On the general subject of university change

Home / Education / ARChives / Foundational Discussions

On the general subject of university change

From Brian K. Yoder

Published before 2005


Brian Shapiro wrote:
First, I'm just wondering if you've ever persuaded anyone opposed to you, on any subject - political, artistic, religous, or ideological.

Sure I have. It happens all the time.

I think it's important to work outside academia, through organizations like ARC, but I think its important to eventually make inroads also, which I don't think can be done unless you can have a persuasive response to postmodern thought.

I gather that you don't think my response to those guys is persuasive. What is it that you don't find persuasive about my point of view?

Most 'classical realist' arguments aren't taken seriously, even if they have a point to them, because they don't really address any of the concerns of those who support modern art.

There's a bit of passive voice there. Taken seriously by whom? The modernists? Of course they don't take opposing points of view seriously. That's OK, I don't take their point of view seriously either. I don't take their philosophical concerns seriously either. It's not as though we have some kind of philosophical common ground to refer back to as a common foundation for agreement. My primary goal here is not to convince a bunch of committed fools that they are wrong, it's to discover what's true and discover ways that those truths can be brought to their best effects. If there are people who are opposed to those ideas then why would I have any need to cooperate with them or base my plans on a need to change their minds? I don't believe that their minds are open so I would accomplish nothing but beating my head against the wall.

If you point at a modernist painting and say anyone can do that, so it's not interesting as art, this argument has been made for a hundred years, and it doesn't really address their philosophy or their way of seeing things and the role of art directly.

Of course it doesn't fit with their way of thinking. I think that their way of thinking is horribly flawed and corrupt, so why should I appeal to it? Just because they have been denying certain facts for a long time doesn't mean they are right.

I understand modernist thought, and why those arguments don't work against it. It has no chance of influencing anyone.

On the contrary, such arguments are quite convincing to ordinary people. Of course they have no impact on the academics, but so way? I bet my arguments have little impact on people in comas, autistics, or the criminally insane too. Does that mean I'm wrong or that there's something wrong with my way of thinking?
It's the same if you tell someone who supports relativism that saying there's no absolute truth is itself an absolutist statement - it doesn't convince anyone, because it looks just like a logical game, and can't really dent the point they think they have.

That's true. Once they are committed to sophism, nihilism, and so on there's a point of no return beyond which no rational arguments can reach. One need not respond to such nonsense by adopting those false premises and seeking to use them to somehow pull the poor wretch from his condition. First, it won't work. Second, it muddles your own arguments by mixing them with false premises and weak thoughts. You might not get the sophist to change his mind but this kind of strategy does sully your own arguments with their errors. That's no way to win an argument or to think clearly and know and express the truth with integrity.
(There is no statement of truth---That one can't be a statement of truth either, because its contradictory---So you see I'm right: there is no statement of truth!---ie. truth is what we agree on.)

I know. So what? I am fully aware that they are impervious to rational argument. How does that demonstrate that I shouldn't persist in making rational arguments?

The only way academia can be changed from within, if that's what you want to do, is by using their own philosophies and turning them on their head.

But I don't think that their philosophies are worth a damn. If I adopt them how is that a good thing?

And this is how some modest change has been moved forward in recent years; postmodernists are holding their noses and putting academic artists in history books, even if not portrayed justly, because they are trying to have some commitment to their idea of a pluralistic account of history.

I hear them crowing about their pluralism all the time but I have rarely seen the slightest evidence of it.

Figurative art, even if a certain kind only, is being allowed because of the same thing. Academia can be pushed even further than this if the right approach is taken.

If the approach is to grant them their most fundamental errors as acceptable how does that change anything? I reject their fundamental premises. That's the real battleground on which all the rest depends. Giving that up without a fight means that the intellectual fight is lost before it even begins.

This is also how change in academia started happening in the late 19th century. A lot of it started outside in that case but worked its way in pretty quickly.

That's true, but the reason for the swift decline was that the common philosophical perspective was already established and the rest was just working out the consequences. We have a harder task ahead of us... changing the underlying ideas so that some day the consequences will follow, but that's a lot easier than convincing a committed professional relativist to change his stripes.

I think today the need to speak from within is even stronger, because it's not just the academics that won't take you seriously from outside - but those in the press, in politics, etc., because a lot of our culture today is based on deferring to experts and professionals. ie, a philosopher outside of academia won't be taken seriously by the press, because everyone today can claim to be a philosopher.

That's true. The universities are indeed closed to outside ideas. That's my point here. If the cost of being "taken seriously" there then I'll pass because I don't take them seriously either. I wish that academia was loaded with people whose point of view I could respect, but it isn't.

Nobody will give significance to a blog.

Huh? Blogs have a ton of significance these days in media and politics in particular, but consider why it is that we are all here in the first place. I started a website about 12 years ago or so and that ultimately caused all kinds of impacts like this discussion group and ARC. I don't need any academics to "give" this any significance. It has significance whether they "give" it or not.
It will be sort of similar for artists. Professionals who control establishments at this point don't care about ARC at all. Eventually people inside the academic establishment will need to be persuaded.

Why? We can set up parallel institutions outside their control just fine and we won't need any cooperation from them at all. It would be nice if they just gave up and turned all of their institutions over to us but that's not going to happen anytime soon, so why worry about it?

I really don't think any really persuasive response to postmodernism has been written yet, but can be if it starts out sympathetic. Do you think modernist thought has accomplished anything constructive, and will overthrowing it mean to them reversion of that?

No, I don't think modernism has accomplished anything constructive. Yes, overthrowing it means reversing some of its bad effects.

In a way, if you give into the idea that you can't persuade postmodernists using logic, you're giving in to their belief that logic is subjective, while at the same time denying it, and so will never have a chance of persuading them. They will have no response but to reaffirm their philosophy.

Absolutely not. Logic can indeed lead us to the truth, but the fact that some people reject reason and embrace error hardly proves relativism true. Abandoning reason in order to appeal to those who have no interest in it is a whole lot more indicative of relativism than a refusal to accept irrational points of view is.

The only way to get consensus support in these cases and actually persuade people, is by shifting priorities and changing the agenda based on an understanding of what is meaningful in the other side's agenda.

But I don't share their agenda and I don't want their help if it comes at the cost of helping them pretend that the emperor's clothes are just fine with me. They aren't. He's naked. I don't want a "consensus" with them. I want to know the truth and I want to experience the benefits of the truth. If there are some people who are determined not to accept that then I don't want their help or approval.

-- Brian