Academic Ideals

Academia doesn't live up to its noble image. Philosopher Peter Fosl: 

Although academics will hardly raise an eyebrow about this "open secret," it comes as a surprise to many others to learn that many philosophers … are little devoted to the love of wisdom. In only a merely "academic" way do they aspire to intellectual virtue. Even less often do they exhibit qualities of moral excellence. On the contrary, many philosophers, or what pass as philosophers, are, sadly, better described as petty social climbers, meretricious snobs, and acquisitive consumerists.  I blush a bit now to confess that part of what drove me into philosophy in the first place was the naive conviction that among those who call themselves lovers of wisdom I would find something different in kind from the repugnant and shallow brutalism of the worlds of finance, business, and the law.  …

Having read the repudiations of wealth in Plato, the Epicureans, and Augustine; having read about moderation and restraint in Cicero, Spinoza, Nietzsche, and Wittgenstein; and having accepted the low pay rates of the academy, philosophers ought to be, I concluded, the sort of people whose contempt for money and status would be matched only by the purity and passion of their engagement with reasoning, theorising, contemplation, and speculation. Alas.  Instead, I've found that the secret lives of philosophers are more often than not pre-occupied with status and acquisition. … Like debutantes at the ball, philosophers now often spend much of their time dropping names, gossiping, promoting their connections, hawking their publications. … Like a member of the admissions committee to a fancy country club, a colleague … told me [his department] wouldn't even consider hiring a newly minted PhD who hadn't graduated from a program "ranked" in at least the top fifteen;… applications from candidates not in the top fifteen aren't even read. …

Philosophers seem to pepper their conversations more and more with remarks about the perks or bonuses they 
receive – how much money they have available for travel, what sort of computer allowances, how big their research grants are. … Academic conferences increasingly offer sumptuous banquets, musical entertainment, guided tours of local attractions, and well-stocked bars. … Even as they preach tiresome denunciations of privilege and power formulated in the language of Foucault and critical theory, academics now flee or aspire to flee to institutions where status and money pool.  Finding philosophers devoted principally to the love of wisdom and to sharing it broadly has become, as Spinoza said of all excellent things, as difficult as it is rare.

Of course athletes, actors, authors, artists, musicians, preachers, activists, and politicians often similarly fail to live up to their ideal images.  But such communities do try somewhat to coordinate to discourage overly-obvious contradictions between image and reality.  Which suggests many questions.

Do some of these groups try harder than others to live up to their images, and if so why?  If these contradictions were somehow made more obvious to the public, how far would these communities be go to reduce them?  If they did nothing, would they be displaced by substitutes?

I suspect most who support and affiliate with academia only care a little about academia's aspiring to intellectual virtue, and little would change if we had more obvious image-reality contradictions.  But I'd like to be wrong.  Or are we somehow better off under hypocrisy?  Hat tip to Richard Chappell.

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