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The Discovery of Rule Systems in the Humanities. Rens Bod University of Amsterdam ILLC / Huizinga Institute. Humanities vs Social Sciences (1). What are the humanities? Wilhelm Dilthey (1883):

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the discovery of rule systems in the humanities

The Discovery of Rule Systems in the Humanities

Rens Bod

University of Amsterdam

ILLC / Huizinga Institute

humanities vs social sciences 1
Humanities vs Social Sciences (1)
  • What are the humanities?

Wilhelm Dilthey (1883):

    • Humanities (Geisteswissenschaften) are the disciplines that study the products of the human mind

e.g. musicology, philology, linguistics, art history, theatre studies, rhetoric, etc

    • The term ‘humanities’ appears in English only in the 20th century
humanities and social sciences 2
Humanities and Social Sciences (2)
  • Humanities are sometimes grouped under the general umbrella of “social sciences”
    • Especially history, linguistics, sometimes musicology
    • Yet, art history, literary theory, theater studies, rhetoric, philology are usually not seen as ‘social sciences’
  • The conjunction ‘social sciences and humanities’ is sometimes referred to as ‘human sciences’
      • Cf. Forum for History of Human Science
historiography of the humanities
Historiography of the humanities
  • Compared to the social sciences, the comparative history of humanities seems to be neglected
    • General historical overviews do exist in the social sciences:

e.g. Gordon 1993; Smith 1997; Porter & Ross 2003…

  • Only very recently, a first comparative history of the humanities was written (Bod 2010)
    • Covers history of the study of language, text, music, art, history, theatre, literature and oratory
a guiding question for a history of the humanities
A guiding question for a history of the humanities
  • How did humanities researchers investigate their material -- texts, music, language, art, theatre -- and what did they find?
    • The humanities as we know them today have been proposed as a coherent set of disciplines only since the 19th century
    • But the study of texts, language, music, art etc. goes back to antiquity. Thus a history of the Humanities can be written from Antiquity onwards
quest for patterns in the humanities search for underlying rule systems
Quest for patterns in the humanities: search for underlying rule systems
  • There seems to be unbroken tradition in the quest for rules and rule systems underlying languages, texts, music, art, literature, theater
  • Next to this quest there are also approaches that reject patterns, rules and regularities
    • from ‘Anomalists’ in Pergamon in 3rd c. BCE to current postmodernists
a dominant vision in the philosophy of the humanities
A dominant vision in the philosophy of the humanities
  • W. Dilthey 1883/1908:
    • Sciences (Naturwissenschaften): erklären
    • Humanities (Geisteswissenschaften): verstehen
  • W. Windelband 1904:
    • Sciences: nomothetic (explore the law-like)
    • Humanities: idiografic (explore the unique)
  • These distinctions were introduced to emancipate the humanities from the sciences, but are rarely evaluated with respect to humanistic practice
    • See also Cassirer, Rickert, Heidegger, Gadamer
the nomothetic idiographic distinction
The nomothetic/idiographic distinction
  • Opposition between exploring the law-like vs the unique does not distinguish sciences from humanities
  • Humanities have always had (also) a nomothetic component, e.g. in modern era:
    • Linguistics: Grimm, Bopp, Schleicher, Saussure, Chomsky
    • Philology: Lachmann, Maas, Greg
    • Literary theory: Propp, Jakobson, Todorov, Bal
    • Art history: Wolfflin, Riegl, Panofsky
    • History: Berr, Bloch, Braudel, Weber
    • Musicology: Adler, Schenker, Plomp, Levelt
  • In the following we’ll give a bird’s eye view of the humanities in Antiquity
rule systems in ancient humanities
Rule systems in Ancient Humanities
  • What humanities activities do we find?
    • Linguistics: China, India, Greece, Rome
    • Philology: Greece (Hellenistic world), Rome, China
    • Musicology: everywhere
    • Art theory: everywhere
    • Logic: everywhere
    • Rhetoric: everywhere
    • Poetics: everywhere
    • History writing: Egypt, Greece, China, Rome, Ethiopia
    • there is more, but will not be covered in this talk
study of language linguistics
Study of Language (Linguistics)
  • Panini: first attempt to describe a language as a whole (India, c. 500 BCE)
    • grammar of Sanskrit of 3959 syntactic, morphological and phonological rules, all of the form A  B / C -- D
  • Dionysius Thrax: mostly morphological rules (word forms) -- for Greek
    • Similar for Varro, Donatus en Priscianus -- for Latin
  • Linguistics: rule-based system that produces all (infinitely many) correct forms of a language with finite means
recursion in language
Recursion in Language
  • One of the greatest inventions by Panini is


      • +voc  +len /- +voc +savarNa
      • rAma-s- + ShaShTha  rAma-Sh-ShaShTha
      • ya-t- + nAsti  ya-n-nAsti
  • recursion: infinite productivity by finite means,
    • e.g. in I saw the man who called the boy who kissed his sister who hit the child…
  • Linguistic grammars: procedural rule systems, based on a finite procedure of steps to decide whether a sequence of words is ‘grammatical’
  • How can an archetype (original source) be reconstructed from extant copies?
  • Systematic philology: foundation of Library of Alexandria (300 BC): an empirical world of over 700,000 manuscripts
    • Often hundreds of manuscripts of the ‘same source’ but many inconsistencies.
philology 2
Philology (2)
  • Aristophanes of Byzantium (257-180 BC):
    • Formal rules of Analogy
    • If an unknown ‘item’ is inflected in the same way as a known word, then the item is a word, otherwise it’s a typo or corruption
    • Rules on the basis of: (1) gender, (2) case, (3) suffix, (4) nr syllables and (5) accent
    • Procedural rule system
study of music
Study of music
  • Oldest law is a musical law (Pythagoras)
    • Law of Consonant intervals
      • Consonant intervals are concords where the separate tones fuse, become ‘one’ tone
  • Consonant intervals correspond to simple ratio’s (with respect to the lengths of strings), e.g. 1/1, 1/2, 2/3, 3/4
    • Cosmological significance
    • Already in antiquity controversy on this issue: a ‘third’ corresponds to 64/81 but sounds much more consonant than the ‘second’, which is 8/9
      • Pythagoras against Aristoxenus
study of music 2
Study of music (2)
  • Aristoxenus (3rd cent. BCE)
    • Focuses on melodic laws underlying Greek music
    • Similar to language: Aristoxenus gives 25 grammatical restrictions for Greek melodies, e.g.:
      • No pyknon (i.e. 2 dieses) is adjacent to another pyknon
      • From a tone there are two possible progressions: a third downwards or a pyknon upwards
    • Aristoxenus’ rules only give the restrictions, not a procedure for generating all ‘good’ melodies:
    • Declarative rule system
      • Cf. declarative vs. procedural programming languages
art theory
Art Theory
  • Pliny (1st cent. CE): first extant art history and search for rules underlying art.
    • (1) increase in Illusionism from 500 BCE onwards
    • (2) artistic genius cannot be formalized
    • (3) but there are underlying proportions in art, e.g. all sculpture from 500-300 BCE follows the Canon as ‘formalized’ by Polykleitos’ Doryphoros
  • Also in architecture, Vitrivius discovers/describes proportions of doric, ionic and corinthian orders
art theory 2
Art Theory (2)
  • India and China: also fixed proportions have been ‘discovered’ in both painting and sculpture:
    • Buddhist art: Vatsyayana (300 CE): describes Sadanga proportions
    • China: Xie He (500 CE) give six principles for ‘good’ painting
  • Proportions only define the boundaries or restrictions of possible art pieces, no procedure:
  • Declarative rule system
logic and rhetoric
Logic and Rhetoric
  • Logic and Rhetoric are strongly interconnected in antiquity
    • Logic: is there a system of rules underlying human reasoning?
    • Rhetoric: is there is system of rules underlying human persuasion?
  • Aristotle gives first attempt of rule-system for both logic (syllogisms) and rhetoric (enthymemes)
  • Stoic logicians give a formalized propositional logic
logic and rhetoric 2
Logic and Rhetoric (2)
  • While Aristotelian logic is deductive it does not provide a procedure for applying his logic to concrete situations in rhetoric
  • There is a set of heuristic rules that can help the rhetorician to create a convincing argumentation:
  • Heuristic rule system: no guarantee of success
  • Aristotle gives in his Poetica an explicit set of principles (restrictive rules) that counts for a good piece of theater and narrative
    • Aristotle’s rules are generalizations of observations of existing Greek tragedies
    • However, Horace prescribes Aristotle’s rules in a normative way: “I will tell the poet his duties … what he should and should not do…”
    • Process from Description to Prescription
poetics 2
Poetics (2)
  • Dionysius of Halicarnassus (1st c. BCE)
    • Empirical Poetics: Dionysius tests the rules given by the Stoics for “poetic” language
      • E.g. nouns must precede verbs, verbs precede adverbs, etc.
    • Dionysius finds that the Stoic laws of poetic language are not followed by Homer (whose reputation was uncontroversial). He therefore rejects the stoic poetic theory.
    • Declarative rule system
ancient humanities in retrospective
Ancient Humanities in Retrospective
  • Empirical tradition in the study of texts, language, music, art, literature, argumentation:
    • Quest for underlying rule systems
      • Procedural rule system
      • Declarative rule system
      • Heuristic rule system
    • These systems can be falsified
  • We find both a search for rules and for exceptions
    • Analogists of Alexandria vs the Anomalists of Pergamon (cf. nomothetic vs idiographic)
similar kind of rule systems also in modern humanities
Similar kind of rule systems also in modern humanities
  • E.g. situation around 1900-1950:
  • art history: stylistic analyses and iconological interpretations by declarative rule system (Wölfflin, Panofsky and others).
  • literary theory: rule-based structural analysis of literature by a procedural rule system (Propp, Todorov)
  • linguistics: grammatical analysis by a a procedural rule system (Jacobson, Chomsky, Joshi and others)
  • Historiography: rules for source criticism by Berr, Bloch and others, looks like heuristic rule system
  • music analysis: rules for harmonic, melodic and rhythmic analysis by e.g. Schenker, Lerdahl and Jackendoff, procedural / declarative
  • theatre analysis: searching for underlying rules of acting by Eugenio Barba, declarative rule system
    • Etcetra
  • Study of humanistic practice is fundamental for understanding discoveries in the humanities:
      • Procedural rule system
      • Declarative rule system
      • Heuristic rule system
  • While rules and regularities were attacked by Dilthey, Windelband and later postmodernists, they continue to be part of humanistic practice.