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Babel and the Ivory Tower

Babel and the Ivory Tower: The Scholar in the Age of Science

W. David Shaw
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 340
  • Book Info
    Babel and the Ivory Tower
    Book Description:

    Torn between the competing forces of scholarship as a profession and scholarship as a calling - between Babel and the Ivory Tower - the modern academic faces a dilemma: should she or he try to preserve the soul of higher education by cultivating the Muse of personal knowledge, or renounce the Muse and imitate a technician?

    Having come to the end of his own scholarly career, W. David Shaw felt out of place in the technological realm academia has become - where scholars increasingly model their work on that of scientists rather than the classical thinkers of the past, and where original ideas often only alienate the scholar, rather than enrich. Thus,Babel and the Ivory Toweris as much a eulogy as an elegy.

    Shaw reflects on the changes that have taken place in the academic sphere while philosophically enlarging our stock of fresh ideas about the competing claims of maps and models and open and closed capacities in higher learning. This is a fascinating and illuminating discussion of liberal and contemplative scholarship and adds significantly to the growing body of contemporary philosophical literature.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7113-3
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. 1 The Prophet and the Scholar: Two Paths to Knowledge
    (pp. 3-20)

    The modern university is a great fortified post of information science and computers. As a house of learning, it is also a home for scholars who love what they contemplate and embody what they know. In a society in which book learning is an anomaly, the scholar must breach the citadel of computer wizards and technicians by combining his knowledge of books with the rebel’s power to criticize authority, the prophet’s power to renew tradition, and the poet’s power to create a world that is no less true for being a vision. My portrait of the scholar has less in...

  5. 2 The Scholar’s Wager: The Lottery of Higher Learning
    (pp. 21-34)

    Like F.H. Bradley’s casino, the university is the one temple of God where ‘worshippers prove their faith by their works, and in their destruction still trust in Him’ (Bradley, 1930, aphorism 38). For the gambling analogy I am indebted to Mortimer R. Radish, who compares the university to a lottery where every faculty member, student, and administrator is gambling his or her enlightened self-interest against the self-interest of everyone else. Kadish prefers the model of enlightened self-interest to a model of benevolent dictatorship, and even to the model of a democracy where the tyranny of a majority may still enslave...

  6. 3 The Scientist’s Knowledge: The Genius of Discovery
    (pp. 35-54)

    One axiom of this inquiry is that modern science has more in common with great scholarship than with technology. Both science and humane scholarship depend for their breakthroughs on the disciplined imagination and the adventurous thinking of highly original investigators. As one commentator says, ‘the sciences and their histories are thrilling in similar ways to the arts and their histories, and the two interconnect on multiple levels’ (Magee, 132). Even when science seems to build on a secure foundation of knowledge, it is often a blind date with such capriciously complex phenomena as next week’s weather. Moreover, like a new...

  7. 4 The Scholar’s Knowledge: The Conversation of the Learned
    (pp. 55-75)

    In a range of splendidly incisive books and essays on higher learning, the English philosopher Michael Oakeshott divides the ‘conversation’ of liberal education into different ‘languages’ or discourses. He distinguishes ‘the language of the natural sciences,’ for example, from ‘the language of history, the language of philosophy, or the language of poetic imagination’ (1989, 37). A literature stands in the same relation to the language it uses as a learned discipline stands to the models it deploys. To engage in the adventure of university education is to come to recognize and discriminate among what Oakeshott calls the ‘languages’ or what...

  8. 5 Contemplative Knowledge; A Secret Discipline
    (pp. 76-100)

    Though I argued in chapter 3 that scientists have more in common with scholars than with technicians, I now want to explore some equally important differences. For discovery and contemplation are as unique as Newton and Shakespeare. To talk with the great prophets, scholars, and poets of the past about justice, God, or Shakespeare’s art is a much more erotic form of discourse than talking about quarks or genes, because (as George Grant has said) ‘what is to be known about justice or God or beauty can only be known when they are loved.’ Scholarly discourse may incorporate research into...

  9. 6 Practical Knowledge: Prometheus to Faust
    (pp. 101-123)

    Whereas Aeschylus thinks Prometheus deserves to be punished for stealing fire from heaven, Shelley celebrates him as a humanitarian hero. The medical doctor who uses biochemistry to cure disease or the engineer who uses technology to build higher condominiums and faster freeways is our new Prometheus. But in the triumphs of genetic engineering, the amassing of huge nuclear arsenals, and the mindless spread of urban communities, we are reminded that a Promethean overreacher like Faust has a sinister shadow side to his character. Ancient Greek and biblical texts fromPrometheus Boundto Genesis warn against the forbidden knowledge of would-be...

  10. 7 Personal Knowledge: The Lifeblood of Learning
    (pp. 124-148)

    Without ceasing to be objective and disinterested, higher learning must satisfy the desire of an intelligent human being to be an architect and poet, a fashioner of values and a discoverer of worlds. Scholars and scientists can be extraordinarily creative and resourceful, not because they are supercomputers, but because their ability to integrate reason and imagination allows them to connect their past to a meaningful future. They know that imagination is the source of meaning, which is the antecedent condition of truth. The opposite of meaning is not logical contradiction or simple wrongheadedness but chaos or anarchy, a ‘darkling plain’...

  11. 8 From Maps to Models: Closed and Open Knowledge
    (pp. 149-175)

    Mortimer R. Radish, a recent defender of cultural laissez-faire, advocates free trade in ideas and equal concern and opportunity for each scholar or scientist with the desire and talent to compete. But a democracy’s genuine concern for the individual is always in danger of collapsing back into passive inertia and conditioning. As a cure for the drab uniformity diagnosed by Alexis de Tocqueville as the worst disease of American democracy, Allan Bloom prescribes an elitist classical curriculum (sicklied over with the pale thought of caste). And even in deriding Matthew Arnold for thinking of culture as a rearguard religious activity,...

  12. 9 Socratic Mentors: Proving Truth by Living It
    (pp. 176-198)

    The secret of Socratic education is that there are two paths to knowledge - throughelenchusand through embodiment. Truth is disclosed not just through Socrates’ exposure of logical fallacies in an adversary’s arguments. It is also achieved through an embodiment of wisdom and self-knowledge in the life of Socrates. In the next three chapters I have decided to treat Socrates’ second path to knowledge separately, because I find it difficult to travel the path of Socratic mentors at the same time I am tracing the more conservative path of scholars who may minimize the role of bold conjecture in...

  13. 10 Prophet, Rebel, Poet: The Scholar’s Hidden Knowledge
    (pp. 199-223)

    If Aristotle is right to praise metaphorical speech as a sign of high intelligence, perhaps we can recognize the Socratic wisdom of prophets, rebels, and poets in their talent for aphorism. Like Socrates and Jesus, many prophets and scholars are masters of wise or witty sayings. Often they join the wit of a discovery to the judgment of a verdict or a law. The wit dissolves the authority of an accepted truth, and the judgment gives a revolutionary new oracle the ring of an encyclical decree or a law received from God. Wallace Stevens’s rabbi in ‘The Auroras of Autumn’...

  14. 11 From Ivory Tower to Babel: The Secret of the Maze
    (pp. 224-248)

    The sophistry I am keenest to refute is our culture’s widespread assumption that to be educated as a scholar or critic rather than as a computer scientist or technician is to be educated as a misfit. I realize that uncritical nostalgia for the values of the age in which one’s own youth was passed is often a mark of senility. But I like to think that in a new Dark Age of anarchy, in which barbarians have reduced to rubble the loftiest towers of commerce, the holy city of art and culture may still be remembered fondly as apatria....

  15. Notes
    (pp. 249-262)
  16. Works Cited
    (pp. 263-274)
  17. Index
    (pp. 275-288)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 289-289)