Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Leiter: Reading papers vs "talking" papers

The second comment:
In 2008 I was invited to give a talk at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. On my first day I met a PhD student in the Department of Psychology and was introduced as the philosopher giving the talk later that week. He looked me in the eye and said something like "I f***ing hate philosophers. Are you going to sit there and read off the f***ing paper? I f***ing hate those talks. If you do that, I won't go.".
I posted a comment referring to the one above, and to the movement in philosophy towards empirical practice. I was polite and didn't call it 'poaching', which is really all it is. The bulk of my comment was the quote below [it wasn't accepted] a repeat. Lewontin.  [PDF].
Bill Wimsatt's "Lewontin's Evidence (that There Isn't Any)" made me think about a lot of questions in my paper. I would like to point out that the rhetoric of this conference has undergone a sudden change. Up until Bill's presentation and mine, everyone read his or her paper. In the tradition to which I belong that would be considered very bad form. That rhetorical difference is a mirror of the differences that I want to talk about. The words that all of the rest of you use are conceived of as being the matter, and so you must choose them carefully, and, therefore, you have to compose your papers and read them. I, on the other hand and perhaps Bill as well, but especialy I, as a natural scientist, am nothing but the oracle of Delphi, sitting here on my stool with eyeballs rolled upwards, and through me Nature speaks. That explains, in my view, the difference in rhetorical tradition between a meeting like this and the ones at which I spend my time. No one in my tradition believes that the words are very important. After all, if I misspeak someone else will say the right thing because we are both talking about the same things and ultimately the gods will speak through us. So words are not the matter. It is extremely important to understand the origin of that difference in rhetorical tradition because it represents a very great difference in what scientists believe to be the nature of evidence in natural science. A conference on the questions of evidence is really a conference on the questions of theory and metatheory. We cannot begin to talk about the evidence until we talk about what it is we are trying to produce evidence of. And the very method which we use is itself a form of evidence.
Published in Questions of Evidence: Proof, Practice, and Persuasion across the Disciplines

timing: DSquared, on Twitter
all this Pikettymania, and so far nobody's seen fit to interview @artgoldhammer ? The translation of key words is really important here.

Brad DeLong
@delong Apr 23, 2014
@dsquareddigest which key word translations do you think are important? cc:

Dan Davies
@dsquareddigest Apr 23, 2014
@delong @artgoldhammer I'd love to hear about translating "capital" and "patrimoine" which P uses interchangeably according to @BrankoMilan

Arthur Goldhammer
@artgoldhammer Apr 23, 2014
@dsquareddigest @delong
There were, however, reasons to prefer capital in some contexts. His use quite clear, if inconsistent.

Dan Davies
@dsquareddigest Apr 23, 2014
@artgoldhammer @delong
this is fascinating, someone really should do a proper interview on the technical aspects
My snap response (deleted) was to say that translation isn't an issue for science, so that wherever the issue it's not that. 'Technical' knowledge by definition is in a universal language. Any other use of the term is allegorical.

previously. Goldhammer


  1. shame, your comment was exactly on point, i think.

    'the matter' goes along with the wish for a-prior-ity or whatever they want to call it now ('philosophy is concerned with justification itself' etc.), so i would gather that decades of erosion of the old-tyme idea of same makes them cleave all the more rigidly to ritual, style, the letter of the argument, etc.

    'someone else will say the right thing because are both talking about the same things' is so beautifully matter-of-fact.

  2. Philosophers struggle with the end of religion.
    Lewontin's view of science sounds a bit naive -'the same thing' can be nothing more than the same assumption- but he's enough of an ironist to admit that. And then all that's left is for someone to point that mistake out as well, which can be a fight. But it's the same process. The work continues; we stumble along.


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