…I have learned that different disciplines use particular words to describe good work done in that discipline. For example, in physics the best work is described as ‘‘elegant’’ which seems to mean the implications of the work may not be understood or the work itself may not be understood, but the mathematics has an undeniable beauty. Work in mathematics is sometimes described as elegant, but mathematicians usually describe the best work as ‘‘deep.’’ Deep mathematics usually indicates math not well understood in the community of mathematics. Once what was ‘‘deep’’ is generally understood, it becomes applied mathematics. Work in biology is usually described as ‘‘interesting’’ which means the work helps me understand or ‘‘see’’ what I had not understood. The primary words used in the social sciences are ‘‘robust,’’‘‘powerful,’’ ‘‘important,’’ and ‘‘useful.’’ ‘‘Robust’’ usually means work that helps the social scientist explain wider implications other than the ones the work was initially designed to accomplish. In the humanities the work is described as ‘‘influential’’ which seems to indicate that the work has changed the minds of other scholars who know something about that subject. In some fields in the humanities, such as philosophy, the work can be described as representing a powerful argument. I often reflect that the word that should best describe theology is ‘‘faithful’’ which may well make theology closer to mathematics and physics than the social sciences. At least in mathematics and physics it is still assumed that such work is committed to truth.
From Stanley Hauerwas, The State of the University: academic knowledges and the knowledge of God (Oxford?; Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2007), p. 20, note 19].
Stanley Hauerwas, at his side-stepping, dummy-serving, best:
You have been called ‘contemporary theology’s foremost intellectual provocateur’. What do you thinkabout the controversy that your work generates? Do you consider that it’s a sign that you’re doing theology properly?
I don’t like the language of provocateur. I’m oftentimes introduced as being very provocative, and I always tell people, don’t tell me I’m provocative. You can say I’m outrageous, wrong etc. but provocative is a liberal word, it means, I understand you better than you probably understand yourself. It means, I’m not really in agreement with you, therefore I’m able to distance myself, which means I finally don’t have to take you seriously. So screw provocative! I think that I make a lot of people angry, because I have something to say, and I have something to say because I take Christian convictions seriously and straight up, and that’s a very big challenge to Christians, who have spent some generations trying to show the world that we don’t have anything to say other than what the world already thinks it knows.
From Rebecca O’Loughlin, “Interview with Stanley Hauerwas,” Discourse: Learning and Teaching in Philosophical and Religious Studies 8, no. 1 (Autumn 2008): 19-28. Available here.
In this month’s Atlantic there is a fascinating article on the Turing Test and what it says about being human. In it, the writer, Brian Christian, gives an interesting piece of background to the perennial popular anthropology question:
Philosophers, psychologists, and scientists have been puzzling over the essential definition of human uniqueness since the beginning of recorded history. The Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert says that every psychologist must, at some point in his or her career, write a version of what he calls “The Sentence.” Specifically, The Sentence reads like this:
The human being is the only animal that ______.
The story of humans’ sense of self is, you might say, the story of failed, debunked versions of The Sentence.
Surely “The Sentence” is easily answered, if you are willing to go all meta- on it?
The human being is the only animal that discourses on “The Sentence”.
Journalism (n) : I know nothing about a subject, and I have 1200 words in which to express it.
[Choose your own links]
Anglo-Catholicism (n) : The Trotskyist wing of the Church of England.
Tradition (n) : 2. Something the English do really well. See binge drinking and rural rioting.
Spring (n) : It’s raining— and don’t the clocks go forward soon, so we miss an hour’s kip?
Autumn (n) : It’s raining— and that makes the leaves slippy underfoot.
Winter (n) : It’s raining— and dark.
Summer (n) : it’s raining.