[lit-ideas] Shaming, Shocking Editorialising Etc.

  • From: Donal McEvoy <donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx" <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Tue, 27 Nov 2012 12:58:04 +0000 (GMT)

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/nov/26/former-oed-editor-deleted-words

I have previously written of the editorialising and agenda-setting rife in 
Oxford (as a Popperian of sorts, with Popper a persona non grata there, I might 
be more alertto this aspect of undergraduate coursesthan some other students): 
for example, if there was a topic to be studied in philosophy then what some 
local professsor wrote on it recently would be on the reading-list even if it 
was far from the best material available (Bryan Magee describes this kind of 
endemic parochialism at more persuasive length in his 'Confessions of a 
Philosopher', and he should know as he was a tutor there; and what was true 
here of Oxford was truein some other places); Kant was merely optional, not 
essential, to the study of modern Western philosophy, whereas a triple dose of 
British empiricists - Locke, Berkeley, Hume - was of course essential etc. The 
choice of topic might itself be a reflection of local academic concerns. In my 
time, Roman Law was compulsory to the
 undergraduate honours school of 'jurisprudence [RomanLaw specialists abounded 
in the faculty]; but, staggerlingly, European Law (though essentially 
incorporated into domestic law and prevailing if they conflicted) was merely 
optional. But it is not just that the local professor, and local specialities 
of subject-matter, were the focus of study. It is that largely accepting a 
certain POV was the key to success in examinations. The suspicion is that to do 
well there you had parrot a clever version of some prevailing academic wisdom - 
just as you might aim to do so to prosper at the leading academic institutions 
in France or in communist Russia. A clever reservation about some minor aspect 
of HLA Hart's 'The Concept of Law' might score well but you would not do so 
well suggesting there was an underlying project to that book and that it was 
fundamentally misconceived (after all, you would be likely marked by a 
'Hartian' of some sort - for whom the dogma
 that there are concepts to be analysed, and 'law' is one them, would have been 
beyond successful challenge as it constituted the very raison d'etre of their 
academic approach). That is, clever disagreement over minor matters might be 
rewarded but not radical disagreement over fundamentals. In short, the 
fundamental and even covert biases of the marker would play a large part in 
some degree subjects - generally, the less science in the subject the greater 
the role of bias in marking. This is not something academics might want to 
publicly admit, but it seems to me almost inevitably the case. It is in this 
light that we might view the story urled: wherechoosing what belongs in the 
lexicographical 'canon' is not a matter of scientific judgment, inevitably 
biases and values colour the job - though the lack of objectivity may take time 
to become clear.


Donal

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