Sunday, November 18, 2018

The Academic Revolution in Philosophy

Randall Collins, in his book The Sociology of Philosophies: A Global Theory of Intellectual Change,   (Chapter 12: "Intellectuals Take Control of Their Base: The German University Revolution"), notes that one of the themes of the Enlightenment was the death of traditional philosophy (metaphysical speculation and anything connected with supernatural religion) and its replacement with empirical science. Yet the post-Enlightenment period saw one of the greatest outpourings of philosophical thought in the history of mankind. Immanuel Kant opened the door to this outburst of philosophy in the form of German idealism in 1781 with the publication of his first Critique.

The rise of German idealism coincided with the rise of several new universities in Germany and other parts of Europe. Such a large network of universities had never existed before.

Collins says that German Idealism “was the intellectual counterpart of the academic revolution, the creation of the modern university centered on the graduate faculty of research professors, and that material base has expanded to dominate intellectual life ever since. Kant straddled two worlds: the patronage networks of the previous period, and the modern research university, which came into being, in part through Kant’s own agitation, with the generation of Kant’s successors.”

The academic revolution has enriched philosophy by creating a multitude of philosophical disciplines in which the philosophers can specialize. “Structurally, the academic revolution divided the old all-purpose intellectual role of the philosopher into a multitude of academic specialties. The process of specialization, not yet ended today, has affected the contents of intellectual life in several ways.”

German idealism can seen as the ideology of the university or academic revolution in Europe and America. To support this premise, Collins offers four kinds of evidence:

“1) the major German Idealists were among the prime movers of university reform; (2) the contents of the Idealist philosophies justified the reform, and the succession of major Idealist positions closely corresponded to contemporary prospects of the reform movement; (3) the French Revolution, as surrounding context, produced an Idealist ideology of spiritual freedom only in Germany, where it meshed with the interests of the university reformers, whereas by contrast in England and France the chief ideologies of the revolutionary period were neither Idealist nor university-oriented; and (4) whenever the German university reform was adopted elsewhere, a generation of Idealist philosophers appeared, often in indigenous form.”

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