Commonplaces A-L

Commonplaces M-Z

These two pages are readings which were important to me over a considerable period. Several of the authors cited here are little respected today (Whitehead, Prigogine, maybe even Stephen Jay Gould) and others have never been very well known (Harre, Hexter, Gunnell). A few of them are dead ends and false starts — I now think that quantum physics should be left to quantum physicists.

A few topics show up again and again — the mutual definition of self and society, the irreversibility of time and contingency of the future, the failure of the attempts to reduce human affairs to Science which were the background of my early education, and more generally, the neglect of “practical philosophy” and “rhetoric”, the historical, contexted, embedded understanding of human reality.


Aboulafia, Mitchell, Philosophy, Social Theory, and the Thought of George Herbert Mead, SUNY, 1991.

p. 14
Mead (cited by Aboulafia):
When the new form has established its citizenship the botanist can exhibit the mutual adjustments that have taken place. The world has become a different world because of the advent, but to identify sociality with this result is to identify it with system entirely. It is rather the stage betwixt and between the old system and the new that I am referring to.

pp. 239-40
Sociality is the key concept for Mead, and it denotes a prevalent feature of reality. For Mead, we live in a universe of various physical, biological, and social systems, which undergo transformations. The introduction of something novel into a system can begin a transition from an old to a new system….. [H]uman beings, whether in taking specific roles or in being the totalities we call selves, not only change, they have the unique capacity to be aware of states of transformation. They are aware of their sociality. In other words, we are challenged by the environment, by the novel, and by the unexpected. We change and find out that we are not exactly who we thought we were.


Anderson, Perry, Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism, New Left Books, 1974, (citing Annales, March, 1932)

p. 173
Heckscher once commented that “countries of the second rank” had no right to expect their history to be generally studied. Arguing that “every historical study should lead either to the discovery of general laws or to the discernment of the mechanisms of a major evolution”, he concluded that the development of such lands as Sweden was only of significance insofar as it adumbrated or conformed to a wider international pattern. The residue could effectively be neglected: “let us not complicate the tasks of science unnecessarily.


Bateson, Gregory, Naven (2nd ed.), Stanford, 1958.

p. 262
I found that I could think of each bit of culture structurally; I could see it as in accordance with a consistent set of rules and formulations. Equally, I could see each bit as “pragmatic”, either as satisfying the needs of individuals as contributing to the integration of the society. Again, I could see each bit ethologically as an expression of emotion.

This experiment may seem puerile, but to me it was very important, and I have recounted it at length because there may be some among my readers who tend to regard such items as “structure” as concrete parts which “interact” in culture, and who find, as I did, a difficulty in thinking of these things merely as labels merely for points of view adopted either by the scientist or by the natives.

It is instructive too to perform the same experiment with such concepts as economics, kinship and land tenure; and even religion, language, and “sexual life” do not stand too surely as categories of behavior, but tend to resolve themselves into labels for points of view from which all behavior may be seen.

If “ethos”, “social structure”, “economics”, etc., are words in that language which describes how scientists arrange data, then these words cannot be used to “explain” phenomena, nor can there be “ethological” or “economic” categories of phenomena. People can be influenced, of course, by economic theories or by economic fallacies — or by hunger — but they cannot be influenced by “economics”. “Economics” is a class of explanations, not itself an explanation of anything.

p. 292
It is this fact — that the patterns of society as a major entity can by learning be introjected or conceptualized by the participant individuals — that makes anthropology and indeed the whole of behavioral science peculiarly difficult. The scientist is not the only human being in the picture. His subjects are capable of all kinds of learning and cinceptualization and even, like the scientist, are capable of errors of conceptualization.

p. 302
It is this rare possibility that is perhaps most fascinating in the whole field of learning genetics, and evolution. But, while in the most general terms it is possible to state with some rigor what sort of changes are here envisaged and to see the results of such progressive discontinuous change in, for example, the telencephalization of the mammalian brain, it is still totally impossible to make formal statements about the categories of parametric disturbances which will bring about these positive gains in complexity.

p. 302
Bateson, Gregory, Steps to an Ecology of Mind, Ballantine, 1972

p. xx
Characteristically, the scientist confronts interactive systems — in this case, an interaction between man and opium. He observes a change in the system — and the man falls asleep. The scientist then explains the change by giving a name to a fictitious “cause”, located in one or the other component of the interacting system. Either the opium contains a reified dormitive principle, or the man contains a reified need for sleep, an adormitosis, which is “expressed” in his response to opium….

The state of mind or habit of though which goes from data to dormitive hypothesis and back to data is self-reinforcing. There is, among all scientists, a high value set on prediction, and, indeed, to be able to predict phenomena is a fine thing. But prediction is a rather poor test of an hypothesis, and this is especially true of “dormitive hypotheses”.

p. xxii
The nineteenth-century scientists (notably Freud) who tried to establish a bridge between behavioral data and the fundamentals of physical and biological science were, surely, correct on insisting upon the need for such a bridge but, I believe, wrong in choosing “energy” as the foundation for that bridge. If mass and length are inappropriate for describing behavior, then energy is unlikely to be more appropriate. After all, energy is mass times velocity squared, and no behavioral scientist really insists that “psychic energy” is of these dimensions….

p. xxv
[M]y critical comments about the metaphoric use of “energy” in the behavioral sciences add up to a rather simple accusation of many of my colleagues, that they have tried to build a bridge to the wrong half of the ancient dichotomy between form and substance. The conservation laws of matter and energy concern substance rather than form. But mental processes, ideas, communication, organization, differentiation, pattern, and so on, are matters of form rather than substance.”

pp. 289-290
At this point, it is convenient to introduce the term “context marker”. An organism responds to the “same” stimulus differently in differing contexts, and we must therefore ask about the source of the organism’s information. From what percept does he know that Context A is different from Context B? In many instances there may be no specific signal or label which will classify and differentiate the two contexts, and the organism will be forced to get his information from the actual congeries of events that make up the context in each case. But, certainly in human life and probably in that of many other organisms, there occur signals whose major function is to classify contexts…. An audience is watching Hamlet on the stage, and hears the hero discuss suicide in the context of his relationship to his dead father, Orpheus. The audience members do not immediately telephone the police, because they have received information about the context of Hamlet’s context. They know that it is a “play” and have received this information from many “markers of context of context” — the playbills, the seating arrangements, the curtain, etc. etc., The “King”, on the other hand, when he lets his context be pricked by the “play within the play”, is ignoring many “markers of context”. At the human level, a very diverse set of events falls within the category of “context markers”. A few examples are here listed: (a) The Pope’s throne from which he makes announcements ex cathedra, which announcements are thereby endowed with a special order of validity. (b) The placebo, by which the doctor sets the stage for a change in the patient’s subjective experience. (c) The shining object used by some hypnotists in “inducing trance”. (d) The air raid siren and the “all clear”. (e) The handshake of boxers before the fight. (f.) The observances of etiquette.”

pp. 402-3
Of especial interest in this connection is the relation between context and its content. A phoneme exists only in combination with other phonemes which make up a word. The word is the context of the phoneme. But the word exists as such — only has “meaning” — in the larger context of the utterance, which again has meaning only in a relationship. This heierarchy of contexts within contexts is universal for the communicational (or “emic”) aspect of phenomena and drives the scientist always to seek for explanation in the ever larger units. It may (perhaps) be true in physics that the explanation of the macroscopic is to be sought in the microscopic. The opposite is usually true in cybernetics; without context, there is no communication. In accordance with the negative character of cybernetic explanation, “information” is quantified in negative terms. An event or object such as the letter K is a given position in the text of a message might have been any other of the limited set of 26 letters of the English language. The actual letter excludes (i.e. eliminates by restraint) 25 alternatives. In comparison with an English letter, a Chinese character would have excluded several thousand alternatives. We say, therefore, that the Chinese ideograph carries more information than the letter. The quantity of information is conveniently expressed as the log to the base 2 of the improbability of the actual event or object. Probability, being a ratio between quantities which have similiar dimensions, is itself of zero dimensions. That is, the central explanatory quantity. information, is of zero dimensions. Quantities of real dimensions (mass, length, time) and their derivatives (force, energy, etc.) have no place in cybernetic explanation. The status of energy is of special interest. In general in communicational systems, we deal with sequences which remember stimulus-and-response rather than cause-and-effect. When one billiard ball strikes another, there is an energy transfer such that the motion of the second ball is energized by the impact from the first. In communicational systems, on the other hand, the energy of the response is usually provided by the respondent. If I kick a dog, his immediate sequential behavior is energized by his metabolism, not by my kick.

pp. 408-9
But if we are asked: Where are such items of information as that: (a) “This is a message in English”; and (b) “In English, the letter K often follows the letter C, except where C begins a word”; we can only say that such information is not localized in any part of the text but is rather a statistical induction from the text as a whole (or perhaps from an aggregate of “similiar” texts.) This, after all, is meta-information and is of a basically different order — of a different logical type — from information that “The letter in this slot is ”K’.”

It is flatly obvious that no variable of zero dimensions can be truly located. “Information” and “form” resemble contrast, frequency, symmetry, correspondance, congruence, conformity, and the like in being of zero dimensions and therefore, not to be located. The contrast between this white paper and that black coffee is not somewhere between the paper and the coffee and, even if we bring the paper and the coffee into close juxtaposition, the contrast between them is not thereby located or pinched between them. Nor is the contrast located between the two objects and my eye. It is not even in my head; or, if it be, it must also be in your head…. In fact, information and form are not items which can be localized.

pp. 481-3
If we put Kant’s insight together with that of Jung, we create a philosophy which asserts that there is an infinite number of differences in this piece of chalk but that only a few of these difference make a difference. This is the epistemological basis for information theory. The unit of information is difference. In fact, the unit of psychological input is difference.

The whole energy structure of the pleroma — the forces and impacts of the hard sciences — have flown out the window, so far as explanation within the creatura is concerned. After all, zero differs from one, and zero can therefore be the cause, which is not admissible in hard science. The letter which you did not write can precipitate an angry reply, because zero can be one half of the necessary bit of information. Even sameness can be a cause, because sameness differs from difference.

Bateson, Gregory, Mind and Nature, Dutton, 1979.

pp. 131-4
Learning the contexts of life is a matter that has to be discussed. not internally, but as a matter of the external relationships between two creatures. And relationship is always a product of double description…..Relationship is not internal to the single person. It is nonsense to talk about “dependency” or “aggressiveness” or “pride”, and so on. All such words have their roots in what happens between persons, not in some something-or-other inside a person.


Bjelland, Andres, “Evolutionary Epistemology, Durational Metaphysics, and Theoretical Physics”, in Griffin, 1989.

p. 68
The past, as causally efficaceous, is immanent to the present; the present, though emergent and novel, conforms to, but is neither necessitated by nor identical with its past. The past is not so efficacious that it excludes the emergence of novelty; if it were, it would exclude its own character as past. The novelty of the present is not a novelty that excludes contextual conformation with the past, for the physical present is novel in virtue of, and not in spite of, elementary memory.”


Blumenberg, Hans, “An Anthropological Approach to the Contemporary Significance of Rhetoric”, in Baynes, Kenneth, Bohman, James, and McCarthy, Thomas (eds.), Philosophy: End or Transformation, MIT, 1987, pp. 429–458

p. 437
The axiom of all rhetoric is the principle of insufficient reason…. It is a correlate of the anthropology of a creature who is deficient in essential respects. If man’s world accorded with the optimism of the metaphysics of Leibniz, who thought that he could assign a sufficient reason even for the fact that anything exists at all, rather than nothing…. then there would be no rhetoric, because there would be neither the need nor the possibility of using it effectively.

p. 447
The decisive difference lies in the dimension of time; science can wait, or is subject to the convention of being able to wait, whereas rhetoric — if it can no longer be the ornatus of a truth — presupposes, as a constitutive element of its situation, that the “creature of deficiency” is compelled to act….. To see oneself in the perspective of rhetoric means to be conscious both of being compelled to act and of the lack of norms in a finite situation. Everything that is not force here goes over to the side of rhetoric, and rhetoric implies the renunciation of force.


Boulding, Kenneth, Beyond Economics, Michigan, 1970.

The basic difficulty seems to be that whereas in areas of physical and biological systems we have accepted long ago the inadequacy of folk knowledge and the necessity of scientific knowledge, in the field of social systems we have not yet reached that point…. No one will deny that wisdom is better than folly, that is, good folk knowledge is better than bad folk knowledge….. We live in a day when even the best wisdom is not far from folly, and a major intellectual effort in the field of social systems is going to be necessary if our trust in wisdom in the face of the lack of knowledge is not to betray us.” [Boulding overreaches and misses something important here].

BRAUDEL Braudel, Fernand, On History, Chicago, 1980.

p. 4
A perilous world, granted, but one whose spells and dangerous enchantments we will have exorcised by having charted those great underlying currents which so often run silently, and whose true significance emerges only if one can observe their working over great spans of time. Resounding events often take place in an instant, and are but manifestations of that larger destiny by which alone they can be explained.”

They have set us progressively farther along the path of transcending the individual and the particular event, a transcendence long foreseen, foreshadowed, glimpsed, but fully accomplisehd only in our time.”

P. 27
Take the word “event”: for myself I would limit it, and imprison it within the short time span; an event is explosive, a nouvelle sonnante (“a matter of moment”) as they said in the sixteenth century. Its delusive smoke fills the minds of its contemporaries, but it does not last, and its flame can scarcely ever be discerned.

p. 47
I myself, during a rather gloomy captivity, struggled a good deal to get away from a chronicle of those difficult years (1940-5). Rejecting events and the time in which events have taken place is a way of placing oneself to one side, sheltered, so as to get some sort of perspective, to be able to evaluate them better, and not wholly believe in them.”

p. 67
Like any historian I am attracted to the unique event…. Moreover, I believe that there must always be thousands upon thousands of such unique occurrences

Braudel: “ruptures”, p. 45; “rifts and reversals”, p. 46; “discontinuities”, pp. 73, 89.


Brown, Richard Harvey, “Reason as Rhetorical”, in Nelson et. al., citing Vico,
pp. 185-6
The imprudent scholars, who go directly from the universally true to the singular, rupture the interconnection of life. The wise men, however, who attain the eternal truth by the uneven and insecure paths of practice, make a detour, as it is not possible to attain this by a direct road; and the thoughts which these conceive promise to remain useful for a long time, at least insofar as nature permits.


Burke, Kenneth, On Symbols and Society, Chicago, 1989.

p. 63
I have discussed elsewhere what an eye-opener the chapter “The Idea of Nothing” was to me, in Bergson’s Creative Evolution. It jolted me into realizing that there are no negatives in nature, where everything is simply what it is and as it is. To look for negatives in nature would be as absurd as though you were to go hunting for the square root of minus-one. The negative is a function peculiar to symbol systems, just as the square root of minus-one is an implication of certain mathematical systems.

pp. 115-116
Even if any given terminology is a reflection of reality, by its nature as a terminology it must be a selection of reality; and to this extent it must also function as a deflection of reality….. Here the idea of deflection I have in mind concerns simply the fact that any nomenclature necessarily directs the attention into some channels rather than others….. When I speak of “terministic screens” I have particularly in mind some photographs I once saw. They were different photographs of the same objects, the difference being that they were photographed with different color filters. Here something so “factual” as a photograph revealed notable distinctions in texture, and even in form, depending on which color filter was used for the documentary description of the event being recorded.

p. 124
And the difference between a thing and a person is that the one merely moves, whereas the other acts. For the sake of argument, I’m even willing to grant that the distinction between things moving and persons acting is but an illusion. All I would claim is that, illusion or not, the human race cannot possibly get along with itself on the basis of any other intuition. The human animal, as we know it, emerges into personality by first mastering whatever tribal speech happens to be its particular symbolic environment.”

p. 189
The term “rhetoric” is no substitute for “magic”, “witchcraft”, “socialization”, “communication”, and so on. The term “rhetoric” designates a function which is present in areas covered for those other terms. And we are only asking that this function be recognized for what it is: a linguistic function by nature as realistic as a proverb, though it may be quite far from the kind of realism found in strictly “scientific realism”. For it is essentially a realism of the act: moral, persuasive — and acts are not “true” or “false” that in the sense that propositions of “scientific realism” are.

p. 237
But returning to the pun as it figures in the citation from Locke, we might point up the pattern as sharply as possible by observing that the word “substance”, used to designate what a thing is, derives from a word designating something that a thing is not. That is, though used to designate something within a thing, intrinsic to it, the word etymologically refers to something outside the thing, extrinsic to it. Or otherwise put: the word in its etymological origins would refer to an attribute of the thing’s context, since that which supports or underlies a thing would be part of the thing’s context. And a thing’s context, being outside or beyond a thing, would be something that the thing is not.
[“substance” <– “sub + stand” = “stand under; foundation”]

Campbell, Donald T., “Evolutionary Epistemology”, in The Philosophy of Karl Popper, ed. Schilpp, Open Court, 1974.

1. A blind-variation-and-selective-retention process is fundamental to all inductive achievements, to all genuine increases in knowledge, to all increases in fit of system to environment. 2. In such a process there are three essentials: (a) Mechanisms for introducing variation; (b) consistent selection processes; and (c) mechanisms for preserving and/or propagating the selected variations. Note that in general the preservation and generation mechanisms are inherently at odds, and each must be compromised. 3. The many processes which shortcut a more full blind-variation-and-selective-retention process are themselves inductive achievements, containing wisdom about the environment achieved by blind variation and selective retention. 4. In addition, such shortcut processes contain in their own operation a blind-variation-and-selective-retention process at some level, substituting for overt locomotor exploration or the life- and- death winnowing of organic evolution.”

Campbell, Donald T., “Variation and Selective Retention in Sociocultural Evolution”, in Social Change in developing Areas, Barringer, Blankster, and Mack, etc, Schenkman, 1965

pp. 26-7
Today, the most exciting current contribution of Darwin is in his model for the achievement of purposive or ends-guided processes through mechanisms involving blind, stupid, unforesightful details. In recent years…. Ashby, Pringle, and others have pointed out anew the formal parallel between natural selection in organic evolution and trial-and-error learning. The common analogy has also been recognized in many other loci, as in embryonic growth, wound healing, crystal formation, development of science, radar, echolocation, creative thinking, etc.

Code, Murray, Order and Organism, SUNY, 1985.

pp. 98-9
It is my contention that to do philosophy in a manner minimally compatible with the demands of commonsense realism is to be concerned primarily with whether or not one’s conceptual apparatus provides sufficiently solid ground upon which to construct a plausible and adequate story, as opposed to an objectively true, complete, and final account. This entails the rejection of a common belief which is deeply ingrained in Western philosophy, that we will find in logic the ultimate underpinnings of rational philosophizing.

pp. 200-1
Whitehead’s conception of perception conforms to the general tenet of holism that final truth is not attainable, at least not if the act of cognition is conceived as primarily embedded in the world as a dynamic entity. In the actual world, everything is just what it is, and the relations between things just what they are, but not everything can be understood all at once.

p. 205
One of the most notable casualties in the ranks of notions which have traditionally occupied the forefront of the quest for certain and secure knowledge is that of proof. Its importance cannot now be taken for granted. Indeed, Whitehead suggests that the human demand for proof merely illustrates how uncertain and tentative is human apprehension of the patterns of order in the world. This is because an act of understanding is the attempt to apprehend and coordinate a “succession of details of self-evidence” …. Thus proof is not essentially a procedure by which truth is established and understanding thereby granted. Rather, it is the process whereby the self-evident is disclosed to finite minds. It is thus a “feeble second-rate procedure”.

Cook, Gary, “The Development of G. H. Mead’s Social Psychology” (in Aboulafia)

pp. 94-5
For the task of subjective consciousness, as we have seen, is to introduce novelty into a situation in which the old has broken down, and this can be accomplished only by a consciousness which is not essentially tied to the world of accepted meanings and objects…. It is here “in the construction of the hypotheses of the new world, that the individual qua individual has his functional expression, or rather is that function.

Crutchfeld, James P., Farmer, J. Doyne, Packard, Norman H., and Shaw, Robert S.: “Chaos”, Scientific American, December, 1986

pp. 46-57
The existence of chaos effects the scientific method itself. The classic approach to verifying a theory is to make predictions and test them against experimental data. If the phenomena are chaotic, however, long-term predictions are intrinsically impossible….. Chaos brings a new challenge to the reductionist view that a system can be understood by breaking it down and studying each piece…. Chaos demonstrates, however, that a system can have complicated behavior that emerges as a consequence of simple, nonlinear interactions of only a few components…. For example, even with a complete map of the nervous system of a simple organism, such as the nematode studied by Sidney Brenner of the University of Cambridge, the organism’s behavior cannot be deduced. Similiarly, the hope that physics could be complete with an increasingly detailed understanding of the fundamental physical forces and constituents is unfounded….. Chaos is often seen in terms of the limitations it implies, such as a lack of predictability. Nature, however, may employ chaos constructively…. Innate creativity may have an underlying chaotic process that selectively amplifies small fluctuations and molds them into macroscopic coherent mental states that are experienced as thoughts. In some cases the thoughts may be decisions, or what are perceived to be the exercise of will. In this light, chaos provides for a mechanism that allows for free will within a world governed by deterministic laws.

Daly, Herman, and Cobb, John, For the Common Good, Beacon, 1989.

p. 122
The shift proposed here…. is away from the ideal of a deductive science.

p. 123
We are proposing the dethroning of the disciplinary organization of knowledge. We are proposing in particular a non-disciplinary economics.

p. 124
Marshall stated, sincerely no doubt, that the dominant aim of economics was to “contribute to the solution of social problems”…. Yet the relation of his work to that end was quite indirect. This is because he allowed his task to be determined for him by the discipline and not by the social problems.

p. 125
[T]he organization of knowledge in the university is such as to work against its contribution to the broad human need for understanding…. It does not prevent members of university faculties from themselves using knowledge in ways that promote understanding. But it does work toward minimizing rather than maximizing those contributions.

p. 126
Those shaped by the disciplinary organization of knowledge generally speak and act as if the disciplines additively covered the whole range of what is to be known. This assumes that the real world is made up additively of the elements and aspects into which it has been divided by the disciplines.

Fingarette, Herbert, Confucius: The Secular as Sacred, Harper, 1972.

p. 14
What we have come to see, in our own way, is how vast is the area of human existence in which the substance of that existence is the ceremony. Promises, commitments, excuses, pleas, compliments, pacts — these and so much more are ceremonies or they are nothing. It is thus in the medium of ceremony that the peculiarly human part of our life is lived….. The ceremonial act is the primary, irreducible event; language cannot be understood in isolation from the conventional language that defines and is part of it. No purely physical motion is a promise; no word alone, independent of ceremonial context, circumstance, and roles, can be a promise.

Foucault, Michel, Power/Knowledge, Pantheon, 1980.

pp. 84-5
What types of knowledge do you wish to disqualify in the very instant of your demand “Is it a science?” Which speaking, discoursing subjects — which subjects of discourse and knowledge — do you then want to diminish when you say “I who conduct this discourse am conducting a scientific discourse, and I am a scientist”?

p. 118
Effects of truth are produced in discourses which in themselves are neither true nor false .

p. 132
The regime of truth is the ensemble of rules according to which the true and the false are separated and specific effects of power attached to the true.

Friedman, Milton, Essays in Positive Economics, Chicago, 1953.

Positive economics is in principle independent of any particular ethical principle or normative judgements. As Keynes says, it deals with “what is” and not with “what ought to be”.

p. 5
Its task is to provide a system of generalizations that can be used to make correct predictions about the consequences of any changes in circumstances. “I venture the judgement, however, that currently in the Western world, and especially in the United States, differences about economic policy among disinterested citizens derive primarily from different predictions about the economic consequences of taking action — differences that can in principle be eliminated by the progress of positive economics — rather than from fundamental differences in values, differences about which men can ultimately only fight.

p. 6
If this judgement is valid, it means that a consensus on “correct” economic policy depends much less on the progress of normative economics proper than on the progress of a positive economics yielding conclusions that are, and deserve to be, widely accepted.

p. 8-9
Viewed as a body of substantive hypotheses, theory is to be judged by its predictive power for the class of phenomena which it is intended to “explain”. Only factual evidence can show whether it is “right” or “wrong”, or better, tentatively “accepted” as valid or “rejected”. As I shall argue at greater length below, the only relevant test of the validity of a hypothesis is the comparison of its predictions with experience.

p. 14
Misunderstandings about this apparently straightforward procedure centers on the phrase “the class if phenomena the hypothesis is designed to explain”. The difficulty in the social sciences of getting new evidence for this class of phenomena and judging its conformity with the implications of the hypothesis makes it tempting to suppose that other, more readily available evidence is equally relevant to the validity of the hypothesis — to suppose that the hypotheses have not only “implications” but also “assumptions” and that the conformity of these “assumptions” to “reality” is a test of the validity of the hypothesis different from or additional to the test by implications. This widely held view is fundamentally wrong and productive of much mischief…. Truly important and significant hypotheses will be found to have “assumptions” that are wildly inaccurate descriptive representations of reality, and, in general, the more significant the theory, the more unrealistic the assumptions (in this sense).

p. 25
For example, the difference in shape of the body can be said to make fifteen pounds per square inch significantly different from zero for a feather, but not for a compact ball dropped from a moderate distance.” p. 19 “In seeking to make science as “objective” as possible, our aims should be to formulate the rules explicitly insofar as possible and continually to widen the range of phenomena for which it is possible to do so. But, no matter how successful we may be in this attempt, there will inevitably remain room for judgement in applying the rules. Each occurrence has some features particularly its own, not covered by explicit rules. The capacity to judge that these are or are not to be disregarded, that they should or should not affect what observable phenomena are to be identified with what entities in the model, is something that cannot be taught; it can be learned, but only by experience and exposure to the “right” scientific atmosphere, and not by rote. It is at this point that the “amateur” is separated from the “professional” in all sciences and that the thin line is drawn which distinguishes the “crackpot” from the scientist.

p. 33
A fundamental hypothesis of science is that appearances are deceptive and that there is a way of looking at or interpreting or organizing the evidence that will reveal superficially disconnected and diverse phenomena to be manifestations of more fundamental and relatively simple structure…. Any assertion that economic phenomena are varied and complex denies the tentative state of knowledge that alone makes scientific activity meaningful.

Gardner, Martin, The New Ambidextrous Universe, Freeman, 1990.

Complex [imaginary] numbers, Penrose is convinced, have a powerful life of their own. They are as “real” as real numbers, and absolutely essential for understanding relativity theory, quantum mechanics, or any more fundamental theory that some day may include both theories.

Gallie, W.B., “Essentially Contested Concepts”, in Black.

p. 123
Further, I shall try to show that there are disputes, centered on the concepts which I have just mentioned, which are perfectly genuine: which, though not resolvable by argument of any kind, are nevertheless sustained by perfectly respectable arguments and evidence. This is what I mean by saying that there are arguments which are essentially contested, concepts the proper use of which inevitably involves endless disputes about their proper uses on the part of their users.

p. 142
Recognition of a given concept as essentially contested implies recognition of rival uses of it (such as oneself repudiates) as not only logically possible and humanly “likely”, but as of permanent potential critical value to one’s own use or interpretation of the concept in question; whereas to regard any rival use as anathema, perverse, bestial, or lunatic means, in many cases, to submit oneself to the chronic human peril of underestimating the value of one’s opponents’ positions.

Georgescu – Roegen, N., The Entropy Law and the Economic Process, Harvard, 1971.

p. 49
One dialogue after another proves that although Plato was bothered by the difficulties of the definition in the case of many concepts, he never doubted that in the end all concepts can be defined. Very likely Plato — like many after him — indiscriminately extrapolated the past: since all defined concepts have at one time been concepts by intuition, all present concepts by intuition must necessarily become concepts by definition.

p. 63
The reason that compelled Plato to exclude all qualitative change from his world of arithropomorphic ideas is obvious. The issue of whether motion too is excluded from this world is not discussed by Plato. But we can be almost certain that he had no intention — for there was no need for it — of conceiving that world as motionless. He thus implicitly recognized that an arithropomorphic structure is incompatible with qualitative change but not with locomotion, even though he admitted that change consists of either.

p. 122
Risk describes the situations where the exact outcome is not know but the outcome does not represent a novelty. Uncertainty applies to cases where the reason why we cannot predict the outcome is that the same event has never been observed in the past and, hence, it may involve a novelty.

Gergen, Kenneth, and Davis, Keith, eds., The Social Construction of the Person, Springer-Verlag, 1985. Gergen, Kenneth, “Social Constructionist Inquiry” (in Gergen and Davis).

p. 12
The explanatory focus of human action shifts from the interior reason of the mind to the processes and structure of human interchange. The question “why” is answered not with a psychological state or process but with the consideration of persons in relationship.

p. 15
To the extent that psychological theory (and related practices) enter into the life of the culture, sustaining certain patterns of conduct and destroying others, such work should be evaluated in terms of good and ill. The practitioner can no longer justify any socially reprehensible conclusion on grounds of being a “victim of the facts”; he or she must confront the pragmatic implications of such conclusions within society more generally.

Gleick, James, Chaos, Viking, 1987.

p. 14
Such an intelligence, LaPlace wrote, would embrace in the same formula the greatest bodies of the universe and those of the lightest atom; for it, nothing would be uncertain and the future, as the past, would be present to its eyes.

p. 298
“Arnold Mandel…. went even further on the role of chaos in physiology. “Is it possible that mathematical pathology, i.e. chaos, is health? And that mathematical health, which is the predictability and differentiability of this kind of structure, is disease?”.

Gould, Stephen Jay, Wonderful Life, Norton, 1989

p. 48
I call this experiment “replaying life’s tape”. You press the rewind button and, making sure to thoroughly erase everything that actually happened, go back to any time and place in the past — say, to the seas of the Burgess Shale. Then let the tape run again and see if the repetition looks at all like the original. If each replay strongly resembles life’s actual pathway, then we must conclude that what really happened actually had to occur. But suppose that the experimental versions all yield sensible results strikingly different than the actual history of life?

p. 51
I believe that the reconstructed Burgess fauna, interpreted by the theme of replaying life’s tape, offers powerful support for this view of life: any replay of the tape would lead evolution down a pathway radically different from the pathway actually taken. But the consequent differences in outcome do not imply that evolution is senseless, and without meaningful pattern; the divergent route of the replay would be just as interpretable, just as explainable after the fact, as the actual road. But the diversity of possible itineraries does demonstrate that the eventual results cannot be predicted at the outset….. [This approach] represents no more nor less than the essence of history. Its name is contingency — and contingency is a thing unto itself, not the titration of determinacy by randomness.

Griffin, David Ray, ed., Physics and the Ultimate Significance of Time, SUNY, 1989.

Relativity physics has shifted the moving present out from the superstructure of the universe, into the minds of human beings, where it belongs. (citing F.C.W. Davies, 1976, p. xii.)

Relativity is a theory in which everything is “written” and where change is only relative to the perceptual mode of human beings. (citing Costa de Beauregard, 1966, p. xii).

The great danger in these restricted enterprises is success. Success in one’s own particular practice convinces him that he has got his hands on the primary reality. And therefore the more he will argue that other visions of reality are to be tested by one’s own particular discipline. (“Introduction”, p. 23, citing Nathaniel Lawrence)

In the modern period, the dominant assumption among those seeking explanations has been that the actual world is composed of entities whose reality is exhausted by their appearances, their effects. What they are in themselves is not thought to be essentially different from what they are for others. (In “Bohm and Whitehead on Wholeness, Freedom, Causality, and Time”, p. 147)

Gunnell, John, Political Philosophy and Time, Chicago, 1987.

p. 112
When Herodotus, speaking through Croesus, warns that “there is a wheel on which the affairs of men revolve and that its movement forbids the same man to be always fortunate”, he is not implying that history is caught in a cycle of cosmic revolution and eternal return, for he understands the course of man’s life as a linear succession of days, each of which is unique, leading on to death; “man is wholly accident”.

p. 232
For the Greeks, this is mortality: to move along a rectilinear line in a universe where everything, if it moves at all, moves in a cyclical order.” p, 114 “If then human life [history] is a circle, and a circle has neither beginning nor end, we should not be “prior” to those who lived at the time of Troy nor they “prior” by being nearer to the beginning.

p. 234
The analysis of the “now” and the idea of time as number apply primarily to the type of change which Aristotle…. restrictively defines as locomotion; that is, movement from place to place as distinguished from absolute change, which involves creation and loss of substance and changes of quality and quantity.

p. 236
Finally, even beyond the notion of time as the dimension of change, Aristotle comes to regard time as a destructive force; things made by man or nature remain stable or persist only to the extent to which they overcome time which carries all things away.

p. 241
For Plato and Aristotle history had a meaning only insofar as it was the realm of disorder and decay.

p. 249
For much of political philosophy from Plato to Rousseau society or the subpolitical realm appeared as the great beast to be tamed by the imposition of political order. Society was the realm of anxiety, instability, uniqueness, and temporality; it was the scene of necessity, the arena of the passions, and the root of human disorder. Despite the intellectual gulf which separates Plato and Rousseau, both ultimately understood the political as a means of containing society and abolishing history

Harre, Rom, The Social Construction of the Emotions, Blackwell, 1986.

The Language Game of Self-ascription”, (in Gergen and Davis, eds., pp. 259-263).

pp. 260-2
What does this tell us about the point of view of using the first person, say in English the pronoun “I”? To understand its use in avowals one can compare its behavior with that of the expressions “here” and “now”, the indexicals of place and time….. These expressions index a speech in its own location by virtue of our knowledge of the time and place of utterance. In a similiar way “I” and other pronouns are indexicals, fixing the content by our knowledge of who is speaking or of whom something is being spoken. A sentence with an indexical includes more information than the corresponding statement with a proper name in it (or in the case of place and time indexicals, geographical references)….. Using the theory of indexicals we can give a more detailed account of first-person avowals. The speech act “I can see a tarantula in the wash basin” is not an ascription of a state of seeing to some mysterious person, myself. It is an avowal of information, knowledge, or belief, indexed to me…. What sort of concept is the self? By putting the question this way we can avoid, perhaps indefinitely, the need to answer the question, “What sort of thing is the self?” In the natural sciences there is a class of concepts that seem to perform very much the same role as the self performs in commonsense psychology. These are the theoretical concepts that obey the general grammatical rules of empirical concepts in that they behave like referring expressions, but whose referents are for some reason problematic and remain hypothetical. It may be that the putative referent is a dubious existent relative to the dominant metaphysics like absolute space and time. Such terms unify scientific discourse by serving as the grammatical subject of ascriptions, allowing us to express the clustering of properties and dispositions into systems. The content of those terms is often created by analogies with the content of terms that do have empirical referents. The logical grammar of the term “self” is something like that of “gluon” and not like that of “elephant”…. Considered form this point of view, to be a self is not to be a certain kind of being but to be in possession of a certain kind of theory.

Harre, Rom, Personal Being, Harvard, 1984.

p. 8
For individualists, the deepest problem is how intersubjectivity is possible and their great philosophical problem is that of our knowledge of other minds; for collectivists, the deepest problem is how individuality is created in so thoroughly social a world. For the former, the individual is given and the social being is constructed; while for the latter, collective being is given and personal being is an achievement.”

Harteshorne, Charles, Insights and Oversights of Great Thinkers, SUNY, 1983.

p. 185
In all his thought Kant expected laws to be absolute, rather than approximate or statistical. He was a Newtonian, subject to the limitations of the seventeenth-century view of science. Yet Kant knew that such ethical principle as “be helpful to others” cannot tell us specifically what to do. So he called them “imperfect duties”. Creative freedom is thus subtly disparaged.

p. 301
There is nothing in logic to show that “every event has its necessary conditions” entails “every event has its sufficient conditions”.

Harteshorne, Charles, Creativity in American Philosophy, Paragon, 1984.

Process philosophy takes creative becoming rather than mere being as the inclusive mode of reality…. Process philosophy takes becoming as creative in precisely the sense in which determinism denies creativity. Creativity is the production of new definiteness. It is the ultimate or universal form of emergence. For strict determinism, the definiteness of the world throughout all time is already settled and the future seems indefinite only because of ignorance. The notion of timeless truths about particular events has the same implication. For Whitehead…. reality is in the making and classical determinism is false. We human beings (in some degree, all creatures) are helping define a new reality otherwise not fully definite.

Harteshorne, Charles, Whitehead’s Philosophy, Nebraska, 1972.

pp. 85-6
Every event contains more or less determinate desires, expectations, fears, purposes, hopes, and these involve generality, indetermination as to the exact details which may fulfill or disappoint or somehow be relevant to them. The planned or feared event as outlined in the plan or fear is never so individually definite as the event which comes to pass at the time in question, and this greater definiteness of the subsequent event remains exactly that, no matter how complete the preservation of the earlier event. Indeed, it is only if the preservation is complete that the precise indeterminations of the past in its hopes and fears can be retrospectively seen for what they were when present. On the other hand, the fulfillment or disappointment, felt as such, of a purpose or hope includes the memory of the purpose or hope, plus details not foreseen in the anticipatory state and not contained in it as preserved in memory, as to how things “came out”. Clearly logic allows the asymmetric relationship required. A can be in B though B is not in A. In fact, there would otherwise be no distinction between general and particular; for the general is that which does not imply other things unless they are of equal generality, whereas the particular contains the general as an abstractable feature. Why should not this asymmetrical structure of universal-particular be essentially an aspect of the structure of time?…. The foregoing doctrine can be expressed as the contention that “the cause is never equal to the effect”, the latter always being the richer. If my hat requires God and God requires my hat (at least as an illusion or “appearance”), the logical status of the one is as dependent or independent as the other.

Independence means asymmetrical contingency (or asymmetrical determinism”; the noninvolvement of the effect on the cause….

p. 126
Is there any freedom of indeterminacy in reality? Yes, and in all cases, since events never strictly depend upon or imply their precise successors. And here Whitehead furnishes perhaps the neatest, strongest argument for freedom ever proposed. The subject prehends not one but many prior activities…

p. 157
Entailment is not necessarily (or normally) reversible.

p. 163
Whitehead’s indeterminism is implicit in what has been said. If the new unity were deducible from the old, it would logically be no addition at all, and the degree of multiplicity would not be “increased”. Any causal laws used for the deduction must be viewed as mere abstract aspects of the previous multiplicity; and in any case, how can a law prescribe just how a set of items is to be embraced in an equally new unitary item?

p. 169
Each such entity prehensively sums up it predecessors (but not its successors). This asymmetrical organicity was first made into a formal, clearly stated category (so far as I know) in Process and Reality.

p. 175
Causal conditions limit what can happen to a more or less narrow range of possibilities. Thus what happens is always more determinate than the conditions imply.

Hexter, J.H., Reappraisals in History, Harper & Row, 1961

p. 194
What mainly determined the way historians split up history during the past century was a ridiculously adventitious set of circumstances: the way in which public authorities and private persons tended to order the documents which it suited their purposes to preserve…. The supreme illustration of the artificial bais on which these kinds of history rested is the existence side by side of diplomatic history, military history, and naval history. No one has ever much improved on Clausewitz’s defintion of warfare: “War is a mere continuation of policy by other means.” So if ever three human activities were ever inextricably bound together, they are diplomacy, land warfare, and naval action. Yet only rarely did historians write about them together. The archives and publications of source materials on those three matters tended to be separated…. and instead of a coherent account of the interrelated uses of all the instruments of policy or power by which that nation defended or expand itself, we got a chapter called “Foreign Affairs” another marked “The Army and the Wars of….” and a third marked “The Navy”. Thus was attained the reductio ad absurdum of a mode of dividing the past that never made sense and was never intended to do so. ”

p. 202
[A]nd this means that if there should be a historical revolution even remotely comparable in its dimensions the the scientific revolutions of three centuries ago, it would be a revolution without Keplers or Galileos or Newtons. Once historians give up the dream of discovering the universal laws of historical change — and this seems to be the prime condition of any new departure in the writing of history — they give up with it the hope of the kind of massive breakthrough that has taken place several times in the natural sciences — with Newton, Lavoisier, Darwin, Planck, Einstein, or Morgan, to cite only the most obvious examples.

Hexter, J.H., The History Primer, 1971, Chicago.

p. 45
What the erroneous notion of historians and others that prediction of the future is impossible boils down to is (1) that total prediction of the future is impossible; (2) that precise prediction of many future events is impossible; (3) that among the future events not precisely predictable are especially those that from a sense of anxiety and uncertainty, itself a consequence of this unpredictability, men most desire to predict precisely’ ; but (4) the prediction of future events is not only often possible but is often accurate, precise, and important; (5) and that historians and others have deluded themselves on this point not because such predictions are rare and unimportant, but because although very important indeed, they are both easy and commonplace.

p. 257
Indeed, we seem to conceive the past as the human past, and to conceive of man as man, only at the point in time when an idiosyncratic primate began to behave unnaturally, that is, in a way in which nothing in nature ever behaved before.

p. 274
Sporadically and unsystematically in this primer we have collided with parts of the enterprise that philosophers of natural science undertook in a heroic effort to fit history into their cosmos. In less than three decades this enterprise has traversed the route from the classical simplicities of Hempel’s earliest essay on history in 1941 to a dense and almost inpenetrable proliferation of complications, alterations, amendments, and modifications — the logical positivist’s equivalent of the epicyles, eccentrics, and equants of Greek cosmology and astronomy. What originally bore the innocent appearance of a quick and easy solution to a small but annoying problem in the philosophy of science gradually grew to the point that it absorbed the intellectual energies of considerable numbers of intelligent and technically proficient men and where it commanded most of the professional attention of a number of such men over spans of several years. The outcome has not been happy. The assimilation of history to the mode of discourse or rhetoric of the natural sciences simply did not happen.

p. 290
The reliance of history on common sense presages and brings us to the final concern of this primer, which is the obverse — the possible role of history in the regeneration of common sense.

Howard, Nigel, Paradoxes of Rationality, MIT, 1971.

p. xx
We say that rational behavior consists of choosing the alternative one prefers. Adherence to this simple principle leads us, however, to point out that people are not rational. First, sometimes two people can’t both be rational (our first breakdown). Second, sometimes both are better off if they are both irrational (our second breakdown). These facts are well known to game theorists — who, however, have generally preferred to change the definition of rationality, often making it abstruse and hard to accept, rather than to admit that the concept has “broken down”. Our third breakdown, however, appears not to have been noticed before. It is described in section 6.4, where a theorem is proved (Theorem 9) to the effect that to be rational in two-person games is usually to be a sucker.

Hurley, Patrick, “Time in the Earlier and the Later Whitehead”, in Griffin.

p. 90
We must distunguish language that is used to describe the model and its construction from language that describes the data that the model is intended to interconnect. The former may otherwise be termed “systematic languages”, and the latter, “presystematic languages”


Illich, Ivan, Gender, Pantheon, 1982.

P. 62
[T]he researcher who wants to avoid the bias implicit in a central perspective ought to identify himself clearly as one engaged in research that is disciplined, critical, well-documented, and public, but emphatically non-scientific. Only non-scientific research that uses analogy, metaphor, and poetry can reach for gendered reality.

Kelsen, Hans, “Causality and Retribution” in What Is Justice?, California, 1960.

p. 305
The law of the arche here established a monarchia, and arche means not only “beginning” but also “government” or “rule”. It is surely no accident that the philosophy of nature flourished at a time when the influence of oriental despotisms was gaining strength in Greece.

p. 307
Here for the first time in the thinking of mankind the notion of an immanent law which governs the whole of the universe is comprehended. But, though generalized, it is still essentially the law of retribution.

p. 314
And if in Demokritos, and elsewhere in the old natural philosophy, aitia means cause, one must not forget that this word originally mean “guilt”.

p. 316
The problematical character of the statement that the cause must be equal to the effect, and vice versa, is also evident in the related idea that a cause has only one effect and that an effect is traceable to only one cause…. “Cause and effect are”, as Goethe said, “an indivisible phenomenon”. That we nevertheless separate them from one another, even oppose them to one another, that we purposely isolate from the continuous chain of innumerable elements two alone as the cause and the effect which is imputable to the cause alone, is due to the age-old habit of interpreting nature according to the principle of retribution. This principle connects only one event, characterized as wrong, with another event, the punishment, likewise precisely determined and clearly separated chronologically from the first.

p. 321
If one sees the essence of the law of causality in the fact that it determines the future, even if only for a Laplacean intelligence, one confirms, perhaps unconsciously, the normative origin of the law of causality.


Klamer, Arjo, Conversations with Economists, Rowman and Allanheld, 1984. (Robert Solow speaking):

p. 128
I found that whenever Talcott Parsons…. talked about something concrete, like the way doctors deal with their patients, he was full of fascinating insights, but as soon as he began to generalize, even I, as an ignorant 18-year-old, found it too vague…..

p. 144
I think that that is one of the reasons why classical economics did so well: it is so technically sweet; it involves all those sophisticated techniques. Students have to learn something new that other people don’t know.

Kline, Morris, Mathematics: The Loss of Certainty, Oxford, 1980.


Kripke, Saul, Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language, Harvard, 1982.

p. 142
[W]e do not pity others because we attribute pain to them, we attribute pain to them because we pity them. (More exactly: our attitude is revealed to be an attitude toward other minds in virtue of our pity and related attitudes.


Lafargue, Michael, The Tao of the Tao Te Ching, SUNY, 1992.

p. 245
The basic meaning of Tao is “road, way”, and its most basic metaphorical meaning is best captured in the English phrase “the right way”. Tao was a generic concept, designating something that the speaker regarded as normative, but the content fluctuated as there was no general agreement among ancient Chinese about what exactly is the right way of doing things.


Laslett, Peter, (in Hexter, 1961, “Foreword”)

“Now it is natural, though it may not be justifiable, to suppose that great events have great causes.”


Ladurie, Emanuel LeRoy, The Territory of the Historian, Chicago, 1979.

p. 130.
An event can be a means of innovation, an accidental transition as it were — governed by remote factors, and with delayed action in time — from one structure to another.


Lennon, Kathleen, Explaining Human Action, Duckworth, 1990

p. 104
Arguments which establish that mental (construed as intentional) kinds cannot be reduced to physical kinds do not necessarily rule out psycho-physical laws, and therefore do not necessarily rule out causal explanation at the intentional level.

p. 122
The causal explanatory theorist who is an anti-reductionist therefore accepts intentional kinds as natural kinds, but argues that natural kinds at one level of description need not be reducible to natural kinds at some other level, even where the further level may be ontologically more fundamental. A consequence of this position, is that if we were to abandon our psychological mode of classification we would both lose a way of capturing law-like generalizations which transcend those expressible in purely physical vocabulary. Thereby we would lose a way of capturing some of the real structural features of the world.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s