This is the ever-growing specialization not only as between departments but even within departments, a specialization carried so far that very often professors within even the same department can scarcely communicate with each other on intellectual matters except through the mediation at seminars and doctoral examinations of their as yet incompletely specialized students. This development has not been capricious or without function. The growth in the accumulation of data, in the refinement and delicacy of tools for their analysis so that great application and concentration are necessary for mastery of their use, has not only ended the day of the polymath with all knowledge for his province, but seems steadily to be cutting down the number of those who would sacrifice even an inch of depth of knowledge for a mile of breadth.
My proposal is both sincere and modest. I give also only an old-fashioned and modest meaning to the term \”scholarship.\” I mean by it nothing more than the pursuit of broad and exact knowledge of the history of the working of the human mind as revealed in written records. I exclude from it, as belonging to a higher order of human endeavor, the creative arts and scientific discovery. What I propose, stated briefly and simply, is that our graduate schools shall assume more responsibility than they ordinarily do, so that the philosophers,economists, mathematicians, physicists, and theologians they turn out as finished teachers, technicians, and practitioners shall have been put under some pressure or seduction to be also scholars. …
A small place once given to scholarship, moreover, I would not object if it were then confined to its allotted space, or at least not permitted to spread without restraint into areas beyond its proper jurisdiction, where if it intrudes it steals time and other less valuable resources from what are generally acknowledged to be more important activities. A verger of a church, reproved for locking the doors of the church, replied that when they were left open it often resulted in people praying all over the place. I concede that we don\’t want students and faculty unrestrainedly pursuing scholarship all over our universities while they have so much more urgent business to attend to.
The graduate schools, I repeat, tend to mould their students into narrow specialists, who see only from the point of view of their subject, or of a special branch of their special subject, and fail to recognize the importance of looking even at their own subject from other than its own point of view. These students then acquire their doctoral degrees on the strength of theses which have demonstrated to the satisfaction of their supervisors that they have adequately decontaminated their minds from any influences surviving from their undergraduate training in other fields than those occupied by their chosen discipline. They then find their way back to the colleges to transmit to the next generation the graduate school version of a liberal education, or how to see the world through the eye of a needle …
Men are not narrow in their intellectual interests by nature; it takes special and rigorous training to accomplish that end. And men who have been trained to think only within the limits of one subject, will never make teachers at the college level even in that subject. They may know exceedingly well the possibilities of that subject, but they will never be conscious of its limitations, or if conscious of them will never have an adequate motive or a good basis for judging as to their consequence or extent.
A broader virtue of scholarship, Viner argues, is that it provides a context for satisfaction with a life spent in reading, writing, and thinking:
And I plead on behalf of scholarship, not that it will save the world, although this has conceivably happened in the past and may happen again; not that it brings material rewards to the scholar, although this also may have occurred, to the scandal of his academic superiors; not that it is an invariably exciting activity, for it generally involves a great deal of drudgery … All that I plead on behalf of scholarship, at least upon this occasion, is that, once the taste for it has been aroused, it gives a sense of largeness even to one\’s small quests, and a sense of fullness even to the small answers to problems large or small which it yields, a sense which can never in any other way be attained, for which no other source of human gratification can, to the addict, be a satisfying substitute, which gains instead of loses in quality and quantity and in pleasure-yielding capacity by being shared with others ….Pride in one·s special subject is a virtue, not a vice. It is right and proper, and good to look upon, to see a tanner in love with leather and a carpenter in love with wood. But what a meager portion of the realm of the mind is covered even by the proudest single subject! If only there is the will, how much of the rich realm of the human mind lies open for invasion, for the physicist beyond, beside, and behind nuclear fission, and for the economist in regions where the circulating medium is of more precious metal than even under the gold standard!