By S. Aronowitz
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Additional info for Against Orthodoxy: Social Theory and Its Discontents
We use the adjective “enlightened” to refer to the by now established idea that, against the presumed speculative bent of medieval investigators, the demarcation between science and nonscience consists in whether claims to truth have a method of verification. Science depends on observation, mathematical calculation, and experiment, while the various forms of speculation—philosophy, mythology, poetry—lack the ground from which theorizing might attain the lofty perches of apodictic reason. If David Hume (1978) was right to call attention to the unreliability of the senses in the accumulation of knowledge, Immanuel Kant’s (1929) solution—to posit subordinate knowledge of the senses to the categories of mind and to install the primacy of method, grounded both in observation and in algorithms of verification and proof—is held as the corrective.
Although he acknowledges that we are “in danger” of losing the Great Tradition, for which Williams never lost affection, he also points out that it may not be a problem of the works, whatever their conventional categorization, but instead the standardization of all culture, the flattening of difference that appears endemic to social life. Williams insists that if the power of the Great Tradition is to challenge us to change our routine ways 34 Against Orthodoxy ● of thinking, this property may be experienced in the reception of journalism or popular genres as well as so-called minority culture.
After an extensive analysis of the ambiguity of the high-low debate, in which he finds himself straddling the line between advocacy of the Great Tradition of English culture and a more complex critique of its relation to both the popular and the “mass” culture, Williams directly enters the dangerous waters of policy, where at the outset he reiterates the starting point that, with a few detours, guided his entire career as a public intellectual: that men [sic] should grow in capacity and power to direct their own lives—by creating democratic institutions, by bringing new sources of energy into human work, and by extending the expression and exchange of experience on which understanding depends.
Against Orthodoxy: Social Theory and Its Discontents by S. Aronowitz