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If one Googles the phrase ”academic self-knowledge,” one sees tens of thousands of hits referring to various studies in social psychology, such as student identity and its relation to academic competencies, attitudes and perceptions of black American students about themselves and their consequences for academic achievement, etc. It is striking that among the top ten thousand, not a single site concerns ”self-knowledge” in the classical philosophical sense as modified by the term “academic:” to know oneself, or at least not to deceive oneself, as to what it entails to be an academic – a professional scientist or scholar. One of the most famous formulations of self-knowledge as a goal is articulated by Socrates in Plato’s Phaedrus: “I am not yet able, as the Delphic inscription has it, to know myself; so it seems to me ridiculous, when I do not yet know that, to investigate irrelevant things.” What shall we say about academic science and scholarship, about our work and our profession, in an environment of perpetual external evaluation by stakeholders and their representatives, demands for utility and profitability, and ideas of quality based on market principles? What is the character of academic knowledge now that we have rediscovered its embeddedness in society? A realistic reappraisal of academic institutions and the nature of our activity as scientists and scholars must be seen as a step forward toward self-knowledge. Present trends toward politically driven marketization can be seen as the last logical step in the process of re-embedding science in society, adding demand to democracy as a primary motive. At the same time, re-appraisal and self-understanding require that we face directly the consequences of tearing down the norm of value-free science and replacing it with the norm of science and scholarship on demand. If we abandon objectivity and neutrality as the prime motive for maintaining the university as a public institution, what norms guide us instead? If academics surrender or renounce their Enlightenment universalist and cosmopolitan claims to particular, contingent needs and demands, what are the consequences for an institution and activity that receive public support on the basis of society’s trust in the impartial, fair and just production and distribution of knowledge? If we remove originality and the potential for creating new knowledge and teaching students how to accomplish it as the source of our legitimacy, what ideals guide our goals, or, to paraphrase Max Weber, “what gods do we follow?” pp. 11–13

SHARON RIDER
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Uppsala University

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