellectual
>authority. But there is simply no reason to accept that--once again,
>we are left with the issue of how to make the best sense of ourselves and
>our activities, and that issue includes the question, indeed it focuses on
>the question, of how the humanities can help us in doing so.
(in Philosophy as a Humanistic Discipline, ed. A. W. Moore,
Princeton, 2006, pp. 188-9)

If I understand him correctly, Williams argues, in effect, that there
are two trajectories of thought, one that seems to be heading
straight for "an absolute conception of the world as it is
independently of any local or peculiar perspective on it" and another
that concerns us as contingent, historical beings, and that we do
ourselves no good to plop for one side or the other. We need both.
Both have their own particular source of intellectual authority.

The question I wish to raise is, where are we humanities computing
folk in this? I suggest that we're situated closer to the middle than
most of our colleagues in the humanities, except perhaps for
philosophers like Williams, Hacking and some others.



Dr Willard McCarty | Reader in Humanities Computing | Centre for
Computing in the Humanities | King's College London |
Received on Thu Jan 25 2007 - 05:14:59 EST

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