Distinctions Between Intellectuals And Pseudo-Intellectuals
By Sydney Harris, Detroit Free Press, (11/20/81)
*The intellectual is looking for the right
questions to ask; the pseudo is giving what he claims to be the
*The intellectual is evidently motivated by a
disinterested love of truth; the pseudo is interested in being
right, or being thought to be right, whether he is or not.
*The intellectual is willing to admit that what
he does not know is far greater than what he knows; the pseudo
claims to know as much as can be known about the subject under
*The intellectual states as good a case for his
adversary as can be made out; the pseudo sets up a straw man and
beats it to death for the sake of seeming superior.
*The intellectual is deeply and constantly aware
of the limitations of human reason; the pseudo makes a deity of
reason and tries to force it into realms it cannot penetrate.
*The intellectual seeks light from whatever
source, realizing that ideas are no respecters of persons and turn
up in the most unexpected places from the most improbable people;
the pseudo accepts ideas, when he does, only from experts and
specialists and certified authorities.
*The intellectual advances an hypothesis that he
hopes may be true; the pseudo propounds a dogma that he insists is
*The intellectual recognizes that opposites are
not always contradictory, and may indeed reinforce each other; the
pseudo paints a picture in black and white, right or wrong, leaving
no room for a contrary viewpoint.
*The intellectual knows there are no final
answers to human questions; the pseudo makes each tentative and
provisional answer sound like a finality.
*The intellectual is courageous in opposing
majority opinion, even when it jeopardizes his position; the pseudo
slavishly follows "the most reliable authorities" in his field
sneering at heresies.
*The intellectual never talks down to his
audience, but tries to be as clear as possible; the pseudo talks
above his audience to mystify and impress them."