‘Do intellectuals have a special public responsibility?’, William Aiken and John Haldane, eds, Philosophy and its Public Role (Exeter: Imprint Academic: St Andrews Studies in Philosophy and Public Affairs, 2004), pp25-38: ISBN 1 84540 003 8
The article arose out of an invited contribution to an international conference in the United States of both academics and practitioners who had held Fellowships in the University of St Andrews' Centre for Philosophy & Public Affairs (mine was in 1998). My thinking about academics' particular responsibilities had been developing for some time, partly as a response to issues arising in the course undergraduate teaching about the Holocaust, such as the role of intellectuals in the rise of Nazism, and partly out of a growing concern that universities might be a site of broader public interventions than simply formal education.
In arguing, through a philosophical tradition stemming from Plato's conception of reason as essentially practical, that knowledge brings with it responsibility, I develop a case to the effect that public intellectuals, of whom academics are of course an example, have responsibilities regarding the public good that go deeper than the civic duties of citizens. The point is not that intellectuals are necessarily right - consider Heidegger - but that they have a duty both to test their ideas in public and to use their abilities to help engender critical debate. The convictions I argue for in the piece arise from my philosophical view of the nature of knowledge and of rationality, and from my reflections on my own public role (such as my membership of a national NHS Research Ethics Committee and of the local NHS Trust's Clinical Ethics Group) that I therefore undertake. It is also in good measure on the basis of the arguments of this piece that I was initiated, in 2005, the University's Centre for Applied Philosophy, Politics & Ethics, to the extent that the Centre may be understood as attempting to instantiate the intellectual case I outlined in it.