Review of: Fuller, Steve. 2005. The Intellectual. Cambridge: Icon Books. (also published by Allen & Unwin in Australia and by Penguin Books in Canada in 2005)
Steve Fuller's latest book demarcates an ideal-typical intellectual from other academics. His 'intellectual' is someone who worries continually about bad arguments getting good press, while good arguments are marginalised or forgotten. Fuller's 'intellectual' is an ethical, highly motivated public speaker who writes and talks strategically on topics of high political and social importance. The book flaps seem to imply that Steve Fuller himself fits this image of the busy public intellectual. The reference to Foucault and perhaps Gramsci is probably deliberate. Foucault argued that people who have good ideas should speak out so as to make those ideas have a public impact.
The following quote illustrates both the Foucaultian underpinnings of Fuller's argument, and Fuller's sometimes twisted turns of phrase:
"The general recognition of acceptable and unacceptable modes of speech is the subtlest form of social power, mainly because it is self-administered. We stop ourselves from saying things because we don't want to lose face. Those with less effective power have more to lose with the more they say. This is perhaps Foucault's profoundest lesson, one that places him in the upper echelons of intellectuals" (page 78).
Fuller explains through a dialogical moethod what the ethical intellectual is like. A central dialogue contrasts a Philosopher with an Intellectual. The philosopher comes across as analytical, superficial, defensive, and often Platonic. The Intellectual is presented as engaged, substantive, constructive, and often Aristotelian.
An Aristotelian recognises the reality of goodness and of bad things - just as Fuller does. Ethical relativism is pushed onto the sidelines by this book.
The intellectual is always skeptical of herself, says Fuller. She'll be paranoid that her (or his) ideas may be wrong. Fuller evidently likes this aspect of the falsification methodology that is presently associated with Popper. Fuller believes people's arguments are corrigible -- as I also believe. The intellectual defends their ethics publicly, as did Fuller's exemplar Galileo (pages 152-153). Galileo is an interesting case because so much of his work was conducted privately. Eventually, he felt that to voice his findings was his public moral duty. Galileo "took personal responsibility for his ideas by explicitly contradicting Church authority" (pages 152-153). A time may come when European intellectuals must raise their voices against the falsehoods of officialdom, I think.
Fuller's aim thus seems to be to increase the courage of aspiring public intellectuals. I found I hardly had the courage (in reverse-snobbish England) to be seen in public reading this glossy black hardback titled
in a bold font! However, it was well worth reading.
The first one-third of the book imitates the style of Machiavelli's The Prince and gives four theses about intellectuals. By page 10, I was overwhelmed by Fuller's lively reinterpretation of various historical scenarios and their inter-connections.
In the second part, Fuller presents the dialogue of the philosopher and the intellectual. It is similar in both content and style to Garry Potter's book on the Philosophy of Social Science.
In the third part a set of FAQ's (Frequently Asked Questions) are offered. But no one asks these 'frequently asked questions'. I was not as motivated by the style here as in the earlier parts of the book.
In what ways does Fuller come across as a critical realist, I wondered. Firstly, by his moral realism. This is the notion (popularised by Collier and Sayer) that some good things are really good, independent of our perceptions of them. Secondly Fuller has a notion of the committed socially reflexive person who does research both before and after coming out with their interim conclusions. The idea of taking risks by getting involved in a crude debate even if it is not phrased to your liking is attractive but not commonly found among purist critical realists (see Fuller, pages 93, 100). Fuller actively opposes the writing and reading of impenetrable theory (e.g. see his page 70), which may make him an opponent of Roy Bhaskar.
But ontologically speaking, there is much in common: emergence of phenomena beyond the particles and events that comprise them (page 53); insisting on the reality of structural discrimination (page 46); noting that researchers are embedded in a tension-ridden and hence dialectical reality (page 58); politicising the history of natural science (page 76); and questioning 'brute facts' (page 66). Critical realists call false 'brute facts' epiphenomena (Bhaskar, The Possibility of Naturalism, 1979, repr. 1989, 1998). By raising the possibility that scientists make false and/or masking claims, Fuller acts like a critical realist and not just a realist.
I found that Fuller's writing skips around a lot but is thought-provoking. I enjoyed his erudition but it is not for everybody. Perhaps this book can be bought as a graduation present?
To sum up, in Fuller's words,
"The intellectual ennobles humanity by providing opportunities for resistance." (page 27).
"The intellectual is the eternal irritant: the grit in the oyster out of which humanity will hopefully emerge as a pearl." (page 163)
My problem of course is that many people don't like oysters although, if only they were aware, they would of course always love a pearl!
University of Manchester