Re: Is vs. Ought (was: A Physicist Experiments With CulturalStudies)

Robert J. Bradbury (
Tue, 23 Nov 1999 14:03:21 -0800 (PST)

On Sun, 21 Nov 1999 wrote:

> I don't by any means wish to discourage "amateur" discussion (in fact, it's
> one of the things I value most about this forum), but history and politics
> are DEEP subjects. Yes, there's a lot of hogwash that gets propagated in
> these fields (just as there is in economics and art), but it's not all
> hogwash, by any means. For good or bad, rigorous science ISN'T yet possible
> in the study of human history, politics and law (and may never be), but that
> doesn't mean that one can't find some truth, if only a relative and
> contingent truth.

While history & politics could be subject to "rigorous science" using computer technology and/or simulations, I question whether law, or art could be.

It is said that the historians, "write" history and that seems true. However, in the face of future "perfect" records of history, that becomes false. In the face of specific and exact records of history and the ability to process all the information, the interpretations of the historians become much less significant. Presumably, there is some review process by which those individuals who "accurately" condense the information become recognized as authorities. The chaos effects (mentioned by Damien) limits the accuracy of these in interpretations but that is where simulations might provide missing data. With abstract models of the human mind, historians could create "simulated" Hitlers or Sadaams with various mental prioritizations. Those that result in the reality we have documented would be presumed to be the most explanatory. This extends further into politics (as we now see where candidates don't stand for anything other than what the people want to hear as determined by the pollsters.

Now, law and art may be much less tractable.

Law seems to have highly specific historical, cultural, technological (e.g. evidence) and scientific (e.g. "expert" witnesses) aspects. The variety of chaotic variables may put it beyond "rigorous science" (though it may be entirely rational) and perhaps force it into the realm of limited simulations.

Art, seems to have passed through the phase of "rigorous science", where the artist was simply learning and expressing the reality of perception (e.g. the "physics" of art)). Art seems to have gone through some interesting "observer" stages (realism, e.g. Thoreau or William Dean Howells in literature, or impressionist artists in painting).

Greg/Natasha, if you read this -- have/should Law & Art be subject to some absolutes (akin say to the Hippocratic Oath in medicine) or have they become (and/or will they continue to be) subject to the whims or desires of the client/purchaser? (i.e. a system in which the value is market driven rather than "rationale acceptance" driven?)