Thursday, July 21, 2005

32nd International Hume Conference: Day Three

Continuing my notes on the Hume Society meeting:

* Today I attended a talk by Steven Jauss called "Dubos and Hume on the Paradox of Tragedy" -- very good. This is an immensely interesting subject (I've been intending for some time to write a post on it). The paradox of tragedy is essentially the puzzle that (1) pity (or sorrow) and fear (or horror) are unpleasant things to experience; (2) these emotions are conjured up by watching a tragic play; but (3) watching a tragic play is often a pleasant experience. Jauss noted that Hume misinterprets Dubos's position rather seriously.

* Then there was a special session on the Hume Society itself, which was interesting. Cornford's great satire on academia, Microcosmographia Academica (1908), was mentioned; if you've never read the work, I recommend it. In the meantime, you might read Scott McLemee's essay on it. Every graduate student should read it; times may have changed, but the more they change the more academic politics is the same. Cornford divides the field of academic politics into five groups:

A Conservative Liberal is a broad-minded man, who thinks that something ought to be done, only not anything that anyone now desires, but something which was not done in 1881-82.

A Liberal Conservative is a broad-minded man, who thinks that something ought to be done, only not anything that anyone now desires; and that most things which were done in 1881-82 ought to be undone.

The men of both of these parties are alike in being open to conviction; but so many convictions have already got inside, that it is very difficult to find the openings. They dwell in the Valley of Indecision.

The Non-placet differs in not being open to conviction; he is a man of principle. A principle is a rule of inaction, which states a valid general reason for not doing in any particular case what, to unprincipled instinct, would appear to be right. The Non-placet believes that it is always well to be on the Safe Side, which can be easily located as the northern side of the interior of the Senate House. He will be a person whom you have never seen before, and will never see again anywhere but in his favourite station on the left of the place of judgment.

The Adullamites are dangerous, because they know what they want; and that is, all the money there is going. They inhabit a series of caves near Downing Street. The say to one another, 'If you will scratch my back, I will scratch yours; and if you won't, I will scratch your face.' It will be seen that these cave-dwellers are not refined, like classical men. That is why they succeed in getting all the money there is going.

The Young Man in a Hurry is a narrow-minded and ridiculously youthful prig, who is inexperienced enough to imagine that something might be done before very long, and even to suggest definite things. His most dangerous defect being want of experience, everything should be done to prevent him from taking any part in affairs. He may be known by his propensity to organise societies for the purpose of making silk purses out of sows' ears. This tendency is not so dangerous as it might seem; for it may be observed that the sows, after taking their washing with a grunt or two, trundle back unharmed to the wallow; and the purse-market is quoted as firm. The Young Man in a Hurry is afflicted with a conscience, which is apt to break out, like measles, in patches. To listen to him, you would think that he united the virtues of a Brutus to the passion for lost causes of a Cato; he has not learnt that most of his causes are lost by letting the Cato out of the bag, instead of tying him up firmly and sitting on him, as experienced people do.

And after giving these five groups, Cornford says, "O young academic politician, know thyself!" Needless to say, I'm a Non-placet with Liberal Conservative sympathies. In any case, to return to the Hume Conference, Wade Robison applied the distinctions to the Hume Society itself, in order to make the point that the Hume Society and the procedures for the Hume Conferences were deliberately designed in order to ensure that none of these groups (or, rather, their analogues in Hume Scholarship, which range from the conservative conservatives who think a Hume conference should consist entirely of dry history to the liberal liberals who think that it should consist of things that are vaguely associated in their minds with something that they may have read in Hume somewhere) ever gained total control in any given year.

* Then there was a nice harbor cruise; the weather was quite good.

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