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How to be a public intellectual

The world's fifth best public intellectual on the uses and abuses of the term

Has anyone ever described themselves as an “intellectual,” or given it as the answer to the question, “And what do you do?” The very term “public intellectual” sometimes affects me like the expression “organic food.” After all, there can’t be any “inorganic” nourishment, and it’s difficult to conceive of an intellectual whose specialisation was privacy, at least since Immanuel Kant. However, we probably do need a term that expresses a difference between true intellectuals and the rival callings of “opinion maker” or “pundit,” especially as the last two are intimately bound up with the world of television. (I recently rewatched…

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