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Again, I am at point-non-plus, for I am totally at a loss in knowing how to cope with such reasoning.
quote:
... the term “soft subject” is argumentative, to be sure. I did a bit of surfing to see what spray of opinion there is about this ...
... that is a quote of how I opened this discussion on "hard and "soft", and Kalleh is quite right when she notes the general lack of consistency on it (to wit, it depends on where you look). I, too, noticed this lack of consistency, and that is EXACTLY why I defined the term as I comprehend it (rather than "coined" it) before embarking on this discussion! I found this way of looking at "hard" and "soft" rather interesting, and a potentially productive way of examining things!

So, we need to be careful when we speak of "those in the know"!

Moreover, I am totally unclear on what Kalleh means by "to give in on this one", for what is the point she feels she would be conceding to? By my definition the subjects she lists are largely "hard" ones in that they have considerable content that one cannot learn simply by going about the business of living. Nursing, as a subject, has both "hard" and "soft" elements, by that definition. So does linguistics. If you apply that definition, do you conclude anything different? Apply it to "English", as a subject, I mean, and surely you'll agree that it is almost 100% "soft"?

For sure, you'll note that there IS a correlation between "easy" and "soft", but that is all it is - a correlation - and there are many interesting ways that they diverge.


"The smell of the dust they kicked up was rich and satisfying" - Grahame
 
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quote:
For sure, you'll note that there IS a correlation between "easy" and "soft"

Here is where I disagree. I do realize, however, that many in math and science think that way, however.
 
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I think, Kalleh, we are probably destined to be talking at cross purposes, at least on this point.

All along you have been fervently arguing on the assumption that my calling something "soft" is somehow equivalent to saying that it is "easy", and, therefore, I am denigrating anything "soft". However, my "soft" DOES NOT mean "easy", and it never has! Some "soft" matter can be very difficult indeed! I carefully defined, from the first, how I was using the term, for I knew it was a possible source of confusion, and I also knew how eager people are to take offense!

So, while my "soft" does not mean "easy", I do admit that there is a correlation between them! What, then, are you disagreeing with? Considering that you have been arguing on the notion that my "soft" = "easy", I mean.

However, I have taken no offense when, regardless of my careful use of my terms, and my very careful arguments, I get summarily dismissed as being one of the "many" in "math and science that think that way", where by "that way" is presumably meant "some erroneous, prejudiced and bent view of reality". I am quite ready to accept such stricture when it is deserved (as it may occasionally be, Heaven knows!), but less so when it is not!

In passing, note that I am not unique in using "soft" as I defined here (as was implied elsewhere on this thread), because I am using "soft" and "hard" in the same way as is typically meant when used with "soft" and "hard" knowledge, where "soft" means "involving opinion and qualitative judgements" - viz, the things of living and life experience. This is discussed in the following soft treatise on the subject: Soft vs Hard

Cheers.


"The smell of the dust they kicked up was rich and satisfying" - Grahame
 
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In thinking about it, I guess I see "soft" and "hard" courses as poor descriptors, mostly because there isn't a common understanding of the words. Yes, you were clear in your definition, but anyone can define any word their own way. That is hardly helpful.

So, I think those two descriptors for courses should not be used.
 
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The article WeeWilly cited gives these definitions:
quote:
Hard knowledge is that which is accepted as indubitably uncontested, while soft knowledge is denoted by a lack of agreement about its properties and is characterized by contestation.


The authors give examples:
quote:
Whether food tastes good is soft knowledge because people disagree about what tastes good. Against this, hard knowledge may be defined as that which people generally accept without discussion. For example, recipes for using chemicals to fabricate artificial tastes can be regarded as hard knowledge, because they work, can be replicated and are knowable thorough the sense-datum of taste.


WeeWilly has taken this concept of hard and soft knowledge and applied it to subjects. I don't think it's fair to say that he made it up and to say that "anyone can define any word their own way." The article from theguardian that Bethree5 cited seems to agree with WeeWilly's position. You may not agree with WeeWilly, but to dismiss him with "That is hardly helpful" is unwarranted. I can't say I understand or agree with all he says, but I think he has a right to say it.

This discussion reminds me in some ways of C.P. Snow's Two Cultures.
 
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How delightful to bring up Snow's influential (and controversial) lecture, tinman. It has been years since I've heard anything about it, and I'll admit that I had to go a-hunting to recall when it occurred. It was 1959, and back then in Britain (and probably in NA, too) Intellectual Olympia still belonged to the classics and the humanities - and so did intellectual snobbery. Asimov would have agreed wholeheartedly with Snow's assessment. Egad! Are we thrashing in some vague descendant of the "quarrel of positivism versus interpretivism"? Frown

My "hard" and "soft" was a mild (and very amateur) foray into epistemology I think (although unsure now,because I lost sight of where in tar-nation I was heading when I made that particular posting!), but I abandoned the idea when the thread wandered off in another direction. Wink


"The smell of the dust they kicked up was rich and satisfying" - Grahame
 
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Oh, Tinman, I don't doubt that others define "hard" and "soft" courses the same way - math and science types, that is. After all, theirs are "hard" courses. I suppose I used to think that way as well. Now I am realizing the error of my ways.
 
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What in tar-nation are these [unlightened?] "math and science types"? And why the "after all", and what is "that way" you used to think? ... presumably before you became enlightened, and realized the error of your ways? I simply do not know where you are coming from, Kalleh, nor do I see the origin of your [seemingly] taking offense. Can you put your finger on it? I really see nothing here that should cause the mildest offense (except, maybe, to a grief councilor or child psychologist - and even this is open to discussion - or to a "math or science type") ...


"The smell of the dust they kicked up was rich and satisfying" - Grahame
 
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Below is why.

From dictionary.com related to "study:"

Hard - involving a great deal of effort, energy, or persistence

Unfortunately, soft doesn't have a definition related to "study," but this gives us a hint: "not hard;" "having little resistance;" "easy;" "light"

That should make you understand my reluctance for using "hard" or "soft." Besides that, math and science isn't always hard for folks. My husband, for example, finds them both quite easy because they are his strength. Others find literature or art or music, etc., easy because they are gifted in them. Yet, others can find them quite hard. So I just don't think "hard" and "soft" are very descriptive.

It's just my opinion and surely I get it that half the world uses it your way.
 
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Ok, Kalleh, I'll go along with that if you'll supply me with a simple little word that I can use instead of "soft" which, when applied to study or knowledge, means "involving interpretive judgment and opinion, qualitative, difficult to measure, moot, to be assessed or understood in the crucible of [human] experience - requiring 'life experience' to acquire or learn", and so on. And also, please supply a word that is its counterpart, in lieu of "hard", to mean "factual, not open to interpretation, definite, measurable, reliable - and requiring pointed study to acquire or learn".

These are two very different kinds of knowledge, and it is sometimes fitting to have a word to encapsulate which sort of knowledge we are dealing with! It is no accident that the world fairly often produces young geniuses in "hard" subjects, but young geniuses in "soft" subjects are NOWHERE to be found! BTW, exclude "music" from this observation, for, while I classify it as "soft", doing so provides some problematic and interesting aspects that invite discussion!


"The smell of the dust they kicked up was rich and satisfying" - Grahame
 
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From the OED Online:
quote:
soft, adj.
 IV.
28.
Miscellaneous transf. and fig. uses.

 a. Of facts, information, etc.: insubstantial, impressionistic, imprecise (opp. hard adj. 6b, 6d). Of a science or its method: not amenable to precise mathematical treatment or to experimental verification or refutation; esp . in soft science.

1923   Sci. Amer. Feb. 77/2   Its functions and its limitations are to get the facts from the bottom to the top of the coal industry, both hard and soft
.
1966   Time 3 June 43   Project simile Director Hall T. Sprague says these games are ‘to the soft sciences what a laboratory is to the hard sciences of physics, chemistry and biology’.

1968   Physics Bull. Oct. 351/2   One of the striking features of the present time is the penetration of ‘hard’ methods (quantitative, physical analyses) into subjects which were hitherto ‘soft’ (descriptive, non-numerical).

1970   Publishers' Weekly 8 June 154   Hardscience is science (physics, math, chemistry), softscience is the humanities, sociology in particular.

1972   Lancet 25 Nov. 1138/1   Clinical departments..must learn a new respect for the ‘soft’ data of sociology.

1976   National Observer (U.S.) 10 Apr. 20/5   All the President's Men is what reporters call a ‘soft’ story—breezily entertaining but short on hard facts.

1976   Times Lit. Suppl. 25 June 766/2   The soft areas in evolutionary theory, which he sorts into a series of Hegelian opposites: adaptive versus nonadaptive traits, [etc.].

1980   Dædalus Spring 94   One might view these various expressions..spanning (from the ‘hard’ end) science, history and anthropology..to (at the ‘soft’ end) dreams and personal fantasy.

1982   Daily Tel. 23 Apr. 22   Most academic articles in all the sciences (hard and soft) are read by very few people.
 
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quote:
BTW, exclude "music" from this observation, for, while I classify it as "soft", doing so provides some problematic and interesting aspects that invite discussion!
No, I won't exclude music. Then we really get into problems. What if I say, "Okay, exclude physics, calculus and biochemistry"?

And there are young geniuses in music, art and literature, just as with science and math.

Tinman, what are you trying to point out with all those quotes?
 
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Kalleh, one of us is completely adrift here. It may well be I, and so must conclude that, again, I have done a hopeless job of making my case. The upshot is that I have absolutely no idea of how to respond. Best wishes.


"The smell of the dust they kicked up was rich and satisfying" - Grahame
 
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Kalleh, you have maintained all along that WeeWillie's definition of "soft subject" was all his own. Then you say that "soft doesn't have a definition related to "study," ... . I have shown you a definition from the OED which supports WeeWillie's definition and definitely relates to study. WeeWillie has said that his "'soft' DOES NOT mean 'easy'," yet you seem to equate the two. The OED says that soft can mean insubstantial, impressionistic, or imprecise facts or information, pretty much what WeeWillie said. And facts and information often come through study. The quotes are just the citations in the OED.
 
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When hard is modifying something as abstract as a field of study, I think of it meaning "not easy". It's "not soft" meaning is reserved for terms that have the quality of its resistance to change when some force is applied. There's another set of meanings, well known, I believe, in academia: hard subjects are more "real" than soft ones. That is a hard science, such as chemistry, as opposed to a soft one, like economics or sociology. For many, this meaning has something to do with the amount of math involved.

WW's first use of "soft" had no explanatory apparatus offered when he first used it above. When K. called him on it, he then offered his explanation. "Soft", on one occasion, was associated with "rubbish". Some (unquantified) number of soft subjects were dismissed as "pseudo-studies". Some were allowed to occupy slightly less lofty pedestals than the hard subjects, i.e., those that are indisputable. If you get far enough into the study of any of the hard sciences you start to come upon more and more dissent in what is a valid theory and what is not. (Cf. string theory and cosmologies in physics.) I'd say that the terms hard and soft are here being used in their meliorative and pejorative senses, pure and simple. This attitude towards thing reminds me of my first encounter with logical positivism early in life. Fellows like Carnap simply dismissed a great many subjects as meaningless. It's an easy way to, in a sense, bracket the world (as the phenomenologists would say), and it makes one's own field that much more manageable, but I think it lacks something in explanation of and interest in one's "hard" subject(s).

Another interesting use and nuance of meaning to hard and soft is in the warez of computer science: hardware, software, and even edge cases like firmware and wetware. In hardware the functionality of a machine is the parts it is composed of and how they are put together. Early computers had single functions. Then came patch cord and interchangeable but differently functioning components. Finally, the great leap was made to programming instead of hardware design. The functionality of the machine was altered merely by its state, that is by the bits stored in its memory. Data had become program. Today, we even have chips (programmable array logic) that allow for hardware design in software. Trying to decide which is better or easier does not make much sense. At least to me.

[Added final paragraph.]

This message has been edited. Last edited by: zmježd,


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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quote:
Kalleh, one of us is completely adrift here. It may well be I, and so must conclude that, again, I have done a hopeless job of making my case. The upshot is that I have absolutely no idea of how to respond. Best wishes.
It is fine to disagree, WeeWilly. Tinman, yes, I did change during this conversation, you are right. The discussion made me think a bit differently, which is what I like about this place. I really appreciated your perspective, Z.

Bottom line, I don't think "soft" and "hard" courses are useful adjectives - no matter what the OED says (remember, it includes irregardless Wink). WeeWilly, I know you don't agree, but that's what makes life interesting. I bet there are other things on which we disagree (including the "sic" you gave me recently!)
 
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