U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Tim’s Light Reading (10/5/2009)

1. Historical Counterfactuals. Via the Matters of Substance weblog, I learned that University of Nottingham Professor Daniel Nolan is seeking input on a paper of his titled “Why Historians (And Everyone Else) Should Care About Counterfactuals.” From his home institution’s website, I learned the following: “Daniel Nolan is Professor of Philosophy in the Philosophy Department at The University of Nottingham. He works on a range of topics: primarily metaphysics, but also philosophy of science, philosophy of language, meta-ethics, philosophical logic.” Here is his personal website.

2. Comedy As Cultural Criticism. As an inveterate Monty Python fan, I can’t resist passing on this NYT television review of the upcoming documentary hosted by the Independent Film Channel, titled “Monty Python: Almost the Truth (The Lawyer’s Cut).”. Thanks to Michael Kramer for making me aware of the article. My favorite part of the write-up, and your obligatory great books reference of the day, was this:

“To find the equivalent of the Pythons’ kind of wordplay and punning (verbal and visual) you have to turn to written humor, which may be where some of the Pythons’ inspiration came from in the first place. You could make a case, for example, that “Tristram Shandy” is the most pythonesque book in all of English literature.”

Everyone should know that Robert M. Hutchins was the prime advocate for including Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy in Britannica’s 1952 set of the Great Books of the Western World (volume 36).

3. More Job Market Considerations? InsideHigherEd published another article related to graduate students in philosophy and potential dos-and-don’ts related to job seeking. Productive or not, the first one created quite a stir. Yet again, I wonder how history search committees view the same matter—meaning publications? In the same kind of mixed way? Is the lack of publications viewed negatively? On the other hand, are too many viewed negatively? Do search committees attend to the quality of the publication for junior scholar/grad student applicants? Or is initiative a plus, regardless of early career quality? I ask because I don’t recall seeing this issue discussed by AHA, either through the org’s weblog or Perspectives in History, within the past few years.

4. They Might Be Giants and the Philosophy of Science. Matthew Yglesias takes issue with philosophy of science forwarded by the musical group They Might Be Giants in a recent song, titled “Science Is Real” from a new CD/DVD release, “Here Comes Science.” The group relies on a definition from Rudolf Carnap, and apparently Yglesias doesn’t appreciate Carnap’s definition of the subject: “Science is a system of statements based on direct experience and controlled by experimental verification.” Yglesias beef, in essence, is that Carnap’s definition isn’t instrumental enough in the Deweyian tradition—that Carnap’s line is too bright between the researcher and the object researched. Yeglesias further laments:

I think it’s unfortunate that people trying to enhance the social prestige of science and scientists (which is basically what the TMBG song is about) have this tendency to want to fall back on this kind of naive realism and positivism as their means for doing so.

This is true in terms of the philosophy of science, but I think he’s suffering from a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Based on the visible tradition of anti-intellectualism in this country, particularly the hostile-toward-science variety (e.g. think global warming, evolution), it would seem that we can live with some subtle promotion of science by a band that sings primarily to our youth. – TL

One Thought on this Post

  1. Re #3: as if the AHA would show any concern about these issues, so long as memberships and attendance at the Annual Meeting remain high…..they’d rather worry about the composition of the shrinking pool of TT donors.

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