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The Forum > Article Comments > The 'radical scholar' in today's universities > Comments

The 'radical scholar' in today's universities : Comments

By Don Aitkin, published 27/3/2013

Could it be that devotion to Enlightenment philosophies and methodologies would make an academic 'radical' today?

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I met Don at Flinders University at an informal Sunday get together for staff at students from the politics and economics faculties. He was introduced by Keith Hancock is the next hot-shot academic. I think it was in 1969.

What is the meaning of the work "radical", especially when applied to philosophical and cultural investigations? It means going-to-the-root of the fundamental usually unexamined presumptions of whatever is being investigated.
Something which logical positivism is fundamentally incapable of doing, because it is based on a very narrow reductionist mis-understanding of the nature of Reality - of what we are as human beings and the nature of the World Process altogether.

But what are the all the way down the line cultural consequences of the ideology of logical positivism? I find that Henry Giroux describes the situation in a thorough-going manner. But even then his analysis is limited too.
These two stark images picture the kind of activity done in the academy and the econonic/environmental consequences of the applied economics/politics created by logical positivism.

The set of essays available at the reference below provide a much more open-ended analysis of the state of the world. The author was a professor as MIT, but when he started getting "mystical" or far out his writings and books were uniformly dismissed by the conventional academy trapped in the narrow parameters of logical positivism

Erwin Laszlo is another scholar/philosopher whose writings and work are not permitted in the academy too.
Posted by Daffy Duck, Wednesday, 27 March 2013 10:24:25 AM
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All of the truly radical work is now being done by those who are either outside of the academy (and there are lots of them). Or on the fringes of, but still within, the academy. Meaning that their work is not accepted by the main-stream academy.
One very interesting philosopher/scientist was William Tiller from Stanford University.

Three other examples, all of whom have a solid background in science are:
Bruce Lipton - The Biology of Belief
Amit Goswami - Quantum Activism
Fred Alan Wolf - Doctor Quantum

Plus check out the list of titles published by North Atlantic Books, and Inner Traditions - all of which are based on radically different subtle, more open-ended models of reality than those proposed by the advocates of logical positivism. Some of the Inner Traditions titles are really far out.
Posted by Daffy Duck, Wednesday, 27 March 2013 10:44:22 AM
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The most radical change in universities since the 1960s is the shift in the budgetary and governance focus from teaching and research to management. The only figures I have ever been able to winnow out (or stumble on) are about 92c in the budgetary dollar for teaching and research in the 1960s and less than 33c today - no wonder universities are strapped for funding to do real university work.

A thorough study of changes in funding, ploughing through the obfuscation of management data, would of course be more informative that my snatched recollection of an article in The Australian's Educational Supplement some years ago, but it is doubtful if such a study would be funded.

In one (unfunded) study Dr Donald Meyers has examined the *consequences* of this drone raid on the university budget - see free download of his book on it at Anyone who has experienced the changes over a substantial part of the time from the 1960s will recognise the truth of Dr Meyers' account.

The obvious remedy is to sack all managers (as distinct from administrators) performing a role that was not found necessary in the 1960s. Maybe also the salaries of Vice Chancellors could be reduced, say, to the $450 K pa that the USA pays its national President.
Posted by EmperorJulian, Wednesday, 27 March 2013 12:30:03 PM
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Don, I have always been interested to read the stories of others who have encountered someone specific during their education that provided the inspiration and direction to change their life. Almost 40 years ago you were that person in my life, as a Professor at Macquarie University.

What you did was to model (and in your dealing with me, reinforce) the vital importance of critical thinking, a skill and attitude that I have applied to great effect in a subsequent distinguished career in various highly responsible government roles.

In my opinion education remains the development of the essential skills to objectively interpret and understand a rapidly changing world, and critical thinking remains the most important of these skills. This has become even more important in a world where technology facilitates the (at least temporary) creation of alternative realities, with little time for thoughtful reflection or a sense of perspective or proportion.

Thank you so much for these skills.
Posted by Donkey, Wednesday, 27 March 2013 6:18:23 PM
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A questionable approach that goes on in Humanities and Social Science departments is that of dividing everyone up into race, class, and gender. A particular and important point to note is that an "oppressor/oppressed" morality is also inserted into the discourse. Often it takes this form: White = bad, non-white innocent/good; employer = bad, employee = good; men = bad, women = innocent/good.

These are the three "lens" in which they view the world. Nearly all phenomena is reduced to this paradigm and then "explained" accordingly.

It raises an interesting question. Is dividing everyone up into race, class, and gender as a presuppositional approach contributing to division rather than harmony? The intelligentsia take harmony and equality as given ideals that ought to be achieved at all costs, but dividing people up as a First Principle seems to defeat this purpose.

A trend I notice in academia, particularly in the Humanities and Social Science departments, is that critical thinking is only to be used when people display inequality and unharmonious activity. Especially when successful, white men act as such. Perhaps in the true spirit of critical thinking, these initial departure points of equality, harmony, race, class, and gender should be stringently questioned.

Equality doesn't empirically exist. It's an ideal. No where can we say two people are equal, let alone 6 billion. Equality and harmony is the Christian heaven brought down to earth (this is ironic considering that today's intelligentsia are stringent atheists who despise Christianity).
Posted by Aristocrat, Friday, 29 March 2013 11:04:27 AM
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Hi Don, a great article but the “socialization” of school and university curriculums has been apparent for a very long time. IMHO it is already too late to rectify, the damage is done.

CP Snow suggested that the Two Cultures of Scientific and Humanities studies we failing to communicate, this was the basis of his 1959 Rede Lecture. In 1962 in his Richmond Lecture, FR Leavis replied. What is significant is the fact that Leavis did not challenge the hypothesis put by Snow, instead he attacked Snow. This personal attack took on a very significant vindictive and belligerent tone.

Significant because it is this personal attack by Leavis that in fact and albeit unintentionally, confirms the very rift to which CP Snow refers.

In his essay, The Eunuch at The Orgy, Raymond Tallis provides some insight as to “how” the socialization of science has been accomplished. His observations may also provide further insight into “why” humanities have found this process necessary.

Tallis observes that for many trained in the humanities; “the standards of discussion routine in science are alien. To them, science seems so remote that ignorance hardly seems ignorance at all”.

“Humanities academia is naturally unhappy to recognize the centrality of mathematicisation of nature to our culture, to be reminded of the importance of the unattainably different level of rigor and sophistication prevailing in subjects they don’t understand”.

In a comprehensive series of essays called “The Corruption of the Curriculum” written during 2007 by authors such as Frank Furedi, Shirley Laws, Michele Ledda, Chris McGovern, Simon Patterson, Alex Standish, Robert Whelan and David Perks. The conclusion of these authors, all of whom are experienced teachers, is that “the curriculum is being drained of intellectual content in favor of promoting political issues such racism, the environment and gender”.

Now 50 years after the C.P. Snow Rede Lecture we are just starting to recognize the problem?
Posted by spindoc, Saturday, 30 March 2013 11:32:49 AM
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