18.409 the virtues of resistance

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Tue, 7 Dec 2004 08:38:18 +0000

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 18, No. 409.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Tue, 07 Dec 2004 08:28:45 +0000
         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
         Subject: the virtues of resistance

A. C. Crombie, in Styles of Thinking in the European Tradition (London:
Duckworth, 1994), pp. 44f, describes Galileo's championing of the moral
values of the science we now call Galilean:

"Thus Galileo wrote that 'being used to study in the book of nature, where
things are written in only one way', he 'would not be able either to
dispute any problem ad utramque partem, as in a scholastic exercise, or to
maintain any conclusion not first believed or known as true'. He insisted
likewise on 'the difference that there is between opinable and
demonstrative doctrines; so that... it is not in the power of professors of
demonstrative sciences to change opinions' at wish, for 'the demonstrated
conclusions about the things of nature and of the heavens cannot be changed
with the same ease as opinions about what is lawful or not in a contract,
rent or exchange'. He wrote of a certain kind of philosopher that he
'thinks that philosophy is a kind of book like the Aeneid or the Odyssey,
and that truth is to be searched for not in the world or in nature, but in
confrontatione textuum (to use their own words)'... He excluded from
scientific theory any attributions of moral or aesthetic design in nature
other than such as might be found in nature itself, for: 'We must not ask
nature to accommodate herself to what might seem to us the best disposition
and order, but we must adapt our intellect to what she has made, certain
that such is the best and not something else.'"

He is describing a moral and intellectual discipline based on the
resistance of the object of study to our raging passion for neat and tidy
sums, I suppose one could say. It is difficult not to have great sympathy
with Galileo's apparent conviction that such a way to knowledge of the
world is crucial and that persuading others of its importance ranks equally
with what we would now call conventional research. (Crombie notes that
"Galileo devoted at least as much energy to trying to establish the
identity of natural science within contemporary intellectual culture as to
solving particular physical problems", p. 49.) The role of interpretation
in what we take to be objects of study in the humanities is a different
one, of course. But it seems to me that, with the appropriate
qualifications, what we have to offer our colleagues is intellectually
powerful and morally corrective in much the same way. It's difficult to get
the balance right in such matters, but the case Crombie makes (in 3
volumes, totalling 2456 pages) for the intellectual style we share with
Galileo and within which we differentiate our practice from his science is
compelling. It compels us, I think, to consider just where we fit into it.
As startling as it may be to find oneself sitting next to an intellectual
giant like Galileo, might that not be where we belong?



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Dr Willard McCarty | Senior Lecturer | Centre for Computing in the
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Received on Tue Dec 07 2004 - 03:47:54 EST

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