Die intellektueel as opvoeder

Van Niekerk, Anton A. (2019)

CITATION: Van Niekerk, A. A. 2019. Die intellektueel as opvoeder. Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe, 59(3):305-317, doi:10.17159/2224-7912/2019/v59n3a1.

The original publication is available at http://www.scielo.org.za


AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Hierdie artikel handel oor die rol van die openbare intellektueel in die opvoeding van die samelewing. Die skrywer toon aan hoe vele skrywers meen dat die idee van die openbare intellektueel sy oorsprong in Antieke Griekeland het, met Protagoras en Sokrates as vermeende voorbeelde. Dit word meer algemeen aanvaar dat openbare intellektuele ʼn moderne verskynsel is. Hulle medieer tussen die publiek en ʼn wêreld van meesal moeilik toeganklike idees. Op die kulturele vlak evalueer hulle die status van die samelewings waartoe hulle behoort, en in die politiek ontwikkel hulle idees wat lei tot politieke aksie. Die skrywer wys veral op die oorgange in intellektuele optrede vanaf moderniteit na postmoderniteit. Hulle verwerp toenemend die outoritêre deklamasie van natuurwette en kulturele vorme, hulle spreek bedenkinge uit oor die houdbaarheid van die kategorie van seker kennis, hulle artikuleer die gefragmenteerdheid van die moderne wêreldbelewing, hulle verwerp toenemend die idee van die selfevidente gegewenheid van verskynsels en vervang dit met die idee van die noodsaak van mediasie via tekens en simbole, en hulle propageer laastens ʼn wêreld waarin Filosofie as die "Vak" wat aan almal verduidelik waarmee hulle "eintlik" besig is, vervang word met die dialoog-soekende en bemiddelende idee van hermeneutiek.

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: The article deals with the public intellectual as educator, particularly in the field of philosophy. Although many claims are made that public intellectuals emanate from ancient times (Protagoras and Socrates particularly come to mind), the literature is mostly inclined to refer to intellectuals as a modern phenomenon. What was striking about the “intellectuals” of ancient Greece, is that their activities amounted to the respective activities of public debating and public dialogue. The Sophists were debaters – people who already had a fixed view that they tried to impose on others. This is to be clearly distinguished from Socratic dialogue, where the interaction starts with a mutual “docta ignorantia”, where participants open themselves to learn from each other, and where the interaction reaches a position that is new to both. When viewed as fundamentally a modern phenomenon (post-17th Century), the distinction between cultural (e.g. Ortega y Gasset) and political (e.g. Sartre, Chomsky) intellectuals comes to the fore. This modern origin of the term can be traced to the defenders of Dreyfuss – the intellectuelesof 1898.Throughout history, the nature and role of intellectuals has shifted. The author aims to identify such shifts, questioning their impact on the educational role of intellectuals today.For a long time, intellectuals were considered mediators between the worlds of largely inaccessible ideas and values, and of everyday popular beliefs and traditions. This function has epistemological, cultural and political dimensions. On the epistemological level, the public intellectual confronts society with (otherwise inaccessible) ideas/theories by simplifying them (e.g. Einstein’s analogies). On the cultural level, the knowledge shared relates to the value and status of the culture the intellectual inhabits (e.g. Hegel on freedom within the state). Politically, intellectuals share ideas linked to political action (e.g. Marxists’ insistence on aiding the critical consciousness and facilitating a language to express the predicament of the working class). The shift from a modern to postmodern culture contributed to shifts in style and modus operandi of intellectuals. This transition was precipitated by criticism regarding the possibility of the sovereign, ahistorical, rational subject with unhindered access to itself – that image of the subject that was problematised mainly by the “masters of suspicion”, Marx, Nietzsche and Freud.Firstly, Postmodernity rejects authority figures presenting natural laws and cultural forms under the pretence of necessity: instead, Postmodernism embraces contingency and context. Today’s intellectuals inhabit a world where a plurality of world views, contexts, and the localised character of truth have replaced the former world of authority and necessity.Secondly, conventional modern intellectuals were comfortable with the category of certainty. This was replaced by admission of fallibility within post-empiricist philosophy of science in the 20th century. Examples include Popper’s criticisms of science’s “craving to be right” and Einstein’s inclusion of predictions that, if proven false, would falsify his general theory of relativity. Rationality thus becomes falsifiability, and the ideal of certainty is replaced by the demand that a theory be corroborated. The author argues that science loses its special status in the implied anarchy of Paul Feyerabend’s claim that “anything goes”. The postmodern context is, thirdly, characterised by fragmentation. Wittgenstein’s philosophical shifts illustrate this: ideas on language in the Tractatus argue that all understandable language shares a single logical form; yet later in Philosophical Investigationshe critiques his own ideas, introducing the idea of “language games” and the importance of context. Picasso’s Guernica serves as another example of the fragmented nature of the postmodern experience. 307Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe, Jaargang 59 No. 3: September 2019doi.10.17159/2224-7912/2019/v59n3a1A fourth aspect the postmodern shift brought about is the self-evident givenness of phenomena to include the requirement that all acquaintance with reality had to be mediated through symbols or language. This is illuminated by thinkers such as Derrida, (for whom nothing exists “outside of text”) and Gadamer who claims that “nothing exists outside of language”.The fifth shift is that of authoritative claims of expertise to hermeneutics and interpretation. Specifically discussed is Zygmunt Bauman’s differentiation between legislators and interpreters, and Richard Rorty’s claim that, in a post-philosophical era, philosophy is replaced by hermeneutics.In the modern era, intellectuals functioned as legislators. Kwiek refers to this group as possessing “unquestionable authority as [they] know the deepest context”. In the postmodern era, the intellectual becomes an interpreter rather than legislator. For Rorty, the prospective intellectual is a pragmatist (or “useful kibbitzer” – someone who seeks dialogue between unlikely participants). Truth becomes a matter of solidarity, with no ground other than the need to continue it for the act of dialogue. Rorty thus recommends that edification replace the search for rational, objective truth as primary goal of our intellectual-cultural activities.The attempt to edify can, for example, appear in the hermeneutic activity of connecting one’s own culture and foreign cultures/historical periods, or between apparently incompatible disciplines. Rorty’s “intellectual of the future” has to cease being a “cultural overseer” or epistemologist. Instead, he claims postmodern intellectuals should be “informed (poly-pragmatic) dilettantes”. This refers to Socratic mediators in dialogue, rather than “experts” in given fields. These dilettantes would practise hermeneutics rather than epistemology or philosophy. The author concludes with a few observations. He notes that Bauman and Rorty, despite their postmodern pretences, draw on the antique tradition of sophists versus Socrates, and debate versus dialogue. What they do deny, is that intellectuals make claims to superior frameworks. Instead, current-day intellectuals approach the crisis of intercultural contact via questioning whether the web of beliefs accessed is sensible and could be extended to overlap with that of those with other sets of beliefs and insights. This is what is meant by optimally applying dialogue. Thus, intellectuals gradually lose their unique character, as increasing numbers join the intellectual ranks to take on this role. Crick explains how these “opinion leaders” apply public intellectual ideas to the situated contexts of the broader public. These ideas, however, begin to “take on a life of their own” and are assimilated into common knowledge. Thus intellectuals leave a deep and lasting impact via their ideas when given concrete expression through their “techne”.

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