I’ve been reading Restoration of Reason by Montague Brown at a snails pace because I have little time for my own enjoyable reading. I’m only 27 pages in, but something caught my eye with regards to a minimal requirement on most dissertations, the condition that some idea or other in the dissertation offer some novel or new contribution to knowledge. The section I’m reading is about Fancis Bacon. Bacon is depicted as a philosopher who follows the empiricist line and desires to free philosophy from the shackles of medieval thought and its ties to natural philosophy and move it towards a wedding with the flourishing natural sciences of the time. All that aside, the thought in the area of art that Brown attributes to Bacon is that what makes art good is the introduction of something new. That struck me because it finds its way into dissertation standards as well. In order for something to be good it has to introduce something new.
As that stands, it is probably too strong of a statement. Of course there are many things that are old that are good like the great pyramids or Egypt or the Great Wall of China. I guess these would fit the bill because at the time and until today they are unique, and there is nothing else like them. So their novelty is both in uniqueness and originality for longevity.
My question is, “Can we have something good that is not novel?” Surely we can. In a sense the examples I gave fit that description to, so it matters how narrowly we define “novel”. A concern I have is that we can overlook the present and the past in our attempts to be novel. It strikes me as importing our consumeristic ideology into our academic work when we set our sights on novelty. Don’t get me wrong. I think the pursuit of knowledge and truth and the elimination of falsehoods are extremely important, but in our pursuit of novelty, I don’t want to overlook what has went before and what is around us. Forsaking these foundations and contemporaries in some sense can make our work mere novelties…in the contemporary sense of our work being gadgets or quick, cute fixes that attract the eye, but have no lasting effects.