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unclassified - 5 05 2002 - 21:11 - katatonik

Scholarship, methodology, and style

“Scholars of literature and the arts, historians, philosophers, and other academic humanists joined sociologists, anthropologists, and political scientists in trying to make their fields as “serious” as the hard sciences. They grew obsessed with theory and methodology, and particularly with the most abstract issues of epistemology—how we know what we know. This is largely the story of professionalization, of course, of how professional standards and approved behaviors got established in the academic realm. It was Wittgenstein’s curse upon the professionals of the humanistic and social science disciplines that they took his kind of seriousness as an essential goal.

Why a curse? For one thing, because it burdened those professions with a narrow-spirited utilitarianism. In his early work, Wittgenstein believed that his job was to make philosophy useful. He wanted to clear out, like so much underbrush, all the metaphysics and other matters that couldn’t be resolved the way a problem in, say, engineering (in which he had had training) can be resolved. In his early view, remember, philosophy was supposed to become a helpful user’s manual for the hard sciences. For it to be anything else was frivolous, an indulgence, unserious.”

Jay Tolson: “Wittgenstein’s curse

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