Thursday, September 21, 2017


The Incubus of Research

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963), "Interim Report," Present Concerns, ed. Walter Hooper (San Diego: Harcourt, Inc., c1986), pp. 92-99 (at 98-99):
The other evil (in my view) is the incubus of "Research". The system was, I believe, first devised to attract the Americans and to emulate the scientists. But the wisest Americans are themselves already sick of it; as one of them said to me "I guess we got to come to giving every citizen a Ph.D shortly after birth, same as baptism and vaccination." And it is surely clear by now that the needs of the humanities are different from those of the sciences. In science, I gather, a young man fresh from his First in the Tripos can really share in the work of one of his seniors in a way that is useful to himself and even to the subject. But this is not true of the man who has just got his First in English or Modern Languages. Such a man, far from being able or anxious (he is by definition no fool) to add to the sum of human knowledge, wants to acquire a good deal more of the knowledge we already have. He has lately begun to discover how many more things he needs to know in order to follow up his budding interests; that he needs economics, or theology, or philosophy, or archaeology (and always a few more languages). To head him off from these studies, to pinfold him in some small inquiry whose chief claim often is that no one has ever made it before, is cruel and frustrating. It wastes such years as he will never have again; for an old proverb says that "All the speed is in the morning". What keeps the system going is the fact that it becomes increasingly difficult to get an academic job without a "research degree". Can the two ancient universities do anything by combining to break down this bad usage?
I'm reminded of William M. Calder III, "Benedict Einarson," Gnomon 51 (1979) 207-208 (at 207):
He told me aged 25 that I must write nothing until 40 for I would not know enough. Sound advice and true but I should be a schoolteacher today had I followed it.
Hat tip: George Gaiennie.

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