Thomas Aquinas, music composition, education … and (of course) Brexit

21 Nov 2018

In the ‘From Our Fellows’ podcast, Fellows of the British Academy reflect on what is currently interesting them. The following give a brief taste of some recent contributions.

Some constitutional implications of Brexit

Professor Vernon Bogdanor discusses some effects of leaving the European Union.

What membership of the European Union has done is to shift power not only from Westminster to Brussels, but also from Parliament and government to the courts. All that will be lost when we leave the European Union. So will the protection of the European Charter. Now, one of the most effective slogans of the Brexiteers was ‘Take back control.’ But that control will not go to the courts; it will go to Parliament. But under our system, government almost always controls Parliament. Will we then return to a system which was characterised in the 1970s by the Conservative statesman Lord Hailsham as one of ‘elective dictatorship’? The truth is that Brexit will expose the fact that, almost uniquely among modern democracies, we have an unprotected constitution, one that Parliament – and, in reality, government – can alter whenever it wishes.

Composers and performers: who does what?

Professor Eric Clarke, who conducts research into the psychology of music, considers how credit should be shared in musical collaborations.

[There is] a very widely shared and rather deeply seated cultural prejudice, you might say, which is that we attribute the creativity very much to the composer, and the performer is simply the executor, as it were, of the composer’s wishes. This clearly has not been the case historically. Brahms and Mozart both collaborated enormously with their singers and performers over the music that they created. And it certainly and emphatically is not the case in the 20th and 21st centuries, where a great deal of what comes out in the end as being the work attributed to a single composer is something that has come out of a far more collaborative process than we generally give credit for.

Why you shouldn’t read Thomas Aquinas (only)

Professor John Marenbon urges us to ignore the view that Aquinas is at the heart of medieval philosophy.

The ‘Aquino-centric’ perspective distorts the whole way in which medieval philosophy is approached. One of the greatest glories of medieval philosophy is its breadth, range and diversity. Seen from the Aquino-centric perspective, however – and this is how most people, whether beginners or specialised students look at it – medieval philosophy becomes narrow and monolithic, chronologically, geographically, stylistically. People usually think of the Middle Ages as lasting for roughly a millennium, from about 500 to about 1500. But the Aquino-centric perspective leads to the neglect of almost everything except for the century 1250 to 1350 in which Aquinas’s career is situated. The daring logic of the 12th century, the innovative Aristotelianism of 15th- and early 16th-century Italy, to say nothing of the 9th-century Eriugena’s metaphysics – all of these and much, much more are pushed into a penumbra.

Education, education …

Fellows of the British Academy are also regular contributors to the online open access Journal of the British Academy. Two recent articles have considered different aspects of education.

The article ‘The tragedy of state education in England’ by Professor Stephen J. Ball ‘is a reflection on the current incoherent state of education and education policy in England. It articulates a strong sense of my discomfort, disappointment, and frustration with the state of the English school system, or rather the lack of system, and with the educational state itself. … To call the school system a system suggests more coherence than is deserved. Rather than a system we have, and have had since its inception, a rickety, divided, unstable, and often ineffective, but nonetheless overbearing, educational apparatus.’

And Professor Meric S. Gertler brings some broader geographical perspectives to bear in his discussion of ‘Higher education in turbulent times’.

This article is published in British Academy Review No. 34 (Autumn 2018).

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