Is the Intellectual Enterprise a Sham?

“The trouble with intellectual discussions is often the assumption that if one articulates clearly enough, Intellect can adequately represent the subject.”—Aaron Elliott

zn29jIntellectuals like to think they’re better than the proverbial loud obnoxious American tourist in Europe, but they often sound just like him: repeating themselves again and again, louder and louder each time, to someone who doesn’t speak English, as if deafness were the problem.

Well-crafted apologetics—reasoned arguments in favor of feminism, egalitarianism, abolitionism, or anything else—can, on occasion, convince people from the other side. But this is incidental. Indeed, almost accidental. Apologetics are primarily for internal consumption. Their true purpose is to shore up the belief system of the faithful (i.e., people who already agree with you for deeper, intuitive reasons—reasons derived, more often than not, from their lived experience). So long as apologists keep this in mind, all is well. When they go off the rails, it’s invariably because they’ve lost sight of this: that is, when they’ve deluded themselves into believing that their especially well-constructed argument in favor of this or that is actually going to convince the people on the other side.

Does this mean that the whole intellectual enterprise is a sham? Does it mean that the open society is doomed? NO and NO. We can indeed reason together. But there are limits to reason. And limits to reasoning together. I think it’s important to respect these limits. Not because acknowledging these limits can serve as a convenient excuse for sophistry, dogmatism, extremism, or giving up; but because it can actually make it easier for us to love our enemies, bless those who curse us, and respect the humanity of those who disagree with us.

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2016)

About John Faithful Hamer

John Faithful Hamer is a college professor who still can't swim, drive, or pay his bills on time. His sense of direction is notoriously unreliable, yet he'd love to tell you where to go. His lack of practical skills is astounding, and his inability to fix things is renowned, yet he'd love to tell you what to do. His mismanagement of time is legendary, as is his inability to remember appointments, yet he fancies himself a philosopher and would love to tell you how to live. He wouldn't survive in a state of nature, of that we can be sure; but he's doing quite well in the big city, which has always been a refuge for the ridiculous, a haven for the helpless, and a friend to the frivolous.

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