The new Australian government has little time for what it calls the “increasingly ridiculous” research grants being allocated by the Australian Research Council. This has happened before in Australian politics and as in the previous instance the targets are humanities research. As it is, humanities research attracts only a very small percentage of overall research funding from the Australian Research Council which allocates the money.
Unfortunately all of this does nothing but confirm a problem of long date in Australian culture, namely a pervasive anti-intellectualism and a short sighted focus on the purely pragmatic. Serious lack of funding to the higher education sector is in line with this cultural tendency. It is important to note of, course, that problems on this front are not uniquely Australian – but some would argue that intellectuals have to work harder for cultural and social respect in the Australian context than they do in a number of other countries.
Paul Redding reflects in The Guardian Newspaper (17th September 2013) on the uses of philosophy in the context of recent statements by Australian Coalition MP Jamie Briggs. Paul Redding’s work in the history of ideas and philosophy was one of the recent targets.
“As a first, crude attempt, I’ll describe philosophical work as work with and on “concepts”. Philosophers are concerned with concepts in the same rigorous sort of way that, say, a pathologist is concerned with diseases, or a mathematician with numbers. […]
Concepts are not the contents of so-called thought-bubbles. They are the hinges or links of reasoning processes. They describe those aspects of thought that enables it to make the right connections: connections with the rest of the world; with other thoughts; and with actions. I use the word “right” here to indicate the possibility of getting these connections wrong.
Looked at this way, a concern with concepts can seem important indeed. To recycle an idea from Aristotle, it’s the capacity for conceptual thought that allows us to reason and act on the basis of reasons, and not just react to environmental stimuli. That we all work with concepts at some level allows us to exercise reason and act freely—to be more than mere bundles of conditioned responses. Concepts are what make us distinctively us.”