Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Weathered but Still-Tasty ... but also Misshapen? -- Morsel by Judge Posner

Judge Richard Posner once said, "As one of our finest academic public intellectuals, Jean Bethke Elshtain, has put it, 'The problem with being a public intellectual is you get more and more public and less and less intellectual.'" Diary, Entry 5 Slate (Jan. 18, 2002) (see bottom of page).

But there is a slight (trivial?) problem with Judge Posner's logic. In the passage quoted above Posner endorses the proposition that there is an inverse relationship between the degree to which one is a public intellectual and the the degree to which one is an intellectual. But two sentences before the one I quoted above, Posner states that in his book Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline he studied the relationship between "media prominence" and "academic prominence" (emphasis mine). Perhaps Posner should have explicitly said that in his mind the degree to which an academic is "intellectual" is the degree to which the academic is seen to be intellectual by his or her academic colleagues. (Of course, if he had done that, the bon mot -- or whatever we might wish to call it -- would have lost its charm and its bite.)

So the question arises: Can we validly say of an academic that he or she is "intellectual" even if the academic in question garners little praise, admiration, or attention from his or her colleagues?
I wonder how Judge Posner grades the performance of the students in his unorthodox but interesting Evidence course? Does he consult the opinions of academics or the opinions of the students' colleagues before he awards a student a grade? And if he does that, do they in turn ask Posner what he thinks? (Do you detect a vicious circle here? [But the paradox is solved if we have an academic pope -- such as Judge Posner.])
Perhaps Judge Posner proves once again that people tend to prefer the measures of merit - the "merit metrics" - that make them look best.


The dynamic evidence page
It's here: the law of evidence on Spindle Law. See also this post and this post.

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