TSElosophers’ meeting on the 30th of January, 2018. Katja Einola, Kari Lukka, Jonathan Van Mumford, Otto Rosendahl, Joonas Uotinen, Milla Wirén
The nature and value of universal history: an inaugural lecture, Friedrich von Schiller, 1789
While our discussions yet again soared free in ways difficult to replicate in a concise blog, the main theme was the dichotomy of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, captured already by Schiller, and even today witnessed in all such spheres of human activity where passion becomes profession. The following blog by Katja captures the sentiments of our discussions, yet weaves them into a beautiful entity in its own right.
Blog by Katja
The French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre famously exclaimed that we are ‘condemned to be free’. With this he meant that what he considered a basic human condition, freedom, implies that we must make choices – and making choices is often difficult. Especially when our own choices may complicate our lives. Yet, we cannot escape making them. In fact, we make choices even when we decide not to do anything. Just knowing something is inherently wrong or immoral, makes us directly responsible. Being free to choose is at times a heavy burden.
Researchers and academics whose job it is to seek new and challenge existing knowledge make these types of choices every day, more or less consciously. Do I correct the Master’s thesis by reading it diagonally and give a good grade to spare my time (and boost my popularity ratings), or do I really set my mind to making sure he/she gets best possible help to leave the school with the best possible thesis? I have a nagging feeling that my research results do not reflect the reality out there—but do I really have time to go investigate more, dig deeper, since I know I can probably get away with this (and get published)? Performance pressure, budget constraints, personal ambitions and the famous ‘publish or perish’ imperative are pushing many to cut corners in their research and teaching, and scale down their intellectual ambitions to ‘make it’ or remain credible in the modern academia. In particular, juniors who do not have tenure or other form of job security need to make tough choices what their research is going to be about. More research does not necessarily mean better research, even when the System we are part of (or trapped in) guides us to choose quantity over quality, speed over reflection. In fact, an increasing amount of voices within the field of organizational and management studies, feel that much academic research today is low on substance and meaning.
‘The more things change, the more they stay the same’, goes an old saying. In 1789, the German Enlightenment poet, philosopher, physician, historian, and playwright, Friedrich Schiller, a protégé of Goethe, delivered his inaugural lecture on universal history at Jena University. Students flocked in to listen. His concern for what he must have thought was at the time a tendency to weak research and unambitious researchers, more at the service of their careers and ‘masters’ than knowledge, was so strong that he started his speech with a careful distinction between what he called ‘Brotgelehrte’ (bread-fed scholars) and the Philosophical Mind. Schiller used the very beginning of his speech to warn the young, pure minds with thirst to know, from ‘being wasted unworthily by fraud and deception’. I use Schiller’s words here directly to explain the distinction between the Philosophical Mind and Brotgelehrte to highlight their relevance in today’s academia (and because I cannot think of a more eloquent way to transfer their meaning):
The course of studies which the scholar who feeds on bread alone sets himself, is very different from that of the philosophical mind. The former, who, for all his diligence, is interested merely in fulfilling the conditions under which he can perform a vocation and enjoy its advantages, who activates the powers of his mind only thereby to improve his material conditions and to satisfy a narrow-minded thirst for fame, such a person has no concern upon entering his academic career, more important than distinguishing most carefully those sciences which he calls ’studies for bread,’ from all the rest, which delight the mind for their own sake. Who rants more against reformers than the gaggle of bread-fed scholars? Who more holds up the progress of useful revolutions in the kingdom of knowledge than these very men? Every light radiated by a happy genius, in whichever science it be, makes their poverty apparent; their foils are bitterness, insidiousness, and desperation, for, in the school system they defend, they do battle at the same time for their entire existence. On that score, there is no more irreconcilable enemy, no more jealous official, no one more eager to denounce heresy than the bread-fed scholar.
Then comes the other part of the speech in which Schiller delivers a passionate account of how he thinks the whole history of mankind has inevitably led to the Age of Reason that finds its peak of sophistication in the Holy Roman Empire and Germanic civilization, purified from corruption by the Protestant Reform. Travellers who had visited the ‘margins of civilization’ overseas, only inflated this hubris with their rendition about the ‘savages’ they found.
In some places, there was not even the simple bond of marriage, as yet no knowledge of property, and in others the flaccid soul was not even able to retain an experience which repeats itself every day; one saw the savage carelessly relinquish the bed on which he slept, because it did not occur to him, that he would sleep again tomorrow.
After thousands of years of war and barbarism, a new era of Reason and Peace led by Europe was dawning.
How many wars had to be waged, how many alliances concluded, sundered, and become newly concluded to finally bring Europe to the principle of peace, which alone grants nations, as well as their citizens, to direct their attention to themselves, and to join their energies to a reasonable purpose!
Now what do these travellers tell us about these savages?
With the benefit of the hindsight, this part of the speech is naïve, euro-centric and to a large extent, incorrect. Indeed, being historically embedded means also to be myopic to the present– a tendency that will hardly be avoided by the 21st century man either.
Let us now return to the Brotgelehrte-Philosophical Mind distinction, the part with pressing everyday importance to us, today’s researchers. There is no easy separation between the two types – and classifying researchers or research according to these categories seems unproductive. I suggest instead that we take these as rhetorical types and make them more visible in our discussions as we practice our science and art. Who do we ‘serve’ in the classroom and when we conduct research? Knowledge — or something else – morally dubious, corrupting our community and deceptive of our audiences. For me the question is about an existential choice – choice not made easy for todays’ practicing academics.