Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Bonhoeffer on Academic Specialization

The longer we are uprooted from professional activities and our private lives, the more it brings home to us how fragmentary our lives are compared with those of our parents. . . . What chance have any of us today of producing a real magnum opus? How can we do all the research, the assimilation and sorting out of material which such a thing entails? Where today is that combination of fine carefreeness and large-scale planning that goes with such a life? . . . The "polymath" had already died out by the close of the eighteenth century, and in the following century intensive education replaced extensive, so that by the end of it the specialist had evolved. The consequence is that today everyone is a mere technician . . . . This means that our cultural life has become a torso.

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison (London: SCM, 1953), 75-76.

(I should note that the link points to the forthcoming Fortress Press edition; I'm reading the shorter, and much cheaper, 1953 SCM edition.)


Anonymous said...

And the point is?

d. miller said...

I take it as a lament, and I suppose I sympathize. I was also struck by the way in which Bonhoeffer anticipates much more recent complaints about over-specialization in the academy.

What are your thoughts, Anonymous?