Between Science and Literature: An Introduction to by Ira Livingston

By Ira Livingston

A shift in how we comprehend the realm and ourselves, additional displacing the nature/culture divide as soon as so definitive for modernity

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Some famous examples of such a logic can be found in what has since been called homeopathy (the doctrine that cures work by virtue of resemblances between medicine and symptom) or in the Renaissance paradigm of the “Great Chain of Being” (the set of interlocking resemblances supposed to rule between microcosm and macrocosm, particularly the common hierarchical structures supposed to order the individual, the family, the commonwealth, and the cosmos). Where modernity would come to see the most fundamental differences, the Renaissance saw resemblances—for example, between the sexes, which were conceived as different not in kind but in degree: women were merely “cooler” and less perfect men, men turned inside out; ova were simply female sperm, and even menstruation was merely a special case of the many ways all bodies purge excesses of various fluids, which themselves were not fundamentally different but capable of transmuting into each other.

No—and I challenge anyone to prove to the contrary” (160). I am more inclined to think that the failings and fudgings of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (and of structuralism broadly) must be part of a package deal, the blind spots with which it had to pay for its insights about the contingency of scientific knowledge and the recognition that any given framework enables certain kinds of ideas at the expense of excluding others—Kuhn’s own framework being no exception. After all, even for its most conservative and progressivist boosters, science itself is arguably a series of just such brilliant mistakes, since to be scientific at all an idea must be falsifiable and since arguably every past scientific idea or theory has been falsified or displaced or relativized every bit as much as we should hope (for the sake of progress) our current ideas will be.

Philosophical knowledge might still be said to reside in the margins (the transitions and interstices between and among species), but the margins would at least be all over the place. Philosophy would no longer fly or stand, like a bird of prey, talons clutching the flesh of a dying age, but would ride, more or less a part of every transaction, like a ubiquitous virus. Like the angel in the film Wings of Desire, it would have to give up its transcendent perspective for a lowlier and more transient but more participative role.

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