[lit-ideas] Re: Shaming, Shocking Editorialising Etc.

  • From: Donal McEvoy <donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx" <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sat, 1 Dec 2012 12:20:51 +0000 (GMT)

First, the question of separating out institutional from individual factors in 
explaining the status quo is a difficult one. Second, I do not know enough 
about "governance" at Oxford to enter into this at all fully. 

Nevertheless, we can start from the untenability of the status quo insofar as 
quite trivial and intellectually worthless stuff gets taught [e.g. Jennifer 
Hornsby], perhaps because it is 'local produce', as against more worthwhile 
stuff [Popper, of course]: not only that, but the whole way issues were framed 
"gamed" them to certain perspectives - and here I suggest  that Oxford only 
pays lip-service to the idea that an intelligent student can always meet this 
head-on by 'attacking the question', for the likely response of an examiner is 
not that the question has been well-answered by showing it is badly put but 
that the student has shown themselves unable to understand a valid question or 
to answer it. It is secondary to this "untenability" whether it is best 
explained in individual or institutional terms - the primary point must be to 
change it, not explain it. It may be simpler to change than to explain, and 
change or reform does not hinge on a proven

There must have been problems of "governance", as even the dons complained - 
indeed departed for challenges elsewhere - because of issues of "governance" 
[e.g. byzantine bureacracy to get 'permission' to pursue research projects, the 
very kind of 'permission' independent minds will travel to avoid]. But it may 
be that deficiencies in teaching may be explained more at an individual level, 
and so might recruitment at college level; but it is perhaps less individual 
and more "governance" and institutional where we are looking at deficiencies in 
the university syllabus and examination questions [small point, but perhaps 
telling: the questions in philosophy of mind and legal practical problems 
betrayed the kind of 'sense of humour' of the bright but intellectually 
frivolous e.g. 'Can a frog be turned into a prince?' (as a way of raising 
personal identity in philosophy of mind, ho-ho) or using famous names as 
characters in legal problems, trying to show the
 questioners are 'in the real world' while betraying the opposite].

Unfortunately, I feel the need to descend into example. Take the legal essay 
question 'Why are purely executory contracts enforceable given the 'doctrine of 
consideration'?' Once you've decoded this, you realise the question is (in 
layman's terms) "Given that a contract only occurs when both parties are giving 
something of value to the other, why is it that a contract is created at the 
point they exchange promises - as the promises lack value unless they are 
enforceable, and treating promises as valuable because they are enforceable 
begs the question, how can we explain their enforceability?' Now this might 
seem innocent enough, it might even seem a penetrating question. But it is 
quite misconceived where, as here, it is put forward as if there is an academic 
answer, or there should be an academic answer. The answer lies in 
practicalities: a law that did not recognise contracts as constituted when 
promises are 'exchanged' would be impractical and
 defective - just imagine if the law were otherwise. Yet the academic approach 
is to get tied up in knots looking for a non-question-begging explanation of an 
academic-type: whereas the knot is quickly cut through if we put on the hat of 
a practical person. While some academics may have a decent practical sense of 
the law [though I have posted to show one of my tutors betrayed the fact he 
not when it comes to the difference between common law crooks and 
dishonest trustees], and the best have an excellent sense of these 
practicalities, they mislead by trying to present and understand legal issues 
without the essential background of practicalities. Given practicalities, some 
decisions that might seem inconsistent can be easily explained: for example, 
the courts would appear to hold bodies granting gambling and boxing licences to 
a much higher standard of accountability than, say, councils setting council 
tax or planning decisions - even though all such bodies operate under the same 
'rules' of adminstrative law. The answer lies not in legal analysis of the 
'law' but in practicalities: even aside from the increased risk of corruption 
in the case of licences, these are licences that relatively few apply for and 
all involved generally have lawyers acting, so it is feasible to hold 
decision-making to a much higher kind of practical standard in terms of the 
'giving of reasons' than in many other kinds of
 situation. Law reports themselves may be misleading: if you followed the 
licence case in court you might have noticed the importance of exchanges where 
the judge established how many people applied, what kind of body decided, and 
if all used legal expertise etc. - yet none of this vital information might be 
in the case report, which might simply refer to the 'rules' which are the same 
here as elsewhere, yet here the court applies the 'rules' in a seemingly 
different way to elsewhere. Teaching law as abstract principles outside of 
practicalities is like teaching 'car mechanics' or 'soccer' or 'building stuff' 
as abtract principles outside of practicalities: and it perhaps no surprise 
that some people with excellent academic qualifications in law are (or would 
be) inept as practicioners.

In the above paragraph we have touched on something that might be best 
explained not in terms of the individual or the institution, but in terms of 
the 'academic approach' and its defects and limitations particularly in 
relation to practical subject-matter. But if we turn to philosophy, we may also 
have to explain Oxford's way with philosophy as best explained in terms of a 
certain 'academic approach' to that subject-matter. In other words, as well as 
individual and institutional approaches, we can approach these issues in terms 
of a certain kind of intellectual tradition (John Wager's post is worth noting 
here, though I tend to think most students do not opt for Oxford because that 
is the place for Wittgenstein etc. but rather go there to find they are at the 
mercy of a certain intellectual tradition, one they may easily accept [knowing 
no better or different, and because it is 'clever' in its way], but one that 
may be highly questionable ). Bryan Magee
 gives a firmer idea of what I'm getting at in 'Confessions of a Philosopher'.



 From: John McCreery <john.mccreery@xxxxxxxxx>
To: Lit-Ideas <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx> 
Sent: Friday, 30 November 2012, 1:32
Subject: [lit-ideas] Re: Shaming, Shocking Editorialising Etc.


I wonder if treating the university as the relevant actor in the case isn't a 
case of misplaced concreteness. Aren't the relevant contingencies which 
professors are already in place and make hiring decisions and whether they be 
approve of the new hire's scholarship and what she wants to teach? Which is 
not, I hasten to add, to denigrate concern with the quality of ideas. It is 
just to recognize the reality that reputations are built or destroyed by their 
passage through particular individuals who make judgments about them. The 
institutional structure is relevant insofar as it empowers certain individuals 
to act on their judgments, with results that others may deplore.


On Fri, Nov 30, 2012 at 8:35 AM, Omar Kusturica <omarkusto@xxxxxxxxx> wrote:

Well, you might as well have given up on Phil-Lit, a list only the elders among 
us remember, and perhaps not too fondly. I also believe it is now defunct. This 
is Lit-Ideas !
> From: "cblitid@xxxxxxxx" <cblitid@xxxxxxxx>
>To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx 
>Sent: Thursday, November 29, 2012 9:26 PM
>Subject: [lit-ideas] Re: Shaming, Shocking Editorialising Etc.
>On 29-Nov-12, at 9:06 PM, Donal McEvoy wrote:
>> From: Omar Kusturica <omarkusto@xxxxxxxxx>
>>> What would happen if someone suddenly invented perpetuum mobile, any 
>>> theories ?
>> There'd be no stopping them.
>... and here I'd just about given up on Phil-Lit!
>Chris Bruce,
>in Kiel, Germany
>To change your Lit-Ideas settings (subscribe/unsub, vacation on/off,
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John McCreery
The Word Works, Ltd., Yokohama, JAPAN
Tel. +81-45-314-9324

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