“Transgressing the boundaries” of ethical discourse: speculations on the rhetoric of decorum

This article serves as a preliminary investigation of decorum as a rhetorical resource, and the ethical ramifications of decorum for contemporary society. Recently, academic writing has become the subject of renewed scrutiny regarding the ethical treatment of language and ideas, partly as a result of the controversial publication of Alan Sokal’s “hoax” article “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towarda Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity.” In this paper, two questionsare addressed specifically: can a particular vocabulary or “jargon” induce adherence to an argument separate from, or even at the expense of, the argument itself? Ifso, what responsibilities does the use of such a vocabulary entail? It is argued that the events surrounding Sokal’s hoax, while demonstrating the ethical pitfalls inherent in the use of decorum, simultaneously privileges it as a powerful epistemic resource in the framing of a “world of possibility.”