LETTERS TO THE EDITORS
To the Editors:
Geoffreys Harpham's essay "Science and the Theft of
Humanity" (Macroscope, July-August) calls on humanists
to be tolerant of scientists' recent preoccupation with questions
about human beings long considered to be the intellectual property
of the humanities alone.
As a historian, I have noted this trend. Although I agree that
cross-fertilization across disciplinary boundaries is essential to
lively debate and creativity, a conflict of styles often impedes
communication. During the past half century humanists have all but
given up positivism as a scholarly position. Acceptance of a
plurality of valid arguments has become the humanistic norm, and
respect for varied viewpoints is expected.
Scientific writers on human subjects, in contrast, tend to sift what
they judge to be "true" positions from erroneous ones,
ostensibly in hopes of furthering intellectual
"progress." The irony—commonly
recognized—is that humanists have embraced Thomas Kuhn's
argument for the inevitable limitations of inquiry, while
scientists, Kuhn's original subjects, remain far more loyal to
In this clash of cultures, scientists at the very least come off as
arrogant in the eyes of humanists and, more seriously, tend to make
preemptory judgments about unfamiliar material in their rush to
prove a case without room for nuance.
We would not expect self-conscious modesty from someone perpetrating
a "theft," to borrow Dr. Harpham's term. But if the
relationship between the disciplines is to be friendly
collaboration, scientists might well proceed with greater
understanding of humanists' values.
Anne C. Rose
Pennsylvania State University