Jenson letter

Sent: Thu 29/04/2010 22:04
To: Michael Driscoll; Waqar Ahmad; Margaret House; Ed Esche
Subject: Termination of Philosophy at Middlesex University

Dear Vice-Chancellor Driscoll, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Ahmad, Deputy Vice Chancellor House, and Dean Esche,

It was with shock and dismay that I learned this morning of your decision to terminate Philosophy programmes at Middlesex University and to shut down your Center for Research in Modern European Philosophy. Philosophy at Middlesex is a known high achiever in the UK and European philosophy fields; scholars such as Peter Hallward are among the most highly respected philosophers, teachers of philosophy, and contributors to humanist and political debates globally. Quite inconceivably, it appears that in addition to this renown, the programmes and Center being dismantled had a strong record in terms of enrollment and other indices of economic sustainability. What could be the rationale for destroying wholesale a prominent and healthy program in one of the world’s classic educational disciplines?

Philosophy has been a hallmark of Western civilization since the earliest times; and one of its preoccupations as a discipline and a literary corpus has always been resistance to taking philosophy seriously as a prerequisite for reasoned and seasoned citizenship and governance. Socrates complained of the place of philosophy in the culture of his time: “They imagine that philosophy ought to be made a mere secondary occupation.” His young listener queries “And what is the right plan?” “Just the opposite,” responds Socrates. “In youth and boyhood they ought to be put through a course of training in philosophy suited to their years; and while their bodies are growing up to manhood, especial attention should be paid to them. At the approach of that period in which the mind begins to attain its maturity, the mental exercises ought to be rendered more severe. Finally, when their bodily powers begin to fail, and they are released from public duties […], from that time forward they ought to lead a dedicated life.” Socrates goes on to argue that “unless political power and philosophy are united in the same person, […] there will be no deliverance, my dear Glaucon, for cities, nor yet, I believe, for the human race; neither can the commonwealth, which we have now sketched in theory, ever till then grow into a possibility, and see the light of day.”

If UK higher education moves to dismantle philosophy programmes and centers piecemeal, it will in an important sense cut its ties with its own past, and isolate itself from the fundamental dialogues of critical thought that protect the lives of nations and coalitions from the exercise of political power without philosophy.

If it proceeds with its plan of “terminating philosophy,” Middlesex will send a strong message to students that their education is utilitarian rather than a means of preparing themselves for a lifetime of productive reflection and engagement. The blow to the reputation of Middlesex University is incalculable. Educators and students around the world are sadly assessing this as a symptom of weakness in the long term commitment of UK higher education to equal access to training in nothing less fundamental than thinking itself.


Deborah Jenson
Professor of French Studies
205 Languages, Box 90257
Duke University
Durham, NC 27708

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