Dreams of a Rule without Exceptions: A Chapter from the History of Rules
- Date: –16:00
- Location: SCAS, Thunbergssalen Linneanum, Thunbergsvägen 2, Uppsala
- Lecturer: Lorraine Daston, Guest of the Principal, SCAS. Director, Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte, Berlin. Visiting Professor of Social Thought and History, The John U. Nef Committee on Social Thought, University of Chicago. Permanent Fellow, Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin
- Organiser: Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study (SCAS)
- Contact person: Sandra Rekanovic
There is no known human culture without rules, but the content of specific rules differs notoriously among cultures in different times and places. Yet however different in content, all of these cultural prescriptions and prohibitions are immediately recognizable as rules, whether they are implicitly or explicitly formulated. My question is a different one: can the idea of what a rule is, regardless of its content, change? Can rules as a category of thinking and acting have a history? I shall argue that at least in some parts of Europe, notably in metropolises like Amsterdam, Paris, and London, rules underwent a noteworthy change in form during the eighteenth century. Whereas most rules of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries – a period that witnessed an unprecedented efflorescence of rules for everything from architecture to musical composition to warfare – were formulated using examples, appeals to experience, and even exceptions, the rules and especially the regulations of the eighteenth century became increasingly rigid in their formulation, as rigid as this marble meter standard mounted into the wall during the French Revolution. The elasticity that had been built into the articulation of earlier rules, leaving room for judgment and adjustment, disappeared. This was a major mutation in what a rule could be, and in the age of algorithms for everything, we are still living with its consequences.