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Saturday, October 31, 2015

Which philosopher would fare best in a present-day university?

Follow on Twitter as @GdnHigherEd
"They thought, therefore they were, and that was that. But if they’d been assessed by the Ref, who’d have got most stars?" according to higher education network.
Descartes, Kant, Leibniz – one of them is a Ref superstar…
Photo: Getty Images/Alamy 

Today’s philosophers are used to dancing to the tune of the Research Excellence Framework (Ref). They have to publish their articles in reputable journals and their books with university presses. They have to generate impact and contribute to their research environment.
But how would the great philosophers of the past have fared under this system? Surely if they were truly great then they would have done well? Not necessarily.

Take Plato, Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas: they all wrote extensively and much of that proved to be very influential. But sadly for them, they lived in an age when such writings were only available as handwritten copies of manuscripts rather than as true publications and there were no journals in which to place shorter pieces of work.

So to find the most Ref-able philosopher who ever lived, we need to look at later philosophers, who had journals they could publish in and presses that would bring out their books.

Immanuel Kant might look worthy of the nod – his three Critiques shaped a lot of the philosophy that came afterwards. However, those works were preceded by an 11-year hiatus in which he published nothing whatsoever – which means there would have been an entire Ref cycle for which he would not have been eligible.

We may presume that his justification for this career break – that he had used that time to wake up from his dogmatic slumber – would have cut little ice with his (admittedly fictional) research coordinator.

What, then, of René Descartes? Although he produced some classic books, such as the Meditations on First Philosophy and Principles of Philosophy (which are surely of four-star quality), it is doubtful that he would have published enough to have the required four outputs during any six- to seven-year Ref cycle.

He could have requested that some of his books be double-weighted, but his preference for writing quite short works, such as Passions of the Soul, makes it doubtful that this request would have been approved. And so Descartes probably would not have been Ref-eligible at any point of his career.

The real winner, I suspect, would have been Gottfried Leibniz. For one thing, he was the first of the great philosophers to publish prolifically in journals, authoring more than 100 articles over the course of his career. These articles appeared in the top European journals of his day too, such as the Acta Eruditorum, Histoire des Ouvrages des Savants, and Journal des Sçavans. Plenty of four-star output there.  

Source: The Guardian