On the humanistic intellectual

“2. If one asks what good these people do, what social function they perform neither ‘teaching’ nor ‘research’ is a very good answer. Their idea of teaching – or at least of the sort of teaching they hope to do – is not exactly the communication of knowledge, but more like stirring the kids up. When they apply for a leave or a grant, they may have to fill out forms about the aims and methods of their so-called research projects, but all they really want to do is read a lot more books in the hope of becoming a different sort of person.
3. So the real social function of the humanistic intellectuals is to instil doubts in the students about the students’ own self-images, and about the society to which they belong. These people are the teachers who help ensure that the moral consciousness of each new generation is slightly different from that of the previous generation.
4. But when it comes to the rhetoric of public support for higher education, we do not talk much about this social function. We cannot tell boards of trustees, government commissions, and the like, that our function is to stir things up, to make our society feel guilty, to keep it off balance. We cannot say that the taxpayers employ us to make sure that their children will think differently than they do. Somewhere deep down, everybody – even the average taxpayer – knows that that is one of the things colleges and universities are for. But nobody can afford to make this fully explicit and public…” (p. 127-128).

Reference:

Rorty, R. (1999). Philosophy and social hope. London: Penguin Books.

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