20.420 where we are

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Sun, 28 Jan 2007 10:04:27 +0000

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 20, No. 420.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Sun, 28 Jan 2007 09:16:14 +0000
         From: "Hunsucker, R.L." <R.L.Hunsucker_at_uva.nl>
         Subject: RE: 20.413 where are we?

If I may be so bold :

Maybe you all know something I don't -- and I'd be delighted to be
enlightened on the matter, but I've never myself seen a single "source
of intellectual authority" for the "trajectory of thought" that human
enquiry can deliver "an absolute conception of the world as it is
independently of any local or peculiar perspective on it". The very
terms of expression here come down to an oxymoron.

But more importantly and pragmatically : it seems to me that we'd all
be much better off if we just accepted such a simple (and as far as I
can see unavoidable) working assumption (I almost called it a "truth",
but that would be irresponsibly unreflexive, wouldn't it ?), and proceeded
to live with it the best we can. Indeed that's really the fun part, as far as
I'm concerned. Beating dead horses can get quite tiresome, after all.

You write of Williams' "hope" that the situation could become
otherwise. A classic example of an idle hope. But I guess none of us
is immune to that phenomenon, though we rightly tend to keep our
idle hopes to ourselves. And, fortunately, idle hopes and other sorts
of fantasies don't require any "source of intellectual authority". Let's
keep it that way.

Please note, I'm by no means an unreserved constructivist ; the
above mustn't be taken to suggest that "the world as it is independently
of any local or peculiar perspective on it" doesn't exist. That's not the
point at all. There's not only good reason to hope that it does, but
even good reason to think (even with intellectual authority) that it
does. But a human "absolute conception" of it is a whole nuther kettle
o' fish. A useless chimaera in fact.

- Laval Hunsucker

> -----Oorspronkelijk bericht-----
> Van: Humanist Discussion Group [mailto:humanist_at_Princeton.EDU]Namens
> Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty
> <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>)
> Verzonden: donderdag 25 januari 2007 10:14
> Aan: humanist_at_Princeton.EDU
> Onderwerp: 20.413 where are we?
> Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 20, No. 413.
> Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
> www.kcl.ac.uk/schools/humanities/cch/research/publications/hum
> anist.html
> www.princeton.edu/humanist/
> Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu
> Date: Thu, 25 Jan 2007 09:10:30 +0000
> From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
> >
> 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.
> Comments?
> Yours,
> WM
> Dr Willard McCarty | Reader in Humanities Computing | Centre for
> Computing in the Humanities | King's College London |
> http://staff.cch.kcl.ac.uk/~wmccarty/.
Received on Sun Jan 28 2007 - 06:30:05 EST

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