12 October 2007

A Riddle within an Enigma

A strange sentence in a strange comment just published in BMCR:

Without appreciating the methodological questions raised in this recent scholarship,
Singpurwalla brings arguments against Weiss that cannot be sustained.
'Scholarship' means either the scholarly attainment of an individual, or a grant for study, but not scholarly literature or scholarly opinion. This solecism is unfortunately not uncommon.

Also, "Without appreciating" would naturally mean, "If she fails to appreciate", in which case the second clause should be "Singpurwalla cannot bring arguments against Weiss that can be sustained"--yet then one might wonder why her not appreciating something should have a bearing on whether her own arguments can be sustained.

Of course, what the editors wish to run is their business. But I personally fail to see how third-party replies to reviews, unless they are straightforward corrections, have a place in a journal such as BMCR. Leave that sort of thing to blogs (I say)!

2 comments:

Eric Brown said...

I think, Michael, that you are too kind to Renzi's comment. You convict him of lesser charges of which he is innocent, and do not make explicit the grosser charges.

The use of 'scholarship' to refer to a body of scholarly works is now long-standing and well-entrenched. Language changes and one day's solecism is the next day's authoritative use. And the sentence as a whole just says that because Singpurwalla does not sympathetically attend to certain methodological questions posed by a certain body of scholarly work, her arguments against Weiss are unsustainable.

My problem with this sentence is its content. Renzi cannot reasonably suppose that Singpurwalla is blind to the fact that she does not share Weiss' methodology of reading Plato's Socratic dialogues. Singpurwalla's review explicitly highlights and challenges the methodology of Weiss' book!

So what does it mean to say that Singpurwalla does not "appreciate the methodological questions raised in this recent scholarship?" That she does not cite enough of it in a brief review? Such a petty complaint would not warrant Renzi's composing a formal response. That she does not *agree* with the methodological *answers* given in "this recent scholarship?" Well, let's hear why she should.

Renzi offers the tiresome insinuation that those of us who tend to take what the character Socrates says seriously are unaware of certain deep questions when in fact we just reject a particular way of answering those questions. Singpurwalla does Weiss the favor of saying *why* she disagrees with Weiss' way of reading. Renzi just implies, rather maliciously and entirely unfairly, that Singpurwalla misses the "questions."

Clerk Shaw said...

I concur with Eric, and I would like to add a point. Renzi criticizes Singpurwalla's mention of the philosophical work that has been done to make some version of intellectualism tenable, on grounds that Weiss isn't here (primarily?) concerned with what's philosophically tenable, but with what's in Plato's text. This just ignores Singpurwalla's review. I take her to be saying that Weiss effectively argues like this:

1. So-called "Socratic intellectualism" (SI) is such a thoroughly untenable view that we should avoid attributing it to Plato if at all possible.

2. It is possible to avoid attributing SI to Plato by giving alternative readings of the passages that are supposed to underwrite the attribution of SI.

3. So, we should adopt the alternative readings and avoid the attribution of SI.

I believe that Singpurwalla's point is this: nobody would find the readings mentioned in (2) more plausible than the standard readings unless they were already determined to avoid attributing SI to Plato, as per (1). Singpurwalla complains that (1) is not so obvious, and that Weiss does not engage with attempts to undermine (1). Now, Renzi (or Weiss) may want to say that Weiss's commitment to (1) does not play such an important role in her interpretation. But then, unless the readings mentioned in (2) are textually superior to the standard readings independently of the broader framework provided by (1), we should not be convinced by those readings. Perhaps Renzi thinks that Weiss' readings are textually more plausible, but he does nothing to engage with Singpurwalla's substantial criticisms of those readings (the two that she addresses in the review). So he has done nothing to shake my judgment that Singpuwalla's criticisms are effective.