File /Humanist.vol22.txt, message 93

Date: Thu, 26 Jun 2008 06:15:44 +0100
From: "Humanist Discussion Group \(by way of Willard McCarty              <>\)" <willard-AT-LISTS.VILLAGE.VIRGINIA.EDU>
Subject: 22.091 strangers in a strange land
To: <humanist-AT-Princeton.EDU>

                Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 22, No. 91.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
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         Date: Thu, 26 Jun 2008 06:10:00 +0100
         From: Geoffrey Rockwell <>
         Subject: Re: 22.085 strangers in a strange land

On 24-Jun-08, at 3:45 AM, Humanist Discussion Group Willard wrote:

  > There's a danger here that we succeed in breaking away from the
  > sclerotic taking of philosophical positions, as if they were
  > possessions, even egos, only to make ourselves into binary creatures,
  > flip-flopping from one way of dealing with the world to another. Do
  > we in fact switch? Or is this setting up of alternative states
  > something we construct in order to simplify how we conceptualize our
  > fluid swervings from one side of the road to the other?

I suspect there are more than two theoretical models in any situation
and that, in fact, we often tolerate a continuum of theories that
overlap, contradict each other, supplement each other, get vague and
are often not explicitly thought out past our nose. The danger
philosophers warn of is relativism or pyrrhonian skepticism. Skeptics
would say something like:

"No model works, not even this model of models"

Late Wittgenstein would say the problem is our desire to model - that
philosophizing is a disease not a cure and we should get over it. The
pyrrhonian would use the paradox of two models both of which are
needed to explain the world to provoke us to be skeptical of theorizing.

Personally I think the setting up of models and choosing of models
is, when there are no clear and immediate needs, an ethical move. It
is how you choose to live your life without certainty. And living
without certainty seems to be one of the few certainties, but I'm not
certain about that. When you cast the issue as ethical then you can
avoid the "it doesn't matter because it is all relative" recourse of
the lazy because even not choosing is a choice. Of course we have to
make choices with insufficient evidence, include the choice to do
nothing. How else to project get done, or not.

To take a different approach I offer a longish quote from Ken
Morrison's "Stabilizing the Text" CJS 12:3, 1987, p 245,

  > Beginning with the emergence of European scholasticism in the
  > twelfth and thirteenth centuries, scholarly exegesis began to be
  > based upon specific text principle converging on page layout as a
  > technical means of arranging words and ideas. Many of the
  > principles we see in our own texts, such as the imposition of a
  > chapter and paragraph structure, alphabetical indexing leading to
  > searchable texts and the deployment of running titles as a means of
  > marking off stages in an argument, have their origin in medieval
  > devices in which fixed patterns of textual designation began to
  > emerge as a means of facilitating presentation. The introduction of
  > a scholarly apparatus in the text, which arose in the light of new
  > methods of study and medieval learning, facilitated changes in the
  > structure of knowledge as it began to be subordinated to rational
  > principles of layout and design. With the acceptance of rational
  > order as a means of arranging texts and the "recognition that
  > different kinds of [order] were appropriate" for each of the
  > branches of knowledge, "the organization of the individual work
  > came under closer scrutiny [and] for the first time scholars
  > formulated a definition [of the text] which included the
  > disposition of material into books and chapters" (quoting Parkes,
  > 1976).

(Thanks to Domenico Fiormonte for pointing me to this.) Morrison, if
I understand him, argues that our model of the rational text has a
history and is not in the text. How we approach Aristotle's works is
due to the structuring of later scholastics. They imposed the codex
model on writings that had previously been laid out following
aesthetic considerations (lining letters up in columns). What model
of the text were the Greeks of the fifth and fourth centuries BCE
working with if not the rational model imposed later? How are our
technologies of electronic text approaching a new model and which
technologies would we take a paradigmatic of electronic text?

Geoffrey R.

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