THE IDEA OF A UNIVERSITY AS SEEN BY A RHETORICIAN
Wayne C. Booth
The 1987 Ryerson Lecture
The University of Chicago
Introduction by Hanna Gray
It is not often that a student of rhetoric faces an occasion that falls as neatly into his professional domain as this one falls into mine. The Ryerson lectures were designed as occasions for what the founders did not call ecumenical rhetoric, discourse designed to bring together a community that is always tempted by modern forces to fall apart. I think I can claim, though with considerable anxiety, to be the first for whom this moment is a kind of setup: I am in effect invited to talk with you, a predetermined audience, about what the very existence of such a rhetorical occasion might mean. That is scarcely a comforting thought: it puts me on the spot in ways even more threatening than were faced by my threatened predecessors. As classical rhetoricians taught, the easiest way to guarantee failure with any perceptive audience is to be seen in advance as an expert in rhetoric. More is properly demanded where more is professed, and you can understand why I see troubles ahead.
My first problem lies of course in the very word "rhetoric." I was tempted, as I have often been in the past, to define that slippery term once and for all, but I have resisted, even though to grapple with its ambiguities would illustrate beautifully why Ryerson lecturers are notoriously nervous nellies. Just how much time should a lecturer spend claiming that, like Humpty Dumpty, he is to be the boss of definitions? Should I say, "Rhetoric on this occasion will not mean merely the art of winning, right or wrong, nor will it mean the clever use of bombast and trickery?" Should I insist that it will not even be the faculty, as Aristotle puts it, of "finding the available means of persuasion on any occasion?" Ted Schultz has recently advised me to abandon the sleazy term altogether and substitute something like "philosophy of discourse" or "theory of communication." But to abandon the term "rhetoric," with its long honorable history, just because it often suggests shoddy practices, would be like abandoning the term "philosophy" just because people talk about "the philosophy of tennis coaching," or abandoning the word "science" just because Mary Baker Eddy and the scientologists have borrowed it for their purposes. Rather than defining it or abandoning it, suppose we just put a big question mark by whatever your own definition would now be. You may or may not, by the end, want to apply the term "rhetorical study" to what we will have been doing.
Ibegin with a question that the very existence of these lectures forces upon us, no matter what our fields: How is it that we can gather hopefully here, year after year, to listen to one another tell about our special work, when we know in advance that most of us most of the time have no real hope of understanding the special work of most of the rest of us? The Trustees established the Ryerson series, with the special help of the Ranneys, on the assumption that it would be a good thing if specialists lectured "to an audience from the entire university on a significant aspect" of their research. They did not say, "Please talk down to that audience," or "Kindly choose some peripheral and general question of social, political, or ethical importance." No, we are asked to speak as specialists--and to make ourselves understood.
The Trustees obviously assumed that we professors ought to be able to talk with our colleagues about what we do and why we do it. They must have assumed that everyone who professes a subject, any subject, no matter how esoteric, ought to be able to say something intelligible about it, or through it, or with it, to the non-specialist. Clearly they hoped for something more than a series of merely ceremonial occasions, pious gatherings of hypocrites only pretending to listen. They assumed that we could follow John Simpson, say, talking of extending "space science and exploration to the third dimension--that is, to travel out of the ecliptic plane"; or Karl Weintraub talking about an "empathetic and sympathetic understanding of the past," an understanding that "gives us the burden of relative and relativized knowledge"; or Stephen Toulmin talking about "the inwardness of mental life"; or Saunders Mac Lane talking about how a mathematician deals with "fuzzy sets"; or George Stigler talking about the disharmony between sound economic principles and unsound economic practice; or--but I need not go on. You already know that the list is threateningly diverse. If we face its diversity honestly, we must wonder just how much understanding can occur across our disciplinary borderlines. Our hosts assumed that we are, in some sense, at some level, a university, a community of inquirers who have managed to maintain some kind of message center or telephone exchange.
Imust now risk shocking those of you who do not know the academy from the inside, and risk boring those of you who do, by dwelling for a bit on some of the more obvious reasons for doubting these assumptions. I ask you who are professors whether we do not have overwhelming daily proof that no one of us can understand more than a fraction of the frontline work of the rest. We are all simply shut out of almost all front parlors but our own, permitted only to do a little polite begging at the back door: "Please, sir, please give a poor beggar just a slice of nuclear physics to keep me warm, just a tiny portion of paleontology to keep up my illusion of keeping up, just a touch of cosmology--the new anthropic principle, say--to help me survive the next cocktail party." We don't like to talk about it, but we know that even Ryerson lecturers fail, at least partially, with most of their auditors. One Ryerson lecturer who has come to all of these lectures told me that he has understood only about half of what has been said: "I grasped almost nothing in a couple of lectures," he said, "about a third in half of them, two-thirds in a few of them, and all in only one--my own."
Shocking as such a fact might seem from some perspectives, no serious scholar is likely to be at all surprised by it. Centuries have passed since that fabled moment--was it in the eighteenth century, the late seventeenth?--when the last of the Leonardo da Vincis could hope to cover the cognitive map. Since that fatal moment, whenever it was, everyone, even that polymath down the hall who is said to "know everything," has been reduced to knowing only one or two countries on the intellectual globe, granting all the other countries only the most superficial of Cook's tours.
Perhaps some of you here once shared the naive ambition that my wife and I pursued, long before we met each other. Wanting to know everything, we set out to read every book in the closest available library. Though both of the libraries were fortunately very small, neither of us made it even to the "M"s, let alone the "Z"s. And our fate is an emblem for the condition we all live in. It isn't that we don't try. The academy attracts those who aspire to omniscience. We are the kind who would like others to say of us what young Christopher Tietjens' friend says of him, in Ford Madox Ford's Parade's End: "Confound you, Chrissie. You know everything" (1950, p. 19). Tietjens is at the time making a list, from memory, of errors in the new edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. But not long afterward part of Tietjens' brain, and all of his hubris, are shattered by a bomb blast in the Great War, and he is reduced, in utter humiliation, to a pathetic attempt to memorize the very encyclopedia he had once scorned. Arriving at the K's, he finds, under "Koran," the saying, "The strong man when smitten is smitten in his pride'' (170). It is precisely in our pride that we are smitten, when for one reason or another we discover just what a pitifully small corner of the cognitive world we live in. Though we can sympathize with Tietjens' impulse, we all know that even his original sense of universal mastery, as a young genius, was illusory. Not only can no one fully understand what any good encyclopedia contains, the encyclopedias themselves are almost uniformly inadequate and misleading; ask any expert in a given field whether a reading of the encyclopedia entries in that field can educate even the cleverest of readers to genuine competence. And if this is true of our collective enterprises like encyclopedias, how much truer it is of each of us as we try individually to figure out what on earth goes on in neighboring subjects, across the hall or on the other side of the quad.
In short, the painful truth we voracious students discover, at twenty, or forty, or sixty, is that what we sometimes call the knowledge explosion has left us all ignorant of vast fields of knowledge that every educated man and woman ought to have mastered. Is it any wonder that we tend to be defensive in debate, sure that our next class or public lecture will reveal the fatal truth: we are ignoramuses, and since we call ourselves professors, scholars, even doctors, we risk exposure as frauds.
Perhaps I exaggerate. There may be in this room a few polyphilomathematico wizards who can carry on a plausible conversation with experts in as many as--shall we say ten fields?--ten out of the hundreds listed in the faculty directory? (I started counting them, but soon realized that I didn't know enough in many areas even to tell what would constitute a field. Take a look sometime at the listings under "Argonne National Laboratories" or the "Department of Behavioral Sciences.") It is no doubt true that many of us can give journalistic accounts of black holes, marginal utility, polymorphous perversities, ekphrastic poetry, and the oft-repeated rise, over about twenty centuries, of the bourgeoisie. But for even the most learned among us, the circle of what we might call participatory understanding does not extend very far.
During the past few months, I've been asking colleagues in various disciplines about just how much they understand of other people's work, using the following test: Could you, given a week's warning, read an article or book in a given field and then enter into a serious dialogue with the author, at a level of understanding that the author would take as roughly comparable to his or her own? The answers varied widely in ambition and persuasiveness, not to say chutzpah, but you won't be surprised to learn that no one claimed to be able to understand more than a fraction of what our colleagues publish. Some were embarrassed by their confessions; most were not. Some confidently blamed the bad writing in other fields. But all confessed.
We would expect such confessions (or disguised accusations), when the fields are obviously far apart: humanists don't usually claim to meet mathematicians where they live; botanists freely confess to bafflement about particle physics. But I was a bit surprised to find that hardly anyone claims to understand all of the work even within the home department. One philosopher told me that there is simply no one at this University, inside his department or out of it, who can understand his work; he is the lone inhabitant of his tiny cognitive land. His circle of fellow-understanders consists of four or five similarly trained folk scattered around what we might call the known world. Another philosopher tells me that he could understand, given a week's lead time, perhaps 80 percent of what his fellow philosophers publish. He believes that perhaps even more than 80 percent of them could talk with him about his work--"Not,'' he adds, ''that they would have really understood it, but at least we might be in the same ball park." A world-famous mathematician tells me that he cannot follow the proofs offered by most mathematicians; each sub-group of mathematicians has become so specialized that the other sub-groups are unable to understand them, if by understanding we mean being able to appraise, with full personal confidence, the validity of the proofs and thus the soundness of the conclusions. The editor of a journal in biology says that he expects to understand about 50 percent of the articles he publishes, and he adds, "I work harder at that task than most of my colleagues." The editor of a chemistry journal understands 50 to 80 percent of the articles he chooses to publish, but he "gets" hardly anything in most of the neighboring chemistry journals.
Obviously what my respondents have said depends on a relatively rigorous definition of "understanding." We surely ask more of ourselves than simply being able to respond, after taking in the opinions of others, with a plausible summary and an offer of our own plausible opinions. If we are to do justice to the question I am raising, we should at least for a while adhere to a more rigorous definition of true understanding, something like this: I have understood you if and only if I can say to you, "Yes, but," and say it in a form that will lead you in turn to accept both my "yes" and my objections, not just my claim to have "got" your point but my claim to have got it so well that I can raise an objection to it that you in turn must take into account. It is not enough for me to say to Professor Chandrasekhar, for example, "Oh, yes, I understand the theory of black holes. Black holes are inconceivably dense concentrations of matter; they are so dense that their gravitational force sucks in everything within range, including any photons that happen to be around, so that no light, and indeed no particles or waves of any kind, can ever emerge and therefore no information can come to us. That's why they're called black holes..." You and I could go on like that, without even having to look anything up; that kind of understanding of black holes, or cost-benefit analysis, or ethnomethodology, or thick descriptions, or the double helix, is in the air, like a lot of other half-baked opinions we might pick up from reading The New York Times or Scientific American. I might even think I had understood black holes well enough to look the professor boldly in the eye and add a clever reservation, like this: "But what I think you've got wrong, Professor, is that according to my notion of how scientific constructs work, black holes must be considered to be no more than plausible pictures, with no necessary connection with anything we might call the reality behind the pictures...." And so on. Even if my earlier description was roughly on the right lines, which is unlikely, Professor Chandrasekhar cannot possibly respond either to my report, or to my reservations, with anything warmer than a friendly smile as a reward for trying. I could not possibly challenge him to the point of his saying, "Yes, you've taken the point of my most recent article; you have convinced me that you are a good judge of its quality, and I therefore must take your reservations into account. Let's inquire into your objection further." But if I cannot claim that kind of understanding, in what sense do I live in the same university that honors Professor Chandrasekhar's achievements?
Lest you think I am indicting others on my own behalf, I here present myself as an extreme but by no means unrepresentative example of the ignorant professor. I now serve as third reader on a dissertation being written by a young man in South Asian Studies. He is writing about a group of Indian poets, translating their poems and doing a critical poetics of their kind of poetry. Of course I cannot read the poems in the original, and I have not yet read all of his translations. What's worse, I have never read a single critical work by the non-western critics he deals with. What on earth, then, am I doing on that committee?
Is it any wonder that when one eavesdrops on a group of experts in a given field, talking about experts in other fields, one hears a lot of contemptuous dismissal? Just listen to the chemists talking about the biologists, the biologists talking about the clinical M.D.s, the surgeons and internists complaining about one another, the humanists talking about the social scientists, and the economists talking about everybody.
Roger Hildebrand provides what is for me the climax to my survey as he talks about his switch a few years ago from particle physics to astrophysics. To us outsiders, that might look like a small leap, really a shift within the same general field, as compared with the distance, say, between art history and chemistry. But Roger says that he had to spend the equivalent of about three full years "becoming a graduate student again" before he could feel some confidence in a dialogue with front-liners in his new field--before he could judge the importance of a new article in that field. Just think how much work would be required if he decided once again to shift to microbiology, say, or constitutional law.
It is no doubt true that as we move across campus to the "softer" social sciences, through history and on to the even floppier software occupying the brain-pans of us humanists, we find a somewhat enlarged circle of those who at least claim to understand one another. The non-quantitative historians have told me that they can understand all of the good work of other non-quantitative historians. Most computer-armed prosopographers claim to understand the work of other cliometricians, and of course they claim to understand all the "easy" work of narrative historians--at least well enough to be suspicious of their inherently soft results. Lawyers all tell me that they can understand the legal arguments of all good lawyers. The cultural anthropologists say that they can understand everything worth reading in the social sciences. But when I press these various representatives, asking the lawyers whether they really understand the so-called critical realists, asking the cultural anthropologists whether they understand the quantitative sociologists, and so on, they often fall back on invective: "Those people are not doing true law or true anthropology." Or: "That gang have been badly trained."
Perhaps the largest circle of those who claim to understand one another would be found in English and other modern language studies. Hundreds of thousands of us profess to understand just about anything that falls into our hands. But when we look more closely at humanistic claims to membership in large circles of understanding, they appear pretty feeble. After all, in the quantitative and mathematical sciences, people tend to recognize when they have not understood one another. But we students of the human tend to think we have understood when we have not.
Here, for example, is the opening of a chapter by Jacques Derrida, perhaps the philosopher now most influential on literary studies:
What about the voice within the logic of the supplement? within that which should perhaps be called the "graphic" of the supplement? Within the chain of supplements it was difficult to separate writing from onanism. Those two supplements have in common at least the fact that they are dangerous. They transgress a prohibition and are experienced within culpability. But, by the economy of differance [deliberately spelled with an "a," as a special term], they confirm the interdict they transgress, get around a danger, and reserve an expenditure. (1976, 165)
Now I have worked for about a decade to become comfortable with the recondite language in which that passage is written, and I think I sort of understand it. Unlike some of my more traditional colleagues, I am utterly convinced that it is not nonsense, though it is somewhat less opaque in the original French. Still, if I were to study the chapter that follows it carefully and then write a summary, the chances are about ninety-nine to one that Derrida would not say of it, "Bravo: you have understood." Just ask yourself how you have felt about the typical review or reader's report on your own carefully-wrought opus. My own response to reviews is often, "How could anyone but a moron misunderstand me so badly?"
Let me offer now a true story that summarizes our plight. Each year a committee is appointed in the Social Sciences Division to decide on the award of the annual Galler prize for the best dissertation done during that year. A couple of years ago an economist on the committee, after reading the submissions from other fields, announced that a dissertation from economics that he would now submit was superior to all the others and should get the prize. The other committee members insisted that before granting his case they should have a chance to read it and compare it with the others. "No," he said, "that's impossible. You could not possibly understand it." "But how can we judge," they insisted, "if we are not allowed even to see the work?" He remained adamant, and when they refused to award the prize to a dissertation that they were not even allowed to see, he withdrew himself, and the dissertation, from the competition. He tells me now that the Department of Economics no longer even considers submitting dissertations for the prize, because they are sure that the non-quantitative "literary"' types--the historians and anthropologists--simply could not recognize high quality in economics if they saw it.
Though that is clearly an extreme case, it helps make the point that even if we could create a university inhabited solely by geniuses, geniuses who unlike most actual geniuses were full of an infinite goodwill toward and determination to understand one another's disciplines, geniuses who would accept the assignment to work on our problem, we would find that under modern conditions of inquiry, conditions that we have no hope of changing fundamentally, none of them could come to an understanding of more than a fraction of what the others would take to be real knowledge.
Must we not admit, then, in all honesty, that we are indeed a pack of ignoramuses, inhabitants of some ancient unmapped archipelago, each of us an island--let John Donne preach as he will--living at a time before anyone had invented boats or any other form of inter-island communication?
Iassume that many of you have long since wanted to protest against my picture. We all know that the islands are not in fact totally isolated, that somehow we have managed to invent communication systems. Though it may be true that on each island we speak a language not fully intelligible on any other, and though it may be true that some of the islands conduct active warfare against some of the others, and though some islands are in a state of civil war, the fact is that somehow we do manage to talk with one another and come to judgments that we are convinced are not entirely capricious. We write interdepartmental and even interdivisional memos, we indite letters of recommendation at breakneck speed and in appalling numbers, purporting to appraise the quality of colleagues whose work we don't know beans about. We appraise other scholars according to what we take to be high standards, even when we ourselves cannot state literally what the standards are. We pass judgment upon one another whenever promotion is at stake, and we seem not to suffer intolerable anxiety about our decisions. Even more shocking, in view of the plight I have described, we ask our deans and provosts and presidents to approve our judgments, and even grant the right to reverse them, implying that somehow somebody can be competent to judge work in all fields. Finally, we busy ourselves with a great deal of what we call interdisciplinary work: degree-granting committees like Ideas and Methods, imperialistic fields like Geography, Anthropology, English, and Rhetoric, conferences and workshops galore. None of us really thinks that all of these operations are totally fraudulent. We act as if our discussions and conferences and tenure decisions make real sense. Do they?
How do we actually work as we run those of our affairs that depend on some kind of understanding different from the one I have applied so far? Do we work, as some say, only according to blind trust of friends and mistrust of enemies? Do we work according to guesses only? Are we, as some would claim, simply servants of money and power? In what sense, if any, do we employ a kind of reasoning and proof--knowledge and genuine understanding under any definition--that we might point to without shame?
After my informants of the past months have confessed their ignorance, I have asked them to tell me how they in fact operate when judging colleagues whose work they do not understand. All of them have said something like this--though never in this precise language: "We are by no means fraudulent, because we have available certain rational resources that your definition of understanding leaves out. We have learned to make use of our knowledge [one professor even called it wisdom] about character and how to appraise character witnesses; we have learned how to read the signs of quality even in fields where we cannot follow the proofs. We have learned how to determine whether a referee is trust-worthy, and we have learned something about how to judge the quality of a candidate's thinking, just by the way he or she writes and speaks." They have not gone on to say, though I wish we could have shared this language: "You see, what all this means is that we are experienced both as practitioners and students of--rhetoric.''
When I press them further with the question, "Do you make mistakes with this kind of thinking?'' the answer is always ''Yes, sometimes.'' But nobody I've talked with has claimed that the process depends on a trust that is utterly blind, totally a matter of non-rational power-grabs or log-rolling or backscratching or money-grubbing. Everyone, absolutely everyone, has played into this rhetorician's hands by claiming to employ a kind of thought that is not identical with the thinking we use when proving conclusions in our front-line inquiry--and yet a kind that is still genuine thought.
Of course nobody has claimed that we offer our rhetorical proofs to each other and test them as well as we ought; indeed my main point today is that we could all employ them better, and thus improve our quality as a University, if we all studied how such peculiar yet rational persuasion works. But even in our fallen condition, even as we in our imperfection now operate, we do not perform our personal and administrative judgments on indefensible, non-scholarly grounds; we perform those judgments on grounds that are considered non-scholarly only by those who think that all knowledge is the kind yielded by front-line specialties-only by those who embrace uncritically the criterion for understanding, and thus of knowledge, with which I began. If knowledge is confined to what experts discover at the front-line, and if understanding is confined to participation in full dialogue at the front-line, then we operate ourselves without knowing what we do and without understanding each other. If we know and understand only what we can prove--with empirical observation, or with statistics, or with rigorous logical deduction--we will never know whether a colleague is worth listening to or promoting unless we ourselves can follow his or her proofs, in detail, and then replicate them. All else is dubious, all else is guesswork, all else is blind faith.
But one thing we all know is that we know more than that criterion implies. Though unable to tell for ourselves whether the new mathematical proof is indeed new and indeed a proof, we learn how to consider, with the eye of non-specialists, both the rhetoric of scholarship that we cannot hope fully to understand, and the rhetoric offered us about the scholar, the arguments offered by those who give us some reason to trust or mistrust their judgment as specialists.
We all thus implicitly aspire to mastery in three kinds of rhetoric, leading to three kinds of understanding, not just one. There are first the many and diverse rhetorics peculiar to each of our various front-lines. Here each small group of experts relies on what Aristotle called special topics of persuasion, the often tacit convictions that are shared by all within a discipline and that are therefore available in constructing arguments within the field: the assumption, say, that photographs of bubble chambers and their interpretations can somehow be relied on, or the conventional agreements about how to deal with normal curves and chi squares, about the proper use of graphs, about what makes a sound equation or a sensitive report of poetic scansion or a convincing analysis of sonata form in a symphony. Though these assumptions shift over time, they can at any given time be relied on, without argument in their support, as we construct our arguments to our peers. I'll risk offending some of you by dubbing this stuff and its workings "rhetoric-1." If calling it "hard proof" will make you happier, feel free; but few specialists will want to claim that they or their successors will find themselves fifty years from now relying on the same tacit assumptions, leading to the same conclusions, that they share today.
There is secondly a kind of rhetoric that we share with members of every functioning organization or society: businesses, governments, clubs, families--the whole range of plausible or probable beliefs and modes of proof that make the world go round. Think of it as what even the most rigorous of scientists must rely on when testifying before a government committee. Here we rely on the common, or general topics: "more of any good thing is better than less of it--usually"; ''it's wrong to lie, at least to friends and colleagues''; ''loyalty matters"; ''actions that usually produce bad consequences should be avoided." Obviously many of these are included in everyone's notion of "common sense": what makes sense in any argument.
Though the common topics are indispensable in every domain, they are especially prominent in our running of the University whenever we must appraise character. We all have a little storehouse of beliefs about character that we have to rely on, water or less efficiently, whenever we read a letter of recommendation or predict the future behavior of a colleague in order to grant or deny tenure. Such common topics, "commonplaces," crop up in all public debate, as a Senator Sam Ervin said of Nixon that it was not at all unlikely that a man who has lied when under oath would lie when not under oath. "It is probable that someone who has failed to carry through on her previous research plan will fail in this one; turn her down." "Ah, yes, but she was deep in the anguish of a divorce then, and she's changed a lot. I say give her the grant." "Well, but her strongest supporter is Professor Smiler, who has usually been drawn in his predictions that young colleagues are late bloomers. Why should we believe him in this case?" "The truth is that Louise and Harry used to live together, and they had an angry breakup. I think--though we must say nothing of it in public--that we cannot trust his negative judgment on her scholarly ability."
Rhetoric-2 is thus the set of resources available in the functioning of all organizations, not just of universities. Arbitrageurs and government officials function or fail to function depending on whether the trust they yield to their CEOs and Marine sergeants and Marine colonels and admirals is justified. We similarly succeed to the degree that our trust is granted when it should be, withheld when it should not be. The ease with which rhetoric-2 can be abused accounts largely for why rhetoric has always had, and probably always will have, a bad press. Philosophers and moralists have often wished that it would just go away--but of course they express the wish for a purer world in the only language available to any of us when we press our wishes on the world: rhetorical argument.
There is, thirdly, a kind of rhetoric that is neither as special as the first nor as general as the second, a rhetoric relying on shared topics that are proper or special only to those within a university, but to all within that university, not to any one special group. We have no name for this peculiar stuff that we all to some degree share, but call it the rhetoric of inquiry, or of intellectual engagement. We learn how to judge whether the arguments in fields beyond our full competence somehow track, whether the style of presentation somehow accords with standards we recognize. We learn to sense whether a colleague, even in a quite remote field, seems to have mastered the tricks of the trade--not just the trade of this or that kind of economist or philosopher, but the tricks of this whole trade, the trade of learning and teaching for the sake of learning and teaching. One often hears, in the Quadrangle Club, not just the contemptuous comments I have mentioned about fools and knaves but comments like this: "What a mind that man has!" "What a pleasure to argue with that woman--she never misses a stroke!" :He always seems to have just the right analogy to make his point." "Have you noticed how you always come away from a conversation with him having to think through the problem in a different way?"
All three of these rhetorics are of course highly fallible. Even our many versions of rhetoric-1 are notoriously unstable, as I have already implied, shifting in threatening ways from decade to decade and field to field. But the second and third are much more obviously fallible, indeed staggeringly so. Tough-minded appraisal of characters and witnesses through close reading of letters of recommendation and reader's reports, close listening during telephone calls and hallway conversations, careful appraisal of past records of performance--these are all dangerously unreliable, partly because a proper use of the topics is easily imitable by charlatans. If this were not so, we would not have so many successful frauds in every field. The Piltdown hoaxer, the Cyril Burts, the Darseys, the unqualified but practicing surgeons, the undiploma-ed lawyers--all the hoaxers of our world succeed as they do because they have mastered the surface conventions of all three rhetorics and through that mastery have collected or forged references testifying to high quality. We read about so many successes in this burgeoning field of pseudoscientific conning that we are in danger of forgetting the solid and indispensable base of merely probable inferences on which it rests. The breakdowns in the system depend on a process that by its very necessities--the practice of producing sound conclusions from rhetorical proofs--build in the certainty that some frauds will succeed. But this is not to say that we, their dupes, could not protect ourselves better if we would study rhetoric as hard as we study lab techniques, say, or formal logic.
Again and again I have been told by my informants that "it's not really very hard to tell competent work from incompetent, even if you know nothing about the details and cannot replicate the argument or experiment." And when I then ask, "How do you do that?" I am told--never in this language--that "I do it using rhetorics-2 and -3." One editor told me, "Even when I know little or nothing about a special field, I can tell just by the opening paragraphs whether a would-be contributor is at least competent." What does that mean, if not that he claims to judge the author's skill in rhetorical conventions shared with other fields: skill in saying what needs saying and in not saying what should not be said; skill in implying a scholarly ethos appropriate to the subject; skill in avoiding moves that give away the novice; and so on. Though the practice and appraisal of such skills is chancy, if we ruled them out we could not operate for a day without disaster. Most of our journals would have to be scrapped, most of our grants and awards would have to be eliminated, and the University would have to surrender to total balkanization or even tribal warfare, becoming not a university at all but a multiversity, a mere collection of research institutes warring for funds.
We can see how rhetorics-2 and -3 work, in a genuine university, by probing the grounds for our belief about the quality of any one of our more distinguished colleagues. I believe, for example, that George Stigler is really a very good economist. I would bet my next month's salary on my belief that when Stigler does economics, he works at the highest levels of competence in his field (at least on his good days), and that in doing so he is not simply playing an esoteric power game but is actually pursuing one genuine kind of knowledge. But what's my evidence? Every bit of it, when taken by itself, is extremely chancy rhetorical inference, some of it of the second, some of the third kind, none of the first. I cannot really understand his front-line work, but when I dip into it I find enough similarities with work I do understand to give me some slight confidence. Still, my views of it are scandalously shallow. But then I start adding other bits. I've had some private conversations with George about the assumptions of economics as a field--highly general conversations, those, with me trying to put him on the defensive but always ending on the ropes, and thus increasingly impressed. Similarly our talks about literature and campus politics have impressed me considerably about the general quality of his reasoning, though I certainly don't trust them much in themselves, since they tell me nothing directly about his work as an economist. I find myself admiring his more popular stuff, as in The Economist as Preacher; not only is he a master of English style, but he offers dozens of signs that he belongs to a community of economists who respect him. Still, such reading in itself cannot tell me very much about his work as an economist. I can add to these his Nobel prize, but the fact is that it doesn't impress me much more than it probably impresses him; we all know that Nobel committees make grotesque mistakes. The seemingly uniform esteem of his local colleagues counts most for me, but it could not in itself settle the issue; obviously whole departments and whole fields can misjudge quality. Finally, the fact of his election by his colleagues to various important University committees can again carry only slight weight, in itself.
But note that all of these weak clues point in the same direction, and they all come to a head when I hear other economists who are said to be good--note well that phrase--say that George Stigler is good and is said to be good. Each reason for trust is in itself slight; it could be shaken quite easily by counter-testimony from someone I trust as much as I trust these witnesses--if I could find someone. It could be shaken if I discovered some obviously incompetent logic in his Ryerson lecture--his foray into rhetoric-3. But after I have added them all together, it would take a good deal of contrary evidence to make me doubt his competence. What may be even more important, the half-comprehension that I gain by all of this peripheral activity adds to my own intellectual life. I take part, at a great distance, even in Stigler's reasoning about economics, and I even dare from time to time to quarrel with him, ineffectually, about that weird first principle of his, the belief that people's behavior can be fully explained as the rational calculation of individual costs and benefits.
The relative weight of the three rhetorics varies from field to field, committee to committee, occasion to occasion. I once served on the Board of University Publications, and in the early spring we faced that annual ordeal, the decision about which of our colleagues should receive the Laing prize for a distinguished book. We had all read the major reviews of each eligible book. We had all in addition been invited to read all of the books, though I doubt that anyone had done so. Then, after preliminary balloting (based mainly, you see, on the rhetoric-3 of the reviews we had read) we were asked to read with special care those books that seemed prime contenders. In the preliminary balloting that followed, several books came out ahead of Sewall Wright's collected essays. I can remember that I had read at--I think that's the right expression--read at several of the essays in that monumental collection, working away dutifully because the reviews had uniformly described Wright and his book as of major importance. The essays seemed authoritative to me--that fairly small portion of them that I could understand at all. The logic, where I could follow it, made sense. The language carried authority. I found, after reading at four or five of the essays, that I was admiring the character who emerged from the various projects; to me, relying almost entirely on rhetoric-3, it seemed obvious that this man was a serious, responsible, highly intelligent scientist. But I simply had no way of detecting for myself whether his results were either original or sound or worthy to be influential, let alone worthy of the Laing prize. So, like most of the members of that board, I did not on the first round vote for Wright as number one, though he was in my highest category. Rather, I voted for authors about whom I felt much more sure, because I could follow their rhetoric-1.
Then in our final meeting a curious thing happened. Our late colleague, Arnold Ravin, spoke at some length about the true importance of Wright's work. As I remember his eloquent appeal, it went like this: "You must believe me when I tell you that this is a major collection by a major figure, a genius who has transformed his field again and again. Believe me, though you yourselves cannot be expected to see the quality in these essays, this book is head-and-shoulders above the others on our list." Now here is where this anecdote diverges from my story of the economist and the Galler prize. We argued back, and Ravin attempted to meet our arguments. He gave another speech, longer and with different examples, with more testimonial quoted from other biologists, and with a repeated claim that since none of the rest of us were biologists, we were just not qualified to grasp the full cumulative importance of this record of a life's work. Finally, after an hour or so of debate, we voted decisively to give the prize to Sewall Wright, an author whose work only one person in the room could fully understand. And we had no positive evidence even of that: we had only' Ravin's words as evidence that even he had understood Wright.
We voted, you see, mainly on the basis of powerful rhetoric of kinds two and three. We trusted the rhetorician because his arguments made sense to us, because they harmonized with what the other experts had told us, because they were not contradicted by what little we could infer from our own efforts at reading the essays themselves, and because we had reason to trust the judgment and integrity of Arnold Ravin. [After this lecture a biologist friend said, "You know, Arnold Ravin could not have really understood Wright's work." "Do you mean," I asked, "that we were wrong in listening to him?" "Oh, no; you were right, because he was right. But he was himself depending more on rhetorics-2 and -3 than you realized." -WCB] Some of his rhetoric-2 arguments would have worked equally well in an insurance company's boardroom. His passion, for example, was not mere passion: it became hard evidence, because we felt that Ravin was not the kind of man who would fake passion like that, and passion like that could not be aroused except by an exceptional case. (So much, by the way for the still fashionable inclination to contrast reason and emotion; a powerful emotion, carefully appraised, can often be the hardest of evidence in this kind of reasoning.) But some of his arguments were special to this special kind of place. For example, he argued that Wright had in fact been mainly instrumental in creating a new discipline--language that would make no sense in a business context. And I remember his saying that if someone a hundred years from now wanted to know both the state of that discipline and the special problems and methods it encountered, the book would still live. So we all came to a choice that in retrospect still seems to me eminently sound, though I would not be shattered if some other work, neglected by us in those final moments, turned out later to be more important than Wright's.
Would we have done better to tell Arnold Ravin, "All that is mere rhetoric. We must vote only on and for those books that we ourselves can understand"? To say "no" to that route requires us to believe that there is a real difference between sound and unsound rhetorical appeals, that there is a whole domain of knowledge--uncertain, chancy, elusive knowledge but knowledge nonetheless--that is not only important in the awarding of prizes and promotions but in the day-to-day intellectual life of the University. Not only does every hiring and firing, every promotion, every establishment of a new department or elimination of an old one, every choice of a dean or president, depend on such topical reasoning. Our very survival depends on the preservation of and effort to improve our quest for that kind of knowledge--that is to say, our repertory of rhetorical practices and norms. We depend on appraising the testimony and authority and general ethos of other people as they appraise the testimony and authority of still others, who in turn depend on others...and no one can say where these circles of mutual trust end, except of course when societies and universities destroy themselves by losing the arts of determining when trust is justified.
Philosophers of science like Michael Polanyi and Rom Harré have argued that even the "hardest" sciences, even physics and chemistry and mathematics, do not depend mainly on the application by each individual of so-called scientific method to all beliefs, doubting every proposition until it has been shown to be falsifiable and yet not falsified. Instead, they say, each individual scientist survives as scientist by virtue of indeterminately large networks of critical trust, based largely on the sharing of what I am calling rhetoric-3. Each of them must rely, as you and I do, on broad ranges of belief that no one of us could ever hope to demonstrate independently. As Polanyi puts it, we are all inherently "convivial," dependent for our intellectual bases as we are in our physical lives, on living together. We live, as he puts it, even as specialists, in "fiduciary" structures that we have not constructed and could never construct on our own.*
* (Footnote: "[W]hat earlier philosophers have alluded to by speaking of coherence as the criterion of truth is only a criterion of stability. It may equally stabilize an erroneous or a true view of the universe. The attribution of truth to any particular stable alternative is a fiduciary act which cannot be analysed in non-committal terms [that is, it depends on prior commitment to some enterprise shared with others].... [T]here exists no principle of doubt the operation of which will discover for us which of two systems of implicit beliefs is true--except in the sense that we will admit decisive evidence against the one we do not believe to be true, and not against the other. Once more, the admission of doubt proves here to be as clearly as act of belief as does the non-admission of doubt" (1958, 294).)
What we have arrived at here is a picture radically different from that archipelago of islands forced to remain incommunicado. We need another picture of how we relate as specialists. Those who worry about those lonely islands too often take as an ideal the impossible notion of getting more people to add more and more specialties, as if there were some hope of making each island self-sufficient. Attacking this "Leonardesque aspiration," psychologist Donald T. Campbell, in a splendid essay precisely on our subject today, suggested that the best way to combat the "ethnocentrism of disciplines," the "tribalism" and "nationalism" of specialties, would be to pursue the "fish-scale model of omniscience" (l969, 327-29). Picture each group of specialists as one scale in a total fish-scale, both overlapping and overlapped by the interests and competencies of adjacent specialties. The total network or fish-scale "knows" whatever is in fact known; though no one unit knows very much, each unit is in fact connected to all the others, through the unbroken overlappings.**
** (Footnote: As everyone knows, anxiety about the ethnocentrism of experts was not invented in recent decades. As early as 1902, Alexander R. Hohfield, summarizing a central session of the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association, lamented "the increasing specialization of the papers" and claimed that it was "rapidly decreasing the number of occasions when a considerable proportion of those present are capable of joining in a discussion." The great linguist, Edward Sapir, dramatized the irony of our plight in a little poem:
I doubt if you know how wise I am.
Last year I published a heavy tome
Of well-nigh eight-hundred pages.
The subject? It matters not;
But this I know, that only two men in the world
Understood (or partly understood) its learned fill.
One was a spectacled privat-docent in Bonn,
The other was myself
And yet some Philistines begrudge my salary! (1917, 16)
Many a scholar has been hard-pressed to find proper analogies for our plight. Just after World War II John Erskine, describing how scholars claim to "cover,'' with their collective knowledge, fields that no one of them has mastered, recalled an ancient Irish legend: "[T]here was a tower so high that it took two persons to see to the top of it. One would begin at the bottom and look up as far as sight could reach, the other would begin where the first left off, and see the rest of the way" (1948, 100). I thank Charles Wegener for the Sapir. The other quotations are from Graff's Professing Literature (1987, 111).)
Campbell hoped with the fish-scale model both to relieve each of us from the anxiety to know more than anyone can possibly know and to encourage more productive specialization in the areas where the scales overlap. The new specialists thus developed would be in one sense as narrow as the others; like everyone else, they would still be ignoramuses when addressing most fields. But by concentrating on hitherto neglected connections, they would improve the efficiency of the entire fish-scale. The university of his model would in a sense know itself and know what it knows, while no one individual would have to feel guilty about not pursuing the impossible project of learning what the network as a whole has learned.
Campbell's model takes us in the right direction, but it may still be misleading, both as a picture of how we work when we are at our best and of what we might aspire to. Unfortunately, I can't find quite as neat an image for my own notion of how we work. But suppose we imagine a different kind of fish-scale, one in which each separate scale is not a scale at all but some kind of organism, perhaps like an octopus, with many tentacles, some of them leaping across to the opposite sides of the whole fish, as it were. The tentacles often intertwine and they are somehow able to send half-intelligible, scrambled, but still not worthless messages to scales in unpredictable parts of the whole--well, of course the picture becomes visually absurd, perhaps a bit like the entangled synapses of our president's mind that Doonesbury's hunting expedition has recently explored. But the inadequacy of pictures shouldn't surprise us, since the University is not really much like anything else in the universe. In my garbled image, a given physicist will occupy not only a given cell of expertise, as it overlaps adjacent fields, say mathematics and chemistry, but might also project tentacles across the entire network to the poets or musicians or art historians, as Professor Chandrasekhar did in his Ryerson lecture. Occupants of a given scale, a given specialty, do not hope to earn full occupancy of more than two or three further scales in a lifetime, but they not only hope for but can achieve a partial understanding of many. Remember: I am not yet pursuing an ideal university, only the best notion of how we ignoramuses actually work at our best. You might want to think here of professors who both occupy a single scale with high competence and also extend themselves effectively into the larger network. (In one draft I began to list them, but the list not only risked offending by its omissions but it quickly grew too long; I wonder whether any other university can offer as many professors of the kind I have in mind.)
So much is, I would argue, a roughly accurate description of why we are not as fraudulent as my first picture suggested. You will have noticed, however, that my description, like all descriptions of human activity, is not what the social scientists call value-free. Even the most neutral description of any human endeavor will reveal, to the careful "listener," implied judgments and exhortations, and mine is no exception. Most obviously, I have implied throughout that for people to understand one another is not only a good thing in itself, it is the sine qua non of a genuine university. It follows from that, I think, that one of our main tasks is to improve our chances for genuine understanding--understanding, of course, of all three kinds. We need to expand the size, as it were, of each fish-scale and the area of overlap among the scales. We need to encourage ourselves in the growth of tentacles reaching from scale to scale. But even more pressingly we need to increase our understanding of how it is that we do in fact communicate by means of those tentacles, and how we might do it better.
The lines among the three kinds of improvement will always be blurred. Mastering the special topics of any field will usually lead simultaneously to some improvement in the handling of the topics common to all rational discourse. Many fields are, like my own, built largely out of the topics that are shared by all scholarly and scientific fields. But though the lines are indistinct, we are all in effect custodians of all three kinds. The ideal university that is implied by all this would obviously be one that worked even more steadily, aggressively, and effectively than we do now to increase the number of moments each day when genuine understanding takes place--with a consequent improvement both in the quality of learners and in the quality of judgments passed on the learners. What would such a university look like?
Well, as some of you know, it is getting easier and easier these days to move forward and backward in time, now that Shirley MacLaine has taught us how to achieve out-of-body experiences. I happen to have just returned this week from a visit fifty years forward, and I have brought back a little history, published by the press of a university that occupies precisely our present site (not a single new building!). It calls itself, however, The University of Polytopia--not Utopia, no-place, but Polytopia, many places. The history, dated April 22, 2037, is signed by one Raphael Hythloday. Here is a painfully shortened version of Hythloday's report.
"Having decided, just fifty years ago, to become a university and not an archipelago of mutually incomprehensible, self-congratulating isolates, our governing committees turned to a serious study of those arts that we thought had been essential to our surviving with some quality even as late as 1987. Our first decision, arrived at not without bloodshed, was to postpone all attempts to raise one more point in the reputation polls of multiversities. Deciding to be a great university down the road a decade or two, we abandoned the attempt to cover every topic that our rivals chose to cover. We stopped adding whatever new departments or subjects our rivals added, and we stopped wooing academic stars according to their present luminosity, recognizing that any multiversity like Berkeley could beat us at both those games. Instead we began to operate according to a principle that came to be known as Booth's law: Maximum luminosity of professors and departments is exactly like maximum luminosity in the heavenly spheres--it reaches the target millions of years after the star has burnt itself out." ***
[Incidentally, Booth's law applies locally as well as nationally. It means that Ryerson lecturers are chosen roughly 10.57 years too late.]
*** (Footnote: According to Gerald Graff's recent history of "literature" as a profession, the first professor who ever improved his lot locally by using his publication list to obtain an offer from outside was probably Francis James Child. In 1876 he was lured by The Johns Hopkins University, and Harvard thereupon released him from teaching freshman composition (Graff 1987,40-41). A century later we find ourselves spending a major part of our time on that kind of usually futile luring and always locally destructive resistance to luring. And in many fields, including my own, status is measured largely by distance from the freshman classroom.)
"Attention to Booth's law led us to turn to an unprecedented search, far outshining that of the MacArthur Foundation, for those men and women who had managed to preserve, even as late as their early thirties or forties, some vestige of the curiosity and enthusiasm for learning that they had shown when younger. We sought out and hired the most vigorously curious minds we could find, regardless of their degrees and publications lists. We then turned them loose in the University as it was. We attempted no master plan, and we imposed only two revisions of current procedures. First, all faculty members were required to teach at least half of their courses to non-specialists, graduate or undergraduate, with at least one course each year concentrating on the question of what kinds of argument are defensible, in one or more of the three rhetorics. Secondly, at tenure and promotion times the primary decision was to be made not by a department alone but by departmental representatives joined by a larger group from outside the department, all charged to apply one test only: Is this candidate now still curious, still inquiring into one or more of the three rhetorics, and is it thus probable that at the age of forty, fifty, or sixty-six, he or she will still be vigorously inquiring?
"The result was that we were all soon seeking, regardless of our specialties, to become masters of three rhetorics, not just one; we began to educate ourselves about where our topics, our locations, our always unpredictable problems, fit into the polytopicality that we no longer even desired to escape. Thus we did not give up on the quest for a common understanding, but the understanding we sought, as our one central value, was the one by which we still live--the one that is inherent in any attempt to live with our heterodoxies, our polytopicality: the quest for an understanding of how we understand, and why we so frequently fail.
"Many predicted that with departments no longer quite such bastions of autonomy as they had been, we would soon just fall off the national charts. But no one today will be surprised to learn that after a year or two of uncertain reputation, we quickly became famous as the national center for the study of the three rhetorics. The various publics who are always desperate for guidance in those rhetorics came to our support in such numbers that we were almost overwhelmed. Business executives and government officials came to realize that the intertranslation of rhetorics--what we now feel comfortable in calling not rhetoric-4 but rhetorology--was their own primary labor. Every scientist seeking a grant soon came to see that rhetorology was the primary resource when facing government officials and specialists in other fields. In short, The University of Polytopia found itself serving public needs in new and surprising ways. Money for professorships and fellowships flowed in, as our graduates became famous for the way they performed, and as our new kind of professor, recruited when young, became famous for teaching the world how to perform responsibly and effectively in its rhetorical exchanges.
"No one now will be surprised by another development, but it surprised almost everyone at the time: I mean the sudden new importance of the undergraduate college, which quickly became honored as a national center for the study not only of the three primary rhetorics but of rhetorology. Unlike the colleges in multiversities, ours was no longer considered as somehow in conflict or competition with advanced research and instruction. Rather it was viewed as the facilitator of the most original, least imitative thinking and research. Faculty members, now required to pursue problems that arise when disciplines must make decisions together about what is worth learning and what should be taught, soon found themselves deepening their specialties as they thought about how their rhetoric-1 was or was not valuable to non-specialist undergraduates. As they considered what they knew that everybody ought to know, and pressed themselves about precisely where they belonged in the new Polytopia, and as they encountered solid practical problems raised by their curiosity about developing new major fields, they inescapably met with colleagues from hitherto unlikely locations. Soon it became clear that one of the most profitable challenges to the advanced expert was the planning of a staff-taught undergraduate course. Many who had thought of college teaching as a costly rival to graduate research and teaching discovered in such meetings new problems, and new disciplines for dealing with them.
"The College was of course not the only center to become flushed with new importance. All of the committees and programs that had traditionally located themselves where the fish-scales overlap and thus inevitably pursued rhetorology found themselves with strengthened support--but also with a new and threatening pressure to probe deeper. No longer could anyone get any credit just for putting together a superficial non-understanding of two disciplines and calling the result interdisciplinary.
"Naturally enough, we soon found that every student in every program, from the freshman year to the Ph.D., was studying the question of how to improve argument, under the different requirements of the three rhetorical domains. Every field, already steeped in the problems of rhetoric-1, soon included some systematic inquiry into those problems, together with inquiry into how that field could better relate itself to other fields and to the world.
"No longer could anyone be forgiven for ignorantly pursuing in one field problems that had long since been solved in others. Fortunately it has now been two full decades since the following groups discovered, through rhetorology, that they were in fact studying the three rhetorics and rhetorology under other names, and that they had wasted effort in duplicating inquiry already performed elsewhere.
[I must apologize for the heavy detail that follows here. Hythloday becomes a bit cryptic, apparently feeling that he must make a little ingratiating bow, however perfunctory, toward almost every field. I have cut some of his examples and all of his tedious footnoting, and I have changed his order. With characteristic arrogance, he risked ranking fields according to his idea of their importance; with characteristic prudence, I have re-ranked them in simple alphabetical order.]
[But I must here cut another page of Hythloday's account, on down through increasingly imperialistic claims that his field covers not only urologists, Western European Studies, and the Writing Tutors program but even the zoologists and their study of communication among our siblings, the chimpanzees.]
"It was as late as 1997 [Hythloday continues] before we instituted the present requirement that every dean and provost, on taking office, enroll in a training course in the three rhetorics necessarily exercised in such offices. The course includes a study of how to appraise witnesses, with readings both from that part of legal training that deals with the subject and from that part of the classical tradition that teaches appraisal of ethos. When are we, in fact, justified in trusting a testimonial? What are the marks of a reliable letter of recommendation? Just what kinds of departmental rhetoric should a provost attend to? What are the true qualities of character that qualify a man or woman to become a citizen of the University of Polytopia? Soon we found that the bibliographies of rhetorical study, formerly consulted by few, were in universal demand. The library could not meet the demand for Aristotle's Rhetoric; xerox machines were kept busy duplicating the works of Cicero and Quintilian, now sold-out.
"Finally, we found ourselves organizing as the major university-wide, College-sponsored event the annual Liberal Arts Conference that has for nearly five decades now dragged departments, sometimes still kicking and screaming, into confrontation with each other about the rhetoric of the so-called interdisciplinary. A key moment in that conference has come to be the annual Ryerson lecture, sponsored by the Board of Trustees and delivered by a faculty member who has been required, since an early date that we have not been able to discover, to address either the rhetoric of his or her discipline, as it relates to rhetorics-2 and -3, or as it relates to the rhetoric-1 of other disciplines.
"A recent visitor asked us why the University of Polytopia has never followed Berkeley and Davis in the California system, Virginia, Carnegie-Mellon, Iowa and others in establishing a Department of Rhetoric. But is not the answer obvious? A university run by a faculty who, while cultivating their own gardens, insist on looking over the garden fence and even visiting with the neighbors--such a university has no need for a department of rhetoric. With most faculty members now pursuing new specialties discovered where previous disciplines had overlapped without their defenders' quite knowing it, just about everyone practices rhetorology in order to teach the rhetorics better.
"Everyone reading this report today will know that we have not discovered, in all this innovation, any easy, cheerful harmony. New and seemingly irreconcilable differences have turned up as we have faced hitherto unsuspected problems. And it is easy for us now, though it was hard for scholars then, to see the grand difference between our polytopian achievement and their utopian dreams. On the one hand, we have not called for or depended on any fundamental changes in human nature; we look for no great and unlikely upsurge of benevolence. Some increase in the exercise of benevolence and mutual trust does seem to have resulted from our changes, but the changes did not depend on them, and the kind of critical trust we exercise with one another does not depend now on loving-kindness or even everyday courtesy. Secondly, nothing we have done has required any imposition of radical structures by some powerful philosopher-president. We have always left the departmental structures intact, except where disciplinary discoveries have produced natural reshapings. In short, everything we have done is based on observing what we already did, in 1987, in coping with our pandemic polytopicality and the universal ignorance that sprang from it. We simply urged all scholars to observe how they worked when they felt best about it--and then to pursue that best, in the service of their own deepest interests. Incidentally, one of the main intellectual rewards of all this was the abandonment, once and for all, of that old shibboleth, a Unified Language of All the Sciences. Our university does not now exhibit, nor does it ever hope to exhibit, a single language applicable to all worthwhile inquiries. Instead, we proliferate, we multiply, we rejoice in variety. We have not, it is true, discarded Occam's razor entirely; it still does some service in the rhetoric-1 of most fields. But the law we most celebrate is no longer the law of parsimony; it is instead the law of fructification: 'Never pursue a problem without at least two hypotheses--and don't despair when two or more of them survive your tests. And never forget that all human problems resist reduction to any one formulation or method of inquiry.'"
Well, that ends my selection from Hythloday's report from the University of Polytopia. I confess that what he has to say makes me even more uneasy than I was when I began: I am not at all clear where I might personally come out, if judged by his norm of vigorous intellectual curiosity sustained into the later years of life.
But I must also confess, abandoning now all ironies, that I do dream of living in a university somewhat more like the kind he describes than the present University of Chicago. I love the life in this university as it is, but I see us as increasingly engaged in the futile pursuit of top prize as a multiversity. Surely it is not unrealistic, not the least bit utopian, to hope that we might resist the various temptations thrust on us by international competition, and instead set our own course, as we have often--quite miraculously, when you come to think about it--set our own course in the past.
I want to thank the dozens of colleagues whom I have buttonholed during the past few months to ask about the range of their "understanding" within the University. I'm especially grateful to Marvin Mikesell, polymath geographer, for putting me onto the essay by Campbell cited in the references. James Redfield, Charles Wegener, and Phyllis Booth gave invaluable--and fortunately not conflicting--advice about earlier drafts. This printed version is perhaps a third longer than the lecture as delivered.
Note: Perhaps it should go without saying that this is not a bibliography of my multi-tentacled subject. To list even the works that have dealt with the general plight of us "ignoramuses" would require many pages. To them one would want to add all of the thousands of efforts to describe or improve the rhetoric-1 within each field, to say nothing of the tens of thousands of efforts, from the Sophists to Ernesto Grassi, to build philosophically defensible worlds on rhetorical bases. Just as no scholar can hope to become master of more than a fraction of the available fields, so no rhetorician can hope to grasp more than a fraction of what might be learned about our manifold rhetorics.
Campbell, Donald T. "Ethnocentrism of Disciplines and the Fish-Scale Model of Omniscience." Interdisciplinary Relationships in the Social Sciences. Edited by Muzafer Sherif and Carolyn W. Sherif. Chicago, 1969. pp. 328-48.
Derrida, Jacques. "Genesis and Structure of the Essay 'On the Origin of Languages.'" Of Grammatology. Trans. by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Baltimore, Md., 1976. Original, 1967
Erskine, John. My Life as a Teacher. Philadelphia, 1948.
Graff, Gerald. Professing Literature: An Institutional History. Chicago, 1987.
Hardin, Garrett. "The Threat of Clarity." American Journal of Psychiatry 114 (1957): pp. 392-96.
Ford, Ford Madox. Parade's End. [Four "Tietjens" novels: Some Do Not... (1924), No More Parades (1925), A Man Could Stand Up-- (1926), and The Last Post (1928)], edited by Robie Macauley. New York, 1950.
Harré, Rom. "Science as a Communal Practice." Varieties of Realism: A Rationale for the Natural Sciences. Oxford, 1986.
McCloskey, Donald N. The Rhetoric of Economics. Madison, Wisc., 1985.
Mikesell, Marvin W. "Geography and Its Neighbors: Comments on the International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences." The Geographical Review 59 (1969): pp. 276-83.
Polanyi, Michael. Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy. Chicago, 1958. Rev. ed. 1962.
Sapir, Edward. Drearns and Gibes. New York, 1917.
Stigler, George. The Economist as Preacher, And Other Essays. Chicago, 1982.
Stigler, Stephen M. "The Science of Uncertainty." [Convocation Address, 20 March, 1987, to be published in The University of Chicago Record.]
The Nora and Edward Ryerson Lectures were established by the Trustees of the University in December 1972. They are intended to give a member of the faculty the opportunity each year to lecture to an audience from the entire university on a significant aspect of his or her research and study. The president of the University appoints the lecturer on the recommendation of a faculty committee which solicits individual nominations from each member of the faculty during the Winter Quarter preceding the academic year for which the appointment is made.