Richard Mitchell on agents and acts

Tom Wright j_thomas_wright at
Sat Sep 24 17:48:59 EST 2005

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<P>From:&nbsp;&nbsp;<I>Carrol Cox &lt;cbcox at;</I><BR>To:&nbsp;&nbsp;<I>Burke List &lt;kb at;</I><BR>Subject:&nbsp;&nbsp;<I>Re: Richard Mitchell on agents and acts</I><BR>Date:&nbsp;&nbsp;<I>Sat, 24 Sep 2005 16:59:54 -0500</I><BR>&gt;<BR>&gt;<BR>&gt;Tom Wright wrote:<BR>&gt; &gt;<BR>&gt; &gt; If the sentence includes "by John," "by Sam," or "by the cloud," then<BR>&gt; &gt; yes, there is an agent.&nbsp;&nbsp;Mitchell's point, however--and my point as it<BR>&gt; &gt; relates to technical journals--is that this kind of writing does cry<BR>&gt; &gt; out for some kind of formal fulfillment.<BR>&gt; &gt;<BR>&gt; &gt; One example I give elsewhere is "Younger individuals with<BR>&gt; &gt; nonosteopenic bone were treated with an Anatomic or Multilock<BR>&gt; &gt; uncemented stem."&nbsp;&nbsp;It says they were treated--but it doesn't say who<BR>&gt; &gt; treated 
them.&nbsp;&nbsp;The emphasis of the sentence is more on the<BR>&gt; &gt; technological solution than on the human agent that's not even<BR>&gt; &gt; mentioned.<BR>&gt;<BR>&gt;But indication of an agent here would be mere padding. "The Agent" is<BR>&gt;whatever M.D. out there reads the sentence and finds a way to treat<BR>&gt;his/her patient. In other words, the agent is the reader, and what the<BR>&gt;agent needs is the technological solution. When a writer carries this<BR>&gt;technical style over to other contexts it becomes obnoxious and/or<BR>&gt;deceptive. But in the proper context to jazz it up would be really<BR>&gt;foolish.<BR>&gt;<BR>&gt;Carrol<BR></P>
<P>I would argue that it can become deceptive even in technical journals.&nbsp; It creates the illusion of objectivity.&nbsp; In Burkean terms, it implies that scientific experiments involve motion, not action.&nbsp; Motion, of course, is free from bias; action is not.&nbsp; By not mentioning the agent, these texts avoid reminding the reader that the experiments are performed by people who are fallible and whose motives might be suspect.</P>

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