Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Themes so far: comparative histories of utopia.

OK - here is a brief summary of some of the formal ways of thinking comparatively about the history of ideas that we have encountered so far. I know this is a bit dry - more on Utopias later - meanwhile go off and watch the BBC on Virtual utopias (see below) or read the NYT on mind/body and place/time (see above)- which are both more fun.

Thinking Comparatively (History of Ideas)
In addition to diachronic, synchronic and anachronistic - in relation to More we came across the following differnet ways of trying to think about the ideas in utopia historically.

Skinner and the Cambridge school: linguistic synchronic contextualism (see Goldie on this) - can only analyse key terms in relation to contemporary debates and usages demonstrably known to the author

Davis et al: historical synchronic contextualism - explanation through location in contemporary events influencing the author as perceived by the historian looking backwards.

Surtz et al - the longue duree, diachronic influence of Plato et al, and above all the historian perceives influences based on apparent similarities.

Kenyon - builds on Cambridge school's approach but also critical of it for underestimating the ability of the author to make an original, new contribution

Goldie - goes even further: we should not divorce an author's philosophy (however inventive) from the same author's moral seriousness (intention and capacity to act as well as think ethically). ie that pre-modern utopias were written within a framework of moral intentions for their application in the world, that agnosticism and relativism comes later (after Bentham and Kant).

Morris (and many others) looking backward sees in More a socialist 'before his time'. wirites NfN partly in direct response to that anachronistic reading?

Coming soon .... Jameson and the generic window.

 And here is the rest of it.

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