[Humanist] 27.941 reasoning & what we can do about it

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Fri Apr 4 12:04:00 CEST 2014

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 941.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Thu, 03 Apr 2014 10:02:34 -0400
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: the historicity of reason

In his fine book Science of Science and Reflexivity (2004/2001), last of 
his lectures at the Collège de France, Pierre Bourdieu writes as follows,
specifically about the sciences but with relevance to us:

> The fact that producers [of scientific knowledge] tend to have as their 
> clients only their most rigorous and vigorous competitors, the most 
> competent and the most critical, those therefore most *inclined* and 
> most *able* to give their critique full force, is for me the *Archimedean
> point* on which one can stand to *give a scientific account of
> scientific reason*, to rescue scientific reason from  relativistic
> reduction and can explain how science can constantly progress toward
> more rationality without having to appeal to some kind of founding
> miracle.... There is no need to move outside history in order to
> understand the emergence and existence of reason in history. The
> closure upon itself of the autonomous field constitutes the
> historical principle of the genesis of reason and the exercise of its
> normativity.... [Thus it is possible] to *resolve the problem* of the
> relationship between reason and history or of the historicity of
> reason, a problem old as philosophy and one which... has haunted
> philosophers. (p. 54)

The situation of digital humanities is, at least at the moment, quite 
different than that which Bourdieu describes. In important respects only 
partial autonomy is possible or desirable, I would think. But it seems to 
me that cultivating our "clients" (to use his language) to become on a 
fundamental level the sort of audience we most need, "most critical... 
therefore most inclined and most able to give their critique full 
force", is a compelling way forward. 

Most ambitiously it gives us the means to watch if not to have a hand 
in the evolution of argumentation and reasoning. The exercise of 
persuading colleagues outside digital humanities that anything other 
than something which directly advances their pre-digital research is 
(in my experience, some of it very recent) anything but over. Such 
people will *say* they want to know about new questions they can 
ask as a result of computing, but the shock of the new is often far 
more evident than a putative welcoming of it. Delivering products that 
meet specifications is the easy bit. Reaching inside a discipline (let 
us say classics) to mess with the familiar processes of reasoning 
is quite another matter. But Bourdieu's point about the historicity 
of reason means that exercise has a future, I'd like to think *our* 


Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/), Professor, Department of Digital
Humanities, King's College London, and Research Group in Digital
Humanities, University of Western Sydney

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