About {theme} theory

{substitution} is a {theme}. The most important single {theme} is {linkage}, < >, which, like other {themes}, plays a fundamental role in the mind's making sense of experience, as well as concepts not originating in experience. For more detailed information about the {themes} and my approach, a study of Introduction to {theme} theory would be very useful (I have to say, indispensable). From the introduction:  

'{theme} theory is completely general and philosophy is only one application-sphere. These illustrative examples are very diverse in subject matter and  in degree of abstraction: for example ethical argument, concrete problems in applied ethics, Nazi atrocities, Stalin, the death penalty, mathematical and philosophical relations, the completion of a  proof, scientific correlation.  There are also marked differences in tone: the tone appropriate to abstract and systematic subject matter but also forthright criticism, for example of Nietzsche, the juxtaposition sometimes of the abstract and  the impassioned.'

'{theme} theory is based upon the conscious, and justifiable, ignoring in many cases of sphere-boundaries, such as the boundaries separating the material sphere, the conceptual sphere, the spheres of the different senses. A mathematician may attack a problem in the mind just as a soldier may attack an all-too-concrete machine-gun post. A scientific model may be material, the model constructed from materials of different kinds, such as wood and plastic, or the model may be purely conceptual, without material expression. Scientific modelling is an activity which can be practised in material or conceptual ways. Linkages may be material, such as a connecting rod in a mechanical system linking mechanical components or non-material, such as the ties of shared history linking, in some cases, nations.'

List of {themes}:

{contrast} ( )
{distance} D
{linkage} < >
{restriction} ==
{separation} //
{substitution} S

In the list, the name of each {theme} is followed by the symbol for the {theme}. Clicking on the {theme} gives access to a page which gives instances of the {theme}. These instances show something of the range of {theme} theory, which addresses the most diverse areas of human experience and knowledge.









The importance of evaluating the thing itself
Mathematical and scientific {substitution}
Other examples of {substitution}


{substitution} is often the result of evasion and misplaced emphasis and the human tendency to settle for the easier and simpler. It's much easier to look at sales figures than to use judgement and knowledge to draw conclusions as to the worth of a book, but best-sellers are not necessarily the best books.

Often, {substitution} is carried out for idealistic reasons, for creditable reasons. Even so, to evaluate should involve examining and estimating the thing-itself - the primary level - not matters which surely belong to the secondary level. I include in the secondary level matters which vary very much in importance, ones which are important as well as ones which are negligible. In 'The importance of evaluating the thing itself' I list substitutions made for a variety of reasons - evasion, laziness, limited perspectives and idealism. The theme also has applications which are very different, such as mathematical and scientific applications.

The importance of evaluating the thing itself

In the examples below, the secondary level may be very important, but it has to be clearly distinguished from the primary level - primary in the particular context.

{substitution} by technological sophistication

Technophiles often suppose that digital images are automatically superior to non-digital images. If the criterion is artistic success (and there are other criteria) then no digital image equals the images of the past created by drawing with a simple instrument, painting with water colours or oil painting. The realistic images created painstakingly with vector and bitmap programs are ludicrously bad. Digital television may be just as moronic - or more moronic - than pre-digital television.

Technophiles often suppose that writing which makes use of computer programs is automatically superior to writing which made use of the typewriter, non-digital printing, or which was produced before the age of printing. No writer making use of computer techniques is superior to Homer, who lived long before printing, or to Shakespeare, who lived long before the typewriter.

{substitution} by the source of paper

The source of the paper used is secondary, not primary. A preference for moronic writing on recycled paper rather than writing of genius on non-recycled paper is an example of {substitution}.

{substitution} by policies of inclusion

Overlooking, for example the fact that a television network's programmes (for example BBC programmes) are moronic because the network has an enlightened policy of inclusion.

The provision for the disabled in a theatre is secondary, not primary. If a theatre's programming is mediocre then the fact that it has superb facilities for disabled people doesn't lessen its artistic failures.

The means used to create a Web site are secondary, not primary

A moronic or mediocre Web site may have been created with Linux, the enlightened open source system, it may use programs other than ones of Microsoft origin (if the view is taken that Microsoft is harmful in its effects on the computer industry.) If a Web site is mainly concerned with interpretations of classical music by conductors then to come to an unfavourable evaluation of the site because the HTML code can be criticized - perhaps the coding was carried out automatically by a Microsoft program - would be an example of {substitution}.

The social conditions in which a work of art was created are secondary, not primary

Works of art of supreme quality have been created in societies in which inequality and injustice were very marked. The achievements in scholarship and research at Oxford and Cambridge Universities are primary, the alleged social exclusiveness of the Universties is secondary.

Any economic benefits of works of art are secondary, not primary

Economic regeneration is often linked with art. It may be used as a main argument or supporting argument for the importance of art but this is erroneous. People may think or argue that poetry is a less important art than fine art (which can often be valued and sold at a high price and which generally has much higher value in the market). This is mistaken. The argument has to concern itself only with primary artistic values.

Public praise

is secondary, not primary. A bad example of this mistake. Clive James, in a dismissive acconut of Elias Canetti,


writes, in connection with Elias Canetti's description of T S Eliot as 'quite abysmal:' 'The continually recurring diatribe about Eliot is made almost piquant by the fact that Canetti is talking about a time in his enemy's career when the sequential poems later to be known as Four Quartets were being published to universal praise for their magnificence.' Universal praise! Later judgements aren't necessarily superior to earlier judgements, but time has certainly replaced universal praise with widespread indifference and criticism. I myself think that 'Four Quartets' are empty, routine works with few redeeming virtues but a few memorable passages. One of them is the opening of 'Little Gidding.'

Clive James' review is of Elias Canetti's 'The Party in the Blitz.' Marjorie Perloff, who found the book fascinating, comments, 'The Times [The New York Times] gave the book to the noteriously snide, cleverBritish (originally Australian) Clive James, a "big name." I found his review almost libelous...what a choice for reviewer!'

{substitution} by considering numbers

Marjorie Perloff herself seems to be unaware of the elementary mistake represented by focussing attention on numbers instead of the thing-itself. In a letter published in the London Review of Books, she protested against Mary Beard's interpretation of '9/11.' The page {separation} gives further information. I share Marjorie Perloff's strong criticisms of Mary Beard, but not for one of the reasons she gives. Marjorie Perloff writes, 'Outside the ivory gates [of Academe] 95 per cent of the US population evidently disagree with Beard's assessment.' A letter published later in the London Review of Books from Claude Rawson shows the difficulties of depending upon people's 'agreement' or 'disagreement:' 'I was duly awed by Beard's announcement that readers of the Cambridge Evening News, in a telephone poll, 'voted decisively against any military action', enough, you might think, to stop the most hawkish militarists in their tracks. On the other hand, it is reported in the Guardian today (12 October) that 74 per cent of the UK population supports 'military action', with 16 per cent against...Either those readers of the Cambridge Evening News who also have telephones are a very select group, or the Guardian/ICM pollsters forgot to ask them.'

Another instance of the stupidity of treating the results of an opinion poll as a guide to validity: the number of people who claim to oppose battery chicken production of eggs in polls is much higher than the proportion of non-battery chicken eggs which are bought. (I myself actively oppose the battery system.)

In general, using the notation of linkage schemata:

[numbers supporting a position] >< [validity of the position]

Further examples (from a very large number of possible examples):

{substitution} by elucidation

F. R. Leavis, 'Approaches to T. S. Eliot,' 'The Common Pursuit:' 'the general tendency in the literary-academic world today to substitute ... elucidation for criticism.' Which isn't to deny the value of elucidation without criticism.

{substitution}: 'life in literature' for 'life'

The overwhelming feeling that whenever F. R. Leavis wrote about 'life,' he was writing about 'life' inextricably linked with the life in the novels and poems he valued, substituting their 'life-enhancing' feelings for life itself - which is far more unpleasant, grotesque, harsh and cruel, amongst other things, far less reassuring, far more immense.

'Life,' like 'integrity,' 'vitality' and 'honour' can be invoked in a routine way, mechanically.

{substitution} by theory

For example, deciding whether a writer or a work is good by using the criteria of feminist or non-feminist, colonial or anti-colonial or pre-colonial or post-colonial, offering opportunities for interpretation by means of Derrida's works or not. In literature there's absolutely no mechanical or ideological way of arriving at an estimate of worth. Of course, according to some kinds of 'analysis' all interpretations are ideological. This is a matter I don't deal with here. Together with other aspects of 'Theory' it's given critical examination in the book 'Theory's Empire,' edited by Daphne Patai and Wilfrido Corral. It will be obvious that I share the viewpoint of the book's editors and contributors.

{substitution} by scholarship

I view scholarship as an immensely important activity. A scholar need not provide evaluation. There may be {separation} between ability in scholarship and ability to arrive at evaluation, although many scholars are strong in both areas. There may, though, be grotesque contrast between the substantial scholarly achievement and the insignificance of the work researched and discussed so impressively but not evaluated at all.

From James Wood, 'The Slightest Sardine,' a review in the London Review of Books of 'The Oxford Literary History, Vol. XII: 1960-2000: The Last of England? by Randall Stevenson, published by Oxford University Press.

"There is no greater mark of the gap that separates writers and English departments than the question of value. The very thing that most matters to writers, the first question they ask of a work - is it any good? - is often largely irrelevant to university teachers. Writers are intensely interested in what might be called aesthetic success: they have to be, because in order to create something successful one must learn about other people's successful creations. To the academy, much of this value-chat looks like, and can indeed be, mere impressionism. Again, theory is not the only culprit. A good deal of postmodern thought is suspicious of the artwork's claim to coherence, and so is indifferent or hostile to the discussion of its formal success. But conventional, non-theoretical criticism often acts as if questions of value are irrelevant, or canonically settled. To spend one's time explaining how a text works is not necessarily ever to talk about how well it works, though it might seem that the latter is implicit in the former. Who bothers, while teaching The Portrait of a Lady for the nth time, to explain to a class that it is a beautiful book? But it would be a pardonable exaggeration to say that, for most writers, greedy to learn and emulate, this is the only important question.

"Randall Stevenson's volume in the Oxford English Literary History, which provides an account of 1960 to 2000, prompts these thoughts, because his book has no interest in aesthetic intention and no interest in aesthetic success. It is a purely academic account of hundreds of literary forms created almost entirely by non-academics. In more than six hundred pages, it is hard to detect the author, who teaches at Edinburgh University, making a single evaluative judgment. In a moment of daring, he calls A House for Mr Biswas 'much-admired', but since he also reserves that epithet for 'The Whitsun Weddings', which he appears not to like, one is left in the dark. This evaluative reticence is not timidity, however. He does have likes and dislikes, and they emerge steadily. He likes poetry and fiction that draw attention to their own procedures: 'self-reflexive, postmodern' forms are what excite him, and the authors of these seem politically 'progressive' to him. This is why he likes J.H. Prynne's verse, but not Larkin's, and why he writes enthusiastically about Rushdie but treats A Dance to the Music of Time as if it were just a handbook of toff sociology.

'He has opinions about artworks; but they are never aesthetic ones. He rarely treats poems and novels as if they have any aesthetic autonomy, as if they might be charged formal spaces within which a high degree of intentionality and detail superbly exist. Instead, he is an epigraphist, content to read works for their historical content. Insofar as form and language detain him, they detain him as questions of ideology. It may be for this reason that he seems to prefer drama to poetry and fiction, and that he praises 'the particularly rapid progress of English drama' in this period. (Drama, being more openly political than either fiction or poetry, is more progressive.) Just as he stints discussion of aesthetics, so he repeatedly writes as if authorial intention were merely instrumental, a matter of having one's say about certain issues.'

{substitution} and the word-sphere

The word-sphere is the natural home of imaginative writers. This isn't a perjorative use of the phrase. 'Word-sphere' in the perjorative sense reflects a sense of reality which is surely defective. Often, reality is difficult, intractable, sometimes impossible to deal with. It's far easier to arrange words so that an aspiration is put forward as the reality. 'Declaring' a thing to be so is mistakenly thought to be the same as the reality. Sometimes, words become a substitute for action ... words deflect attention from the reality: a world of facile claims, ringing declarations, hollow confidence-building assertions, projections for future success.'

{substitution} and argumentum ad hominem

Instead of addressing the arguments, views, evidence of an opponent, the character of an opponent is attacked in the logical fallacy known as 'argumentum ad hominem.'


Evaluation may be a considered activity involving critical thought, but not necessarily. Everyone evaluates, to a greater or lesser extent. Routine examples: A wine drinker doesn't consider all wines equally good. Travelling involves opinions or feelings about the landscape. It may be found bland or interesting. People evaluate other people. The lack of evaluation should be cause for asking questions. Why has a book, for example, been given exemption from evaluation? Randall Stevenson does this again and again, according to James Wood.

Mathematical and scientific {substitution}

Replacement of a term in an equation by another which has the same value. This can be evaluated, although of course not aesthetically. If the substitution is incorrect - the term has a different value - then: {substitution}ev-

Geometrical {substitution}. The fundamental elements of geometry are lines and points. Informally, 'lines' are straight, infinitely long and with no thickness. Points have no dimensions. Geometrical demonstrations, such as Euclid's theorems, can't be conducted with elements with no thickness or no dimensions at all. The requirements of visibility make inevitable the {substitution} of 'lines' which have thickness and 'points' which do have dimensions.

Scientific models. A concrete model, such as a constructed model of the DNA helix, has a linkage with the geometrical use of visible lines and points. The concrete model provides visibility. Of far more importance in science are theoretical models, which involve simplifying assumptions. These models are a substitute for a more complex reality. The assumptions are subject to {adjustment} or {replacement}. Both of these are sub-themes of {modification}.

Other examples of {substitution}

Outrage and protest

Anger is directed not at the target which most deserves it but at a substitute target. A fine comment by the composer Thomas Adès in The Times Literary Supplement, giving reasons for choosing 'The Second Plane' as one of his Books of the Year: 'The Second Plane (Cape) has all the unevenness of shock, which Martin Amis conveys with unflinching power. This great satirist of London excoriates the delusions of a looking-glass city where thousands march, placards high, about one horrible error by the Metropolitan Police as though that were the principal outrage of 2005, rather than the bombings themselves.'

Everyday products

such as substitutes for coffee and sugar, substitutes for eggs and dairy products in vegan cooking.


Umberto Eco, 'A Theory of Semiotics:' 'Semiotics is concerned with everything that can be taken as a sign. A sign is everything which can be taken as significantly substituting for something else.' (My emphasis).