The Meaning of Scholarship


This speech, originally delivered to honors students in the University of Utah’s Chemistry Department in 1973, was published in the Phi Kappa Phi Journal (Phi Beta Kappa’s national journal) in Summer, 1973. In it, Adamson explores scholarship, both in general and in his own life.  He stresses the necessary blend of imaginative exploration and discipline that the scholar’s enterprise requires. He also comments on how  scholars may be judged:  by whether the new knowledge produced will be responsible for good or evil, which although it may be beyond scholars’ control, makes them vulnerable to assessments conducted by “kindred minds.”

“But [men] should be vulnerable.  That is part of our humanity. It is neither admirable nor courageous to seek invulnerability; a trait for gods, not men.  And even those who flee vulnerability will find it waiting for them in the deepest recesses of their own hearts where judgments may be made that the conscious mind cannot bear.”

The speech also turns to a personal theme that recurs in much of Adamson’s work from the late 1960s and early 70s–his relationship to his sons and by extension to his students and the “younger generation”: and how they helped to reshape his thinking on important issues, most notably the Vietnam War, yet how they are also wrong about a fundamental point: the value of work and discipline.

JHAdamson-Meaning of Scholarship

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