FOM: rabble-rousing; postmodernism

Stephen G Simpson simpson at
Wed Jan 14 18:27:25 EST 1998

Solomon Feferman writes:
 > "Rabble-rouser,n. a person who stirs up the passions or prejudices
 > of the public, usually for his or her own interests; a demagogue."
 > Steve, what about your injunction, "Thou shalt not indulge in
 > personal invective"?

Dear Sol, 

I apologize for calling you a rabble-rouser.  It was very
inappropriate, both because of my injunction (which still stands), and
because I know very well that you are not trying to manipulate
passions or prejudices.  Indeed, your writings are notable for always
trading in logical arguments, never in passion or prejudice.  I
intended "rabble-rouser" as a joke, the point of departure being that
you, the last person in the world who could be accused of
rabble-rousing, were encouraging people to revolt against my working
definition of f.o.m.  I'm incompetent at jokes, and this one was no
exception.  Again, I apologize.

 > I am also annoyed at the red herrings of postmodernism, radical
 > feminism, deconstructionism being dragged in again.

I agree that postmodernism is an inflammatory topic.  But I don't
think I'm the one who dragged it in.  I think it's very relevant to
Dupre's book, which you cited in your FOM posting, to which I was
responding.  And it's very relevant to the New York Times article on
Reuben Hersh, which Hersh himself was the first to cite, in one of his
FOM postings, where he also mentioned postmodernism.  We can't discuss
Dupre's book or the New York Times article in a cultural vacuum.

Moreover, Robert Tragesser has mentioned postmodernism in a discussion
of Wittgenstein.  And Jon Barwise mentioned "the black plague of
postmodernism", in connection with your view that mathematics is
socially constructed.

But now that you mention it, yes, you are right: I did drag in
postmodernism at one point, way back in September, when the FOM list
was more anarchic than now.  We laid postmodernism to rest at the
time, but not before an interesting (to me) discussion of the
Atiyah/Horgan debacle.

If there is a consensus that postmodernism is too hot to handle on the
FOM list, I'm willing to leave it alone from now on.

 > These are irrelevant to f.o.m. and involve unjustified assumptions
 > about the wider implications of certain views on that subject.

Irrelevant to f.o.m.?  Unjustified assumptions?  These are debatable
points, but we can't debate them in a cultural vacuum.  One of the
topics in the original FOM charter (9 Oct 1997) is:

  2. What is foundations of mathematics?  What is its role within the
     broad structure of science, philosophy, and culture?

Should the "culture" part now be declared out of bounds?  I assume
everyone still agrees that "what is f.o.m." is an appropriate topic
for the FOM list.

 > Enough of this name-calling.

I agree to that.

-- Steve

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