Friday, February 15, 2013

Scholars; 1770s and Now

provincial universities were mere shells with few students, places to purchase quick degrees on the cheap.

The publishing market did not encourage intellectuals to pursue autonomous concerns on a high level of abstraction; the attraction was toward partisan polemic, literary style, and topical public issues. The anti-metaphysical and in general anti-philosophical tone which characterized the writings from these secular bases of intellectual production was a result.

...the philosopher (or specialist in abstract ideas) now tended also to become the writer of literary entertainments and the political partisan. 
Does this sound familiar? Does this not sound like our current situation? Does the first not sound like the criticisms we hear of for-profit universities? Is the second and third not what we hear about the influence of the internet on intellectual production? Indeed, do we not see much more polemics and topical public issues?

Yet, what we see above is Randall Collins' description of the situation in France and Germany in the 1770s.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Or, similar social conditions give rise to similar social structures. Those who are appalled at the rise of for-profit online universities ought to familiarize themselves with Adam Smith's arguments about the quality of teaching from for-profit professors vs. those paid by the university. Of course, given the fact that many of these for-profit universities are part of the ever-inflating education bubble, drive by student loans, there's quite another argument one can make against them. When the education bubble pops, assuming we don't use re-inflate it with cheap money, what is left over will be worth having.

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