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How many intellectuals do you have among your acquaintances? In fact, when was the last time you met someone who calls himself/herself an intellectual? or even heard someone being mentioned on TV or in a newspaper as an "intellectual"?

If you do a google search on "a first class intellectual" "a great intellectual" "a ... intellectual"..., you will only get a small number of returns, and they mostly use "intellectual" as adjective, not noun. If you search for "intellectual experience", "intellectual contribution" or "intellectual framework", you get about 100,000 hits, but if you search for "intellectual property"...hehheh...try it and see for yourself. It shows there is a lot of money in intellectual property, some in intellectual framework/experience/contribution, but none in being an "intellectual". However, searching with "intellectuals" produces 27 million hits; now why do intellectuals exist and are regarded as important collectively, but virtually nobody wants to be an individual intellectual? If you look into the items about "intellectuals", you can see that these are really about "highly educated people" rather than "intellectuals", a community that used to be called "the intellegentsia". "Intellectuals", therefore, does not necessarily mean a group of individuals who is each an intellectual.

Someone used being mentioned in media often as the criterion to rank the prominence of various "public intellectuals"

Henry Kissinger (12,570 media mentions between 1995 and 2000)
Daniel Patrick Moynihan (12,344)
George Will (10,425)
Lawrence Summers (9,369)
William J. Bennett (9,070)
Robert Reich (8,795)
Sidney Blumenthal (8,044)
Arthur Miller—the law professor, not the playwright—(7,955)
Salman Rushdie (7,688)
William Safire (6,408)

That article's author then wondered how the rankings might change if we included citations in books—or rather, books sold by Amazon despite them being admittedly incomplete inventory. Further, he weeded out those intellectuals who were known mainly for working in government, on the theory that these folks were usually quoted not because of their intellectual contributions but more because of their proximity to power. Here's the revised Posner media-citations list (note: there might be an editorial error, since adding book citations ought to change the counts for people who appear on both lists):

George Will (10,425 media mentions between 1995 and 2000)
Arthur Miller—the law professor, not the playwright—(7,955)
Salman Rushdie (7,688)
William Safire (6,408) (Note: Safire's fame as a Nixon speechwriter got him his New York Times column three decades ago, but most people today know him as a columnist, not as a former government official.)
George Orwell (5,818)
Alan Dershowitz (5,778)
Toni Morrison (5,633)
Tom Wolfe (5,342)
Norman Mailer (4,860)
George Bernard Shaw (4,835)

These people make/made a living as authors, newspaper columnists, university academics and government officials. They all pump out a large amount of writing and speeches, but did any of these people called himself/herself an "intellectual"? (Notice there is only one woman among the two lots.) If the most prominent members of this vague collection of "intellectuals" producing 27 million google hits do not call themselves intellectuals, then what does this group actually contain? If the above lists are examples of "public intellectuals", who are the private intellectuals?

So what is an intellectual? Obviously it is different from "knowledge worker", "academic", "researcher"... Our world probably has hundreds of millions of knowledge workers and tens of millions of academics/researchers. If you ask people "are you a knowledge worker?", I am sure many would answer yes. "Academic" and "researcher" are even simpler, since they have objective classifications as job openings. Try asking "are you an intellectual?" and see who answers yes without hesitation.

How many intellectuals are there in the world? Obviously very few since we dont meet such people and dont see them in the press described as such. Which figures in recent history would you regard as intellectuals? Karl Marx was presumably one, as was Albert Einstein. In my particular profession, John von Neumann and Herbert Simon probably qualify, but would any of the other Turing Award winners qualify? I wonder how many recent Nobel Prize winners would describe themselves to others as "intellectuals". Maybe there are many intellectuals around, but why are they so shy to identify themselves so?

Does the world need intellectuals? It seems to have managed very well without them. In our complex technological society, some people design processes, and others follow those processes, whether as white collar or as blue collar workers; some people manage and make decisions about various kinds of resources; others carry out those decisions; but neither groups would call themselves intellectuals. These people have a clear role in the society, which defines what input they need to provide to the system they exist in and what output they will receive. Knowdge workers, academics, researchers - they have such clearly defined roles. There is no clearly defined input-output role for this thing called an intellectual; therefore, the society does not need him/her. We need intellectual properties, but dont need intellectuals to produce them. They are produced instead by novelists, engineers, programmers, movie directors, models, artists, musicians...

But let me tell you I consider myself an intellectual; it's just that I dont make a living from being an intellectual - I make a living from being an academic. In today's world, my intellectual properties are less valuable than any pornstar's: she can charge people money to join her website in order to see her pictures and movies; can I make people pay to read my writings on computer science, ancient china, singapore politics? That to a great extent explains why being an intellectual is so unfashionable. With no socially defined role, there are also no well defined processes to identify another intellectual and share the activities associated with an intellectual's role with him/her; anyone calling himself/herself an intellectual would be pursuing the intellectual interests alone.


英语intellectuals通常翻译成"知识分子",但这两边意义其实并不相同,有个很简单的测试:问同事朋友"你是知识分子吗?"通常人家毫不犹豫回答"是",问"are you an intellectual?"通常得不到同样的答复,因为"intellectual"似乎比较高级,自称intellectual好象很骄傲.