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Darwin-L Message Log 5:34 (January 1994)

Academic Discussion on the History and Theory of the Historical Sciences

This is one message from the Archives of Darwin-L (1993–1997), a professional discussion group on the history and theory of the historical sciences.

Note: Additional publications on evolution and the historical sciences by the Darwin-L list owner are available on SSRN.


<5:34>From T20MXS1@MVS.CSO.NIU.EDU  Fri Jan  7 23:33:17 1994

Date: Fri, 07 Jan 94 23:36 CST
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
From: mike salovesh <T20MXS1@MVS.CSO.NIU.EDU>
Subject: On going beyond evidence and method ---

Scott DeLancey, speaking of Greenberg's linguistic work on alleged
wide-ranging genetic relationships among language families that
most linguists see as unrelated, faults Greenberg's methodology:
>>Well, he could be right about some of that, for all we know,
>>but if so it's just by accident!

As a former linguistic researcher (and present-day social anthropolo-
gist), I'd like to add a historical footnote.  Edward Sapir, in his
time, proposed wide-ranging linguistic relationships for North
America that were faulted on exactly the same grounds.  In general,
he turned out to be right.  Morris Swadesh--Sapir's student, and
Greenberg's friend--did the same damned thing.  Here we have three
extraordinary linguists who made outstanding contributions to their
science, all somehow given to proposing the same kind of hypotheses.
(Yes, and going overboard in claiming that they were demonstrated--
not demonstrably, but DEMONSTRATED--to be true.)

I know that Greenberg's methodology is dubious in the extreme.  I
used to tell Morrie Swadesh that his was, too.  But I've learned
not to bet against these guys: they're so often right!

Question:  How do we believers in knowing how you know deal with
the kind of genius that comes up with right answers by no method we
can handle, or perhaps no method at all save genius?

mike salovesh, Anthro Dept, Northern Ill Univ
<t20mxs1@niu.bitnet> OR <t20mxs1@mvs.cso.niu.edu>

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