( que je partage)
Goya, Los ensacados
"What we are nowadays pleased to call academic research—though in philosophy’s case the word ‘research’ is an egregious misnomer, and that in itself should have been a sufficient hint that our willingness to submit everything we do to the scrutiny of auditors was an error—is an essentially open-ended, creative process which can no more sensibly be managed and audited than can the productions of composers, novelists, and poets. And, like the outputs of creative artists, the ‘outputs’ of philosophical ‘research’ cannot be sensibly evaluated: for there can be no final calculation of the value of a given philosophical publication until all the facts are in, which will never be; and a provisional evaluation is of interest only to accountants and those who take an immature delight in rankings and league tables. A philosopher’s oeuvre might be ignored for a generation, then recognized as work of brilliance, or it might be lionized in its time, but forgotten after a few decades; and these later judgements, superseding the reactions of contemporaries, are themselves only stepping stones along the intellectual journey, not ultimate resting places. There is and can be no final assessment of the value of a piece of philosophy; but only a final assessment would, so to speak, be of any value. So the only thing to do in the meantime (which is where we always are) is to forget about the whole question of comparative value and engage, as readers and writers, in doing the kind of philosophy that we find helpful. ‘For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.’ If government responds that it needs a basis on which to distribute monies for teaching and research, then it should be countered that almost any basis would be better than the current regime of time-wasting, expensive, demoralizing, and intellectually spurious comparative assessment exercises. Not the least ignominy to which, in the UK, universities have descended in recent years is the pusillanimity they have displayed in the face of government’s ludicrous ‘impact agenda’: anyone who thinks that economic or cultural ‘impact’ can sensibly be measured in the short term—which is of course all that interests our rulers—would do well to consider the story of complex numbers, applications of which now pervade our lives in multifarious and extraordinary ways. Our current knowledge of these highly peculiar entities is based on centuries of patient theoretical groundwork—work which would never have been undertaken had the mathematicians who courageously investigated the strange case of the number i been subjected by their employers and patrons to today’s ‘impact’ regime. We know now that complex numbers are useful, and we think we have therefore learnt the lesson of the past. We pride ourselves on having understood what the past has to tell us because we no longer make the mistakes of our forebears. True, we no longer make those mistakes. But the lesson is a general one. It applies just as much to transfinite set theory or to the metaphysics of future contingency or to the philosophy of literature as it does to complex numbers. If we had really learnt the lesson of history, we would be expecting the applications of tomorrow to come from areas such as these, or from others yet unconceived.
…Ultimately, academics must blame themselves for their descent into the hell of permanent and inappropriate audit: they have wantonly allowed university administration to fall into the hands of people who either do not know what scholarship is, or who do not care about it, or both. I am aware that this assertion will appear overstated to some readers, but something like that must be right: for otherwise university administrators would have resisted the suffocating burden of ever more ‘quality control’, not conspired in it. After all, the current Gleichschaltung of the universities is based on a simple prisoners’ dilemma, and everyone knows what the practical solution to a prisoners’ dilemma is: all that is required of our Vice-Chancellors is that they collectively refuse to go along with what government is seeking to impose on us. Since the quality-control regime depends on the co-operation of the universities, that refusal would put a stop to it at once. But university managers do not consider this option; I have never seen it even mentioned as a possibility. Given that our administrators are not stupid, and given that they have no difficulty in collaborating when it suits them—witness the creation of such divisive and invidious blocs as the so-called ‘Russell group’ of universities—the only remaining conclusion to be drawn is that they approve of the new dispensation”
Richard Gaskin, Language, Truth and Literature, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2013, pp. 12-14