Saturday, November 20, 2004

A couple good paragraphs.

"Humanism, at this point at least, means the defense of man as something other than mechanism, whether that something is the consequence of metaphysical belief or of an assumption that experience, and our ability to learn from it, can not be described by means of number. Continental philosophy is humanist in that it is a defense of the primacy of experience, and therefore of art, as such.
Scientific meaning is an oxymoron, but not all defenses of the arts are predicated on religious argument, the argument that meaning- whatever that could be- exists. Over the centuries literature and theater have been more than anything the arts of atheism. And from the standpoint of philosophy, the continuing necessity of rhetoric in legal argument is the rebuttal to any pretense that human behavior can ever be described by mathematics or by science. The wisdom of Solomon will always be of more importance- as a thing of value- than the intelligence of the inventor of the Game Boy or the VCR."


  1. You were less ignored than usual on that thread.

    I find that on academic sites, professionals are interesting outside their professions, but orthodox within them, and ignore intruders. Why there was an exception this time, I don't know.

    I'm John Emerson / ex-Zizka btw.

  2. Anonymous8:59 PM

    I'm Marcus Stanley (no anon account), I was making the posts that Kieran was linking too. I read your blog pretty regularly Seth, and enjoy it.

    Zizka, I agree a lot of successful academics do tend to be orthodox within their profession, even kind of stuffy about it at times. You have to more or less swallow the kool-aid in order to get ahead. Not so much because of outside pressure but just in order to get up the energy to do the work. The cognitive dissonance is just too great if you are really skeptical of the whole enterprise. It is an interesting phenomenon. I have seen even economists who are daringly unconventional in their own work get this way toward outsiders.

    To be fair, when there are outside critics they tend not to be familiar with the work people within the discipline have done to address the criticism. Even when the criticism has not really been fully addressed within the discipline (which is frankly the case more often than not, there are sizable holes in most fields), there has usually been at least *some* effort made to deal with it. It can get tiresome to hear people trashing your job without fully understanding it.

  3. First of all, I have to modernize my Blogger template or switch to haloscan. The system as it is for this template sucks.

    Marcus, thank you. I don't have many readers and since I link to academics (and fight with them) more than anyone else, it's nice to be told that one of them actually drops by.

    A couple of times over the past year I've made glib comments about Donald Davidson's criticism of the idea of a conceptual scheme, asking if he meant that anything in Mallarme that could not be translated did not exist. I'm not sure if his argument was that simple (I hope not) but there are plenty of discussions among experts in some fields that those with some knowledge in others could resolve with little difficulty, or that those experts themselves could resolve if resolution rather than argument were the intention, or curiosity more important than doctrine. It's moments like this, I think, where specialization becomes a ghetto, where I, John Emerson and others who are not experts have a right to annoy those who are.

    Rereading my second paragraph, drunk as I am, I've realized that I could be mounting an attack on Mondrian. But I love Mondrian, without agreeing with him about anything. I guess that's the real luxury of art!

  4. Oh god, I am drunk. I removed that second paragraph! It was something about being annoyed by people who imagine their rigorous formal systems describe human behavior and/or the world.
    That explains it...
    off to bed.


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