[Humanist] 32.26 Humanist at 31 & the meaning of 'science'

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Wed May 16 09:18:16 CEST 2018

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 32, No. 26.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    Manfred Thaller <manfred.thaller at uni-koeln.de>            (45)
        Subject: Re:  32.18 Humanist at 31 & questions

  [2]   From:    Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>          (36)
        Subject: 'science' in more sense than one, or two

        Date: Tue, 15 May 2018 13:15:41 +0200
        From: Manfred Thaller <manfred.thaller at uni-koeln.de>
        Subject: Re:  32.18 Humanist at 31 & questions
        In-Reply-To: <20180515061206.C6464147F at s16382816.onlinehome-server.info>

Dear Tim,

I hope Willard is not offended, if I take up a question you addressed to 
him. I take the liberty to do so, as you raise a question, which is dear 
to my heart (or rather: a constant worry) - and being not from an 
English speaking country, it may be more obvious to me. I'm referring to:

Am 15.05.2018 um 08:12 schrieb Humanist Discussion Group:
> And, Willard, what is the "European sense" of
> 'scientifically'?  Do other parts of the world have other
> senses of this term?

Purely linguistically, you have two different concepts of [scientia] (to 
signify the abstract concept, different from its different linguistic 

[scientia-1] can be seen as "science" as in English, where it is almost 
always used as a term describing a set of activities intrinsically 
different from the "Humanities", leave alone the "Arts". (While the 
"Humanities" and the "Arts" are close buddies.)

[scientia-2] can be seen as "Wissenschaft" as in German, with a similar 
phenomenon in other languages, where it is used as a term describing a 
general attitude to apply a rational way to proceed, when you try to 
answer a question. This means, that it is a very general concept, which 
includes all, the "Naturwissenschaften" (ca. "Science", "hard 
sciences"), the "Sozialwissenschaften" ("Social science", "soft 
sciences") and indeed the "Geisteswissenschaften" (ca. "Humanities"). 
"Wissenschaft" is NOT particularly closely related to "Kunst" (the 
arts). (So an American / British faculty department of philology will 
frequently offer degrees or at least courses in "creative writing". As 
far as I know, no such degree - or even course - exists at a German 
speaking university.)

I should mention, that that has a few political implications. As a rule 
of the dumb you can assume that funding in countries where [scientia-2] 
is valid is considerably more generous to the local equivalent of the 
Humanities, than in countries which subscribe to [scientia-1]. But this 
is just a sidenote.

As I have given up to use the term "Digital Humanities" as void of 
semantic content besides being vaguely fashionable, I cannot comment on 
your question "are the Digital Humanities trying to be Sciences?".

However, the way in which you approach information technology is 
EXTREMELY different, depending on whether you start from [scientia-1] or 

As a hard case of [scientia-2] I find it not particularly astonishing, 
that a humanist may consider using an approach that is connected to 
"science". I am aware and have met quite a few hard cases of 
[scientia-1] who consider that as rather scandalous, though.


        Date: Wed, 16 May 2018 08:06:41 +0100
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: 'science' in more sense than one, or two
        In-Reply-To: <20180515061206.C6464147F at s16382816.onlinehome-server.info>

While we're on the subject of 'science' in what I called 'the European 
sense' versus 'science' in the N American and largely Anglophone (thank 
you, Manfred), I think we also need to consider the rest of the world 
insofar as it can be discerned from perspectives other than our 
21st-century Euro-American one. A very good place to begin is with the 
first issue of the new Chicago journal Know: A Journal on the Formation 
of Knowledge (https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/toc/know/2017/1/1).

I've two reasons for recommending Know as a place to start and for 
recommending that we start. One is that (forgive the baby-boomer, 
flower-power vocabulary) expanding the mind is a Good Thing, yes? Or, 
perhaps better because more up-to-date and esp because de-centric, the 
Really Good Thing is refiguring the mind to be what happens when the 
brain gets involved with the affordances provided by the world, its 
other creatures and cultures. In other words, no matter how liberal and 
benevolent a view from the panopticon may be (see Foucault), it's a 
prison looking out on prisoners.

Less wildly, the second reason is that we scholars involved with 
computing need as rich a context as we can find to help us figure out 
how it is that we come to know things when we interact with the digital 
machine. This, I think, must rank very high on the list of very hard 
worthy problems that belong to us and to anyone who wants to join forces 
with us. This rich context is, in fact, supplied by the sum of ways of 
coming to know here and elsewhere, in the present and the past, hence 
(forgive me, Manfred) scientia 1+2+...+n, where n is a finite but 
indefinitely large number. Know 1.1 provides a start. If -- I think this 
is solid -- our machine in essence counts, sorts and does arithmetic, 
then we need to look carefully into counting, sorting and arithmetic 
practices as ways of understanding the world wherever and whenever 
we can find them.

Suggestions and reactions most welcome.

Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/), Professor emeritus, Department of
Digital Humanities, King's College London; Adjunct Professor, Western
Sydney University; Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews

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