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Open Access 5. The Scandal of the Irrationality of Academia

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Academic inquiry, in devoting itself primarily to the pursuit of knowledge, is profoundly and damagingly irrational, in a wholesale, structural fashion, when judged from the standpoint of helping to promote human welfare. Judged from this standpoint, academic inquiry devoted to the pursuit of knowledge violates three of the four most elementary rules of rational problem-solving conceivable. Above all, it fails to give intellectual priority to the tasks of (1) articulating problems of living, including global problems, and (2) proposing and critically assessing possible solutions—possible social actions. This gross, structural irrationality of academic inquiry stems from blunders of the 18th century French Enlightenment. The philosophes had the brilliant idea of learning from scientific progress how to achieve social progress towards an enlightened world, but in implementing this idea they made three disastrous blunders. They got the nature of the progress-achieving methods of science wrong; they failed to generalize these methods properly; and most disastrously, they applied these methods to acquiring knowledge about society, and not directly to solving social problems. These blunders are still inherent in academia today, with dire consequences for the state of the world. All this has been pointed out prominently many times since 1976, but has been ignored.

Keywords: academic reform; global problems; irrationality of academia; scientific method; social progress; the Enlightenment

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2019

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  • Philosophy and Theory in Higher Education is an international refereed scholarly journal committed to advancing understanding of the role(s) and purpose(s) of higher education. The journal strives to be inclusive in scope, addressing topics and issues of significance to a wide range of scholars and practitioners concerned with the relationship between higher education and society. Rigorous submissions informed by diverse philosophical and theoretical orientations, including, but not limited to, critical theory, existentialism, feminism, queer theory, post-colonialism, Marxism, liberalism, poststructuralism, postmodernism, and posthumanism will be welcomed. PTIHE aims to stimulate critical analyses of policy and practice in higher education, with an emphasis on inter-disciplinarity and international perspectives. The content will be primarily philosophical and theoretically-based research papers. Analytical papers that reflect on empirical projects will also be featured in the journal. Short responses to previous articles as well as essay reviews of new works in the field will be considered to promote ongoing critical dialogue within the journal. Proposals for special issues, with thematically linked papers, are encouraged.
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