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Today, we have specialists in various professions, but many among them are unconcerned with the world beyond their own specialization. It is sometimes said that they are replacing the public intellectual. But the two are not identical. There are many more academics, for instance, than existed before. But it seems that most prefer not to confront authority even if it obstructs the path of free thought. Is this because they wish to pursue knowledge undisturbed, or because they are ready to discard knowledge should authority require them to do so? Or does association with national or international agencies require that critical assessments of social thought and action remain sotto voce? Today, as always, the public intellectual is expected to take a position independent of those in power, enabling him or her to question debatable ideas, irrespective of who propagates them. Reasoned critiques are often the essential starting point. The public intellectual has to see himself or herself as a person who is as close to being autonomous as is possible, and more than that, be seen by others as such.
An knowledged professional status makes it somewhat easier to be autonomous. Such status brings with it another kind of authority, conceded, even if grudgingly, by professional peers and this does make some small impact on the non-professional world. The public intellectual of today, in addition to being of such a status, has to have at the same time a concern for what constitutes the rights of citizens. particularly on issues of social justice, and further, there should be a readiness to raise these matters as public policy. The combination of drawing upon the professional respect that a person has garnered, together with a concern for society, can sometimes establish the moral authority of that person and ensure public support. This is a conceded qualification and not a tangible one. In the past it was those who had distanced themselves somewhat from society who were believed not to have a vested interest in the
changes they were suggesting. Although this was not always so, we know that close associations, such as formal affiliation to a political party, can inhibit free-thinking and criptions for action, even if it has the advantage of providing a certain leverage to the suggestions being ade. As an attitude of mind, autonomy is more readily expected of the professional specialist or the demic. Such persons, and they are not the only ones, can suggest alternative ways of thinking, even about ems of the larger society. Their thinking should emerge from reasoned, logical analyses. Yet academics today are hesitant to defend even the right to make what might be broadly called alternative, if not rational interpretations, however sensitively they may be expressed. This is evident from the ease with which books are banned and pulped, or demands made that they be burned, and syllabuses changed under pressure from religious or political organizations, or the intervention of the state. Why do such actions provoke so little reaction among many academics and professionals? The answer that is usually given is that they fear the instigators who arc persons with the backing of political authority.
But is this the only answer?
Is it assumed that opinions about governance and society must hinge on ideologies linked to political parties and as a result there can be no thinking about how to configure society in a manner that is independent of a necessary commitment to political parties? Surely in this day and age, it is possible to be an independent liberal in this country with ideological commitments that are not determined solely by political parties? Being a liberal is an attitude of mind that determines the fight for space in a society when that society resists ethics and reasoned thinking. The understanding of what one is battling for assumes an ideological direction but this does not require association with a political party. And there should also be the freedom to choose one's position on an issue and this position need not be in conformity with the ideological take of a particular political party on every occasion. The public intellectual has, by definition, to be liberal, that is, to insist that there be space to present varying perspectives and that wherever possible, reason and ethics should have primacy in whatever debates are taking place. This is not a new definition and has been a recognizable part of the interface between
knowledge and society since earliest times. Approximations to orthodoxy and orthopraxy have always been contested by similar approximations to heterodoxy although those leading the charge do not always have or need to have the same social identity. This is apparent among people and situations in the Indian past yet we have often ignored it or failed to recognize it. How an intellectual, even without being a public intellectual, requires a more than average knowledge in his/her professional specialization and beyond that a familiarity with the context of that knowledge: how did it come about and what are the implications for the people who use that knowledge. To be a technician (or be technically accomplished) in a specialization, however good, is not sufficient. An intellectual perspective requires that the specialized knowledge one possesses should be related to social concerns where required and to other branches of knowledge as well. Added to this it helps if that knowledge can be contextualized in an accessible way for a wider range of people to understand facets of the variegated world in which we live, and to which understanding the specialization contributes. The public intellectual uses such foundations in his/her thinking in order to extend the understanding of the world we inhabit, and to do so by insisting on space for debate and the right to informed opinion.
Question 5 : How does the author differentiate between Public Intellectuals of the past and today?
In the second paragraph, the author states "in the past it was those who had distanced themselves somewhat from society who were believed not to have a vested interest in the changes they were suggesting... Yet academics today are hesitant to defend even the right to make what might be broadly called alternative, if not rational interpretations, however sensitively they may be expressed. ". He goes on to ask, in paragraph 3, "Is it assumed that opinions about governance and society must hinge on ideologies linked to political parties and as a result there can be no thinking about how to configure society in a manner that is independent of a necessary commitment to political parties?"
The question is " How does the author differentiate between Public Intellectuals of the past and today? "
Choice D is the correct answer.
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