Date: Tue, 15 Jul 2008 09:15:53 +0100 From: "Humanist Discussion Group \(by way of Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty-AT-mccarty.org.uk>\)" <willard-AT-LISTS.VILLAGE.VIRGINIA.EDU> Subject: 22.118 adequately conceived human ends To: <humanist-AT-Princeton.EDU> Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 22, No. 118. Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London www.kcl.ac.uk/schools/humanities/cch/research/publications/humanist.html www.princeton.edu/humanist/ Submit to: humanist-AT-princeton.edu Date: Mon, 14 Jul 2008 16:58:17 +0100 From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty-AT-mccarty.org.uk> Subject: adequately conceived human ends In a public lecture he gave at the University of Bristol in 1970, "'Literarism' vs 'Scientism': The misconception and the menace", published in the Times Literary Supplement for 23 April 1970, F. R. Leavis spoke of "The professional subhumanities of computerial addiction", one of the causes he identifies for the change in education from learning to information retrieval, the mechanization of society and of scholarship as a series of structured tasks and the refiguration of universities as industrial plants. He comments, >I am not proposing to ban the computer, but >emphasizing the problem of ensuring that the use >of the computer shall be really a use -- that it >shall be used as truly a means in the service of >adequately conceived human ends. More >generally, I am not suggesting we should halt >the progress of science and technology, I am >insisting that the more potently they accelerate >their advance the more urgent does it become to >inaugurate another, a different sustained effort >of collaborative human creativity -- the >continuous collaborative creativity that ensures >significance, ends and values, and manifests >itself as consciousness and profoundly human purpose. One can detect in this long lecture, stretching over 4 pages of the TLS in very small type, the common fear of the time of what was happening and about to happen in part because of the computer, or more generally, automation (which is the word to look for in discussions among members of the working class of the time, e.g. in the British Trades Union Congress reports from the mid 1950s). The whole basis of society was shifting, and many felt it and feared its outcome. But it must be said that what Leavis feared for university life has largely come to pass, his vision of the future strongly familiar to us now, alas. It would be silly to assert that the computer was the cause -- a devastating war had just concluded, with effects in this country that many elsewhere couldn't even begin to imagine. The undoing of Oxbridge-educated privilege was proceeding apace. Calls for extending university education that people in the U.K. now attribute to New Labour were being heard in those Trade Union Congress meetings of the 1950s. But it would be just as silly to think that computing was not involved, that (not to put too fine a point on it) computing had blood on its hands, and it would be irresponsible not to see that the damage doesn't continue. In reading about what computers are good for in the scholarly life (we're still trying to figure that one out) so often I run across the purely instrumental arguments Leavis was complaining about: "the computer helps us get on with it", where "it" is simply assumed, or reflexively uppercased. One could say, I suppose, that this "it" depends on the discipline, and so offload the responsibility, but if "it" changes with the means, as seems obvious, then it's our lookout. What would we say if Leavis turned up and wanted to know what we thought? Yours, WM Willard McCarty | Professor of Humanities Computing | Centre for Computing in the Humanities | King's College London | http://staff.cch.kcl.ac.uk/~wmccarty/. Et sic in infinitum (Fludd 1617, p. 26).
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