Thursday, July 27, 2023

Hofstadter and Metzger, The Development of Academic Freedom in the United States1955 

p. 388, notes stripped except two.

The German conception of academic freedom, reflecting the philosophical temper of German academic thought, distinguished sharply between freedom within and freedom outside the university. Within the  walls of academe, a wide latitude of utterance was allowed, even expected. With Fichte’s heroic scholar as their model, university professors saw themselves, not as neutral observers of life, but as the  diviners and spokesmen of absolutes, as oracles of transcendent truths.  In the normative sciences particularly, “professing" in Germany tended  to be the presentation with aggressive finality of deep subjective convictions. Among certain professors, to be sure, there were proponents  of a more restrained and cautions conception. In 1877, in the heat of  the Darwinian controversy. Rudolph Virchow, the great German  pathologist. argued that unproved hypotheses should never be taught  as true, that professors should stay within their spheres of competence,  that they should consult the consensus gentium before expressing possibly dangerous beliefs.” But in a famous reply to Virchow, Ernst Haeckel, the biologist, contended that no line between objective and  subjective knowledge could or ought to be drawn, that science advances  only through the open clash of wrong and correct opinions, that the  obligation of the professor to adhere to indubitable facts or to defer to  existing opinion would relinquish the field of education to the religious  infallibilists.[note 71) The leading theorists [note 72] of academic freedom in this  period adhered to the latter position—Max Müller of St. Gallen, Georg  Kaufmann, von Helmholtz, Friedrich Paulson. Reasoning from rationalistic or idealistie premises, they believed that the only altemative to  the presentation of personal convictions was the prescription of authoritative dogma, that the only alternative to polemical controversy was  the stoppage of academie inquiry. Recognizing that there were dangers  in subjective and polemical teaching, they thought there were adequate  safeguards in the freedom and maturity of the student, who was neither  captive nor unprimed. As Paulsen put it:  

The content of instruction is not prescribed for the academic teacher; he is,  as «archer as well as teacher. attached to no authority; he himself answers  for his own instruction and is responsible to no one else. Opposite him is his  student with complete freedom to accept or to reject; he is not a pupil but  has the privilege of the critic or the improwr. There is only one aim for both:  the truth; only one yardstick: the agreement of thought with reality and with  no other outside authority.

To Helmholtz, 

Whoever wants to give his students complete conviction about the accuracy  of his statements must first of all know from his own experience how one wins  conviction. and how one does not. Thus he must have had to know how to  struggle for this by himself when no predecessor had yet come to his aid; this  means that he must have worked on the boundaries of human knowledge and  conquered new realms for it. A teacher who imparts convictions that are not  his own is sufficient for students who are to be directed by authority as the  source of their knowledge. but it is not for such as those who demand :: foundation for their conviction down to the very last fundamentals. . . . The free  conviction of scholars is only to be won if the free expression of conviction  on the part of the teacher, freedom of teaching, is assured.

But outside the university. the same degree of freedom was not condoned. Though quite a few German professors played prominent political roles in the nineteenth century. and a number of these—notany  Mommsen and Virchow—were outspoken critics of Bismarck, it was   not generally assumed that Lehrlreilzeir condoned or protected such actualities. Rather, it was generally assumed that professors as civil servants  were bound to be circumspect and loyal, and that participation in partisan politics spoiled the habits of scholarship. Even so firm :: libertarian  as Paulsen held that  the scholar cannot and should not engage in politics. They cannot do it if  they have developed their capacities in accordance with the demands of their calling.

Note 71—Ernst Haeckel, Freedom of Science and Teaching, (New York, 1889, first printing l878). pp. 63 ff.  

note 72—Max Weber was an exception. See “Die Lehrnfreiheit der Universitäten"... Weber argued for neutrality on normative issues, insisting, however, that the professor be the judge of his own transgressions. 

Weber, "Die Lehrfreiheit der Universitäten", trans. Edward Shils, Minerva, 1973, [JSTOR], in Peter Josephson, “Lehrfreiheit, Lernfreiheit, Wertfreiheit: Max Weber and the University Teachers' Congress in Jena 1908”,  Max Weber Studies, 2004,  [JSTOR]


Cultural consensus in the field of education can be justified basically only on the condition of severe self-restraint in the observance of the canons of science and scholarship. If one desires this consensus, one must put aside the idea of any sort of instruction in ultimate values and beliefs; similarly the university teacher, especially in the confidentiality of his lecture hall—nowadays of such solicitude—is under the sternest obligation to avoid proposing his own position in the struggle of ideals. He must make his chair into a forum where the understanding of ultimate standpoints—alien to and divergent from his own—is fostered, rather than into an arena where he propagates his own ideals  

Haeckel, 1878

Rarely indeed has such a treasonable attempt on liberty of doctrine been made by a prominent representative of science, and a leader of the intellectual movement too, as this by Virchow. Only inquiry is to be free and not teaching! And where in the whole history of science is there one single scientific inquirer to be found who would not have felt himself quite justified in teaching his own subjective convictions with as much right as he had to construct them from inquiry into objective facts. And where, generally speaking, is the limit to be found between objective and subjective knowledge? Is there, in fact, any objective science?

This question Virchow answers in the affirmative, for he goes on to say: “We must not forget that there is a boundary line between the speculative departments of natural science and those that are actually conquered and firmly established” (p. 8). In my opinion, there is no such boundary line; on the contrary, all human knowledge as such is subjective. An objective science which consists merely of facts without any subjective theories is inconceivable. For evidence in favour of this view we must take a rapid survey of the whole domain of human science, and test the chief departments of it to see how far they contain, on the one hand, objective knowledge and facts, and on the other, subjective knowledge and hypotheses. We may begin directly with Kant’s assertion that in every science only so much true—that is objective—knowledge is to be found as it contains of mathematics. Unquestionably mathematics stand at the head of all the sciences as regards the certainty of its teaching. But how as to those deepest and simplest fundamental axioms which constitute the firm basis on which the proud edifice of mathematical teaching rests? Are these certain and proved? Certainly not. The bases of its teaching are simply “axioms” which are incapable of proof. To give only one example of how the very first principles of mathematics might be attacked by scepticism and shaken by philosophical speculation, we may remember the recent discussions as to the three dimensions of space and the possibility of a fourth dimension ; disputes which are carried on even at the present day by the most eminent mathematicians, physicists, and philosophers. So much as this is certain, that mathematics as little constitute an absolutely objective science as any other, but by the very nature of man are subjectively conditioned. A man’s subjective power of knowing can only discern the objective facts of the outer world in general so far as his organs of sense and his brain admit in his own individual degree of cultivation.

Josephson, concluding paragraphs including the Weber quote above.

Unquestionably, it is an audacious agenda that Weber is promoting. Not only does he want to give enemies of the state the right to teach those young people who will, in the future, serve in the nation's leading positions. But he also demands that his colleagues muzzle themselves in certain respects. The question this raises is why academics would in general feel forced to accept the restrictions he proposes? Why should podium politicians, appointed by the government, willingly give up the right to vent their worldviews?

Towards the end of his article, Weber himself anticipates these objections. He has previously acknowledged that the indoctrination that the students receive at the nation's seats of learning, is due to the fact that their teachers receive their salaries from the government and that they generally feel obligated to educate loyal public workers and subjects. With the help of examples, he now mounts the powerful counter argument that a consistent application of this principle of unholy exchange would result in a whole host of rival world views winning academic legitimacy. The father who has to pay out of his own pocket for his son‘s education could then, with the same rights as the state, demand that he university have instructors employed to serve his political interests. Resource—strong lobbying organizations, such as the workers unions and the federation of employers would surely also want to reserve professorships for their candidates. In the long run, emphasizes Weber, this will result in complete ideological fragmentation. 'Religious, economic, social and political parties would then all possess the right to have separate universities and professorships provided for them, in which instruction in accordance with their own ideals would be given.’ According to Weber there is only one way to prevent this scenario from becoming a reality:

Cultural consensus in the field of education can be justified basically only on the condition of severe self-restraint in the observance of the canons of science and scholarship. If one desires this consensus, one must put aside the idea of any sort of instruction in ultimate values and beliefs; similarly the university teacher, especially in the confidentiality of his lecture hall—nowadays of such solicitude—is under the sternest obligation to avoid proposing his own position in the struggle of ideals. He must make his chair into a forum where the understanding of ultimate standpoints -alien to and divergent from his own—is fostered, rather than into an arena where he propagates his own ideals (Weber 1908d; 91).

It is a very high price that Weber fears that university instructors will have to pay if they continue to preach politics in their lecture halls. The doctrine of value—free science is in this context obviously intended to fortify the university system's inner unit. lf everyone is to be given access to the universities, without them being ripped to shreds by internal conflicts among different interest groups, then academic instructors must avoid speaking out on political and moral issues. Otherwise, the academic world will be transformed into a veritable archipelago of ideologically rivalling institutions of learning. What Weber attempts to demonstrate is that his opponents are acting against their own interests when they demand the right to express their own political opinions from the podium. The implicit assumption is, of course, that the other side really wants to preserve the unity that, by tradition, has characterized university life. Once again, criticism seems to have been primarily directed at the academics who attended the Congress in Jena. it is important to be aware why the resolution that the congress eventually approved was initially put forward. Prior to the event, it was reported in the Münchener Neusten Nachtrichte that the catholic Center Party had recently succeeded in convincing the federal government in Bavaria to revoke the professorship of a theology teacher in Munich: a similar incident had allegedly occurred in Innsbruck These examples warned of dangers to come. Since the Center Party/s strategy had proved successful, there was an obvious risk that other parties would subsequently demand to be involved in deciding which candidates could be considered for academic positions: 'The rights that are currently extended to the religious political party will soon be extended to political, social and economic interest groups' (Amira 1908: 74). When chairman Karl von Amira later spoke to colleagues assembled in Jena, he predicted that such a policy would ultimately be catastrophic: 'Exchanges between different seats of learning would cease. .. One would be forced to establish Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and who knows what kind of universities, all for the purpose of forcing a particular ideology on people' (BdMNN 1908b: 630)  In other words, Karl von Amira, in order to enlist support for his resolution on academic freedom, had referenced exactly the same threat that Weber describes in his article. The purpose of the resolution was to reinforce those particular principles without which the internal unity of the university world would be lost. The fact that the participants had nevertheless reserved for themselves the right to propagate their political opinions must, for Weber, have seemed fatefully inconsistent.

Shit I should have read before I ever said anything about Weber's "value-free" fantasies. It was obvious he was as fucked up as the rest of the miserable fin de siècle teenagers: specialists must be "without spirit" because the only alternative is chaos; from Weber to Gerhard Richter. But what Weberian wants to know the history of his church? We'll never have a good history of social science until positivism is dead and buried.

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