Abstracts for Akadeemia 12/2006

Roosmarii Kurvits
Changes in the appearance of Estonian newspapers in the 1990s: From socialism to modernism and some postmodernism. I

The article studies when, how, and why Estonian newspapers that used to be Soviet in their form became similar to newspapers of the Western world. It compares the appearance of three major Estonian-language national dailies (Rahva Hääl / Eesti Päevaleht; Noorte Hääl / Päevaleht; and Edasi / Postimees) through content analysis. It analyzes the papers’ frequency and the size of their main layout elements (texts, photos, headlines, labels, infographics, sidebars).

Aleksei Nõu
A few facts on F. R. Kreutzwald and his work

We publish the Aleksei Nõu’s speech at the Imanta Estonian society in Riga on 14 December 1903 (Old Style), which marked the centenary of Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald’s birth. Kreutzwald’s greatest literary and folkloristic achievement was the Estonian national epic Kalevipoeg (1857-1861). Particularly in the 1850s and 1860s, his activities helped to lay the foundations for national literature and the development of the whole Estonian cultural and national awakening, hence his title – the father of song (lauluisa). Being a doctor by profession, he also promoted health education among Estonians.

Denis Diderot
The paradox of the actor. II

In this treatise presented in dialogue form, it is not essential for Diderot how the original literary image of the dramatic character changes in the actor’s embodiment into a person of flesh and blood, but how the actor’s personality becomes irreal in the conditional world of the theatre. The author emphasizes the different dimensions of life and art. The leitmotif of the dialogue is that the theatre is a different world.

Diderot’s greatest worry is that art should not dissolve in the formless and fluid empiricism of life. He attempts to lift art above petty-bourgeois prose by abstraction and strict form. Everything in art has to be subjected to the laws of harmony and unity. This also determines his views on acting – the actor is not expected to possess heightened sensitivity but virtuosity based on sobriety of thought.

The actor must not be concerned with himself but with the audience. He must be able to enact all roles except one – which represents his own personality. This is possible if he does not rely on emotions but is guided by reason, by knowledge of human nature, which, in its turn, enables him to strive for the ideal image for the given role.

The contrast between life and theatre conceals the much stronger opposition between civilization and nature. Diderot equates the performance with highly organized society – the actor with his cold reason resembles the ideal citizen who, like the actor, has to forget his sensitivity, listen to the voice of reason in order to perform the role given to him by society.

The leitmotif of the dialogue – “the theatre is a different world” – contains another significant overtone. It is as if the actors and the audience of the “great comedy of life” change places. Now, instead of the chaos of the “great comedy of life”, the audience can see the whole and is able to give meaning to it. The audience, in the same way as the actor, has a paradoxical and dual role. The audience capitulates to the power of illusion, is transferred to the world of the performance, identifies with the character – and, simultaneously, is not subjected to the illusion.

Thus, the actor is able to enact any character and imitate any tone because he has none of his own. He is simultaneously everything and nothing: his personal countenance never coincides with the character he has to impersonate.

Diderot does not smooth away the paradoxes; his treatise is topical again as an open polyphonic dialogue on art.

Indrek Reiland
On environmental ethics and its concept of the environment

This article argues that until now environmental ethics has mostly been interested in nature and its value. Another influential idea claims that environmental ethics should be something opposed to traditional ethics and radically different from it. Reiland finds, on the contrary, that environmental ethics is a secondary subdiscipline of ethics, which, similar to human ethics and bioethics, has to rely on the findings of basic ethics and can be characterized by the specific problems in its range of interest. Environmental ethics deals, by means of philosophical reflection, with solving environmental problems in the most environmentally friendly and sustainable way. Despite their differences, environmental ethicists share certain basic values and aims. All of them consider nature valuable and worth protecting, and attempt to solve environmental problems.

Therefore, the first shift in the self-understanding and practice of environmental ethics should be the following. Environmental ethicists should see as their immediate aim changing peoples’ behaviour and attitudes in relation to nature. This should be the main immediate aim of environmental ethicists as this is the best means for achieving the discipline’s basic aim and defending its basic values. The greatest environmental hazard lies in people and their intentional actions. People create environmental problems, and their interests form an obstacle to solving them. The most obvious solution would be providing people with good reasons for changing their attitudes and behaviour in relation to the environment. Studying the value of nature is one of the possible ways of achieving this immediate aim, but it should not become an aim in itself. The author also finds another change necessary, which concerns the object of prescriptions of environmental ethics – the object towards which environmental ethics attempts to shape peoples’ behaviour and attitudes. Until now, only nature has been seen as such an object, but in the article she attempts to show that a more appropriate object would be a concept of the environment that includes both the natural and the artefactual. Although protection of artefacts is not the direct aim of environmental ethics, their inclusion is necessary for protection of nature and would help to bring environmental ethics closer to the practice of environmental protection. Thus, a concept of the environment that could serve as an object for prescriptions of environmental ethics would be formed of everything external that surrounds people and influences them or is influenced by them – everything external in the common summary causal environment of all people.

Robert Rosen
The Church-Pythagoras thesis

The author claims that, around the sixth century BC, mathematics took a disastrous wrong turn, which can be described as an ongoing attempt, since then, to identify effectiveness with computability.

Namely Pythagoras associated lengths with qualities such as musical tones and pitches, and ratios of integral lengths with subjectivities such as musical euphonies. However, it fell to Pythagoras himself to discover the falsity of commensurability. This came about when he departed from the province of a single geometrical dimension, by leaving the one-dimensional world of line segments and going to the geometric plane.

In its essence, Church’s Thesis is based on an attempt to re-establish such a limit as commensurability and to deny the existence or reality of everything that does not meet this condition.

Commensurability was the original peg, the harmonia, that tied geometry to arithmetic. It said that we could express a geometric quality, such as the length of an extended line segment, by a number. Moreover, this number was obtained by repetition of a rote process, basically counting.

What we today call Church’s Thesis began as an attempt to internalize, or formalize, the notion of effectiveness. It proceeded by equating effectiveness with what could be done by iterating rote processes that were already inside – i.e. with algorithms based entirely on syntax. That is exactly what computability means. But it entails commensurability. Therefore it too is false.

Formalization procedures, such as the one contemplated by Pythagoras so long ago and relentlessly pursued since then, create worlds without external referents; from within such a world, one cannot entail the existence of anything else.

From Pythagoras to Church, the attempt to preserve smallness in large worlds has led to a succession of disastrous paradoxes, and it is past time to forget about it. The Pythagorean program has seeped insidiously into epistemology, into how we view science and the scientific enterprise, through common concerns with measurement and the search for laws relating them. Pythagorean ideas are found at the root of the program of reduction, the attempt to devolve what is large exclusively to what is small. Another manifestation of these attempts is the confusion of science with mimesis, through the idea that whatever is, is simulable. This is embodied in the idea that every model of a material process must be formalizable.

In particular, these ideas have become confused with objectivity, and hence with the very fabric of scientific enterprise. Objectivity is supposed to mean observer independence, and more generally, context independence. Over the course of time, this has come to mean only building from the smaller to the larger, and reducing the larger to the smaller. This can be true only in a very small world. In any large world, such as the one we inhabit, this kind of identification is in fact a mutilation, and it serves only to estrange most of what is interesting from the realm of science itself.

Published 10 January 2007
Original in English

Contributed by Akadeemia © Akadeemia Eurozine


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