Archive for December, 2009

Barzun on Toulmin

December 15, 2009

From the Foreword to Foresight and Understanding: An Enquiry into the Aims of Science:

To know what science is, what it does, and how it affects other manifestations of mind is a task for the man who is at once critic, historian, and philosopher, and who has also been trained in one of the sciences as well as mathematics. Professor Toulmin, who is qualified in these ways, has the added merit of being a lucid and lively writer.


The process of finding out

December 10, 2009

From W. H. Auden’s After Reading a Child’s Guide to Modern Physics:

This passion of our kind
For the process of finding out
Is a fact one can hardly doubt,
But I would rejoice in it more
If I knew more clearly what
We wanted the knowledge for,
Felt certain still that the mind
Is free to know or not.

From William James to James J. Putnam

December 7, 2009

To James J. Putnam.
CAMBRIDGE, Mar. 2, 1898.

DEAR JIM,—On page 7 of the “Transcript”; tonight you will find a manifestation of me at the State House, protesting against the proposed medical license bill.

If you think I enjoy that sort of thing you are mistaken. I never did anything that required as much moral effort in my life. My vocation is to treat of things in an all-round manner and not make ex-parte pleas to influence (or seek to) a peculiar jury. Aussi, why do the medical brethren force an unoffending citizen like me into such a position? Legislative license is sheer humbug — mere abstract paper thunder under which every ignorance and abuse can still go on. Why this mania for more laws? Why seek to stop the really extremely important experiences which these peculiar creatures are rolling up?

Bah! I m sick of the whole business, and I well know how all my colleagues at the Medical School, who go only by the label, will view me and my efforts. But if Zola and Col. Picquart can face the whole French army, can’t I face their disapproval? — Much more easily than that of my own conscience!

You, I fancy, are not one of the fully disciplined demanders of more legislation. So I write to you, as on the whole my dearest friend hereabouts, to explain just what my state of mind is. Ever yours,

W. J.


December 1, 2009

When I consider the infinite ways in which human life is subject to accident, sickness, chance, and violence, and when I consider how many things must combine during the year to produce a good harvest, nothing surprises me more than to see an old man, a good year.
—Francesco Gucciardini