josh blog

Ordinary language is all right.

One could divide humanity into two classes:
those who master a metaphor, and those who hold by a formula.
Those with a bent for both are too few, they do not comprise a class.

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4 Aug '12 09:37:49 AM

Ways to work:

grow something, build something, create something, move something, cook something, clean something, prepare something, fix something, sort something, gather something, dig something up, cut something down, break something up, set something up, assemble something, count something, calculate something, watch something, watch someone, drive something, haul something, package something, study something, serve something, wait on someone, take care of someone, help someone

3 Aug '12 08:40:30 PM

It's always funny when a scholar writes, 'I do not have time here to...'. Is there a moderator holding a stopwatch? Why not say 'I do not have space here to...'. But who are you, Fermat? Get another piece of paper!

2 Aug '12 08:15:40 AM

Dual principles (Nov. 11, 1851):

'"Says I to myself" should be the motto of my journal.

It is fatal to the writer to be too much possessed by his thought. Things must lie a little remote to be described.'

2 Aug '12 03:27:55 AM

If you want to use the word 'ineluctably' you might want to look it up and make sure you aren't hankering after the wrong kind of impossibility just because it sounds so fancy and distinctive somehow.

2 Aug '12 02:52:39 AM

Everyone who scribbles marginalia is the richer for the fine expression, 'O RLY'.

1 Aug '12 11:44:36 PM

Tamales are the kind of food I think should come in a pile.

1 Aug '12 10:59:23 PM

Stephen Melville's concluding remarks here infuriate me a little bit:

'…I have spoken both of a certain unholy alliance of epistemology, method, and professionalism and of an interest we evidently now have in being or remaining baffled in our experience. Meetings like this play an important role in renewing and cementing that alliance, so it’s hard to think anything said in this session is likely to make much of a difference.'

The paper stems from the meeting of a professional society; in his concluding remarks Melville is talking about the meeting he is part of, and talking to the people who are there to listen to him, and to do whatever else it is one does at these meetings, or at least to entertain the notion of doing it, to hope imaginatively that it might be done a little. How might they have heard his last remark, which sounds to me bordering on defeatist? Perhaps when he said it, it was with the sound of opprobrium toward unspecified others, who just won't listen, or just don't get it—whoever else it is that is helps to maintain the unholy alliance, who works to keep us baffled about what should be closest to us. And that sound can easily be received in a satisfying way, a self-satisfied way, by the audience members who think they are on the right side, fighting the good fight. But Melville's remark can also sound like he has conceded, about his own words, his own talk: there is no point to this. As if he is saying to his audience: nothing I have said here matters, thanks for coming, there's coffee in the lobby. Given his topic, Melville might think of himself as practicing a kind of argument-by-salutary-reminder, so maybe he thinks of this final maneuver as a kind of reflexive grace note, the kind of thing that leaves the audience members sitting in their seats, before the question-and-answer period starts, thinking, 'yeah, why do we do that? We oughta not do that!' A kind of poke, akin to a gadfly's sting.

But it's hard to accept charitable interpretations like that when the space that a final remark like Melville's travels in is a practical, performative one. It's something, at best, that he is doing, that he hopes to accomplish. But if that's where we are, then why give a professional talk that you feel forces you to sigh at the end about how little difference giving a professional talk makes? You're in a room full of people who are presumably interested in what you have to say, interested in more or less the same things that you are. You're all there to talk, to work some things out, to try some things out. So is there really no other way to do that than by reading out this paper? To anyone on the outside, what you are doing, this getting together in a conference room or a rented hotel ballroom, to stand up and read from a paper for half an hour before the docile audience before you is permitted to ask three to five questions, is nearly the essence of your profession.

1 Aug '12 09:40:59 PM

(A better 'professional' variant: 'state only what raises some issues about what many respected authorities in the field have recently argued one should believe…'.)

1 Aug '12 09:37:47 PM

Perhaps this is a way to schematize Thoreau's approach to philosophical writing (or, to put it more cautiously, his venture to win the status of 'philosophy' for his writing) as contrasted with the prevailing professional one:

'state only what you believe'

vs. 'write only what is worth reading'

The Socratic aspect of the conventional professional paper or talk is probably overstated, but it plays some (possibly distorted) role in the philosopher's self-conception (much complicated by, for example, the co-presence of a Lewis-style 'finding out what follows from what'). And a concern for what is worth believing, what is worth saying, obviously drives some of Socrates' interest in holding his interlocutors to this commitment to only say what they believe (and not what someone else believes, or what they don't really believe). But I feel there's a difference here.

The Socratic requirement could also be put, 'state only what you believe to be true'; perhaps the difference to Thoreau's would be suggested by the adjustment: '…only what you believe to be true to…'. If there's any better way to continue that than with some expression involving 'your…', I don't know it.