Philosophers as Meta-Scholars

The philosopher is a meta-scholar.

    • What is a meta-scholar? A meta-scholar is one who understands, at a bare minimum, the fundamentals of a particular field of study or discipline (or historical enterprise or, most broadly, anything capable of being described, articulated, and/or analyzed — (e.g. any event, person, process, or object)).

      • The ‘fundamentals’ of a field of study or discipline refer to the sprawling mosaic of methodological rules, axiomatic and auxiliary operating assumptions, and normative and demarcating practices inherent to that field of study/discipline and its actively practicing members. Think of Lakatos’s ‘hard core’ or Kuhn’s ‘[dominant] paradigm.’

        • As a simple example: understanding the fundamentals of, say, chess means that you would understand, at a bare minimum, how each of the pieces moves and what constitutes victory (or defeat). But this is not enough; not for the meta-scholar. The meta-scholar, though not an expert in chess, is nonetheless capable of providing some form of novelty or creativity or innovation into an aspect of the game or the game as a whole. This may take the form of unique (or at least rarely seen) strategies (such as using only the pieces on the left side of the board to win a game), complex movement patterns (not allowing any piece to ever be in the same square twice), and/or ‘quick tricks’ that typically take chess players much longer to figure out or learn to use.

          • Most pragmatically, this form of novelty may amount to a meta-scholar and chess novice occasionally besting an established champion or certified expert. But it is important to note that the meta-scholar’s privileged epistemological status is not dependent on his/her performance; his/her success rate in comparison to experts in that field of study or discipline in no way denigrates the privileged epistemological perspective that he/she comes to hold and promote. Ultimately, the philosopher as meta-scholar is aimed at truth, often by experimenting and synthesizing.

    • More than understanding the fundamentals, however, a meta-scholar is capable of ‘weighing in’ on various controversies, arguments, trends, and developments (at least to a certain extent). In this context, ‘weighing in’ involves expressing an insightful, original, or nuanced opinion, critique, argument, or commentary on the issue or topic at hand in such a way as to bring about a unique, minority, or fringe view that, perhaps, has been too quickly disregarded or simply hasn’t been considered as of yet. An example may help.

    • A meta-scholar is not culturally or conceptually bound by the methodological, ideological, and linguistic limitations that scholars of a particular field of study or discipline are. For instance, though there may be standard vocabulary, processes, and the like for a group of like-minded scholars within a particular field of study or discipline, the meta-scholar (in this case the philosopher) is capable of analyzing and comparing the vocabulary of other fields of study/disciplines (in cases where the vocabulary or specific term at hand seems inadequate, whether for analytic or aesthetic (i.e. stylistic) reasons), revising processes (in cases where the process of discovery/analysis seems to be lacking or improper), and so on.

    • A meta-scholar is also not bound by the linguistic and semantic (and therefore conceptual) limitations that scholars of a particular field of study or discipline are. These three factors allow them a grand range of flexibility when it comes to analyzing and considering holistic explanations or descriptions for phenomena.

To be fair, at times (my own personal view is at least 35% of the time) the philosopher is beating a dead horse by trying to revive long discarded ideas or approaches. But other times, the philosopher’s attentiveness to detail (and historical/epistemological patterns) comes in handy by being able to uncover subtle similarities and nuances that can prove to be extraordinary finds.

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