Academic Standards - Factasia Demurs


A page to explain why I address academic subjects without embracing academic standards, and to articulate the standards (such as they are) to which I aspire.
Academic Standards
What are academic standards? An extremely non-authoritative account of the standards and their overt and covert purposes.
Factasian Standards
Open and Honest


I am often aware, because I often write on topics which are academic, that I do not adhere to the standards which academic philosophers expect in published work. When setting out to write some notes on Ludwig Wittgenstein, which I expected to get nowhere near the usual standards of scholarship for such an enterprise, I found myself compelled to write some account of why I was happy to flout these standards. Having set out on this road I then decided it would be better to treat this topic on its own, rather than let it intrude into writings on other topics. This page is my attempt to do that.
There are two primary reasons for my adoption of Factasian rather than academic standards (apart from my inability to achieve academic standards in my work). The first is sheer necessity in the face of an obsession with purpose. The second is that though I can see some of the point behind academic standards, I doubt that they in fact achieve their intended purpose and I believe that some aspects of academic standards have side effects which are undesirable.
Professors and Cranks
There can have been no period in the last two thousand years in which a scholar could proceed by reading all the written materials bearing upon his subject (unless it were, as is not uncommon, a very narrow subject). It is well understood that many Professors are subjected to writings from amateurs (often called cranks) which they must assess and dismiss rapidly if they are not to find their time wasted away. A recent, related, skill is that of detecting and deleting junk mail without actually reading it.

What may be less obvious is that cranks also have to assess the works of philosophers for its relevance to their enterprise and to dismiss without reading many works which appear unlikely to help. In this matter, consulting scholars may be of little assistance, since the more prominent a writer the more likely it is that scholars will be locked in dispute about the merits of his work, and will express their opinions in works greatly more voluminous than the original.

Academic Standards:

What are academic standards? An extremely non-authoritative account of the standards and their overt and covert purposes.
The Standards
If you want to do original work on some problem then you must first aquaint yourself with the relevant literature. In particular you should ensure that the ideas you are working out are original and are not invalidated by previously published work.
If you want to publish work in some area then you should not rush into print with ill considered conclusions. You should polish your work very carefully before submitting it for publication.
Knowledge is an end in itself, no other purpose is necessary. Consequently it is not desirable to explain why a piece of research has been done, except to show how it relates other closely related work.
Don't trespass outside your patch. This is not an overt standard, but it may be a consequence of the requirement for scholarship and polish, which make it very time consuming to reach the level of scholarship prerequisite to publication.
The Reasons
Standard of Publications
The primary purpose is clear, it is to prevent the published literature from becoming cluttered with work which adds little value to it but makes it more difficult to find the more important and valuable contributions. It saves the time of professional academics (and others) who would otherwise have to assess for themselves substandard works which do not merit their time. It also means that there is come cachet attached to securing publication, which can therefore function as a vehicle for career progression.
Other Factors

Factasian Standards:

Open and Honest
Publication of Ill-Founded Negative Opinion
No-one could argue with "open and honest" surely? And to suggest that this might be in conflict with academic standards is surely an unwarranted slur? Well, suppose I begin to read the work of a reputable philosopher, am appalled, and then conclude that the material is not worth any more of my time. I do this all the time. No problem so far.

Later, I discover that to make my position clear on some point it is desirable that I mention my disagreement with the same philosopher's position.

Do I:

  • keep my opinion to myself since it is founded on an insufficient knowledge of the subject matter (i.e. of the philosopher's work)
  • make my position clear, even though ill-founded, so that others may understand where I am coming from and can make their own best judgement whether my own position is good.
  • The Inevitability of Prejudice
    I consider prejudice a necessity of life. I have to decide where to spend my time. The overwhelming majority of good books will never receive my attention.

    If I can articulate my prejudices I will do. That way, maybe someone will let me know if I am being lead seriously astray by them (though I might not agree with them). More importantly, even if they can't shift my prejudice, at least they will have a better basis for disregarding the conclusion which I rest upon it. This is much better than pretending I don't have any opinion on any subject on which my research has been incomplete.

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