What Scholarship Means

According to the Oxford English Dictionary online [1]: ‘scholarship’ is ‘Academic study or achievement.’ This is a sound definition, but it tells nothing about the process. The process of scholarship is different for everyone but here is a general outline.

{1} Admitting Socratic ignorance. That is admit, ‘The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.’ [2] If one knew something than there would be no reason to seek knowledge no reason to go about the process of scholarship.

{2} Doubt everything. As Descartes put it, ‘Puisque je doute, je pense; puisque je pense, j’existe.’ [3] (‘Because I doubt, I think; because I think, I exist.’) If one was certain of everything than there would be no reason to search for certainty.

{3} In the words of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: ‘Presume nothing.’ [4]. This goes with doubting everything, if one presumes something is the case without truly thinking about it than there is no seeking for knowledge.

{4} ‘Study hard what interests you the most in the most undisciplined, irreverent, and original manner possible.’ – Richard P. Feynman. [5]

{5} Read. Read as much as possible. However, as Walter Block pointed out ‘reading is only part of the practice of scholarship. Personal interactions, debate, dialogue, too, are necessary.’ [6]. Thus, {6} Debate, create dialogue. It is in talking over a position that one truly comes to understand it. If person-to-person dialogue is too hard for someone, they can always create a scripted dialogue. (This is best done by taking a book, article, or the like for someone of the opposite position and writing out a refutation of it.)

{7} Fail. Everyone makes mistakes, everyone is wrong. As C.S. Lewis put it, ‘ Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement.’ [7] More importantly, failure allows one to correct one’s mistakes. Failure shows what was wrong in a line of thought, in a process, it provides a check on the process of scholarship.

{8} Practice. Without practice all knowledge gained is lost. Certainly some things are harder to practice than others; however, it the path to knowledge were easy there would be no reward.

{9} Self-examination and reflection. One must question oneself about one’s learning, one’s knowledge, the path to get there, and what one has gained. In the words of Socrates: ‘The unexamined life is not worth living.’ [2]

{10} Start over again.

‘Education never ends, Watson. It is a series of lessons, with the greatest for the last.’ – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle [4].


[1] http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/scholarship

[2] https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/275648.Socrates

[3] http://www.cartezyan.com.br/rene.php

[4] https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/2448.Arthur_Conan_Doyle

[5] https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/1429989.Richard_Feynman

[6] https://c4ss.org/content/39712

[7] http://www.forbes.com/sites/ekaterinawalter/2013/12/30/30-powerful-quotes-on-failure/