20.431 where we are

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Thu, 1 Feb 2007 08:32:06 +0000

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 20, No. 431.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Wed, 31 Jan 2007 07:10:04 +0000
         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
         Subject: where we are

Laval Hunsucker, in Humanist 20.413, was at an unfortunate
disadvantage with respect to Bernard Williams' argument concerning
the sciences and the humanities, apparently having only my
exceedingly crude version of it to go on. As A. W. Moore points out in
the introduction to Philosophy as a Humanistic Discipline (Princeton,
2006), this argument has remained one of the most controversial that
Williams made. A sure indication of its philosophical fruitfulness.
The question of whether an absolute conception of the world, free
from all historically contingent points of view, is coherent is an
open one, as he says -- and cites Moore's Points of View (1997) for
discussion of it. In the essay his main effort is to argue that as a
humanistic discipline philosophy isn't about attempting to gain such
an absolute conception. Many scientists, as he says, think that the
sciences are and have been making such an attempt -- hence their
vindicatory style of explanation, as he calls it. He's attacking
scientism in philosophy, which (insofar as I understand the argument)
is pernicious because by nature philosophy (and the other humanities)
are going in a different direction.

Perhaps "trajectory" is the wrong metaphor, though it does seem to
have much to recommend it, esp if the thing on it has humans aboard.
What I wanted to suggest was that we have a genuine question of our
own to consider: given the parting of the intellectual ways in these
two divergent trajectories, where are we? Williams regarded it as a
profound error for defenders of the humanities to go about their
business by denying the success of the sciences in explaining the
natural world, and so putting them and the humanities in the same
boat. To do so is only to flip the coin whose other side has the
humanities trying to become "scientific". Far better to leave
two-sidedness alone, I'd think.


Dr Willard McCarty | Reader in Humanities Computing | Centre for
Computing in the Humanities | King's College London |
Received on Thu Feb 01 2007 - 04:18:40 EST

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