MICROCOSMOGRAPHIA ACADEMICA PDF

Alex Usher Many years ago — I think it was when I first got elected to student council — my grandfather gave me a copy of a satirical book on academic politics called the Microcosmographia Academica available online here by F. Not all of it ages well bits of it are unintelligible unless you have a firm grasp of late nineteenth century academic reforms in the UK , but much of it is absolutely timeless. Consider the problem of how we select professors: A lecturer [i. Hence, learning is called sound when no one has ever heard of it.

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Alex Usher Many years ago — I think it was when I first got elected to student council — my grandfather gave me a copy of a satirical book on academic politics called the Microcosmographia Academica available online here by F. Not all of it ages well bits of it are unintelligible unless you have a firm grasp of late nineteenth century academic reforms in the UK , but much of it is absolutely timeless.

Consider the problem of how we select professors: A lecturer [i. Hence, learning is called sound when no one has ever heard of it.

But the core of the book is an adumbration of ways in which things do not get done in universities. Referring to committees, Cornford says: …we have succeeded in minimising the dangerous feeling by the means of never allowing anyone to act without first consulting at least twenty other people who are accustomed to regard him with well-founded suspicion…it is clear, moreover, that twenty independent persons, each of whom has a reason for not doing a certain thing and no one of whom will compromise with any other, constitutes a most effective check on the rashness of individuals.

Cornford notes that there is only ever one argument to do something: that it is the right thing to do. All other arguments are arguments not to do something. But he is also very good at explaining how to accept something in principle while obstructing it in practice. To wit: Another argument is that the machinery for effecting the proposed object already exists.

This should be urged in cases where the existing machinery has never worked and is now so rusty there is no chance of its being set in motion. And of course, he deals with political discourse in a university, specifically with respect to Jobs: These fall into two classes: My Jobs, and Your Jobs. My jobs are public-spirited proposals which happen much to my regret to involve the advancement of a personal friend or still more to my regret of myself.

Your Jobs are insidious intrigues for the advancement of yourself, speciously disguised as public-spirited proposals. Non-academic positions still get spoken of this way all the time.

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MICROCOSMOGRAPHIA ACADEMICA

Cornford and published in A little reflection will make it evident that the Wedge argument implies the admission that the persons who use it cannot prove that the action is not just. If they could, that would be the sole and sufficient reason for not doing it, and this argument would be superfluous. The Principle of the Dangerous Precedent is that you should not now do an admittedly right action for fear you, or your equally timid successors, should not have the courage to do right in some future case, which, ex hypothesi , is essentially different, but superficially resembles the present one. Every public action which is not customary, either is wrong, or, if it is right, is a dangerous precedent. It follows that nothing should ever be done for the first time. Christopher Hitchens quotes several parts and reflects upon this essay in his book Letters to a Young Contrarian , introducing it to the reader by quoting the above Principles of Wedge and Dangerous Precedent.

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