Tuesday, 6 June 2006

A Pox Upon Thought

It is sometimes adduced in favour of an idea that it has had a profound effect on thought, as though this fact alone were enough to establish its worth; but I dare say a pandemic of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease would also have a profound effect thereon, though it is eminently doubtful whether this ought to find our warm approval.
.....In our times, if a bad or vacuous idea is to have a profound effect, then it had better be present in the universities, wherein it will be invested with authority and wherefrom it will be spread by convinced and impassioned minds. As Schopenhauer noted:
Guileless and unsophisticated young men go to university full of childlike trust and gaze with awe at the self-styled possessors of all knowledge . . . Now if these innocent youths without judgement are presented, under the name of philosophy, with a complete chaos of thought that is turned upside down, a doctrine of the identity of being and nothing, an assortment of words that cause all thought to vanish from a sound mind, a twaddle recalling bedlam, all this trimmed with touches of crass ignorance and colossal stupidity . . . then these youths will revere even such stuff. They will merely think that philosophy must indeed consist in such abracadabra and will go forth with minds paralysed in which henceforth mere words pass for thoughts; thus they will for ever be incapable of producing real ideas and so will be mentally castrated. As a result, there grows up a generation of impotent, perverse, yet excessively pretentious minds, swelling with plans and purposes and intellectually anaemic, such as we have before us at the present time. [1]
Any man not infected thereby who has read a number of journals in the humanities will know how widely this baneful verbiage has spread, how it not only conceals a lack of ideas, but also inspires ideas of sublime vacuity; and he will know also how deeply such ideas have affected thought, bringing about a sort of vaunted ignorance. In the late eighteenth century, Lichtenberg was remarkably foresighted in view of this:
Nowadays we seek to spread knowledge everywhere; who knows whether in a few hundred years there will not be universities for re-establishing the old ignorance. [2]
For me, there are few sights bleaker than that of eager students trying to perfect the form of madness practised by their professors.

[1] Arthur Schopenhauer, “On Philosophy at the Universities”, Pererga and Paralipomena, vol.1, tr. by E.F.J. Payne, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), pp.167-8.
[2] (“Jetzt sucht man überall Weisheit auszubreiten, wer weiß, ob es nicht in ein paar hundert Jahren Universitäten gibt, die alte Unwissenheit wieder herzustellen.”) G.C. Lichtenberg, Späße und Probleme. (München: Langen/Müller, 1954), p.48.

5 comments:

dearieme said...

A confession: I've never known the distinction between The Arts and The Humanities, in the university sense. Can you enlighten me?

John East said...

Confession 2:
I often look back to the views I held as a spotty undergraduate with immense relief that no one else shares my memories. Life appears so simple, and solutions to the human condition are so obvious, to a naive and inexperienced nineteen year old.

It is to be regretted that the naivity and inexperience of youth appear to be requirements for a successful tenured academic career, and that IQ is such a poor substitute for wisdom.

It's no wonder that many modern politicians are keen to continue expanding suffrage to the young. Who else is going to swallow their lies and unachievable promises.

Deogolwulf said...

Dearieme: "I've never known the distinction between The Arts and The Humanities, in the university sense. Can you enlighten me?"

Sadly, no. As far as I understand, they are synonymous. Perhaps someone out there might enlighten us both.

Mr East: "It's no wonder that many modern politicians are keen to continue expanding suffrage to the young."

Indeed. Let's hope they don't make voting compulsary, or tie it to perks or benefits, in order to get the lazy blighters off their arses.

dearieme said...

Thanks, d. Now I can crack about The Inhumanities without inhibition.

dearieme said...

Oh, and news from a University city:-
Dearieshe "I saw a man cycling naked along Queen's Road today."
Me "How old was he?"
She "I didn't notice his face."