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Commentary Alexander Nehamas Beware of Mediators'? In his well-known investigation of radical shifts in the course of the development of the natural sciences, Thomas Kuhn wrote that "paradigm changes . . . cause scientists to see the world of their researchengagement differently. In so far as their only recourse to that world is through what they see and do, we may want to say that after a revolution scientists are responding to a different world" (Kuhn 1970: 111). This most famous and most controversial statement in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions seems to me to constitute the essential background for Professor Lambropoulos' provocative essay. It clearly underlies, for example, his central claim that "the empiricist and skepticist paradigms are incompatible, and no good will can fuse them: incompatible positions cannot be reconciled, antinomial arguments cannot be combined." The problem with Kuhn's statement, as countless discussions have demonstrated, is that its literal sense is far from obvious: how strictly are we to take the idea that scientists and scholars with different methodological approaches respond to different "worlds"? What counts as a world in this context? Lambropoulos gives an uncompromising answer to that question. He believes that the idea of different worlds consists in the fact of logical incompatibility: "empiricism" and "skepticism," if conjoined, would produce a logical contradiction. It is true that if two positions are logically incompatible, they cannot be consistently maintained by a single person or school. But, first, it is not at all clear that this is the best interpretation of Kuhn's view. He himself has recently expressed his position by drawing a parallel between incompatible scientific theories and different languages . A single scientist, he believes, can operate both with Aristotelian and with Galilean physics even if it is not possible to state Aristode 's views in Galileo's terms. But this, he has insisted, is a situation with which any bilingual language-user is familiar: I can say things in English which I cannot possibly say in Greek, and though I know very Journal of Modern Greek Studies, Volume 7, 1989. 53 54 Alexander Nehamas well both what "philotimo" means in Greek and what "fairness" means in English, I cannot translate either word (or most of the sentences in which it occurs) into the other language.1 This plausible account of the "incommensurability" of paradigms is more psychological than logical, more institutional than theoretical. It allows for the possibility that one and the same scholar can operate with more than one paradigm and that parts of each paradigm, as is patently the case with large parts of English and Greek, can in fact be translated into the terms of the other. I think the contrast between "empiricism" and "skepticism" in modern Greek studies can be more fruitfully construed historically and socially rather than logically. This preserves the conflicts between the two approaches, but it allows for the possibility that a single individual can in fact operate with both, and even reveals what I think is the case, namely, that at least sometimes the two must both be employed if accurate "scholarly" results are to be reached.2 To see that this is so it is important to note another view which supplies the background of Lambropoulos' essay. This view, clearly expressed by Jonathan Culler, is that while the experience of literature may be an experience of interpreting works, in fact the interpretation of individual works is only tangentially related to the understanding of literature. To engage in the study of literature is not to produce yet another interpretation of King Lear but to advance one's understanding of the conventions and operations of an institution, a mode of discourse. (Culler 1981: 5) Suppose we accept, as I do, Culler's positive description of literary studies at the end of this passage. If we do, however, we cannot accept Culler's (and Lambropoulos') exclusion of interpretation from the field. For the production of interpretations (either new or those already in existence) is an essential part of the "mode of discourse" literature constitutes. If we are willing to take such an institutional approach to literature, then the institution becomes our object of study. We cannot in this one case...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3265
Print ISSN
0738-1727
Pages
pp. 53-57
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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