Tuesday, 09 February 2010

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Inelegant integration and my discontents. Tomorrow morning, I will again try to teach my students how to integrate quotations into their prose. Since the last lesson failed to stick, I think I'll use one this time instead of that damnably ineffective carrot. The passages they will be trying to integrate will, therefore, not be randomly selected from books and articles relevant to their research, but passages from my dissertation which, should they mangle, will lead to their mangling. (Or so I'll say. I only hope they haven't taken my oft-repeated mockery of the thing too much to heart.) For example, I will present them with a sentence from page 94 of the dissertation, followed by four possible ways of citing it: In sum, in the late 1890s three schools of applied evolutionary thought operated simultaneously: a vitiated form of social Darwinism that only argues that the same forces which shape evolution generally also work upon human populations; a developmental teleology that points to a single cooperative (or socialist) future; and a means by which exceptional individuals could accelerate that development, such that the inevitable end becomes visible in the span of a single lifetime. Which of the following best integrates the material in that quotation? According to Scott Kaufman, who earned a doctorate and now teaches, back then there were three ways evolution worked: a "form of social Darwinism," or a "developmental teleology" of socialism, or by "accelerate that development" (S. Kaufman 94). Scott Kaufman, whose dissertation has a really long title, the entirety of which I'm quoting here, wrote a dissertation in which he argued about evolution, shape, and development, "such that the inevitable end becomes visible in the span of a single lifetime" (Scott Kaufman, The Really Long Title of His Dissertation, page 94). Experts in Nineteenth Century evolutionary theory, such as Scott Kaufman of the University of California, Irvine, argue that as the century came to a close, "three schools of applied evolutionary thought operated simultaneously: a vitiated form of social Darwinism ... a developmental teleology ... and a means by which exceptional individuals could accelerate that development" (Kaufman 94). Scott once claimed that "in the late 1890s three schools of applied evolutionary thought operated simultaneously: a vitiated form of social Darwinism that only argues that the same forces which shape evolution generally also work upon human populations; a developmental teleology that points to a single cooperative (or socialist) future; and a means by which exceptional individuals could accelerate that development, such that the inevitable end becomes visible in the span of a single lifetime" (Scott). Those are egregiously arcane on purpose: I don't want them to debate the merits of the theories, merely the manner in which they're presented. The idea is to get them to discover and discuss the logic behind a neatly integrated quotation, so that in addition to just parroting the form of a correct citation, they understand exactly why one of those sentences is superior to the others. I'm using my own dissertation purely so I can...
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"He doesn't share the epistemology of the father!" Take my word for it: you do not want to watch this exchange between Ron Reagan and Pamela Geller. In it, Geller argues that she knows what Reagan Sr. would have thought about Sarah Palin because she agrees with his politics whereas Reagan Jr. does not. Because she agrees with Reagan Sr., she knows him better than his son: Geller: I don't think you can speak for your father, because you—you don't even espouse— Reagan: Pam, did you ever meet my father?She didn't have to. As per the title of this post, her claim is an epistemological one: knowledge acquired via telepathy with dead political allies is superior to knowledge acquired by actually knowing someone. When she declares that Reagan Jr. "doesn't share the epistemology of the father," she's making a strong philosophical claim: because Reagan Jr. believes that knowledge acquired by actually knowing someone is superior to posthumous telepathic communication, Reagan Sr. did not. How does she know this? Her telepathy affords her access to documents unavailable to philosophical rubes: Geller: Did you ever meet the Founding Father? I've read everything he said. She has read the Complete Works of the Founding Father and you didn't even know they existed. Or that he did for that matter. But he did, they do, and she read them all despite never having met him, meaning she knows the Founding Father very well. Because she chose to read the Complete Works instead of communing with the Founding Father telepathically, she must believe that knowledge acquired by reading what someone has written is superior to posthumous telepathic communication. This points to a potential problem for her epistemological position: were Reagan Jr. to read a book written by Reagan Sr., Geller would be forced to claim that knowledge acquired by reading that is supplemented by actually knowing the author is superior to posthumous telepathic communication; but that cannot be true, as she earlier held that knowledge acquire by actually knowing someone was inferior to posthumous telepathic communication. She further complicates matters by asserting that actually knowing someone is a valid means of acquiring knowledge about them so long as that person also agrees with the person he or she knew. Her philosophy must therefore be one that only superficially embraces paradox—or the word "epistemology" is not one Geller actually knows, and she said it because she thought it would make her smart. She failed. Then she doubled down:Geller: You never met [Reagan Sr.] either. You know, you never met him either.Wishing someone was not who they are so they can't know what they know doesn't make for a sound epistemological foundation. It doesn't even make any sense. In all seriousness, she actually is claiming that people who agree with a person are better able to speculate about that person's beliefs than people who merely knew him or her. That, obviously, is nonsense: I'm on the opposite end of the political spectrum from my father, but if you wanted to know what he would think...

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