File /Humanist.vol22.txt, message 53

Date: Sun, 01 Jun 2008 10:00:21 +0100
From: "Humanist Discussion Group \(by way of Willard McCarty              <>\)" <willard-AT-LISTS.VILLAGE.VIRGINIA.EDU>
Subject: 22.053 the end in mind
To: <humanist-AT-Princeton.EDU>

                Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 22, No. 53.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
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         Date: Sun, 01 Jun 2008 09:43:37 +0100
         From: Willard McCarty <>
         Subject: the end in mind

In "'Literarism' and 'Scientism': The misconception and the menace" 
(Times Literary Supplement, 23 April 1970), the English literary 
critic F. R. Leavis turned his rhetorical firepower on the lead 
article in TLS for 1 January of that year, "The slave of the lamp, 
1970: Learning how to make the most sensible use of the computer". To 
this 21st-century reader, the New Year's piece (anonymous by 
convention of the time) seems a rather boringly familiar set of 
predictions for a bright future of leisure and mass education. 
Leavis, however, found the whole thing profoundly disturbing, as you 
might expect. Much of what disturbed if not frightened Leavis has to 
do with massive social changes that have in fact happened, some of 
which make his present seem a time of quaint privilege to us, some of 
which we recognize depressingly in our daily experience of university 
life -- "universities as industrial plant" as opposed to 
"universities as centres of civilization", to quote highlighted 
phrases from the article. Putting that to one side (but not all that 
far away), allow me to quote some of what he says about computing:

  >You must forgive me if I say again at this point
  >(I am so accustomed to misrepresentation) that 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 that we ought to 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 which is
  >concerned with perpetuating, strengthening and
  >asserting, in response to change, a full human
  >creativity -- the continuous collaborative
  >creativity that ensures significance, ends and
  >values, and manifests itself as consciousness
  >and profoundly human purpose.

Part of the boring familiarity of the New Year's article Leavis is 
attacking is precisely what its anonymous author notably 
de-emphasizes, namely the ends to which computing is put. This 
avoidance is familiar to us from our years of experience, on one side 
of the fence or the other, with a situation in which the technical 
expert is by position no collaborator in the genuine sense but a 
servant de facto. The often institutionally enforced disconnect 
between technician and scholar is a microcosm of the much larger 
failure to consider the ends to which our powerful machine is put. I 
am not certain, but I guess that by "collaborative creativity" Leavis 
means the marriage of both sides. Unfortunately we are still in some 
instances thinking that the non-technical scholar specifies the end 
in mind, whereupon the technician implements it. In that circumstance 
both lose. As Leavis points out, the society as a whole loses. I 
don't wish to be accused of delusions of grandeur, but I think that 
when humanities computing is done right, as a meeting of minds on a 
level playing field, those involved have something very important to 
teach the rest of us.



Willard McCarty | Professor of Humanities
Computing | Centre for Computing in the
Humanities | King's College London | Et sic in infinitum (Fludd 1617, p. 26).


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