Humanist Discussion Group

Humanist Archives: Sept. 16, 2021, 6:32 a.m. Humanist 35.242 - consequences, or how we work

				                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 35, No. 242.
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        Date: 2021-09-16 05:22:36+00:00
        From: Willard McCarty 
        Subject: consequences

In the latest London Review of Books, Anthony Grafton writes on indexing
in "Fake it til you make it". As both author and, at one time,
indexer, this is my cup of tea. I empathise and wince as I consider both 
sides of the relation. But to the point: Grafton tells two stories he heard 
from Paul Oskar Kristeller:

> that he had learned to speak Latin properly in Werner Jaeger’s
> seminar in Berlin, and still admired Jaeger’s beautiful Latin; and
> that his teachers had trained him never to cite a book he hadn’t read
> from end to end.

I quote these for the second of them to pose a question I have been
pondering -- what we might sloppily (from the perspective of an
historian of science) call a thought experiment: what if we were to stop 
working the way we do (I confess...) and suddenly start obeying 
Kristeller's teachers' injunction, NEVER to cite a book one hadn't read 
from end to end?

The clever among us (all of us, yes?) will realise quickly that for 
obedience to make sense, MANY of the books that have come into print 
in the last decades would have to disappear because they are simply 
not worth reading in toto. Panning for gold rather than digging for 
diamonds is what we do, yes? So much dirt and so many stones back 
into the stream!

Historian Rosenzweig (may his name be blessed) wrote about "the problem
of abundance". Does not much of the problem go away if one considers the
ratio of dirt and stones to gold nuggets? Or -- here's a difficult thought -- 
has the whole nature of the marketplace in valuable minerals changed?

Comments?

Yours,
WM

--
Willard McCarty,
Professor emeritus, King's College London;
Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews;  Humanist
www.mccarty.org.uk


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