Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Superb commentary ...

... From The Professor's House by Willa Cather and Final Comments on THE PROFESSOR'S HOUSE.


  1. Most non-scientists don't realize that science is a method of thinking, a method of asking questions—not a method of establishing answers. Science is always conditional, always provisional—unlike certain forms of religion and art, which purport to give unconditional answers, or The Truth.

    Many more non-scientists tend to conflate "science" with "technology," which is inaccurate. Technos is the application of learned principles. Grammar after all is the science of language parsing.

    Many more who resist the "god of science" are in fact not resisting science but scientism, which can be defined as the attribution of moral stature to the products of scientific reasoning (Darwin practiced science, Dawkins has lately been practicing scientism—please note the important difference). Scientism is psychologically similar, it has often been pointed out, to religious fundamentalism. (Another great thing religion has given us: fanaticism.) The comparison is apt, because scientism tends to view the body of rational knowledge derived from scientific experimentation as fixed, eternal, and unquestionable.

    This scientism is not science, nor does it follow the scientific method of inquiry, which is experimental and experiential. It rather uses religion's and art's sense of absolute certainty as applied to the existing (yet always provisional) body of scientific knowledge. This is a category error.

    So I disagree, as a poet might, with the critique of science precisely because it was fuzzily defined. Precision in language about this sort of thing makes all the difference.

    Cather, being the gifted writer that she was, has her characters speak from within their own viewpoints, not parrot hers. Her characters are quite fully realized, rather than being the author's hand-puppets. My favorite Cather remains "Death Comes for the Archbishop."

  2. Three points:

    Art and I can disagree on this, but there really is, I believe, something that is Truth. Our problem in our lives is one of discovering the best paths to that Truth. I believe that art and religion provide better avenues for discovery than science. That, of course, is my humble, unscientific opinion. (PS: I was never much of a student in science classes.)

    I do not confuse author with either narrator or character. To suggest otherwise is a misreading of my assessment of Cather.

    I agree that Death Comes for the Archbishop is superb. My most recent experience with rereading Cather (My Antonia, The Professor's House, and A Lost Lady)lead me to think The Professor's House might be her very best work. That, of course, is my humble, unprofessional critical opinion.

  3. No less than Albert Einstein would point out that scientific and artistic inquiry lead to the same place, and are of equal worth. 'Nuff said.

  4. Ans my question is: Where else in the blogosphere do you find informed, cordial discussion like this?