Tuesday, May 25, 2004

On Academic Credentials

Be sure to read Michael Gilleland's excellent post on academic credentials. It responds to part of an equally fine post by Keith Burgess-Jackson.

A topic of great interest to me, but one on which I now have time for only a few quick observations.

The Ph.D. is a trapping that means something, but not that much. There are fools with doctorates, and sages without them. Should Kierkegaard go unread because he is a mere Magister? Should we turn a blind eye to Eric Hoffer's True Believer because its author was a migrant farm worker and stevedore who, as a pure autodidact, has no credentials at all, not even an elementary school diploma? Fifty years after it was written, in these days of Islamo-fascism, Hoffer's penetrating book has gained even more relevance.

As Schopenhauer was always keen to point out, there is a difference between a philosopher and a professor of philosophy, namely, the difference between someone who lives for philosophy and someone who lives from it. The professors, parading their titles and credentials, show thereby that they are more concerned with appearance than with reality, when the office of the philosopher is precisely to penetrate appearance and arrive at reality. (I am reporting Schopenhauer's view here, and would point out against him that of course a professor of philosophy can be a genuine philosopher. Schopenhauer himself would be forced to admit this given his great admiration for Kant.)

An important text relating to this question is William James, "The Ph.D. Octopus" in Essential Writings, ed. Wilshire (SUNY 1984), pp. 343-348)