a1 University of Hull
The idea of doing something for its own sake interests me for two reasons. First, I should like to understand better two opposing reactions that I have felt on coming across the phrase ‘for its own sake’ used in earnest. When told that knowledge is worth pursuing for its own sake and that this is what the study of science at a university ought to be like—not an adjunct to commercially motivated research in a product I design and development team funded by local industry—I, and others, feel that something pure and noble, holy, good and true is being said. On the other hand, I recognize that to some, who would probably describe themselves as more realistic than myself, the claim that knowledge should be, and is being, pursued for its own sake has a hollow ring. Nowadays, academics themselves feel uneasy when they hear this sort of thing being said in public in mixed company. But they do continue to say such things to each other, at least occasionally in private, among consenting adults. Furthermore, I do attach impor- tance to the thought that to do the right thing for its own sake is a shining example of moral goodness. At the same time I acknowledge that the idea of a good deed done for its own sake is less than crystal clear I and that, to many, the person who claims to be doing something for its own sake sounds like someone who smiles at himself in the mirror in the morning in order to find one approving face before setting out to commit his next crime against humanity. I should like to know whether this phrase ‘for its own sake’ will bear the weight I want to place on it or whether a more sceptical attitude is called for.