M.G. Piety

Archive for February, 2012|Monthly archive page

Attacking the Essence of Scholarship

In Publishing News on February 13, 2012 at 5:29 pm

Work is progressing well on my book Fear and Dissembling on the controversy surrounding Joakim Garff’s biography of Kierkegaard. I became interested in the controversy not, as some appear to believe, because I had anything personal against Garff, but because I had, and continue to have, a strong objection to people being punished for being good at their jobs, as happened to Peter Tudvad when he was officially censured by Niels Jørgen Cappelørn, the then director of the Kierkegaard Research Center in Copenhagen, for daring to go public with his criticisms of Garff’s book.

Open and honest debate is the lifeblood of scholarship and should, I believe, be defended at all costs. This is an issue of increasing concern because the private funding of work in the sciences has led to the suppression of much research with devastating results for the public welfare.  I thought I’d provide you with another sample of the material that will be in the book that is relevant to this timely issue and that is of interest not merely to Kierkegaard scholars, but to the general public. What follows is an article by Professor Frands Mortensen of Aarhus University that appeared in the newspaper Information in August of 2004, before the English translation of Garff’s book had appeared.


Cappelørn Should Resign

From Information: “Debate 8/4/04”

The summer brought us an interesting debate in the newspapers, namely the one surrounding the scholarly merit of the prize-winning biography SAK by Joakim Garff. Peter Tudvad’s comprehensive contribution identified a number of errors in the work and cast doubt on the reliability of much of the information it contains. He did this in Kierkegaardian polemical style so that both the content and the form of his criticisms aroused attention.

What was most interesting, however, was not the conduct of Garff and Tudvad, but of the Niels Jørgen Cappelørn, the director of the Søren Kierkegaard Research Center in Copenhagen where the two scholars are employed. He stated in Jyllands-Posten on July 29th that “I firmly believe that one should refrain from openly attacking a colleague, and Peter Tudvad did not, so far as I am aware, inform Garff of his decision [to go public with his criticisms of the book]. It was wrong of Garff not to correct the errors, but also wrong for Tudvad to point them out in the media.”

Here we have a director and head of scholarship of a publicly-funded research center who believes that scholars should not attack one another publicly because they are employed by the same institution, and that they should not publicly expose one another’s errors, but should do this only behind closed doors without the knowledge of the public?

That is quite simply outrageous and profoundly unacceptable. Cappelørn attacks the very essence of all scholarship–namely the public and open discussion of research. It’s possible that, because of the economic significance of research in the private sector, the attitude there is that it is best to correct errors away from the view of the public. For publicly-funded research, however, it is a mortal sin to conceal the fact that material that was published earlier (including in biographies) contains errors.

I cannot know, of course, how committed Cappelørn is to the view that scholars should not publicly criticize their colleagues. He maintains that he was not misquoted in Jyllands-Posten, yet he asserts in Information (July 29) that he is pleased to see scholarly disputes conducted in public and that the exposure of the errors in Garff’s book ought to lead scholars to view claims made in the work about Kierkegaard more skeptically.

What should thus be done about Cappelørn? If he is as good as his word, and encourages more public discussion [among the scholars at the center], then perhaps he ought to be allowed to remain as the director of the Søren Kierkegaard Research Center. He ought properly, however, to resign his position as director. The trustees of the center ought, at the very least, to place him under stricter supervision, as is common in such cases in theological circles.

Those of us who are employed by publicly-funded research centers, ought to think long and hard about whether this is a sign of what we can expect when the new ordinances governing higher education in Denmark are completed and new directors of research centers are appointed.

Frands Mortensen


Aarhus Universi

Glowing Review of Ways of Knowing!

In Publishing News on February 5, 2012 at 2:53 pm

I was pleased to discover a glowing review of my book Ways of Knowing: Kierkegaard’s Pluralist Epistemology in the Sept 2011 issue of The Review of Metaphysics. The reviewer is Peter J. Mehl of the University of Central Arkansas. The review is basically a summary of the book, with a few comments toward the end.

The book, as the title suggests, is a study of Kierkegaard’s epistemology. Following a distinction Kierkegaard develops in his Concluding Unscientific Postscript to the Philosophical Crumbs, it divides knowledge into two types: objective and subjective. Objective knowledge, as Mehl explains, “is descriptive; it is not essentially related to the existence of the individual knower” (179). Subjective knowledge, on the other hand, “is so related and includes ethical and religious knowledge both of which are prescriptive” (179).  Each type of knowledge is further subdivided with the result that Kierkegaard’s epistemology emerges in this study as enormously complex.

Mehl asserts that Ways of Knowing is “a tightly reasoned and sharply focused study” (179). He particularly likes the observation that, according to Kierkegaard, “[t]heories in science and scholarship are always the product of the cooperative efforts of various individuals throughout the history of these disciplines and need … to be continually reverified within the evolving standards of verification agreed on by practitioners in these disciplines” (Ways of Knowing, 53). “This strikingly contemporary pragmatist understanding of empirical knowledge,” he observes, “would seem to have some relevance for our understandings in the psychological as well as the normative realm” (180). He laments, however, that the study “does not relate Kierkegaard’s thought to contemporary epistemological thought or to any particular philosophical or religious traditions” (181).

I understand Mehl’s frustration. The objective of my book, however, as I explain in the introduction, is simply to present in detail Kierkegaard’s views on knowledge and thus to encourage more scholarly work on Kierkegaard’s epistemology. There are only two books on this subject, and both are in German. Fortunately, Gegensatz Press will soon have an English translation of Martin Slotty’s Die Erkenntnisslehre S.A. Kierkegaards from 1915. It’s unlikely, however, that there will ever be an English translation of Anton Hügli’s excellent Die Erkenntniss der Subjektivität und die Objektivität des Erkennens from 1973. It seemed to me that what was needed now was simply to lay bare what Kierkegaard’s views on knowledge were. I decided to leave the task of relating those views to particular trends in philosophy, whether in the past or present, to later works.  There are thus numerous historical references in Ways of Knowing, but no detailed comparisons of Kierkegaard’s views with those of earlier philosophers, and there are only subtle allusions to problems that preoccupy contemporary epistemologists.

It’s not such a bad thing, however, that Mehl was frustrated by this. Similarities between Kierkegaard’s views and those of earlier thinkers such as Descartes, Leibniz, Kant, and even Hegel, to name just a few, ought to leap off the page to specialists in the views of those figures. Ways of Knowing is thus a rich resource for scholars. All they need to do is to bring their own expertise to bear in drawing comparisons and –presto, a new scholarly article!

Of course, my objective was not primarily to provide other scholars with material for future articles but to present a study of manageable bulk that would, because of the modest nature of its objective, facilitate “tightly reasoned” analysis. And, of course, I wanted to provide myself with material for future articles, and perhaps even books. I have, in fact, decided on the project for the book I will do as soon as I’ve finished Fear and Dissembling and it has come directly out of my work on Ways of Knowing. I plan to send a copy to Mehl as a thank you for his lovely review.