Sunday, July 29, 2007

An unusual species

From Mary Midgley, Beast and Man: The Roots of Human Nature:
I have tried to write without technical terms. Because so many disciplines border the topic, I think it must necessarily be discussed in plain language. This is not at all a piece of condescension, a trnaslation of learned matter into rougher and less suitable terms. Each subject evolves enough technical language to suit its own assumptions. These may well be good enough to use within that subject, and still serve badly for relating it to its neighbors. On very general questions of method, thereefore, it is important to force oneself to write and speak plain English. As everyone used to the academic scene knows, the boundaries between subjects recognized at any time have grown up partly by chance--they commemorate strong pioneering personalities, bits of teaching convenience, even the flow of research money, as well as real principles of investigation. The true structure of the problems may cut right across them.

But besides this general consideration there is a special one about discussions of motives. Like many areas of moral philosophy, this is ground already familiar to common sense. Making up a terminology here is not at all like making one up for biochemistry or nuclear physics. The facts are not new. People have been trying to understand their own and other people's motives for thousands of years. They have thrsashed out quite a sophisticated terminology, namely, the one we use every day. Of course it needs refining and expanding, but to by-pass it and start again as if it were all ignorant babble is arrogant and wasteful. B. F. Skinner has demanded a brand-new technical language of psychology, on the ground that "the vernacular is clumsy and obese." What elegant slimness technical language may possess, however, is bought at the price of reinforcing prejudice. Jargon always tends to make unwelcome facts unstatable. We can all see this when we look at other people's jargon. It is just as true of our own.
I am in love with this book! It's so forthright...

1 comment:

  1. I like that book very much. I think one would want to say that ordinary language also makes unwelcome facts unstatable, but it's easier to drag this out in the open.