Humanist Discussion Group

Humanist Archives: June 21, 2021, 7:26 a.m. Humanist 35.97 - theory

              Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 35, No. 97.
        Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
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        Date: 2021-06-20 12:41:32+00:00
        From: Tim Smithers <>
        Subject: [Humanist] 35.90: theory?

Dear Willard,

Sorry, I'm unable to respond to your request ...  for
recommended discussion.  But, your tacit question, what is
theory?, provoked the following.

Theory is that which you don't understand.

If you take a (I admit, loose-ish) Wittgensteinian approach to
what is theory, and look at how this word is often used by the
PhD students I teach, who come from places across the
disciplines -- the Arts, Engineerings, Humanities, and
Sciences -- theory is that which they don't understand and
which looks like it'd be hard to work out.

Seen this way, there appears not to be much difference across
the disciplines.

If you then tell these people, as I sometimes do, that they
are not using a good word to talk about what they don't
understanding, we get to your question "what is theory then?"

After some attempts to answer this, by people from different
disciplines, and some discussion of these, the most common
response is "Uff, I don't understand, this all looks too

And so we go on.  We all seem to need this word, but few like
to say what theory is.  The question seems too difficult; too

...  Was that a white rabbit I saw go down that hole?

Best regards,


> On 17 Jun 2021, at 07:33, Humanist <> wrote:
>                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 35, No. 90.
>        Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
>                               Hosted by DH-Cologne
>                Submit to:
>        Date: 2021-06-17 05:27:28+00:00
>        From: Willard McCarty <>
>        Subject: theory?
> Perhaps someone here can help. I'm looking for a discussion of 'theory'
> that recognises the differences across disciplines. Any recommendations?
> Thanks.
> Yours,
> WM
> --
> Willard McCarty,
> Professor emeritus, King's College London;
> Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews;  Humanist

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