No truth in age-old claims

February 19, 2009

"Older isn't always wiser" (29 January) is the headline of a report about University of Bedfordshire vice-chancellor Les Ebdon's claims that "many researchers" may be past their prime by the age of 30. Alongside the article, Einstein is cited as publishing his special theory of relativity at the age of 26.

Perhaps, however, Einstein's discipline is very specific. Immanuel Kant, one of the greatest philosophers ever to have lived, published his best and most highly rated work very late in life.

The first edition of his Critique of Pure Reason appeared in 1781, when Kant was 57; the second edition of that work appeared in 1787, when Kant was 63 and the latter two Critiques both appeared later still. Kant is not alone in this respect. Karl Marx was 49 when he published Das Kapital; the contemporary political philosopher John Rawls was 50 when he published his major work, A Theory of Justice.

If we were to disregard work published after the age of 30 our intellectual heritage would be very much poorer. Perhaps, after all, there is no correlation between the age of an institution and the age of publication of good research from its academics.

Alison Assiter, University of the West of England.

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