Monday, April 14, 2003

Just Who Did Discover the Cook Strait?

I keep coming across the name of David Stove in various places especially here but he's also scored a mention in book reviews where the author is described as being an admirer of the "obscure Sydney philosopher" David Stove. Since reading some of Stove's work, such as Helps to Young Authors, I've decided that this admiration comes from the same sort of intellectual curiosity seeking which, if left unchecked, could easily develop into a morbid fascination with the life and works of Aleister Crowley.

Helps to Young Authors is my favourite piece of Stove's writings, for several reasons. It's freely available on-line and, as the cost of hard-drive capacity is likely to keep falling, it will probably remain so. It's mercifully short. Finally, I like to think that it represents Stove's intellect and wit at their sharpest because, if my assessment is correct, I can spare myself the tedium of wading through the rest of his writing.

In Helps to Young Authors, Stove attempts to take the piss out of the way Karl Popper, Thomas Kuhn and Emmanuel Lakatos neutralise success-words. What Stove is referring to (part of what he dislikes in the work of Popper, Kuhn and Lakatos) is that they put "scare quotes" around words like "discover". I'm not quite sure how it's possible to wet your own trousers while trying to take the piss out of others but Stove manages to do it. Take for example, Stove's parody of Kuhn:

It would of course be a gross anachronism to call the flat-earth paradigm in geography mistaken. It is simply incommensurable with later paradigms: as is evident from the fact that, for example, problems of antipodean geography could not even be posed under it. Under the Magellanic paradigm, however, one of the problems posed, and solved in the negative, was that of whether New Zealand is a single land mass. That this problem was solved by Cook is, however, a vulgar error of whig historians, utterly discredited by recent historiography. Discovery of the Strait would have been impossible, or at least would not have been science, but for the presence of the Royal Society on board, in the person of Sir Joseph Banks. Much more research by my graduate students into the current sociology of the geographical profession will be needed, however, before it will be known whether, under present paradigms, the problem of the existence of Cook Strait remains solved, or has become unsolved again, or an un-problem.


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