FOM: hostility toward f.o.m.

Stephen G Simpson simpson at
Thu Jul 23 15:16:43 EDT 1998

Neil Tennant writes:
 > Steve and Thomas might agree between themselves to use the word
 > "deconstruct" with the sense accorded it by Thomas; but they should
 > be aware that as used by literary critics etc. it does not mean "to
 > prattle endlessly about a subject of which one is
 > ignorant". Doesn't it mean something more like "to take the wind
 > out of someone's intellectual sails by revealing the 'sub-text', or
 > the 'hidden agenda', or the peculiar set of biases implicit in
 > their writings"?  That, at least, is how I get the smell of the
 > term by being a little downwind from an English department.

Yes Neil, you are absolutely correct.  The lit-crit people use
"deconstruct" to mean "deflate", exactly as you suggest.  But in
practice it often amounts to prattle about subjects of which they are
ignorant, especially scientific subjects.  This is documented in the
two Gross/Levitt books which were mentioned at the end of my posting
of 11 Jan 1998 03:55:21.

Thomas Forster writes:
 > That wasn't the way i meant it, and i think Steve was being
 > facetious.  I agree with your reading and Steve probably does too..

Hmmm.  Thomas, you explained your notion of "deconstruction" and it
sounded for all the world as if one of its components was ignorance of
the subject at hand.  But, OK, let's back off and agree to use
"deconstruct" to mean "deflate", as explained by Neil.  And I agree
with Neil that this is how it's used in English departments.

In any case, the substantive question for the FOM list is: Why do so
many hard-core mathematicians resent mathematical logic and f.o.m.?
Thomas's answer was that the mathematicians view the logicians as
taking an unjustified tone of superiority in their analysis of
mathematical practice.  That's an interesting suggestion.  Perhaps we
logicians ought to adopt a more humble tone.  How about something like
the following?

   "Dear mathematicians, please don't misunderstand us.  We logicians
   don't pretend to understand anything about the logical structure or
   basic concepts of mathematics.  We only want to quietly investigate
   certain obscure, uninteresting structures suggested by certain
   obscure, uninteresting aspects of mathematical reasoning.  Please
   allow us that much.  If you allow us that much, we promise not to
   get uppity."

Do you think the hard-core mathematicians would like us better if we
talked this way?


-- Steve

More information about the FOM mailing list