Friday, October 16, 2015

16/10/15: How to Write Perfect Vacuum


Here is one rare occasion where, simultaneously,

  1. An academic achieves a certain degree of notoriety laying a claim to authoring just one working paper that no one have seen; and
  2. An academic achieves completeness of an argument by not publishing the only paper he claims to have authored that no one have seen.

Consider the following posting on the SSRN site:

Can Philosophy Be Justified in a Time of Crisis?

Nathan J Robinson 
Harvard University
September 3, 2015

Abstract:      
In this paper, I take the position that a large portion of contemporary academic work is an appalling waste of human intelligence that cannot be justified under any mainstream normative ethics. Part I builds a four-step argument for why this is the case, while Part II responds to arguments for the contrary position offered in Cass Sunstein’s “In Defense of Law Reviews.” First, in Part I(A), I make the case that there is a large crisis of suffering in the world today. (Part I does not take me very long.). In Part I(B), I assess various theories of “the role of the intellectual,” concluding that the only role for the intellectual is for the intellectual to cease to exist. In Part I(C), I assess the contemporary state of the academy, showing that, contrary to the theory advanced in Part I(B), many intellectuals insist on continuing to exist. In Part I(D), I propose a new path forward, whereby present-day intellectuals take on a useful social function by spreading truths that help to alleviate the crisis of suffering outlined in Part I(A).

And that's it. 

Point (1). There is no paper enclosed. And I cannot locate a paper anywhere on the web. The author does not seem to have written a single published paper / article / book chapter prior to that with exception of a children's book or beyond a handful of non-academic articles on matters of interest and subject depth of the Huffington Post. The author does not seem to have any specialisation in the subject matters covered in the abstract. 

Point (2). The abstract is bold. But the abstract is also self-contained: if the unique role of an intellectual is to spread "truths that help to alleviate the crisis of suffering", then the role of an intellectual does not include publication of research on themes unrelated to the topic of "alleviating the crisis of suffering". In other words, to complete his own argument by own example, Mr. Robinson is required not to publish his own paper. Which he does. 

And the world is going gaga over a non-published and not-available-anywhere paper... Which is to say, simply, the Huffpo intellectuals go shrill for an abstract. 

Chill, folks... it all might just be a student prank, or a poorly executed attempt at discovering the next Theory of Justice, or neither...or it might just be the denouement to intellectualism: a falsifiable statement that no one will ever be bothered to falsify because... err... it is already refuted by the very existence of an abstract in absence of a paper...

But, really, can we have a paper, Nathan?.. Please, pretty?..

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