Arguments without end and our attitude to them:
A reader of this book might ask:
How far does this quest for more holism go? Are there limits on this type of inquiry?
This is a very good question. In order to answer this, we quote something from the famous French historian, Michelet, who died in 1874:
“Woe be to him who tries to isolate one department of knowledge from the rest….all science [i.e., knowledge] is one: language, literature and history, physics, mathematics and philosophy; subjects which seem the most remote from one another are in reality connected, or rather all form a single system.”(quoted in To the Finland Station, Edmund Wilson, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1940, page 8)
Our attitude to such radical system building is non-committal. Rather we say, you the student should pursue flexible forms of increased connection and holism while you acquire knowledge and extend it and not worry about some once-and-for-all system underneath or beyond everything. We propose exercises in holism and all exercises are replaceable with new ones or better ones and there’s no “final layer” or hidden “mind of God” to use Stephen Hawking language. The existence of some underlying or final system is something like an “argument without end” (to use Pieter Geyl language).
This argument is captured by the classic “fight” between Hegel (the person that Marx and Kierkegaard rebelled against and who died in 1831) and Adorno in the twentieth century.
Hegel says: The whole is the true. Adorno (who died in 1969) says: The whole is the false.
We skip all such fights.
Thinking about University Knowledge Again:
One cannot major in every field. One cannot make everything a university offers your specialty or concentration.
“Sartor Resartus:” The great British critic Thomas Carlyle (who died in 1881), close friend of Ralph Waldo Emerson, wrote a famous satire called “Sartor Resartus or The Tailor Retailored” where he lampoons a certain Professor Devil’s-crud who teaches at Don’t-Know-Where University and is Professor of Everything.
Obviously, we are not proposing the creation of professors-of-everything and propose nothing more than the heightened ability to “zoom out” of academic fields, topics, lectures, topics, campuses.
A person who has similar intuitions is Alfred North Whitehead of Harvard (died 1947) who says in his essays on education that the real purpose of university education is to enable the learner to generalize better using that person’s field as a help or aid. The purpose of a university cannot be fields and monographs within fields alone.