Friday, October 07, 2005

A valuable reminder for the Ph.D.-bound

Earlier this week, Mary Midgley contributed an essay to The Guardian which is a helpful caution for those of us at any stage of doctoral work: contemplating, working on, or completed. Briefly summed up: don't forget the big questions, because they matter. (In fact for many of us, it was what brought us to advanced study in the first place.)

(Tip of the hat to Adam Kotsko's Weblog for the reference.)

Also, Ms. Midgley used a phrase that caught my ear for a moment. Having left her doctorate unfinished, she said that she "ended up unqualified." Now I imagine from context that she meant that at the end of her studies she did not have a doctorate to show for her work and hence was not considered "fit" in the way a doctorate makes one. (I set to one side the question of just what that "fitness" might be.)

But I wonder if there is another sense in which it is quite appropriate to say -- in light of the perils of Ph.D.s she outlines -- that Ms. Midgley was unqualified. That is, we can use the term qualified/unqualified not just to mean "fit" but also "bounded". For example, if something is a qualified success, we mean that it is a success within certain parameters, the implication being that the degree of success was less than we hoped or planned. On the other hand if something is an unqualified success, then we mean that it met all of our expectations and worked in all senses: a rousing triumph. So I wonder if Ms. Midgley then might be considered unqualified in that she has gone on to do some great work (she is still a philosopher to be reckoned with, even without her "qualification"), and by not being "qualified" (i.e. bounded), then she has eluded the professional hyperspecialization that ignores the larger questions, against which she cautions.


Blogger Alastair said...

Long periods of discussion with PhD students as an undergraduate has convinced me that there is far, far more to being qualified than getting qualifications.

Friday, October 07, 2005 9:47:00 PM  

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