Future, Present, & Past:

~~ Giving itself latitude and leisure to take any premise or inquiry to its furthest associative conclusion.
Critical~~ Ready to apply, to itself and its object, the canons of reason, evidence, style, and ethics, up to their limits.
Traditional~~ At home and at large in the ecosystem of practice and memory that radically nourishes the whole person.

Oυδεὶς άμουσος εἰσίτω

Friday, April 29, 2016

Publishing. And not.

When Hilary Putnam died recently, a common theme in the many tributes offered was his well-known willingness to change his mind. I can no longer track down the remark and so cannot quote it exactly, but I remember some place where he spoke frankly of these about-faces, strongly commending the capacity to say things in the form: "I once thought.... I now think....".

This came back to me recently while reading R.G. Collingwood's Autobiography. Collingwood is reminiscing about of John Cook Wilson, a professor of logic at Oxford:
"I rewrite, on average, one third of my logic lectures every year," said he. "That means I'm constantly changing my mind about every point in the subject. If I published, every book I wrote would betray a change of mind since the last."
For Putnam, it simply meant he was willing to conduct his shifts of position in public. For Cook Wilson, it was (according to Collingwood) a reason not to publish at all. (In fact, Cook Wilson did publish -- mainly articles, many of which were collected in the posthumous Statement and Inference in 1926). There are others who fit these profiles: Socrates in the agora, (supposedly) constantly changing his position, is a model of continual public revision; Wittgenstein pruning and re-arranging the Investigations until there was no realistic chance of making them public in his lifetime is on the other extreme. But most thinkers fall somewhere between.

Collingwood remarks that
I already knew that there are two reasons why people refrain from writing books; either they are conscious that they have nothing to say, or they are conscious that they are unable to say it.
For almost the first two decades after I came of age intellectually, I was haunted by the first reason. But I begin to wonder if it won't be the second that really gets me.