Utopian possibilities and obstacles (2 of 2)

January 10, 2013

Three cheers for Ronald Barnett's conception of the utopian university! It won't get very far, though, in today's down-to-earth, cynical, quantified, realistic, critically minded, academic arena - until a way can be found to give it a foundation in positive - that is, optimistic - general theory.

The role of universities is, as he says, to be a studio for the forward-thinking (imaginative) leaders of the future. But it cannot do this unless there is a body of forward-thinking, imaginative theory for students to feed on. Where is this optimistic general theory to be found? To be credible - to "have its feet on the ground" - the utopian university must be consistent, or potentially consistent, with modern science and mathematics. This is not a hopeful scene.

The sheer difficulty of getting any new positive philosophical take on these subjects was highlighted by Stephen Hawking in 2010 when he said that "philosophy is dead". He was probably simply airing the widely shared view that no human-friendly philosophy based on these subjects is possible: it is like trying to grow plants on a barren rock. The way forward can only be through revolutions in both science and mathematics - to drag them away from their "rock": their present, depressing, semi-Cartesian, human-incompatible, positioning.

Chris Ormell, The PER Group (Philosophy for Education)

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