Thursday, 10 September 2009

Restricted Entry

“A young man is not a fit person to attend lectures on political science, because he is not versed in the practical business of life from which politics draws its premises and subject-matter. Besides, he tends to follow his feelings, with the result that he will make no headway and derive no benefit from his course, since the object of it is not knowledge but action. It makes no difference whether he is young in age or youthful in character; the defect is due not to lack of years but to living, and pursuing one’s various aims, under sway of the feelings; for to people like this knowledge becomes as unprofitable as it is for the incontinent.” [1]

We should greatly enlarge the entrances to all the departments of political science in the land, not so as to admit more students, but so as to fit those words in large letters on the lintels.

[1] Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics, I.iii:1095a, tr, J.A.K. Thomson (London: Penguin Books, 2004), p.6; capitalisation added to first letter.

18 comments:

dearieme said...

Was he thinking of Alexander when he wrote that, or was it written before he had tutored the lad?

James Higham said...

I always felt that, even when I was doing political science at university. I was being asked opinions on things I'd just read from the socialist literature we were prescribed.

If I could enter that university now as a student, I think I'd contribute considerably more.

Deogolwulf said...

Written after, I believe.

xlbrl said...

Books can never teach us the use of books; the student must learn by commerce with mankind to reduce his speculations to practice--Bacon

Thras said...

I wonder what other international websites might make of Aristotle's grumpy and impotent views.

K. Töpfer (aka Martial Artist) said...

Political science—one of the modern world's more oxymoronic constructs.

Pax et bonum,
Keith Töpfer

Sean said...

Why stop at political science?

I immodestly propose that all arts degrees be graduate degrees only, i.e. that a natural or formal science degree be required to receive a humanistic education. Waive the requirement for mature (30+) students.

What do we get? Naive youth are spared their squandered time, and the world is spared the excesses of the mathematically illiterate intelligentsia. No one with an independent mind and a humanistic impulse is in the least prevented from pursuing their own course of study, with or without accreditation.

If this were put into practice immediately, who would notice? None would -- save the academic careerist, suddenly jobless.

Deogolwulf said...

"I immodestly propose that all arts degrees be graduate degrees only, i.e. that a natural or formal science degree be required to receive a humanistic education."

Not a bad proposal in view also of the consequences you suggest. A great deal more self-restraint is required in the arts than in the sciences, simply because the former have much vaguer bounds of what is acceptable than the latter, although the sciences seem to be catching up. (I would immodestly propose that all science degrees by accompanied by some element of analytical-philosophical training. It might reduce the tendency of scientists to make bad arguments.) If school-education were any good, however, then the problem would be much reduced. I would make schooling a matter of inculcating a solid grounding in a few basics --- mathematics, reading and writing, reasoning --- and little else.

Deogolwulf said...

And discipline, naturally.

K. Töpfer (aka Martial Artist) said...

Deogolwulf,

That would be quite a change from what we are seeing now, at least in the States.

Pax et bonum,
Keith Töpfer

Deogolwulf said...

It would be quite a change here too.

Sean said...

You're probably right that an earlier introduction to reasoning would have an impact. It puzzles me that (here in Canada, at least) reasoning goes unmentioned in the curriculum until the first year of university. I can only wish I had been 8, and not 18, when I first became acquainted with analogical and causal reasoning.

Re the flaky argumentation of scientists, do you have specific cases in mind? I'm lenient. Scientists may be terrible at argument outside of their own sphere, and the philosopher may regret that fact, but does it matter? The science major aims to become a scientist and only rarely a philosopher on top of that; otherwise, a feeling for the subtleties of argument is not likely to be instilled by the handful of courses typical of such extra-departmental requirements. Moreover, to require that scientists be philosophically competent would mean that they must do a job already being done better by others.

Deogolwulf said...

“[D]o you have specific cases in mind?”

Not really. It is quite common.

“Scientists may be terrible at argument outside of their own sphere, and the philosopher may regret that fact, but does it matter?”

Unfortunately, in these demotic times, it does matter, first to public opinion, which in return can affect the views of scientists themselves, especially if they wish to sell books. People very readily believe what scientists claim, whereas they are often inclined to doubt what philosophers say. When a scientist tries to draw some metaphysical view from his data --- though he often fancies that it is a scientific view --- a philosopher may demonstrate with ease that the inferences of the scientist are invalid, and yet it is unfortunately the case that many people are less impressed with a rational demonstration of a philosopher --- or anyone else --- than with the authority of a scientist. This is naturally quite an irrational reaction, but it is very common one.

“[T]o require that scientists be philosophically competent would mean that they must do a job already being done better by others.”

Until fairly recently, well into the twentieth century, there were many scientists --- such as Heisenberg, Schrödinger, Eddington, etc --- who were philosophically competent, or at least took an interest in, and had a basic understanding of, philosophy and its history.
But then, to paraphrase what Dearieme wrote here recently: they came from more elevated and intellectual cultures than ours.

K. Töpfer (aka Martial Artist) said...

"…they came from more elevated and intellectual cultures than ours."

Dear me, that would be (justifiably) taken as an insult by adherents to the regnant progressivism of our day. Of course, that reaction would be despite the fact that it is a demonstably accurate observation. ;-)

Pax et bonum,
Keith Töpfer

Sean said...

The men you supply as examples of philosopher-scientists are exactly the men I had in mind when I claimed their rarity. Their case was an unusual one, simply because quantum mechanics and relativity give such peculiar results that it is natural to resort to philosophy. But those men are far from representative of scientists at large. Consider the full variety of valuable activities for which scientific training is necessary -- e.g. lab technology, clinical trials, epidemiological modeling, survey sampling, cartography, systems analysis, corporate R&D, quality assurance -- and the need for philosophy grows faint. Even were all these scientists to learn philosophy, most wouldn't have reason to use it, beyond the humble fallacies -- and a skill neglected is a skill lost.

"People very readily believe what scientists claim, whereas they are often inclined to doubt what philosophers say."

I think the facts are even worse than that; most people couldn't tell you the name of a single living philosopher, or they'd name a non-philosopher like Dawkins or Hawking. I've tried this out many times over the years, asking friends and family of all sorts. People can usually come up with one of the ancient Greeks, but rarely any details of doctrine. I maintain that this does not matter; the role of philosophy in the cognitive economy is a subtle one, and the labour that goes into its perfection makes it ill-suited for ordinary life.

Sean said...

... though perhaps I overindulge the sentiment expressed by David Stove:

"I cannot help feeling that rational thought, 'the calm sunshine of the mind,' has a right to exist, as well as madness; and even that it has some right to be heard (though I admit that that is more debatable). It is, in any case, a necessity of life for some people. But I agree with Malcolm Muggeridge, that for most people it is not only not necessary, but is an environment as lethal as the inside of a vacuum-tube."

Deogolwulf said...

Mr Toepfer,

I doubt they would care much, as long as the progress in comforts and conveniences continues.

Sean,

Good points. As for Stove, I presume you have read his essay "A Farewell to Arts", written with his usual style.

xlbrl said...

It makes no sense to imagine one can change requirements or alter the result of university education, when the entire process is controlled by your enemies.