Identifying default intellectuals

Richard Wolff keeps repeating that in trying to assess the merits of some claim, it is wise to listen to the proponents and the opponents of the claim. His interest is in the evaluation of capitalism. However, he does not tell us who he thinks is the best proponent of capitalism, but he does tell us that a formidable opponent of capitalism was Karl Marx.

Well, I am not ready to become a Marx scholar — there is too much to read. I want some trustworthy intellectual to tell me in a succinct formulation what I should learn from Marx. Who should I listen to?

And the above reasoning applies to all claims. The problem is this. It is living people who are writing and speaking on popular media and making an impact. And this is what creates something like “current popular opinions.” Couple this with a belief that the new is better than the old — a sort of belief in the inevitability of progress — and the “old” is placed in the dustbin of the antiquated.

It is true that the natural sciences and technologies advance, but this does not seem to be true of the moral and social studies where there is ongoing controversy.

To deal with this problem, I have sought to find intellectuals who have an aura of wisdom and authority. In the past — until the scientific revolution — Plato and Aristotle played such a role. They acted as a “benchmark” for evaluating claims. A few years ago I advocated treating the views of the British philosopher C. D. Broad for this role of a “benchmark,” giving the name “default philosopher” to such a role.

This is not to deprive other philosophers of a high status, but the fact remains that someone who lives later and can critically evaluate the scholarship of the past — has an advantage, provided he has done so well.

For topics not dealth with by C. D. Broad, I would extend the status of a default philosopher to Bertrand Russell.

As to present global affairs — involving war, economics, and politics — the current “default intellectual” — if I may use this phrase — is, for me: Noam Chomsky.

What is the practical implication of this view? One should read Chomsky, and when listening or reading where a claim is made about present global affairs, ask yourself: What is Noam Chomsky view on this?

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