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Professionals and experts

I continued to be impressed by Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue. More than impressed. Amazed. It has many, well, virtues, but you can’t read it without being astounded by MacIntyre’s grasp of Western philosophy (with occasional notes on Icelandic and Islamic traditions as well). The mere fact that the comments eruditely on Kierkegaard, Nietszsche and Sartre one one hand, on GE Moore and CL Stevenson on the other, the Scholastics on a third hand, and Foucaultishly (high praise!) on the Greeks from Homer through the tragedians, would be enough. Dayenu! Contemporary Western philosophy has become so fragmented that cutting across all of its branches is an achievement worth acknowledging. Just his command of languages — does the fact that he refers to Kierkegaard’s Either/Or by its Danish title mean that he reads Danish also? — is enough to turn your head.
So, ignoring for the moment the content of the book and the nuance of its argument, I am bowled over simply by his expertise – like being amazed by Rembrandt’s brushwork. We need people like MacIntyre who are able to spend a lifetime reading, learning, thinking and writing.

The point about MacIntyre is not that he is a professional. It is that he is an expert. Andrew Keen in The Cult of the Amateur it seems to me sometimes confuses those two things. Keen is right to point out that we have a traditional “ecosystem” that enables people like MacIntyre to flourish. But that ecosystem — in this case, the university system — is not endangered by the new connectedness that is the Internet. The profession that enables MacIntyre to support himself through his studies is largely intact. Now, because of the Internet, we are able to benefit from experts who are amateurs or professionals. [Tags: alasdair+macintyre andrew+keen amateurs scholars ]

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5 Responses to “Professionals and experts”

  1. You might be aware, but if not you may be interested to know that MacIntyre was heavily influenced by Hubert McCabe. McCabe also influenced others, including Eagleton see here for explanation of this. There are also some strong themes from Kierkegaard & Sartre that link in with this work, complexity theory and some of your own ideas. I speculated on that in respect of the Clue Train Manifesto here.

    The book referenced here, deals with MacIntyre in connection with the contrast between atomism and communitarianism – a key aspect of philosophy in respect of 2.0. One of the quotes I like is this:

    The failure of both out society and our education lies in its inabilty to discover ends, to discover purposes which can firnish a sufficient reason for our activities and so render those activities reasonable and satisfying

    Incidentally, although we hold Euan is common as a friend, we managed to miss each other when we both keynoted at KM World last November. Hopefully next time we will connect.

  2. “that ecosystem — in this case, the university system — is not endangered by the new connectedness that is the Internet”

    I couldn’t agree less. The academic economy is underpinned by artificial scarcity and artificial barriers to access. If you made academic journals free to access (a move I’d support in theory), where would their money come from? If existing journals failed and we entered a world of universal self-publishing, who would be the gatekeepers and guardians of reputation? There would *be* gatekeepers – there have to be gatekeepers, there are only so many jobs – but they wouldn’t necessarily be academic gatekeepers any more. Pull the plug on the academic economy and you risk pulling the plug on academia.

  3. With Keen using the word “amateur” in a pejorative sense, he assumes that an individual approaching a new line of study cannot have the rigor and self-discipline to construct a new set of tools that can produce a meaningful view.

    When I think of the word “expert,” I assume that this means that the person’s knowledge or abilities must be validated by her peers. A “professional” is also limited by standards set by that profession. An “amateur” has the most freedom to follow her intuitive approach, and will probably find acceptance the most difficult. Those who are accomplished in different areas of study and can use them to synthesize new ideas might best be called “polymaths.”

    In a fields that are emerging or with radically different approaches to a problem, where empiricism is doesn’t work, how can you claim to an expert? Whenever I think of “experts,” I visualize a panel discussion. A true innovator is ahead of the current way of thinking.

  4. Dave, I don’t know McCabe. So thanks, and I look forward to seeing you fleshily.

    Phil, I support open access fervently. But wouldn’t most of the economic consequences fall on Elsevier and the like? Universities pay out lots to thos enforcers of artificial scarcity.

    Bill, I don’t use the term “expert” as synonymous with “credential experts.” But I agree there’s something hinky about the term. On the other hand, MacIntyre is a prototype of the type of expert we want and need. Imo, of course.

  5. Really, do economic sources other than government funding at a few elite research universities, fat endowments at a few others, and student tuition everywhere matter at all? There is money in academe, but does academic publishing create any of it?


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