Nothing Fishy Here-Collective Fingers On The Scales

Stanley Fish on being recently disinvited from speaking at Seton Hall (behind a paywall):

‘Recently I was invited, then disinvited, to speak at Seton Hall University.  Members of a faculty committee had decided by email that they didn’t want a university audience to be subjected to views like mine.  I had been writing on the emergence on campus of what I call a regime of virtue.  this was the first time I experienced it directly.’

A fairly typical pattern:  A group of student activists claim that a certain speaker’s views are so dangerous that this speaker cannot be heard.

Many ideologically aligned, sympathetic, or sometimes cowardly, faculty members encourage or endorse these student activists.

A worthwhile Stanley Fish piece, from many years ago, at the NY Times: ‘The Last Professor:

‘In previous columns and in a recent book I have argued that higher education, properly understood, is distinguished by the absence of a direct and designed relationship between its activities and measurable effects in the world.

This is a very old idea that has received periodic re-formulations. Here is a statement by the philosopher Michael Oakeshott that may stand as a representative example: “There is an important difference between learning which is concerned with the degree of understanding necessary to practice a skill, and learning which is expressly focused upon an enterprise of understanding and explaining.”

A few conservative folks have said to me:  Whether it be Kant, Mill, Locke or even Isaiah Berlin, conservatism (conserving what is) does not necessarily require a movement towards Continental and rationalist systems of thought.

It’s a trap!

There’s important truth in such a statement, of course, but I don’t think you know quite what you’re up against, here, and who my audience is.  I’m looking for anchors.

As posted:

More here.

Link sent in by a reader.

Interesting paper presented by Erika Kiss, beginning about minute 32:00 (the whole conference is likely worth your time for more knowledge on Oakeshott).

According to Kiss, Oakeshott’s non-teleological, non-purposive view of education is potentially a response to Friedrich Hayek, Martha Nussbaum, and Allan Bloom, in the sense that all of these thinkers posit some useful purpose or outcome in getting a liberal education.

Hayek’s profound epistemological attack on rationalist thought is still a system itself, and attaches learning to market-based processes which eventually drive freedom and new thinking in universities. The two are mutually dependent to some extent.

Nussbaum attaches liberal learning to ends such as making us ‘Aristotelian citizens of the world’, or better citizens in a democracy, which has struck me as incomplete at best.

Allan Bloom is profoundly influenced by Straussian neo-classicism, and wants love, classical learning, honor and duty to perhaps be those reasons why a young man or woman should read the classics. This, instead of crass commercialism, the influences of popular music, deconstructionism and logical positivism.

On this site, see: Mark Pennington Via Vimeo: ‘Democracy And The Deliberative Conceit’

A taste of her Nussbaum here. Also, see: From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’

Via C-SPAN-The Historical Context Of Allan Bloom

…Timothy Fuller At The New Criterion: ‘The Compensations Of Michael Oakeshott’John Gray At The Literary Review Takes A Look At A New Book On Michael Oakeshott: ‘Last Of The Idealists’

Repost-Stanley Fish At The NY Times Blog: ‘The Last Professors: The Corporate Professors And The Fate Of The Humanities’

Full post here.

If you’ve studied in a humanities department, you’ve probably noticed a divide between what you read and wrote there and the culture at large: movies, videos, music videos, songs, broadcast news etc… which (as Camille Paglia argues) is the culture for a majority of Americans.

The author Frank Donoghue, whom Fish reviews, argues that it’s a losing proposition to even try and work against this tide, mostly for financial reasons:

“Such a vision of restored stability,” says Donoghue, “is a delusion” because the conditions to which many seek a return – healthy humanities departments populated by tenure-track professors who discuss books with adoring students in a cloistered setting – have largely vanished. Except in a few private wealthy universities (functioning almost as museums), the splendid and supported irrelevance of humanist inquiry for its own sake is already a thing of the past.

The departments are not self-sustaining, and it’s evident from within.

I would argue that much of Donoghue’s thinking has likely been influenced by the idea that because there is a lack of a central vision of what liberal learning ought to consist of (in part due to the influences of Continental postmodernist thinkers, the tail end of Existentialism etc. again this is a Paglian view of things, with some Allan Bloom thrown in)…

…as a result race, identity, gender politics, and all manner of other interests (many politically left) have helped filled the void.  I won’t argue that these groups don’t contain a lot of truth as many others on the political right are doing.

I will argue that from the current state of Humanities departments… these ideas are informing our politics and shaping public opinion…and the political and idealogical reactions to them (on the right)…for better or worse.

So does Donoghue have a solution?:

“In his preface, Donoghue tells us that he will “offer nothing in the way of uplifting solutions to the problems [he] describes.” In the end, however, he can’t resist recommending something and he advises humanists to acquire “a thorough familiarity with how the university works,” for “only by studying the institutional histories of scholarly research, of tenure, of academic status, and . . . of the ever-changing college curriculum, can we prepare ourselves for the future.” “

Not really, though what he does offer seems practical.

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As mentioned:  I have some doubts about Fish’s larger interpretation of affairs…a tendency to view the arts, humanities, and philosophy itself through a certain lens.  (Fish teaches a course on conservative philosophy..hopefully in the better sense of that word…conservare…).

See Also On This Site: Martha Nussbaum saw this coming a while ago, but is her platform broad enough?: From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’

How might Nietzsche figure in the discussion, at least with regard to Camille Paglia.  See the comments:  Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was Successful

Conservative Briton Roger Scruton suggests keeping political and aesthetic judgments apart in the humanities:Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To Judgment

Repost-‘From Stanley Fish At The NY Times Blog: What Should Colleges Teach?’

Full post here.

Fish reminds us of a simple idea:  college writing courses ought to focus primarily on writing…:

“…the students spent much of their time discussing novels, movies, TV shows and essays on a variety of hot-button issues — racism, sexism, immigration, globalization.

Perhaps at the cost of their writing skills.  Yet, is Fish just going after the easy targets (where political and ideological aims often take precedence) in quoting the ACTA report?:

“Thirty-five years ago there was no such thing as a gay and lesbian studies program; now you can build a major around it. For some this development is a sign that a brave new world has arrived; for others it marks the beginning of the end of civilization.”

“It probably is neither; curricular alternatives are just not that world-shaking.”

Perhaps not.  He highlights what he seems to consider the most insightful bit of wisdom the report (with its own aims) has to offer:

“An “important benefit of a coherent core curriculum is its ability to foster a ‘common conversation’ among students, connecting them more closely with faculty and with each other.”

Perish the thought.  People are texting, typing, writing code, and there is a lot of creativity going on the design side of software right now, which is, at the very least, providing a vessel for good writing.

Will you watch a 1 hr. 30 minute video?  Probably not, but I think it offers ideas on how we decide what’s important to read, to think about, and which ideas to pass along.  In it,  Terry Eagleton, Marxist, is debating Roger Scruton, a British philosopher focusing on aesthetics and the humanities, and generally conservative:  What do British universities keep, and what do they leave behind?  What is culture, and what should one read, think, and feel in order to pass that culture on?:

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This blog’s theory (take it, leave it, critique it) is that American culture since the rise of the 1960’s has been deeply influenced by certain strains of Continental philosophy and thought, perhaps more so than previously, and that it’s been spilling out into the culture and our politics.

Addition:  Of course, as Camille Paglia points out, movies, T.V., popular music etc. arguably is the culture for a great many Americans.  Fish also feels the need to defend his justification of writing in the post.

Another Addition:  Fish responds to his critics.  If we were all held to such standards in our writing…

See Also On This Site:  Conservative Briton Roger Scruton suggests keeping political and aesthetic judgments apart in the humanities: Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To Judgment

Fish suggested keeping politics out of academia during the Ward Churchill affair:  From The Stanley Fish Blog: Ward Churchill Redux

Martha Nussbaum tried to tackle the humanities problem a while back: From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’

Stanley Fish At The NY Times Opinionator: ‘Sex, the Koch Brothers and Academic Freedom’

Full post here.

Denying CUNY’s gift of an honorary degree to playwright Tony Kushner does not necessarily stifle academic freedom. Fish revisits his original post.

‘My general point is that academic freedom is a useful notion only if it is narrowly defined. More things escape its ambit than fall within it.’

and:

LeVay and Wallen are behaving as so many in the Kushner controversy did; they are crying academic freedom whenever a university does something they don’t like, and by doing so, they cheapen the concept.

because academic freedom issues:

“…arise when the university either allows its professors to appropriate the classroom for non-academic purposes, as some think John Michael Bailey did, or allows itself to become the wholly owned subsidiary of another enterprise, as FSU may have done.”

It must take a certain courage to point this out at the NY Times.

Art can serve many masters: religion, politics, ideology, commerce etc…but I suspect good art (a play, in this case) does more, at least staying faithful to simply giving pleasure…or sustaining dramatic tension?

David Mamet wakes from Brechtian slumber, and conservatives rush in.

Related On This Site: Fish defended Ward Churchill’s academic freedom too: From The Stanley Fish Blog: Ward Churchill Redux…

Broad, but maybe not broad enough.  Martha Nussbaum says the university needs to be defend Socratic reason and still be open to diversity:  From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’

A lot of this could be avoided by keeping political and aesthetic judgments apart, argues Roger Scruton: Repost-’Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To Judgment’

From The Strasbourg Observers: ‘Remembering Lautsi (And The Cross)’

Full post here.

Sometimes a cross isn’t just a cross, as Stanley Fish notes.  All parties involved don’t think it’s a good idea to strip the cross from it’s religious meaning in law.

Aside from an interesting comparison on a specific legal question, perhaps there’s an underlying current as well.

The Strasbourg Human Rights project where the link is found seems reasonable:  “Strengthening the European Court of Human Rights: More Accountability through Better Legal Reasoning.”

Here’s a quote from The Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy:

“The philosophy of human rights addresses questions about the existence, content, nature, universality, justification, and legal status of human rights. The strong claims made on behalf of human rights (for example, that they are universal, or that they exist independently of legal enactment as justified moral norms) frequently provoke skeptical doubts and countering philosophical defences.”

And further on down the line, some humanists are pretty ‘aspirational’ as well as having a logo and a revised manifesto:

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Here are a few questions:

1. How does one address the chasm between the cultures and societies of Western secular morality and other religions?  or the larger chasm between Western civilization and the many non-monotheistic tribal societies?  Is a raft of broadly based rights in European law also an extension of Western civilization to/upon other groups of people?

What moral obligations (and upon what principles) does the West base to other peoples through its laws?  Wouldn’t some of the problems with the U.N. have to do with this kind of thinking?

2. How would secular humanists defend against/deal with the militantly religious?  or a militantly agressive theocracy?  or a militant nationalism with a standing army?  or any other potentially existential threat?

3.  Can humanism transcend the ideas that would merely lead to the growth of a secular state (which is part of what Stanley Fish might be objecting to), and the dangers and tragedies and excesses that have come with it this past century?

Any thoughts and comments are welcome…

Related On This Site:   From The American Interest Online: Francis Fukuyama On Samuel Huntington

A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

How might Nietzsche figure in the discussion, at least with regard to Camille Paglia.  See the comments:  Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was Successful

Nussbaum argues profoundly for more equality:  From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum

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More Stanley Fish At The NY Times Blog: ‘What Should Colleges Teach-Part 3’

Full post here.

Perhaps it’s necessary to teach (drill?) a series of highly abstract rules that deepen a student’s understanding of his/her own language?
Fish points out:

By all the evidence, high schools and middle schools are not teaching writing skills in an effective way, if they are teaching them at all 

 There’s a lot of truth to this.  Fish, of course, goes after the usual targets:  The people who have put ideology above what may be higher goals:

‘“We affirm the students’ right to their own patterns and varieties of language — the dialects of their nurture or whatever dialects in which they find their own identity and style.”’  

 Yet, how do you pursue those higher goals?  Aren’t there the forces of excessive egalitarianism and individualism at work here as well?(we’re still a young, fairly uncivilized nation with a lot of open space).  

Fish’s answer is pedagogical:

You have to start with a simple but deep understanding of the game, which for my purposes is the game of writing sentences. So it makes sense to begin with the question, What is a sentence anyway? My answer has two parts: (1) A sentence is an organization of items in the world. (2) A sentence is a structure of logical relationships.  

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As a side note, a commenter (the 3rd comment) notes:

Your arguments make sense, if one wants to become a secretary. But if I want to write well, then being forced to write by the rules destroys my creativity just as much if not more than what it teaches me.” 

 Yet, maybe housing creative writing in universities doesn’t help creativity much either.

See Also On This Site:  Conservative Briton Roger Scruton suggests keeping political and aesthetic judgments apart in the humanities: Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To Judgment

Fish suggested keeping politics out of academia during the Ward Churchill affair:  From The Stanley Fish Blog: Ward Churchill Redux

Does it have to be political, or is that putting the cart before the horse?  Martha Nussbaum tried to tackle the humanities problem a while back: From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’

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From Stanley Fish At The NY Times Blog: What Should Colleges Teach?

Full post here.

Fish reminds us of a simple idea:  college writing courses ought to focus primarily on writing…:

“…the students spent much of their time discussing novels, movies, TV shows and essays on a variety of hot-button issues — racism, sexism, immigration, globalization.”

Perhaps at the cost of their writing skills.  Yet, is Fish just going after the easy targets (where political and ideological aims often take precedence) in quoting the ACTA report?:

“Thirty-five years ago there was no such thing as a gay and lesbian studies program; now you can build a major around it. For some this development is a sign that a brave new world has arrived; for others it marks the beginning of the end of civilization.”

“It probably is neither; curricular alternatives are just not that world-shaking.”

Perhaps not.  He highlights what he seems to consider the most insightful bit of wisdom the report (with its own aims) has to offer:

“An “important benefit of a coherent core curriculum is its ability to foster a ‘common conversation’ among students, connecting them more closely with faculty and with each other.”

He seems pretty pragmatic.

Addition:  Of course, as Camille Paglia points out, movies, T.V., popular music etc. arguably is the culture for a great many Americans.  Fish also feels the need to defend his justification of writing in the post.

Another Addition:  Fish responds to his critics.  If we were all held to such standards in our writing…

See Also On This Site:  Conservative Briton Roger Scruton suggests keeping political and aesthetic judgments apart in the humanities: Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To Judgment

Fish suggested keeping politics out of academia during the Ward Churchill affair:  From The Stanley Fish Blog: Ward Churchill Redux

Martha Nussbaum tried to tackle the humanities problem a while back: From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’

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From The Stanley Fish Blog: Ward Churchill Redux

Full post here.

Fish has been following the Churchill case for some time.   He suggests that we keep politics out of academia:

“How did a garden-variety academic quarrel about sources,evidence and documentation complete with a lot of huffing and puffing by everyone get elevated first into a review of the entire life of a tenured academic and then into a court case when that academic was terminated…?”

He sums his own thoughts up best:

“I am not competent to judge Churchill’s writings and I express no view of them. And I have no doubts at all about the integrity of the committee members. They just got caught up in a circus that should have never come to town.”

Related On This Site:  How do we get politics out of the humanities, and perhaps restore and deepen the liberal arts?: Stanley Fish At The NY Times Blog: ‘The Last Professors: The Corporate Professors And The Fate Of The Humanities’?How might he disagree with Martha Nussbaum:  From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’Stanley Fish At The NY Times: Psychology And Torture. Plato?

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Stanley Fish At The NY Times Blog: ‘The Last Professors: The Corporate Professors And The Fate Of The Humanities’

Full post here.

If you’ve studied in a humanities department, you’ve probably noticed a divide between what you read and wrote there and the culture at large: movies, videos, music videos, songs, broadcast news etc… which (as Camille Paglia argues) is the culture for a majority of Americans. 

The author Frank Donoghue, whom Fish reviews, argues that it’s a losing proposition to even try and work against this tide, mostly for financial reasons:

“Such a vision of restored stability,” says Donoghue, “is a delusion” because the conditions to which many seek a return – healthy humanities departments populated by tenure-track professors who discuss books with adoring students in a cloistered setting – have largely vanished. Except in a few private wealthy universities (functioning almost as museums), the splendid and supported irrelevance of humanist inquiry for its own sake is already a thing of the past.

The departments are not self-sustaining, and it’s evident from within. 

I would argue that much of Donoghue’s thinking has likely been influenced by the idea that because there is a lack of a central vision of what liberal learning ought to consist of (in part due to the influences of Continental postmodernist thinkers, the tail end of Existentialism etc. again this is a Paglian view of things, with some Allan Bloom throw in)…

…as a result a result race identity, gender politics, and all manner of other interests (many politically left) have helped filled the void.  I won’t argue that these groups don’t contain a lot of truth as many other on the political right are doing. 

I will argue that from the current state of Humanities departments… these ideas are informing our politics and shaping public opinion…and the political and idealogical reactions to them (on the right)…for better or worse.

So does Donoghue have a solution?:

“In his preface, Donoghue tells us that he will “offer nothing in the way of uplifting solutions to the problems [he] describes.” In the end, however, he can’t resist recommending something and he advises humanists to acquire “a thorough familiarity with how the university works,” for “only by studying the institutional histories of scholarly research, of tenure, of academic status, and . . . of the ever-changing college curriculum, can we prepare ourselves for the future.”

Not really, though what he does offer seems practical.  

—————————————————————————–

As mentioned:  I have some doubts about Fish’s larger interpretation of affairs…a tendency to view the arts, humanities, and philosophy itself through a certain lens.  (Fish teaches a course on conservative philosophy..hopefully in the better sense of that word…conservare…). 

Many people, especially on the political right, have been motivated by similar interpretations (sophistry?) of what’s going on…

See Also On This Site: Martha Nussbaum saw this coming a while ago, but is her platform broad enough?: From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.

  A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche ConnectionStanley Fish In The NY Times: More Colorado FolliesFrom The Boston Globe: Literature Needs To Embrace Science

AlsoShould You Bother To Get A Liberal Arts Education? Allan Bloom, Camille Paglia and Anthony KronmanHow To Study Literature: M.H. Abrams In The Chronicle Of Higher Ed.


by kinkazzo  Poor Old Harold Bloom

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Stanley Fish At The NY Times: Psychology And Torture. Plato?

Full post here.

Fish points out that the American Psychological Association has finally voted to ban its members from being part of Guantanamo interrogations.  In other words; if you want to be a member of the American Psychological Association (professional recognition, respect, opportunity, connections etc…) this base ethical obligation must be met.

Fish points out that psychologists are paid for their services elsewhere:

“Law firms employ jury consultants to assess the psychological make-up of prospective jurists…”

“Large corporations employ psychological profilers to help make them make personnel decisions.”

“Sports teams hire “coaches” whose job it is to motivate players and make them more aggressive.”

So why is Gitmo any different?:

“…the moment psychological knowledge of causes and effects is put into strategic action is the moment when psychology ceases to be a science and becomes an extension of someone’s agenda”

Well, it isn’t, according to Fish, it’s simply a matter of degree.  In this case that degree has been determined by the AMA, which he points out has followed the American Medical Association’s and the American Psychiatric Association’s to ban its members from Gitmo interrogations a while back.  In fact:

“Applied psychology can never be clean.”

So, unless knowledge is pursued for its own sake within psychology (and in psychology’s case I”m assuming he means abstract laws derived in part from science and applied to the motivations and desires of people) psychology is always falling away from truth? 

Fish certainly seems like a Platonist, and as the comment section demonstrates, he’s stirred up a lot of debate.

Addition:  You can well argue the truth value of such a claim that ‘applied psychology is never clean,” but would we want to hold psychology and other professions (law and even science) to such a standard?  I think Fish wants to point out the flaws and debatable epistemological foundations of psychology as much as anything else.

Related On This SiteStanley Fish In The NY Times: More Colorado FolliesSocial Scientists Serving In Afghanistan

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