Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Gone, and hopefully relegated to a footnote in history...

I just read this commentary in the Chronicle of Higher Education (which, by the way, is a great publication -- I'm even thinking of subscribing after I leave this job where I have free access) called Gone, and Being Forgotten (you probably won't be able to view it without an online subscription, but I'll paste relevant parts). [Edit - I was feeling generous, so I hosted this article on my webspace. - J.D.]

It starts out:

"How is it that Freud is not taught in psychology departments, Marx is not taught in economics, and Hegel is hardly taught in philosophy?"

And immediately I thought, "Because they're not important anymore?"

I know a fair bit about Marx, less about Hegel and far too much about Freud than I would care. As I read along this commentary, I wondered if the author was a psychologist, an economist, a philosopher, or some sort of humanities guy. Well, he turned out to be an historian.

"If educated individuals were asked to name leading historical thinkers in psychology, philosophy, and economics, surely Freud, Hegel, and Marx would figure high on the list. Yet they have vanished from their home disciplines. How can this be?"

Well, it is because learning about the failed lessons of history only helps to an extent. I was frustrated that I had to take a course about "The History of Psychology" for my B.S., but I did recognize the importance of the class. Even though I knew most of it already, I assumed that many others would not be familiar with Freud and B.F. Skinner and all.

But to write an entire commentary about how these thinkers are being pushed into the background? Do you want to know why? Because everyone and their mom went apeshit over these guys, even though their work and theories turned out to be mostly honky.

"Yet, much like psychology, philosophy has proved unwelcoming for thinkers paddling against the mainstream."

Here, the author, Russell Jacoby, seems to suggest that people who support these great thinkers -- Hegel, Freud, Marx -- in their "correct" arenas (philosophy, psychology, economics, respectively) are "paddling against the mainstream" and are thus forced out of the fields into different areas. One philosopher, John McCumber, who loves Hegel "decamped from philosophy to German" so that he could continue to love him.

Give me a break. I realize that it's a tragedy when someone who devotes their entire career to an historic figure must shift gears. But if your selection of choice is taken out of the canon, what better reason to fight for his place in history? Will you just go with the tide and switch to German studies because you find philosophy "too restrictive". Bone up.

It's dumb to keep emphasizing the work of ancient groundbreakers whose work has been overshadowed by new discoveries. Sure, these guys did some great things and deserve recognition. But no, I don't think every person who wants to be educated in psychology should know the complete ins and outs of Freudian psychology. Dreams, sex, a few complexes and move on.

Besides -- isn't it enough that historians and people studying the humanities in general will keep the flames of these three alive? Let the sciences progress and leave the dinosaurs in the history books.


  1. Hey there, I stumbled upon this entry - provocative stuff. Just a point of disagreement: Every great idea of our modern life is part of a genealogy that can be traced to Freud or Marx or Hegel. Even the word "modern" is usually associated with Freud, and developed as a term by Marx. Also a lot of great ideas of our modern lives can be attributed to people revisiting the overlooked contributions of these "dinosaurs."

  2. I mean, I respect the guys. I think they're all "great thinkers." I just don't know whether they should all be taught to death.

    And to respectfully disagree back: I don't believe that "every" great idea can be traced back to three titans, no matter how great they were. I mean last time I checked, there was no "iPhone complex" or "Google Manifesto."

    All I'm saying is that we can leave these guys to the historians and humanities people and yeah even the philosophers. But go ahead and let economics and psychology thrive into the 21st century. Especially if it involves a jettison of theories built on unconscious sexual desires or implausible socioeconomic solutions.

  3. Some good points. You have an interesting blog, Justin.

    As for "iPhone complex," ever read Marx's "commodity fetish?" You would find it very apt.

  4. Hey thanks, I appreciate that. I never had a real focus here: I just started this up so I could share my thoughts, however scatterbrained they might be. It's sort of helpful in a journal/diary sort of way to look back at what I was reading and watching in the past. If I ever write an autobiography, it might prove useful.

    I wish I could get into sports. (I checked out your own blog there, Brains.) There's something about historians and sports -- I work at an office job in the history department at FSU and there's never any lack of sports chatter. Of course this is a huge football college too...