In “The Meditations,” Descartes revealed his desire to make a “solid and lasting contribution to knowledge,” His problem, as he saw it, is that he had accumulated a large number of false opinions and thereon erected a flimsy structure. He concluded that without starting “the whole work of construction again from the very foundation,” making a “lasting contribution,” would not be an option.
I mention all this, because Descartes’ self-declared starting point is so unlike what most of us (as academics) take as our self-declared starting point. We view ourselves, or at least our particular discipline (law, microeconomics, whathaveyou) as possessed of an elaborate knowledge already acquired, already secured. The basics, the fundamentals of these disciplines we have learned and mastered. We quickly leave them behind, eager to reach the more rarefied intellectual frontiers–the cutting edge. To be sure, there are challenges out there on the periphery–moments of self-doubt and uncertainty. But still it’s all a damned sight more comfortable than Descartes’ situation: Indeed, it seems we all have a solid discipline in place that will support our efforts and stand ready to accept our own lasting (even if modest) contribution.
Things look promising. Future looks bright. Unless, of course, the core identities, the fundamental frames of our particular discipline happen to be academically petrified nonsense. Then, things don’t look so good.