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Monday, 5 June 2017

An Intellectual Biography?

Alphabetical Thinking
I have been organising my thoughts alphabetically for many years. Emptying out a cupboard, I found a sheet of foolscap, dated 1991, with a draft list of chapter headings for a book to be written titled Things to Think With: One Hundred Powerful Ideas. I liked Claude Lévi-Strauss’s phrase choses bonnes à penser (things good to think with) the moment I first encountered it and I have made repeated use of the idea. On this 1991 occasion my alphabetical list of chapter headings reads as follows, now properly alphabetised and numbered by a click on Word. The material in square brackets has been added to clarify what I was thinking about:

1.      Alienation [Marx]
2.      Analytic/Synthetic [philosophy of language]
3.      Aufhebung [Hegel]
4.      Background / Foreground
5.      Bad Faith
6.      Believing that “p” is true
7.      Bricolage [Lévi-Strauss]
8.      Catastrophe  Theory
9.      Collective / Distributive Agreement [theories of convention and mutual belief]
10.  Collective Goods [Mancur Olson etc]
11.  Cyclical Majority (Condorcet)  [also Kenneth Arrow]
12.  Deconstruction [Derrida]
13.  Double Bind [Gregory Bateson]
14.  Emic / Etic  [as in phonemic / phonetic]
15.  Equality of Opportunity
16.  Fact / Value Distinction
17.  Falsifiability [Popper]
18.  Family Resemblance [Wittengstein]
19.  Functionalism [ as in sociology]
20.  Games, Theory of
21.  Geisteswissenschaften [ the human sciences in the German tradition ]
22.  Genre
23.  Gestalt [ as in Psychology]
24.  Gödel’s Theorem
25.  Good Enough Mother [Winnicott]
26.  Grammar
27.  Ideology
28.  Indifference Curve Analysis [as in marginalist economics]
29.  Intentional Object [philosophy of mind and language]
30.  Intertextuality [various literary theorists]
31.  Intuition / Introspection [ as in linguistics]
32.  Irreversibility
33.  Language
34.  Making Strange [as in Wordsworth, Shklovsky and Brecht]
35.  Marginal Utility [in economics]
36.  Modularity [ as in modular theories of mind – Chomsky, Fodor etc]
37.  Natural Selection [Darwin]
38.  Necessary and Sufficient [conditions as in philosophy]
39.  Optimality [ as in public goods theories – Olson, Elster etc]
40.  Original Position [John Rawls]
41.  Overdetermination  [Freud, Althusser]
42.  Paradigm / Episteme [ Kuhn, Foucault]
43.  Personal is Political
44.  Possible Worlds [analytical philosophy]
45.  Pragmatics
46.  Prisoner’s Dilemma [theory of games]
47.  Producer Capture [ libertarian political theory]
48.  Public Sphere [Habermas]
49.  Relevance [Grice, Sperber and Wilson]
50.  Repressive Tolerance [Marcuse]
51.  Rigid Designator [Saul Kripke]
52.  Semiotic / Semantic [Julia Kristeva]
53.  Structure
54.  Surplus of Meaning [literary theory]
55.  Synchrony [Saussure]
56.  “The Real” [probably Hegel]
57.  Theodicy [the problem of evil]
58.  Transference [ Freud]
59.  Transformation [Chomsky]
60.  Transitional Object [Winnicott]
61.  Turing Machine [Alan Turing]
62.  Twin Earth [analytical philosophy; Putnam]
63.  Uncertainty Principle  [Heisenberg]
64.  Unconscious [Freud]
65.  Underdetermination [Kuhn, Quine, Feyerabend]
66.  Uniformitarianism [Lyell’s Geology]
67.  Unintended Consequences [social and economic theory]
68.  Universal Grammar [ Chomsky]
69.  Zero-Sum [Theory of Games]


The idea was to get to 100 ideas but as you see I only got to 69. The book never got written, but many of the ideas are to be found through my writing, past and present. When I look at the list now, I think it can serve as a very short and fairly honest intellectual biography.

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