Bad Scholar!

Where is my hunched back when I need it?

I’m reading Clifford Geertz on ‘thick description’ because I’m interested in the notion of ‘thick concepts’ as they have been discussed by ethicists since Bernard Williams’ Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy. Thick concepts are a magical knockout blow against non-cognitivism.  Williams got the concept from Geertz, who in turn was influenced by Gilbert Ryle’s work.

Only Williams didn’t.  Or at least, Geertz doesn’t appear in the index of the book, nor in the endnotes.  How the hell did I come up with the idea that these two authors are related? On the basis of testimony, Jonathan Dancy says Williams got the notion from Geertz, but I read Dancy on the subject after I’d picked up Geertz.  Best I can do is this rather unspecific footnote in the SEP.  Seems like everyone heard somewhere that Williams was on about Geertz, but no one ever actually had any evidence for that.

One suspects that Ryle was involved, since Williams and Ryle crossed paths at Oxford back in the good old days.  Even with Ryle’s diminishing influence later on, Williams was probably familiar with his ideas.

It’s probably not important that I be able to connect Williams to Geertz via direct citation, but it’s irksome not to remember whether there is a concrete link.

Honestly, I’m pretty sure I got the idea from a list that Scott Eric Kaufman made.


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