THE PHILOSOPHER AS SUPERSTAR ("Der Philosoph Als Superstar")

[ Wed. Jun. 4. 2003 ]

There are many reasons for this intellectual isolationism. One is purely practical: in the decades after the Second World War, scientists at American universities and institutes specialized like never before. This led to linguistic microtopes that laid a high value on educational background. The second is historical: Hardly any nation mistrusts European intellectual life as much as the United States. Didn’t founding fathers of the American pragmatist school of thought like Ralph Waldo Emerson, William James, and John Dewey themselves promote a turning away from the abstractions of traditional philosophy?

...The intellectuals with the greatest influence over the destiny of the nation are the leading thinkers of the conservative Neocons, who develop their concepts outside of public view in the debating clubs of think tanks.

One exception is the natural scientists, who, in recent years, have rehabilitated the idea of the public intellectual. This began out of pure professional necessity. Interdisciplinary work compelled researchers to write texts that colleagues outside of their own fields could also understand without specialized training. Thus a new form of scientific literature came into being, which...John Brockman named "The Third Culture." Natural scientists, according to Brockman, are tackling humanity’s biggest questions, those which were previously in the domain of humanities scholars and clerics. He has in mind above all authors such as neuropsychologist Steven Pinker, biologist Stephen Jay Gould, or mathematician Marvin Minsky—who in their books mount direct attacks on the humanities.