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#1233: Plain language : Corbett replies to Durran
From: Mary Durran <email@example.com> writes:
What I found less than educated though, was the rude and almost venomous
comments some made about Corbett's call for "plain talk". This seems to be
the cyber equivalent of accepting an invitation to a party, then rudely
gobbling the canapés offered by the generous host all the while boorishly
insulting his attempts to make sure _all_ the guests are enjoying
Corbett replies: Mary thanks for your kind words, but I must say I take
no offense ever when people disagree with me. My point is a different one.
As most know I'm a philosopher. When we talk philosophy among ourselves
we have a lingo, a jargon and an assumption that the speakers will know
a huge body of historical knowledge about philosophy. There is a great
deal of evidence that our assumption (even when speaking to other
professional philosophers) is the sheerest nonesense, nonetheless, we
persist in this form of discussion whether or not communication takes place.
However, most of us do behave quite differently when we talk about
philosophical issues in other places. I go to family parties and issues
of ethics come up all the time. I think I have things to contribute and
I do. I come from a working class environment and most of my relatives
have high school (if that) as their final brush with formal education.
I participate. But, I don't expect they will match me in discussion of
the latest moves of the Utilitairans or whatever John Rawls is arguing
this month. Nonetheless, I try to engage them in discussion. Often I
find that I have much to learn about the topic, even if I have more formal
knowledge of the subject.
What encourages me about the internet and the Haiti list in particular is
that no longer do the academics own the realm of discourse. It is open
to all. I think a hugh proportion of our list of 800 are intelligent
folks with interesting ideas. I think some of those ideas are wrong-headed
and at times even factually mistaken. It seems that in such a mileau the
best strategy is to say so and to give reasons for it. What I objected to
in Michel DeGraff's call was that all of us, whether it happened to be
our formal profession or not, either play the game by the rules of
professional linguistic (citing sources and all that -- the equivalent of
me at the family party expecting my electricial brother in law to cite
which chapter of Rawls he was supporting) in order to participate in the
If the speaker is in error, then one can make an argument for that in what
I call plain language, without citing sources and all that. Just make
This is in no way an attack on Michel DeGraff's manner of doing linguistics.
He seems to me to do on this list just about what I do in the family party.
It was just that one call Michel made, in some frustration I would guess,
that we all try to play the game as though we were professional thinkers,
or else shut up.
That's the only view I reject. I welcome the fact that we all now have
own printing press at the key board, and on this list at least, one doesn't
have to display a degree or a foot note to express an argument.
Some claims are made on this list which I find utterly silly and not worth
my time. I just either ignore the claims and hit the delete button, or
I might even respond, not so much to speak to the author as to the rest
of the list. but, I wouldn't want to put limits on speech on the basis
of rule governed speech. It's as simple as that and that's why I referred
to it as plain talk. It might well have been a bad term. I never meant
in any way that one didn't owe reason arguments if challenged, just that
reasoned arguments come in many more forms that that model the academic
world has adopted.
We all share a rather intense interest in Haiti. Some on the list are
more informed than others, some make better arguments than others whether
or not they are more informed. Others have fascinating and unusual insights
presented in diffent an unusual manners. I find the overwhelming bulk of
the posts worth reading and interesting. I learn from the oddest and most
unusal forms and I learn from the scholars and academics alike. I
wouldn't want any group to own the rules of discourse.
At any rate, this talk is a digession from the important topic of the
country of Haiti, so I'll drop it and let us get back to that much more
important topic (at least for this forum).
Best, Bob Corbett