9.266 vagueness

Humanist (mccarty@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)
Thu, 2 Nov 1995 08:42:08 -0500 (EST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 9, No. 266.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)

[1] From: RJOHARA@steffi.uncg.edu (6)
Subject: Vagueness

[2] From: Willard McCarty <mccarty@phoenix.princeton.edu> (30)
Subject: Re: 9.261 vagueness

Date: Wed, 01 Nov 1995 21:13:09 -0400 (EDT)
From: RJOHARA@steffi.uncg.edu
Subject: Vagueness

One of my favorite Library of Congress Subject headings is:


I always wondered if that might be where the MLA programs are calaloged.

(Sorry, couldn't resist....)

Bob O'Hara
University of North Carolina at Greensboro
rjohara@iris.uncg.edu -- http://rjohara.uncg.edu

Date: Wed, 1 Nov 1995 16:22:08 +0000
From: Willard McCarty <mccarty@phoenix.princeton.edu>
Subject: Re: 9.261 vagueness

[Actually the following was sent to me by a fellow Humanist who thought
it unpublishable and instructed me not to quote it verbatim. At the risk
of alienating this person (not my intention) and making everyone else
wonder if ANYTHING sent to me is safe, I am including it unaltered here
below -- but without the name of the sender. You may or may not agree
with the social assessment, but let me draw your attention to the last
remark: once the text has been marked up, where has the vagueness gone?
In other words (if I may), what happens with what is lost in translation?
Is the editor the only one who will appreciate the great intellectual
byproduct of marking up texts? Are we producing, by marking up our
wonderfully ambiguous texts, falsified versions that no one subsequently
will question? Yes, I know, the problem is an old one that textual
editors have always faced, as Richard Tarrant (who is editing Ovid's
Met.) once kindly reminded me. How do we then respond to this old problem
witn or in the new medium?

Sarah Higley asked, by the way, whether the book whose review I cited
discusses vagueness in philosophical argumentation. It would appear not:
the ambition is to tackle the idea of vagueness in language as a whole.
My question (I'll have to wait for the book to arrive before I can read
it and find out) is, how well is philosophy now suited to the poetic
perspective? Any philosophers out there who wish to engage this? -- WM]

> Humanists who have been working, as I have in recent years, with -- or is it
> against? -- the supposed precision of computing ...
> I keep noticing that by forcing us to draw the line, e.g. in
> our use of textual markup, computational thinking does us the greatest
> service. It seems to me that the point is not just that certain problems
> cannot be rigorously computed, rather that this "vagueness" is illuminated
> by rigid precision of the machine.

This doesn't just apply to humanities computing. It applies to humanity as
a whole. We are living in a Spreadsheet Society. Nothing is acceptable to
"management" (which ultiamtely means our politicians) which cannot be
quantified for a spreadsheet. Therefore the most human aspects of living
and working - and even just "being" - are forced into this straitjacket.
It is for this reason (I think) that people who are _in_ work the world
over are working ever harder and longer, whilst at the same time many more
are being put _out_ of work.

Until software has added to it a "humanity factor", analogous to, and
sophisticated descendant of, the fuzzy logic used in some search
mechanisms, the Spreadsheet Society is on an ever-downward spiral.

To return to the original point:

> rather that this "vagueness" is illuminated by rigid precision of the machine.

But, I ask, once the text is entered and marked up, where has that
vagueness gone? Is it like the fabled aural flash of a soul, as it passes
from this life to another: witnessed by the bystanders, then lost forever?!