Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Were Stanley Fish (and I) Born at the Right Time?

Fish explains that the tenured humanities professor who generates no readily measurable outcomes is disappearing from our country. Professorial autonomy, as they say, is being trumped by productivity. Stanley’s facts are facts, but he doesn’t given an adequate account of why we might live to see "The Last Professor." Stanley, in fact, lived at exactly the right time, when an entrepreneurial humanities professor could command the big bucks without even claiming to teach anything useful or even true.

Discussions - 9 Comments

Fish is right about the commercialization of liberal arts but goes too far in creating such a strict distinction between the practical value of the sciences and the purely contemplative value of the humanities. Our tendency these days is to exaggerate in one of two directions--either we refashion the humanities into nothing but its practical value (so philosophy becomes critical thinking, and writing becomes the art of the business memo, etc) or we go Fish's route and define the humanities as virtuous by being bereft of practical value. In other words, it is completely bourgeois or radically anti-bourgeois. Maybe better to go the Aristotelian route and acknowledge that contemplation is good in itself and also productive in other regards to boot.

Or we go the Socratic route and not be in a formal institution.

Or go the Kantian route and collect fees directly from students(with habilitation). Of course this isn't really Kantian, but it was how he was paid. On the other hand Kant was somewhat productive and Ivan K might put him in the critical thinking bourgois camp, which somehow seems a funny location in which to place Kant insofar as the role of the critique of pure reason is reducible to a more general project of seeking unity between the natural and moral worlds...So Kant just seems to be at the center of Ivan K's point...It is also funny in terms of productivity that the Critique OPR was published after a "silent decade".

I mean really Ivan K, that comment was perfectly designed to make me think of Kant! Philosophy becomes critical...critique of pure reason, critique of practical reason, critique of Judgement...or critick, or critik or critical...even the mention of Aristotle sparks my memory of Kant's dispute on the meaning of meta in metaphysics, not after but beyond contra Andronicus...but then again I was just reading Kant, so the connection seems fresher.

I can't really read and retain much Kant, but I get the impression that for those who can philosophy does become critical thinking...but even if Kant is simply "bourgeois" critical thinking..his monument in Konigsberg reads "Two things fill the mind with always fresh and growing wonder and veneration, the more often and continuously they are reflected upon: the starry heaven above me, and the moral law within me."

So the question is, what is Kantian? I am tempted to say that the humanities are dead in part because Kant is right... As Kant might put it or does so in regard to metaphysics...we overshoot because it is as natural as breathing...In this regard the humanities might be seen as the history of false metaphysical claims, or unknowable metaphysical claims...or the teaching of something that is neither usefull nor true...but as natural as breathing?

All that is missing is Burgess Merideth reading a bible in one of my favorite twilight zones. I think it is really hilarious to talk about the humanities becoming obsolete. The question of the good is always going to be fundamental to any science no matter how much it viels itself behind imperical data. I really the think the obsolete man episode of the zone is a great example of this. Of course there is a push to demean the humanities, but I think it has less to do with seeking practical things than it does with preserving a current ideological stance. In the episode they no longer need the librarian, but one can assume that books and study where in fact a necessity to form their distopia. They are not really saying you serve no purpose, only saying that your purpose is no longer required by the state because we are happy with were the grand wheel has stopped.

I think the timing of this is absurd. Universities are going to feel this recession/depression/minor hiccup/opportunity for change for years. The hordes of bussiness school students who can't get jobs may begin to add up, and the confidence that the American youth once had towards getting a degree and living on easy street is being shaken. In this regard, while the practical schools reign, they are the ones that will fall the hardest when the payoff one gets from a degree lessens. Those few who come to 'learn' will still seek out the humanities, even if they only plan on sitting in a cabin staring at the cieling with an intense look of contemplation.


Of course many took their cue from the highest office in the land for the last few years, and cultivated their contempt for books, for pure learning, for science, and sought to convert everything into measurable outcomes. The MBA president and dept. of education sought to convert every element of higher education into corporate frameworks. The result of course is a poverty of intellect not there understood but for which we will be paying a price for years.

Ren, we understand that for you all evil in the world emanates from the Bush administration. However, the commercialization of academia predates his administration by quite an expanse of time as well as the obsession with quantifiable assessment, which has been a liberal/progressive cause, not a conservative one. So while I do actually agree that the assessment madness got worse under Bush's administration campus liberals have been pushing for more technocratic academic regimes for some time now.

A very good new book is out on this issue, by a fellow named Anthony Kronman who is twenty times more helpful to read than the Fishy One. (Isn't reading/linking-to Stanely Fish, i.e., bothering to take him very seriously after all his slippery moves past, sort of like paying attention to Madonna? Don't feed the publicity-hounds, por favor! If the Fishy One ever has the guts to really apologize for the undeniable damage his lit-crit sins past have done, and to help hire a literary traditionalist of some sort to the Duke English dept., I'll change my tune.)

And Kronman is a Democrat, BTW, maybe even a liberal. He's a little spooked by evangelicals and other serious religious folks; and thus one of his big points is to blame his fellow academics, mostly liberal ones, for essentially cedeing serious discussion of the meaning of life to these religious folks.

Of course many took their cue from the highest office in the land for the last few years, and cultivated their contempt for books, for pure learning, for science, and sought to convert everything into measurable outcomes.

Right, because we all know that university administrators just loved Bush.

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