Of “Public Weal and Private Honor”

Rollo May in Freedom and Destiny (p. 6):

In this time of the disintegration of concern for public weal and private honor, in this time of the demise of values, our recovery — if we are to achieve it — must be based on our coming to terms with this source of all values: freedom.

The new cultural and moral dark age is, then, ameliorable only through a witting re-appropriation of our basic openness to things. Our heedless and crippling indulgence of satisfyingly narrow interpretations precludes the “higher harmonies” (p. 242) of metaphysical coalescence.


Kingwell: “A populist wake-up call for universities”

Philosopher Mark Kingwell in Academic Matters:

We are losing when it comes to reason and critical intelligence and civility. We are losing when it comes to the basic justification of what we [academics] do. We are losing on defending universities as forces for good.

The university is a public or collective good, not just a good for the (too often careerist) individual “users” of the system. At the extreme, an utterly corrosive consumerism takes hold.

I will say it again: it is despicable to enjoy the fruits of academic success and not feel a profound sense of obligation. People who exist outside our bubble feel this too: hence the anger, the contempt, the disdain—and, maybe worst of all, the indifference. Still, we are all citizens together, and the world of the university is as real as anything else that transpires here in the sublunary realm. There is a call to community audible underneath all the hostility.

As a specialized culture within the larger body politic, the university, whatever its shortcomings, supports the long-term welfare and betterment of the broader society that sustains it.

Fair Employment Week 2016

[boilerplate from WUFA]

Happy Fair Employment Week!

Students, I am writing to encourage you to become involved/engaged in CAUT’s 2016 Fair Employment Week (Oct. 24th-28th). 

WUFA will be holding a Fair Employment Booth 

Where: CAW Centre (In front of the bookstore kiosk).

When: Thursday Oct. 27th (10am-1pm)

Why: Advocate for good academic jobs on our campus

There will be: cake, coffee, buttons, and postcards to share. Hope to see you tomorrow

How can you contribute?

Sign these pledges:



1) Utilize social media (Facebook/twitter) to engage with the campaign, promote our event, and facilitate public conversation.

2) Visit our booth–bring friends, and invite your friends/fellow students to do the same.

Please Note: even if you can only visit the booth for a quick photo to post to your networks–this advocacy is incredibly important, so please do stop by. 

Here are some additional resources:





“Whatever Happened to High Culture?”

Author and academic Joseph Epstein writes: “The English philosopher Michael Oakeshott notes that one of the signs of being cultured is that one knows what one doesn’t have to know.” (We shall, naturally, exclude sports scores and the like from consideration here.) What, then, should a cultured person know? The better question, Epstein offers, is what cultured persons were once expected to know: “Contemporary visual art, perhaps for the first time in the history of painting and sculpture, is one of those things a cultured person no longer has to know.”

Epstein as professor remarks upon the understandable initial lack of cultural and intellectual knowledge on the part of his past students: “My sense is that these students were, as I hoped they would be, as I myself as an undergraduate was, properly cowed by their own ignorance.” What of our contemporary cultural condition? Are we willing to learn, remember, and recollect? If “the art of the past—visual, musical, above all literary—is the chief route to culture”, where do we stand culturally?

I’m not sure that this same exercise would be of much avail today. Now students need merely pick up their smartphones and Google the names on my list. I’m less than sure that culture, and the notion of being a cultured person, has anything like the high standing it once had. Might most people today rather be well informed than cultured? What was once a high human aspiration—the possession of culture—may no longer be so.

Though we are ambitious, we no longer aspire. We do not want to work, in the broadest and deepest sense:

Among those of us fortunate enough to have grasped its significance, high culture took us out of our small worlds into a larger universe where human possibilities were immensely enlarged. But now high culture, once thought to be not the shortest but the surest way to the good life, is no longer the main quest in artistic or intellectual life, having been not so much defeated as replaced by noise, nervous energy, sheer distraction.

The future, then?

No longer a continuing enterprise, high culture itself will become dead-ended, a curiosity, little more, and thus over time likely to die out. Life will go on. Machines will grow smarter, human beings gradually dumber.

A veridical presage, I would say.

The whole article.

Politics and “a psychological disposition towards cognitive laziness”

University of Toronto critical theorist Joseph Heath inquires: Whence the sapience of homo sapiens?

The core idea, known as dual-process theory, “is that we have within our minds two very different styles of cognition, two different ways of approaching and solving problems.” Intuition is referred to by academics as system one, while reason is system two.

Intuition usually works well enough for many purposes. It’s the easier path, so we incline toward it. However, the brain’s rapid intuition is also buggy, the product of earlier evolutionary times.

Reason is often what academics, not surprisingly, engage in. It has four essential characteristics: it is linguistically based; it is linear, where one thought follows another; it is conscious, meaning every step of the argument is explicit and available; and it is “effortful,” i.e., it requires our full attention and concentration. All of this is a rather slow process, said Dr. Heath.

What, then, of political life?

What [Prime Minister Pierre] Trudeau was implying was that “in a very emotionally charged debate, certain kinds of policy positions [federalism] are going to be at an intrinsic disadvantage because those policy positions are fundamentally not motivated by emotion [as is sub-federal nationalism/separatism], they’re motivated by rational insight. The debate is not neutral,” said Dr. Heath.

These considerations lead Heath to call for a new “slow politics.”

The article.

“Our exhausted (first) world: a plea for 21st-century existential philosophy”

Philosopher Sheridan Hough writing about the enervated hedonism of many of her students (by their own admission, “just zoning out on a Barcalounger with a grilled cheese”):

[L]et me tell you that this is a phenomenon I’ve observed over the years, on a number of North American campuses, and it continues to astonish me. They are exhausted. These children of first world everything, every material good and privilege that humans have wrought, fashioned and fought for over millennia, are simply tired of the whole thing.

ln this case, everything leads to nothing(ness):

We might observe that the students in the existential ‘check-out’ line are in a different condition from this redoubtable, yet empty, human being [without a self]: they aren’t even aroused by the prospect of taking up the gleaming mantles of propriety and esteem—those letters after the name! The corner office and the elaborate business card. Oh, they will do all of it, of course, but the point of their activity, any of it, except for indolent repose, has gone missing: their subjective condition is not fully functioning.

The work of becoming a subject lies unclaimed.

Outmoded Concepts

Reviewer Simon Gadke on True Style author Bruce Boyer:

The things he advocates, perfectly echoed in his easy prose style, are restraint, elegance and the occasional flash of whimsy and individuality. It’s an aesthetic rooted in concepts as outmoded today as a gold collar pin: propriety, civility and manners.

“Fashion,” then, as an articulation of the “ethical” in ethos:

Boyer’s own style is instructive: brown suede shoes, corduroy slacks, muted tweed jackets.


“A guy who believes the classroom should be a democracy, not a dictatorship”

Democracy or dictatorship — are these our only choices in the classroom? False dilemma, anyone?

Says this GTA teacher:

“The idea of a teacher as ‘lead learner’ is important, and a teacher’s desk represents the holy grail of authority. If we’re supposed to be a democracy but I have a ‘throne,’ how can I say equity in my classroom is real?” he asked.

On this account, teachers have no real ability to inform or guide, so “equity” demands that teachers and students occupy the same intellectual (and even physical) level, with no unfair (fascist) presumption of greater ability on the part of the teacher (er, um, “lead learner”). We should, naturally, expect to teachers to be learners, too (which should keep teachers humble, as this “lead learner” points out rightly). But teachers and students, we should figure using common sense, occupy substantively different levels — and if they do not, things are amiss.

In today’s “inquiry-based learning” approach, a teacher might start a lesson by asking, “What do we wonder about this topic? What do we need to know?” and then work with students to figure out how to find the answer together, said Education professor Nancy Steele, of the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

Are teachers allowed to come into the classroom with any sense of direction? Are we here looking at an organic dialectical process cultivated in a principled way or mere anomie? Tom Nichols offers this timely and exceedingly valuable thought:

I fear we are witnessing the “death of expertise”: a Google-fueled, Wikipedia-based, blog-sodden collapse of any division between professionals and laymen, students and teachers, knowers and wonderers – in other words, between those of any achievement in an area and those with none at all.

No one (well, almost no one) wants a return to the bad old days of authoritarianism. Authority or expertise means roughly the considered views of those with important experience in an area. But we all have our own “experiences,” don’t we? Yes, but not all experiences are equal, Nichols reminds us:

I am (or at least think I am) an expert. Not on everything, but in a particular area of human knowledge, specifically social science and public policy. When I say something on those subjects, I expect that my opinion holds more weight than that of most other people. I never thought those were particularly controversial statements. As it turns out, they’re plenty controversial.

Mark Bauerlein asks in The Dumbest Generation (186): “If mentors are so keen to recant their expertise, why should students strain to acquire it themselves?”

Why, indeed?