The Death of the Concerned Intellectual?

Chongyi Feng


Abstract

This paper offers a definition of the intellectual covering both professional and moral dimensions: An intellectual is a specialist who creates and communicates symbolised knowledge as means of living, and hopefully intervenes in social and political affairs in the name of universal values, truth and justice. "Symbolised knowledge" is used in the definition to avoid the confusion with other forms of knowledge derived from direct personal experience in production and life. The purpose of using "specialist" as the subject term is to exclude those categories such politicians, soldiers and business people who exercise political, military, financial and other forms of power instead of intellectual power in their social function. This paper argues that there are many roles played by intellectuals, and the social location and function of intellectuals can be fundamentally different in different societies. When production and communication of knowledge are taken as the primary concern of intellectuals, ‘the death of the concerned intellectual’ becomes an unwarranted anxiety, because there is no reason to believe that knowledge and truth will no longer be pursued and valued by humankind. Political marginalisation of critical intellectuals, where it is a reality, seems to be caused not so much by the lack of power of intellectuals as by the lack of solidarity among intellectuals to fight for a common cause. The problem lies as much in the lack of enthusiasm among intellectuals to transcend the boundaries of their professional relevance and intervene in broad social and political issues, as in institutional structures consuming too much energy and time of the intellectuals and seducing them to give up their social responsibilities for personal career.

Keywords

Intellectual; Knowledge; Truth; Postmodern Age

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