Welcome to Part 5 of PUP’s Stanley Fish series,
Fish Food for Thought. All selections are excerpted from Fish’s new book, Think Again: Contrarian Reflections on Life, Culture, Politics, Religion, Law, and Education.
Fish Food for Thought
Part 5: Cultural Reflections
3.1 Professor Sokal’s Bad Joke
May 21, 1996
Fish on why Professor Sokal is wrong about sociologists.
When Professor Sokal declares that “theorizing about ‘the social construction of reality’ won’t help us find an effective treatment for AIDS,” he is at once right and wrong. He is right that sociologists will never do the job assigned properly to scientists. He is wrong to imply that the failure of the sociology of science to do something it never set out to do is a mark against it, (95)
3.3 Dorothy and the Tree: A Lesson in Epistemology
April 25, 2011
Fish on why Dorothy picked an apple from a speaking tree without thinking.
Another way to put this is to say that changes of mind tend to be local and piecemeal, not systemic. Wholesale conversions like Paul’s on the road to Damascus do occur, but more often a change will affect only a small corner of one’s conceptual universe. After her conversation with the tree, Dorothy may no longer place trees and persons in completely different compartments, but much that she used to think, she will still think, (107)
3.5 What Did Watson the Computer Do?
February 21, 2011
Fish on the difference between computers and humans when following the rules.
The inability or unwillingness of human beings to follow the rules or be(113)
content with their guidance is not a weakness but a strength; it is the strength of being able to adjust when the rules have nothing helpful to say or produce absurd results in a situation the rule-markers did not anticipate. Only a fool will persist in adhering o a rule or set of directives when its application is clearly counterintuitive and even disastrous… The computer I am writing this column on is a fool,
3.7 Can I Put You on Hold?
November 16, 2009
Fish on the annoying little things everyone encounters.
There is a class of utterances that, when encountered, produces irritation, distress and, in some cases, the desire to kill… Mine is a three-word announcement on the TV Screen, “To Be Continued,” which says, “I know that you have become invested in this story and are eager to find out how it ends, but you’re going to have to wait for a few days or a week or a month or forever.” In the great order of things, it is only a minor inconvenience, but it is experience as a deprivation; you were banking on something and now it has been taken away, (120)
3.10 Favoritism is Good
January 7, 2013
Fish on why favoritism is sometimes the preferred thing.
Favoritism – giving more than an even break to your own kind – is not a distortion of judgment, but the basis of judgment. And being impartial to those who are a part of you – through blood or creed or association or profession (think of the thin blue line) – is not to be virtuous but to be ungrateful and disloyal, more concerned with hewing to some abstract principle of respect for all than with discharging the obligations that come along with your most intimate relations, (129-130)