Commonplace Book #37

A proclivity for taking extreme positions, a taste for universals and abstraction, a desire for moral purity, a lack of worldliness, and intellectual arrogance work together to induce in many academic public intellectuals selective empathy, a selective sense of justice, an insensitivity to context, a lack of perspective, a denigration of predecessors as lacking moral insight, an impatience with prudence and sobriety, a lack of realism, and excessive self-confidence. The ‘on the one hand, on the other hand’ approach to politically or ideologically charged issues—the kind of approach that can understand slavery in its historical context, that sees the bad along with the good in abolitionists, that seeks a functional explanation for (to us) bizarre practices such as clitoridectomy and infibulation, that acknowledges that Nazis were fervent environmentalists and public-health fanatics and that Bill Clinton was the consolidator of the Reagan Revolution—this approach is uncongenial to the academic temperament. The typical academic is a Platonist, not an Aristotelian.”

Richard Posner, Public Intellectuals: A Study in Decline, 75

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