catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

Floating in cyberspace

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How much stuff is floating in cyberspace, lost, abandoned and forgotten? Here is an example of an essay from years ago, put up on a website that is now inactive, but still floating in cyberspace along with who knows how much other cyber junk from deserted sites and blogs.

It is a review of a poshumous book by Bill (William Warren III) Bartley who died in 1990 at the tragically early age of 55. He established himself as a brilliant scholar, editor and biographer, for example he salvaged Lewis Carroll’s lost writing on symbolic logic and a major work by Karl Popper which languished in galley proofs for more than two decades. He edited Hayek’s last book The Fatal Conceit (some critics say he wrote it) and he produced best-selling biographies of Wittgenstein and Werner Erhard, founder of est. At the time of his death he was directing a project to publish a new edition of the collected works of Hayek and he was working on the authorised biographies of Popper and Hayek which he intended to produce in four fat volums as a kind of overview of the impact of Vienna on the leading ideas of the 20th century (throwing in the influence of Freud, Wittgenstein and others of note from that great city).

On the topic of this book:

More recently Bartley broadened his focus to explore ‘the ecology of rationality’ to see how dialogues and the institutions of learning can be polluted by dogmatism. His posthumous book, Unfathomed Knowledge, Unmeasured Wealth: On Universities and the Wealth of Nations, probes the depressed state of the American universities. He first explains how we live in a potentially expanding universe of knowledge due to the ‘unfathomed objective contents’ of our theories and their unexpected implications. These emerge during the clash of ideas when rival products are subjected to imaginative criticism and practical tests. However the dynamics of the ‘expanding universe’ insight are denied by most theories of knowledge which are embedded in the justificationist mode and concentrate on the ‘statics’ of beliefs and their validation.He then turns to the economic structure of the campus knowledge industry, pointing out that the universities defy market principles in that consumers (students) do not buy, producers (staff) do not sell and owners (Boards and trustees) do not control. This structural defect, assisted by constraints on the free trade in criticism imposed by the prevailing justificationist attitude, has converted the academies into a network of fiefdoms, guilds and mutual protection rackets.

Bartley’s book is not just a critique because he offers a program to revitalise the marketplace of ideas and regenerate the life of the mind. The essential element is imaginative criticism to discover problems (the growing points of learning). In addition, scholars need to follow the ramifications of their problems across the artificial boundaries between subjects. Further, in the language of economics, the mind industry must be deregulated from the constraints imposed by so-called authorities, by over-specialisation and the tyranny of fashion. It needs to be re-regulated by the internal controls of genuine scholarship which cannot be imposed from above. Bartley gives a profoundly disturbing account of the mind industry but the overall message is hopeful, perhaps even wildly optimistic about the prospects for improvement. Wider understanding of his own work on rationality could be decisive in the long term. Immense resources of creative energy are locked up by justificationist theories of knowledge and discourse.





Written by Admin

October 21, 2006 at 8:09 am

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. On the topic of stuff just floating in cyberspace…

    I recently Googled the term “externality”, using the search Australian sites only option. To my surprise, an old essay of mine written while i was at uni showed up as the top search result!


    October 21, 2006 at 2:48 pm

  2. Interesting experience Heath. How come it was on line (especially if it was old)?

    An argumentative fellow once googled his own name and found numerous actionable statements about other people floating around.

    Rafe Champion

    October 21, 2006 at 3:20 pm

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