Lorraine Daston

Jan 5, 2023

Lorraine Daston Rules the World (EF, JP)

A Discussion of Rules and Where they Come From

New Books Network 2023

purchase at bookshop.org

Historian of science Lorraine Daston's wonderful new book, Rules: A Short History of What We Live by (Princeton UP, 2022). is just out. Daston's earlier pathbreaking works include Against Nature, Classical Probability in the Enlightenment and many co-authored books, including Objectivity (with Peter Galison) which introduced the idea of historically changeable "epistemic virtues."

In this Recall this Book conversation, Daston--Raine to her friends--shows that rules are never as thin (as abstract and context-free) as they pretend to be. True, we love a rule that seems to brook no exceptions: by the Renaissance, even God is no longer allowed to make exceptions in the form of miracles. Yet throughout history, Raine shows, islands of standardized stability are less stable than they seem. What may feel like oppressively general norms and standards are actually highly protected ecotopes within which thin rules can arise. Look for instance at the history of sidewalks (Raine has)!

Raine, Elizabeth and John dive into the details. Implicit and explicit rules are distinguished in the case of e.g. cookbooks and monasteries--and then the gray areas in-between are explored. When students unconsciously ape their teachers, that is a tricky form of emulation--is it even possible to "follow but not ape"? Perhaps genres do this work: The Aeneid is not the Iliad and yet older writers are somehow internalized in the later ones.

Mentioned in the Episode

Recallable Books

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Elizabeth Ferry and John Plotz

Free-ranging discussion of books from the past that cast a sideways light on today's world. Recall This Book is hosted by Elizabeth Ferry, Professor of Anthropology at Brandeis University and John Plotz, Barbara Mandel Professor of the Humanities at Brandeis University and co-founder of the Brandeis Educational Justice Initiative.

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