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04/30/2014

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Alan Nelson

Intriguing post!
Application of the Proportionality Thesis is complicated. Consider:

1) The number of words devoted to a topic in the entire corpus.
2) The number of words devoted to a topic in a particular work.
3) The number of words devoted to a topic in a given time frame
And leaving aside word count:
4) WHERE in a work a topic occurs. For example, in Locke's Essay, the opening Epistle to the reader characterizes the project as epistemological. (Stuart's book is about metaphysics). Do introductions and the like in which an author characterizes the work get extra weight or (as often happens) lesser weight?
5) FOR WHOM something is written (this might be seen in the Dedication of a work or the addressee of correspondence.

It is also interesting that for some works, e.g. Hobbes' Leviathan, many scholars ignore proportionality.

Miles Rind

Eric, you say that the "proportionality thesis" is "potentially misleading," and you criticize Stuart's "appeal" to it, but you never make clear what the thesis in question is or how Stuart is committed to it. You seem to offer this quotation from Stuart as containing it: "I devote my attention proportionally to the topics to which Locke devotes his." But that sentence does not express any thesis, any more than does your sentence (okay, it's only part of a sentence, but I don't think I'm misrepresenting you by treating as a complete sentence for purposes of comparison) "This post is full of normative judgments." In each case, the speaker is describing what he is doing, not stating a thesis.

Now, I suppose one could say that, if Stuart intends by the quoted statement not merely to describe what he is doing in the book but also to justify it, then he is implicitly appealing to a thesis of some sort—perhaps "In writing about a historical figure in philosophy, one should give attention to specific topics in proportion to the attention that the figure himself or herself gives to them." The thesis sounds reasonable, but application of it to studies of Newton and Berkeley would require a great deal of attention to their views on alchemy and tar water, respectively. I don't think that this is likely to happen, or that anyone would want it to happen. But is Stuart committed to any such thesis? I haven't read the book beyond the paragraph that you cite, but I don't see that he is. It seems to me that he is just citing a consideration that provides support *prima facie* for the attention that he gives to various topics in Locke's philosophy.

Eric Schliesser

Miles, I was describing my claims as normative (not Stuart's, although he certainly also expresses normative judgments: "philosophers who demand our attention").
Yes, if you wish to describe what he is doing as providing *prima facie* support, fine. I am suggesting that this consideration ought not provide such *prima facie* support. But the proof is in the pudding; we'll have to read the book.
By the way, Newton scholarship has benefited greatly from paying attention to his alchemical manuscripts. And I once found it very fruitful to pay attention to Berkeley's reflections on tar water.

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