From: John Roche

Sent: Friday, September 27, 2013 3:33 PM

To: Ivor Catt

Subject: Conservatism and innovation


Dear Ivor,

attached is a new twist on conservatism and innovation. It applies to philosophy, but some of it may apply to science. I suggest that you use your early Cambridge 'hat' when considering it. Perhaps it may be useful in your debate.


Best wishes,



Floridi, Luciano,The philosophy of information


2010 | Oxford : Oxford University Press | xviii, 405 p.


Scholasticism, understood as an intellectual typology rather than a scholarly category, represents a conceptual system's inborn inertia, when not its rampant resistance to innovation. It is institutionalized philosophy at its worst, i.e. a degeneration of what socio-linguists call, more broadly, the internal ‘discourse’ (Gee (1998), esp. pp. 52–53) of a community or group of philosophers. It manifests itself as a pedantic and often intolerant adherence to some discourse (teachings, methods, values, viewpoints, canons of authors, positions, theories, or selections of problems etc.), set by a particular group (a philosopher, a school of thought, a movement, a trend, a fashion), at the expense of other alternatives, which are ignored or opposed. It fixes, as permanently and objectively as possible, a toolbox of philosophical concepts and vocabulary suitable for standardizing its discourse (its special isms) and the research agenda of the community. In this way, scholasticism favours the professionalization of philosophy: scholastics are ‘lovers’ who detest the idea of being amateurs and wish to become professional. Followers, exegetes, and imitators of some mythicized founding fathers, scholastics find in their hands more substantial answers than new interesting questions and thus gradually become involved with the application of some doctrine to its own internal puzzles, readjusting, systematizing, and tidying up a once-dynamic area of research. Scholasticism is metatheoretically acritical and hence reassuring: fundamental criticism and self-scrutiny are not part of the scholastic discourse, which, on the contrary, helps a (p.10) community to maintain a strong sense of intellectual identity and a clear direction in the efficient planning and implementation of its research and teaching activities. It is a closed context: scholastics tend to interpret, criticize, and defend only views of other identifiable members of the community, thus mutually reinforcing a sense of identity and purpose, instead of addressing directly new conceptual issues that may still lack an academically respectable pedigree and hence be more challenging. This is the road to anachronism: a progressively wider gap opens up between philosophers' problems and philosophical problems. Scholastic philosophers become busy with narrow and marginal disputationes of detail that only they are keen to ponder, while failing to interact with other disciplines, new discoveries, or contemporary problems that are of lively interest outside the specialized discourse. In the end, once scholasticism is closed in upon itself, its main purpose becomes quite naturally the perpetuation of its own discourse, transforming itself into academic strategy.


Innovation is always possible, but scholasticism is historically inevitable. Any stage in the semanticization of Being is destined to be initially innovative if not disruptive, to establish itself as a specific dominant paradigm, and hence to become fixed and increasingly rigid, further reinforcing itself, until it finally acquires an intolerant stance towards alternative conceptual innovations, and so becomes incapable of dealing with the ever-changing intellectual environment that it helped to create and mould. In this sense, every intellectual movement generates the conditions of its own senescence and replacement