Despite the mention of physics (which I don’t really understand, because academic researchers are responsible for basically all advances in semiconductors and photovoltaics and meteorological forecasting, on both the theoretical and empirical levels) this is really an argument about the relevance of social science and humanities research.
It’s only the liberal arts and social sciences where you find “research” totally disconnected from the real world, where no one is interested in improving the lives of the general public in any capacity, but they are interested in jetting off to a resort in a desperately poor country to discuss what 19th-century German philosophers would think of the revolutions in North Africa. (That’s an actual example for which I’ve seen a call for papers on mailing lists, incidentally.) And actually engaging with the public is viewed really skeptically, as equivalent to selling out. Have you ever heard sociology grad students talk about the possibility that they’ll ever end up teaching at a community college? It’s like the absolute worst-case scenario is that they’ll occasionally have to descend from their lofty Academic Discourse and provide some service to the unwashed masses.
I’d suggest that research that doesn’t lead to improvements in the lives of the public (in terms of better technology or more effective policy or a better understanding of current events or whatever) is a really questionable funding priority for any university, especially a publicly funded one. And it’s up to the researchers themselves to demonstrate why their research matters off-campus, if they want to keep their funding. Otherwise, it definitely makes sense to replace them with primarily instructional faculty, and to put more emphasis on public service and professional schools.
Jakke that’s kind of harsh don’t you think?
I think Jakke is justly critical of the liberal arts mentality. Except, your claim that whatever area doesn’t lead to improvements in the lives of the public should be slashed is opaque. Do not make the error of conflating attitudes with subject matter. I encounter this frustrating oppositional attitude to philosophy more often than is moderately grating. People, generally, are hostile to philosophy because they are taught that what yields “improvements” has to be tangible, directly a means to lucrative ends, or training for such. This is just hijacking a word, viz. “practical” and putting it to isolated use for an ideological purpose. And it in no way implicates the “value” of studies and research within liberal arts and humanities programs. The self-absorbed attitudes of many a faculty does, in no way, suggest non-academic value in their research areas. This is a purely arbitrary assertion. There’s no such thing as intrinsically social value. Sure, there are areas of academe wherein you find tactile or tangible training for societal goals, but that’s not what humanities is about. I’ve said this again and again, it is dangerous to conflate culturally and ideologically informed attitudes with an area of research. The research can always be put to different or better use. Enrollment in philosophy classes has increased since 2008, yet they are slashing departments. And in times like this, where congressmen make more errors in reasoning than 6 year olds, philosophy is in dire need of socialization; the U.S. is in dire need of citizens capable of critical thinking. No departments should be slashed on such naive whimsical decisions on what is “publicly” beneficial. And if more people studied philosophy, perhaps, they’d be able to notice this conflation in the first place.
dude, you just…said some words but didn’t really say how philosophy is useful. i’m not saying it is or isn’t, atm, but i’m just pointing out that you didn’t really develop much of a case for it. critical thinking isn’t exclusive to philosophy btw
and to jakke
many govt depts across the world create policies based on the work of past and current work in social science
I don’t know if I should even bother, but whatever, I feel like figuring this one out for myself, though my lack of sleep may not work in my favor.
While I agree that bbcity didn’t ultimately show how the social sciences/liberal arts are useful, I do think his is a good starting point to criticize this notion that something is only of value if it produces immediate, tangible benefit to society. If we were to judge everything’s value based upon its immediate benefit, we wouldn’t get very far, and that’s hardly how civilizations have ever been innovative, so I think that basis for a debate is messed to be begin with.
Philosophy is not immediately ‘useful’ to society, in the sense that it doesn’t make our machines run faster or our work more efficient, because that’s not its purpose, and to judge it by that standard is fundamentally flawed. Its purpose and significance in the past is also quite different from today, so appreciating it now has to rest both on the preservation of knowledge (i.e. the value of studying its history) and reconsidering altogether what its purpose is. But anyway, I don’t actually know much about philosophy, so I’m just going think about liberal arts in general.
I feel like the moment you take a step back from the more immediate mentality of tangible benefits and consider the way societies and ideas “progress” and produce new ideas in general, the reason why stuff like the liberal arts matters maybe starts to clarify a little. We need to think about the general production of knowledge and ideas, and how that process benefits society. Ideas do not develop within tight confines of university departments, and to think about them as though they are inorganic, stagnant, and influence nothing outside of their immediate vicinity, ignores the way most ideas have historically developed (i.e. interdisciplinary, organically, not privileging certain disciplines over others).
I personally think it’s the way communities may or may not value things like the fine arts that indicates the potential for innovation, if that’s what we’re valuing here. It’s not very often where I’ll straight up say “Yo, our society’s pretty cool”, but I will, especially when you consider how putting limitations on things such as the liberal arts is usually the first step to stifling communities and development of ideas in general. Why is it that it’s those fields that are usually the first thing to come under attack in repressive regimes? I’d argue it’s because it’s those fields that inform the ideals, meanings, and all the silly little mythologies that justify everything we do. Creative practices feed into creative practices across disciplines no matter what, whether we’re talking about genetics or design. Take them way and we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.