Jane Austen’s Words

Greer Garson (as Elizabeth Bennet, Pride and Prejudice 1940)

There is a…dialectic at work in Jane Austen’s words, their meaning being dependent on the level at which they are being used.  One cannot simply say, for example, that “propriety” is one of Jane Austen’s values, but “sensibility” is not because as they stand those statements have no useful truth or falsity.  There is a sense in which either word may be used to claim an unreal value; in this false sense it may well mean, not hypocritically but ironically, the very reverse of the unlimited strength it assumes and represents itself to be.  There is another sense in which either word has a real value; and in this sense it may well be a possession of someone who does not seem to have it, or may seen to be a weak limitation of its possessor rather than the strength it proves to be.  –Stuart M Tave, *Some Words of Jane Austen*

Hmmm…?

From a 3AM interview of Gillian Russell:

You know, I think philosophy could make more progress than it does. Progress needs more than just a few brilliant people, and a few great, original texts. If all you have are a few brilliant manuscripts coming out of a generation of philosophers, they’re going to be forgotten, or only read by a few specialists, who only write stuff that is read by even fewer specialists, and then all it takes is one politically expedient budget cut, or the end of a grant, or just for someone to get sick, and it is all lost again. Once you get beyond the very beginning stages, progress requires the ability to build on what has come before and that means we have to do a great job of training our students. I think one of the things that drives progress in mathematics and the sciences is the existence of good textbooks.

It really doesn’t matter, in physics say, if few working scientists, engineers or mathematicians ever read Newton’s Principia Mathematica, or Einstein’s original papers, because the key lessons have been distilled into really clear, excellent textbooks that are used to train thousands of students each year. In philosophy we have a tendency to privilege the original texts. And it’s good to read original texts, it’s part of getting a general education. But good ideas and arguments rarely appear in their clearest form first time around. So I think one thing that would really help philosophy make more progress would be the presence of more really excellent textbooks. It’s clearly something that helps in logic. Certainly my own teaching and understanding in logic has been massively helped and speeded up by the existence of great textbooks. And that means that all my students are at a better standard than they might have been otherwise.

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