Howard Hotson, University of Oxford

2 February 2016


For over two thousand years, the Western intellectual tradition has been sustained by aspirations, assumptions, ideas, and values ultimately grounded in widely shared conceptions of the human condition. The dilemma of the modern university derives partly from the fact that these conceptions have been swept away by the evolutionary account of human origins, and insufficient attention has been paid to putting something in their place. The resulting conceptual vacuum has been filled in recent decades by the simplistic conception of human nature as homo economicus – perfectly rational, selfish, and materialistic – because this abstraction suits the needs of dominant economic actors. If modern higher education policy is to be placed on a more adequate footing, it needs to be founded on a more adequate account of the human condition.


Howard Hotson is Professor of Early Modern Intellectual History at the University of Oxford. His work on transnational networks of intellectual exchange has drawn him into two large experiments in the digital humanities: the Oxford-based research project, ‘Cultures of Knowledge: Networking the Republic of Letters, 1550-1750‘ and the pan-European network, ‘Reassembling the Republic of Letters, 1500-1800’. His interest in the cultural and institutional foundations of intellectual innovation has prompted his engagement in national and international debates over current higher education policy. A book, provisionally entitled When Universities Go to Market, is in preparation.


The David Watson Memorial Lecture Series, 2015 – 2016, What Should Universities Be?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email