Independent thinking ….

… and the small steps the academic world undermines it …

Two weeks teaching are over, today with the long Sunday sessions … – it is good to see the students (well, some of them) again being around, eager to learn, interested in understanding the world and gain independent thinking. Sure, independent thinking does by no means deny the meaning of work that had been done – putting all us of on the shoulders of giants and as well on those of the forgotten labouring masses of the academic world on which the monuments of giants are erected. Al this talk about giants and the acknowledgment of the pedestals on which they stand is not just about referencing but it is of fundamental importance to learn about the work that had been done, climbing on the shoulders of giants. And this is not least a matter of methodologies, theories and methods. Only this way we are able to work according to fundamentally important principles: Asad Zaman presents them in the following way:

The first of this is to consider the central role of institutions as mediators of change. … A second principle is “methodological communitarianism,” according to which only collective action creates social change … . A third principle is the strong interaction between the social, economic and political spheres which requires simultaneous consideration of all three … . A fourth principle is the reflexive relationship between theories and history. Changing historical circumstances generate theories designed to understand this change. In turn, theories affect history, since responses to change are mediated by theories. Finally, … social change is initiated by external factors, but understanding the process of change requires considering responses to these external stimuli by various groups.[1]

But what is then about independence? Just before taking up teaching again, I submitted an article to a journal – and the style guidelines deserve in the context of learning independent thinking some special attention:

The use of personal pronouns (‘I’ and ‘we’) is to be generally avoided in the text, as are phrases such as ‘This paper will analyze …’, since the paper itself is an inanimate object and incapable of cognition.

The age old and lasting Werturteilsstreit (value judgment dispute) in new veils. This dispute was at its height before WW I, in the early 1960 and it has its clandestine renaissance now — Doesn’t the quoted formulation suggest that any academic should leave personality, opinion, values etc, at the wardrobe when entering the ivory tower? – Sure, another reading is possible: academics of all disciplines, leave the tower and act in a responsible way wherever responsibility is asked for. Not least on the streets and squares – when crossing them and blocking them …

Coming back too teaching, the challenge remains: how to prepare academics to find the door of the ivory tower, making them thoroughly aware that getting in does not suggest one has to stay inside.

It is indeed still true what had been said in thesis 11:

The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.

Part of my tiny contribution to the interpretation and change can be found here in the lecture recordings, which will be frequently updated throughout the term.


[1] Zambian, Asad, 2016: The Methodology of Polanyi’s Great Transformation; in: Economic Thought 5.1: 44-63; here: 46; I may add that I talked about methodological socialism in the book “Opening Views against the Closure of the World” which had been published earlier this year.



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