[lit-ideas] Re: What is information?

  • From: Robert Paul <rpaul@xxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sun, 24 Sep 2006 13:19:44 -0700

Donal McEvoy wrote:

> [It is likely] that there are contexts, including
> legal ones, where it might be important to differentiate various senses of
> information but we can do this, to all extents and purposes, without having
> an answer to the question of what information _is_ in any more fundamental
> sense.

I just finished going through Robert Paxton's Anatomy of Fascism, for Senior
Symposium. It's a book we've used for the past couple of years. In it, Paxton
explores, usefully, the various fascistic and quasi-fascistic movements of the
past century, ending, of course, with that paradigm of fascism, Hitler's Third
Reich. I say, 'paradigm of fascism,' because the rise of National Socialism,
Hitler's coming to power, the creation of the Nazi state, are what (with a nod
to the camicie nere) people usually point to when they want to give an example
of fascism. Along the way, Paxton points out examples of movements in various
countries that seemed to aspire fo fascism but 'failed,' and offers explanaions
of why such movements never took hold in other countries where the conditions
might have seemed ripe. At the end he sets out a number of things a political
movement and a form of government must meet in order to be fascism, properly

This has always set off my nominalist alarms: in investigating what is essential
to fascism, Paxton rejects, as I've noted, failed attempts, near-misses, and so
on, and, like Socrates, who consistently purports not to know what the thing
under discussion is, he's never at a loss when it comes to rejecting candidates
for it. The difficulty is this: Paxton (Socrates) set out to investigate what
fascism (virtue) are: in Paxton's case, this must be a historical
investigation, which relies on facts about who did what and what happened when.
Should one expect that from this he would be able to extract a concept of
fascism, a concept such that something is fascism if and only if it has certain
features, and not otherwise? Doesn't this already begin to look a little
suspicious? It not only looks suspicious, but at a certain level, it strikes me
as incoherent.

'The movements and governments we call fascistic seem to have certain features,
some of them more salient than others.' 'Fascism must have these (this list of)
features if it's to be fascism, rightly so called.' One might think about the
different ways in which one might go about establishing these, for they will, I
think, be different.

Robert Paul
Wittgensteinian of a decidedly different hue

> Though this is a Popperian view I suspect Wittgensteinians of a hue might
> join hands with me on this. (As might Humeans, Kantians, Buddhists etc).
> Pray, and join hands, for the death of essentialism.
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