Reflections on a Paradox of Academic Community
by Philip A. Glotzbach
If we look deeper into the nature of things, a virtuous friend seems to be naturally
desirable for a virtuous man.—Aristotle
Oh, you've got to have friends!—Bette Midler
Among the various objects Aristotle identifies in his Nicomachean Ethics as goods associated with the most virtuous and therefore the happiest and most successful
human existence are friendship and contemplation. For Aristotle, the contemplative life is the most pleasant and most humanly fulfilling
imaginable, but even such an intrinsically satisfying existence would be incomplete,
he says, in the absence of virtuous friends. Assuming that he is not far from the
mark, it is only a small jump to imagine that an academic community—more specifically,
a college or university in America in the early 21st Century2—should offer its members
just such an ideal combination of intrinsically satisfying activity and supportive
companionship: a life of "learning among friends," as Kenyon College states in its
Despite their quirks and idiosyncrasies, academic communities are about ideas and
ideals. They also are about people. The ideals are lofty, the people imperfect. We
all are fallible human beings who frequently, to borrow from a Jewish prayer, find
ourselves "poor in word and deed." Even so, academic communities are places where
magical transformations occur on a yearly, monthly, and daily basis—transformations
with surprising and far-reaching effects in the lives of students and faculty members
too. Academic communities certainly have their unique dynamics, and they require their
own special forms of nurturing from those of us in leadership roles—whether we hold
administrative posts or are members of the faculty, board of trustees, or alumni.
My aim here is to reflect on one aspect of these social dynamics and propose an analytical
framework that may be useful to academic leaders as we think about this primary responsibility:
fostering an effective academic community.
Academic communities and truth
At least in principle, an academic community is a social structure that affirms and
supports its members in the pursuit of a set of defining values centering on the search
for truth, one that makes possible the enterprise of teaching and learning envisioned
in the various mission statements of our colleges and universities. Within this context,
the central commitment to truth-seeking is modeled by the teacher-scholars who comprise
its core—the faculty—who not only have devoted their professional lives to this quest
in their own disciplines but who make it their responsibility to inspire a similar
commitment in the second most significant, but more transient, population: their students.
Let me pause to acknowledge that such an unapologetic appeal to truth might strike
our highly developed post-modern sensibilities as a bit old-fashioned if not hopelessly
naïve. The concept of truth has come in for some hard use in recent years, perhaps
as epitomized by a passage in Kurt Vonnegut's novel Breakfast of Champions:
"You have no use for truth?" said Beatrice.
"You know what truth is?" said Karabekian. "It's some crazy thing my neighbor believes.
If I want to make friends with him, I ask him what he believes. He tells me, and I
say, 'Yeah, yeah—ain't it the truth?"3
Unfortunately, there is some truth to this caricature of truth: communities (academic
communities included) build connections around beliefs, and affirming those beliefs
is frequently part of the price of admission. It is easy to find examples in which
this function of social bonding cancels out other possible functions of this concept.
But an academic community should be committed to the notion that Vonnegut's formulation
is wrong (or, at best, incomplete). The members of such a community should believe,
instead, that what persons think or create actually matters, that some ideas or scientific
hypotheses or works of art are better than others, that there are many different ways
to interrogate, question, challenge, criticize, and evaluate such cultural products.
Some of these ways involve appeal to evidence—i.e., some claims are more empirical.
Others are tied less directly to specific facts or observations and are more dependent
on their theoretical context. Neither does this mean that any theoretical idea is
as good as any other. Even in the humanities, there are standards of decision-making,
accepted ways to separate better-grounded claims from less well-grounded ones. If
we want to argue about those standards, as we should do periodically, then we fall back upon other shared understandings. No particular
belief or claim may be beyond challenge, but it is not possible to challenge every
background belief at once.4 Theorists who criticize the notion of truth itself typically
have specific concepts (theories) of truth in mind; and even if they don't, in their
discourse they implicitly make truth-claims for which they argue or provide other
evidence. In short, they simply can't escape the concept of truth as regulative ideal
guiding diverse processes of inquiry. And neither can we.
So I hope we can agree that an individual college or a university is a particular community of discourse or community of conversation whose primary loyalty must be toward the process of inquiry itself. Maintaining the
possibility of discourse must stand among our highest values, which is why we can
permit (and, in fact, should encourage) vigorous dissent and criticism but not actions
that would disrupt or silence discourse. This means that those of us in leadership
positions must take special care that the conditions necessary to maintain a community
of discourse actually obtain. Some of these conditions are material (e.g., adequate
salaries, equipment, library resources). But other and equally important conditions
are social, having to do with the form of life of a given community itself. As such,
these latter conditions have to do with attitudes, with ways of interacting, with
the subtle subtexts of discourse including what philosophers have termed conversational implicatures—the unstated intentions or beliefs we infer or presuppose (sometimes without articulating
this inference or presupposition at all) from what someone actually says.5
Academic community and friendship
Turning to the concept of friendship, let me relate an edifying tale. In the spring
of 2002 in Victoria, British Columbia, a young woman at the margins of a university
community experienced a tragedy that any academician would dread. A part-time lecturer
at the University of Victoria, Linda Olsen suffered a fire in the trailer she had
been using as an office and as a storage place for family heirlooms and clothing.
The flames consumed all these along with her professional library as well as 20 years
of research on medieval literature, including handwritten notes she'd taken over the
course of four years in British libraries, and two nearly complete journal manuscripts.6
Although she was able to rescue her blind dog, she could not save even her laptop
computer. None of her files was backed-up. In addition to her own materials, she lost
177 books from the university library—virtually its entire collection on medieval
women—for which she later received a bill for $5,744. There was no insurance on the
Even prior to the fire, Olsen's personal story is noteworthy. A high school dropout,
she earned her equivalency diploma by correspondence and then enrolled in junior college.
She eventually moved on to the University of Victoria, winning an award for academic
achievement. She then studied in Britain on a prestigious Commonwealth Scholarship
(working with rare manuscripts of Augustine's Confessions) and in 1999 won the Medieval Academy of America's Van Courtland Elliott Prize for
the best first article in a scholarly journal. For family reasons, she turned down
several offers from prestigious American universities and found herself in that trailer
near the Pacific Ocean, with a post-doctoral scholarship from the University and teaching
whatever courses needed an instructor. Nonetheless, she certainly had defined herself
as a serious scholar and legitimate citizen of the academic world—an admirable accomplishment,
given the obstacles she faced.
More remarkable still was the academic community's response to her plight. University
colleague's donated clothing and shoes. A graduate student interrupted his dissertation
research to develop a web-based book registry—like a bridal registry—listing 300 book
titles she had lost so that people could purchase replacement copies. (The registry
eventually was taken over by the University Bookstore, which offered the books at
a discount.) The University's development office set up a fund so that contributions
could be tax-deductible. Student volunteers photocopied lost articles and digitally
input her dissertation giving her electronic access to it. The English Department
and the Dean cooperated to defray part of the cost of the library bill, and there
was hope that the library would forgive the rest. By July of 2002, colleagues at the
university and scholars around the world had donated $2,500 and 500 books. The English
Department even found her a shared office space. Her research back on track, Dr. Olsen
was completing plans to publish a co-edited text with the University of Notre Dame
Press, which previously had offered her any of its own titles free of charge.
Such a story reminds us of the better angels of our collective nature and can make
all of us proud to be members of this special world, which is above all a gathering
of human beings. Seen in this light, an academic community resembles the following
description of the early American republic offered by Joseph Ellis in Founding Brothers:
First, the achievement of the revolutionary generation was a collective enterprise
that succeeded because of the diversity of personalities and ideologies present in
the mix. Their interactions and juxtapositions generated a dynamic form of balance
and equilibrium, not because any of them was perfect or infallible, but because their
mutual imperfections and fallibilities, as well as their eccentricities and excesses,
checked each other in much the way that Madison in Federalist 10 claimed that multiple factions would do in a large republic.
Second, they all knew one another personally, meaning that they broke bread together,
sat together at countless meetings, corresponded with one another about private as
well as public matters. Politics, even at the highest level in the early republic,
remained a face-to-face affair in which the contestants, even those who were locked
in political battles to the death, were forced to negotiate the emotional affinities
and shared intimacies produced by frequent personal interaction. The Adams-Jefferson
rivalry and friendship is the outstanding example here, though there are several crucial
moments when critical compromises were brokered because personal trust made it possible.
Though the American republic became a nation of laws, during the initial phase it
also had to be a nation of men.7
At their best, academic communities likewise provide a setting for collective achievement
that is strengthened by a diversity of perspectives and that also works, in part,
because of the life-long professional and personal relationships established among
its members. In brief, a well-tempered academic community does instantiate Aristotle's
twin virtues of contemplation and friendship.
Unfortunately, as we know, this does not always occur. Personal and professional
relationships within departments, within a faculty as a whole, and between the faculty
and the administration can be marked by the most extreme forms of enmity, distrust,
and rancor. Such unhappy breakdowns in the social fabric can undermine the collegiality
necessary for scholarship and artistic creation and can even spill over to contaminate
the experiences of our students. Academic leaders—both administrators and faculty
leaders—surely are responsible for attending to these social relationships as well
as nurturing an environment supportive of the quest for truth. So, to do our job,
we need to be intentional in reflecting on these social relationships and develop
strategies to improve them. But this project is more complex than just helping folks
to get along—exhorting them to share their toys and play nicely with one another.
For the relationship between truth and friendship may not be as straightforward or
complementary as it might at first appear. To make this point, let me return to an
intriguing but little-noticed comment Aristotle makes at the beginning of hisNicomachean Ethics.
Truth v. friendship
During a preliminary discussion of the ethical theories of his predecessors, Aristotle
includes the following paragraph:
We had perhaps better consider the universal good and discuss thoroughly what is meant
by it, although such an inquiry is made an uphill one by the fact that the Forms have
been introduced by friends of our own. Yet it would perhaps be thought better to do
our duty, for the sake of maintaining the truth even to destroy what touches us closely,
especially as we are philosophers or lovers of wisdom; for, while both are dear, piety requires us to honor truth above our friends.8
The first time I cited this passage a few years ago in an address to the faculty at
the University of Redlands, I saw it as little more than a terse (and rather obvious)
historical gloss on our fundamental mission as academics. But as is so often the case
in teaching, the odd throwaway remark becomes the one thought that one's listeners
carry away. On that occasion, responses from a number of thoughtful and well-intentioned
faculty colleagues focused on this comment in ways epitomized in the following e-mail:
You did say that truth is more important than friendship, didn't you? And then that
discourse is central to [the quest for] truth. But isn't discourse predicated on friendship
and therefore isn't truth developed through friendship? Are you really that fiercely
Western man on a lonely quest for truth (a truth which is not far from context independent
My former colleague raises the spectre that only someone as detached from normal
human intercourse as Plato's idealized character of Socrates or his more contemporary
doppelganger, the Star Trek character Mr. Spock—both of whom viewed our human emotional entanglements from an
ironic distance—could hope to live up to Aristotle's expressed ideal. Here is the
question in a nutshell: If academic community is necessary for the central work of
teaching and learning, and if friendship or something like it is essential for the
creation of genuine academic community, then how can we rationally "honor truth above
our friends?" Does this paradox reside at the heart of the academic community itself?
To begin untangling this question, let me pull back from the more idealized stance
with which I began and admit what we know all too well—that, pace Aristotle, we academics are not always as adept at pursuing the truth as we would
like to think we are.
An academic case in point
Perhaps the most celebrated instance of such infirmity is the case of the 20th-Century
philosopher, Sir Karl Popper. Popper built a long and influential academic career
on the proposition that neither science nor any other human enterprise that advanced
empirical truth-claims or claims with empirical implications (including, most assuredly,
ethics and political theory) could ever conclusively verify even a single such thesis.
The best that such enterprises could do, Popper argued, was to remain open to the
possibility of falsification. In fact, the hallmark of those with the most intellectual
integrity was to actively seek it out. They were to do so by carefully articulating
hypotheses and conjectures that admitted of being contradicted by the discovery of
recalcitrant facts. This openness to confutation, and with it a fundamental commitment
to critical discourse, thus became for Popper the ultimate test of whether a process
was scientific or even rational. His position, so described, represents a special
case of the academic community's fundamental commitment to open critical discourse.
Ironically, by all accounts, Sir Karl himself was constitutionally incapable of living
up to his own most consistently promoted ideals. Even those commentators most favorable
to Popperian theories have been forced to admit that Sir Karl the human being was
among the most irascible, self-centered, self-serving, and self-regarding philosophers
in history. More to the point, he seemed unable to accept criticism of his work as
anything but a misreading or a misunderstanding of his position—usually a willful
In a poignant memoir of a youthful pilgrimage to meet with Popper at his residence
in 1975, Adam Gopnik describes his own emerging realization that his heretofore-intellectual
hero actually had feet of academic clay:
"Tell me," I said, "what criticism have your received in your career that has helped
you—that you regard as really useful?"
He stared off for a long moment. "None," he said. "I have never received any of this
kind of criticism." He looked away again.
It is difficult to convey, after all these years, the vehemence with which he put
forth his views—the silly, the profound, the trivial, and the deep. This was a man
alive with resentments, vindictive anger, and persecution mania; at the same time,
he had a kind of large-spiritedness, not remote from simple naiveté that led him to
open his door to a kid from Canada and fill him up with all his dogmas and doubts
as though he were an old colleague.10
Popper's well-documented antipathy to criticism of his work could be ignored as an
idiosyncratic curiosity in the history of ideas if we also had not observed such an
inability in our own colleagues and, if we are to be honest, in ourselves. For his
part, Gopnik generalizes this realization to cover virtually all intellectual activity:
But what really underlay the contradiction between what [Popper] thought and what
he was, I now think, after a quarter-century's reflection, is a perversity of human
nature so deep that it is almost a law—the Law of the Mental Mirror Image. We write
what we are not. It is not merely that we fail to live up to our best ideas but that
our best ideas, and the tone that goes with them, tend to be the opposite of our natural
temperament. Rousseau wrote of the feelings of the heart and the beauties of nature
while stewing and seething in a little room. Dr. Johnson pleaded for Christian stoicism
in desperate fear of damnation. The masters of the wry middle style, Lionel Trilling
and Randall Jarrell, were mired in sadness and confusion. The angry and competitive
man (James Thurber) writes tender and rueful humor because his own condition is what
he seeks to escape. The apostles of calm reason are hypersensitive and neurotic; William
James arrived at a pose of genial universal cheerfulness in the face of constant panic.
Art critics are often visually insensitive—look at their living rooms!—and literary
critics are often slow and puzzled readers, searching for the meaning, and cooks are
seldom trenchermen, being more fascinated by recipes than greedy for food.
It is not so much that we are drawn to things that frighten us as that we are drawn
to things that we can think of as things—as subjects that exist outside [emphasis
mine] the boundaries of all that is just the way we are. It is not merely that we
do not live up to our ideals but that we cannot [emphasis mine], since our ideals
are exactly the part of us that we do not instantly identify as just part of life.
An original thought is like a death mask of a man, with the solids made hollow and
the nose a cavity, a portrait pulled inside out. We are our ideas (Popper, with his
long, slightly overformal sentences, lucid but unornamented by wit, sounded like no
one else), for they include everything we are—but turned right around to face us,
and looking back at us in surprise.11
In sum, Gopnik questions not just of how deep our cherished ideals of liberal learning
and the primacy of truth-seeking in academia actually do penetrate but rather how
deep they can ever penetrate.
To the extent that it may be true, this psychological conjecture helps to explain
what otherwise might appear to be a puzzling anomaly: how a community of scholars
devoted to the highest ideals of inquiry should ever give rise to divisive—and not infrequently ad hominem—disputes that are nasty, brutish, and seldom short. It is all well and good to tout
the unencumbered search for knowledge, but we fallible and self-interested human beings
do sometimes fail to live up to our most fervidly professed ideals. And even if it
is not true across the board, Gopnik's conjecture serves to remind us that it is more
difficult to live up to the ideal of truth-seeking than we usually want to admit.
Friendship within the academy
As usual, the reality of how we actually behave lies somewhere in between the extremes
of our best ideals and our worst fears. So while acknowledging the difficulty of living
up to the Aristotelian norm, we should take a more optimistic stance for one primary
reason: All of us certainly have seen people accept criticism and change their minds
- both on the larger academic playing field and at individual schools where we have
lived and worked. There are academics who behave far better than Popper and entire
academic communities that function as one thinks they should. But even the latter
are fragile and subject to various kinds of breakdowns if not attended to carefully,
which brings us back to the topic of leadership and the problem of fostering communities
that do somehow combine truth and friendship.
So let us return to the Aristotelian paradox: How can we, as academics, rationally
prefer truth to friendship if friendship (or something like it) is essential to support
the inquiry that leads to truth? The answer lies in a more sophisticated understanding
of friendship that can be constructed in Aristotle's own terms. In one of his most
lasting contributions to ethics, Aristotle argued that we should regard human actions
and social relationships in terms of a continuum, with vices on each extreme and virtue
existing in the middle—not as a metaphorical arithmetic mean but as a moving, context-sensitive
point somewhere in between the extremes.12 Thus if we place misanthropic enmity at
one end and self-effacing solidarity or absolute discipleship at the other extreme,
then the varieties of friendship fall somewhere in between.
Lawrence Thomas has argued that "companion friendship" is marked by three salient
features: (1) "Companion friendships are a manifestation of a choice on the part of
the parties involved." (2) "Neither party to the relationship is under the authority
of the other." (3) "There is an enormous bond of mutual trust between such friends."13 His
point is that even though friendships are based on personal attraction that may "befall"
us (sometimes to the point of being surprised that we have become friendly with someone
who initially may have put us off), we ultimately have a choice about whether to advance
the relationship (or even to continue it), as opposed to, e.g., the relationship between
child and parent.
Entering into such a friendly relationship does require us to open ourselves to one
another and build bonds of trust, and such trust and openness are at variance with
relationships of authority. No matter how one may feel personally, the relationship
of superior to subordinate (if taken seriously) imposes bounds that impede the development
of true friendship. Moreover, the closest forms of friendship (e.g., that between
two lovers) lead to commitments that might appropriately entail a choice of friendship
over truth. So the quick resolution of the Aristotelian paradox is the realization
that the friendship that should stand at the heart of an academic community needs
to be of a managed sort, one that does not go to the full extreme of solidarity that
characterizes the very deepest friendships. This is true, in part, because in an academic
community each of us is in a real and an important sense under the authority of the
This authority is manifested in the periodic reviews that depend upon honest (truthful)
peer commentary. But in a deeper sense, to accept membership in an academic community
is to place oneself under the continuing authority of one's peers for the evaluation
of the products of one's intellectual or creative labor: A community of inquiry just
is a context in which one's ideas or art works are subject to evaluation on an ongoing
basis. Moreover, this evaluation does not depend on hierarchy or seniority. Every
president knows the pleasure of being challenged in public by the newest junior faculty
member or youngest student. And even the work of the most senior faculty colleague
is subject to similar scrutiny.14 To recognize such authority is to place limits on
Two failures of academic community and their remedies
This realization helps us understand two very different ways in which academic community
can break down—ways aligned with the ends of the Aristotelian spectrum of attitudes
that include friendship. First and most obviously, it can collapse under the weight
of enmity and distrust. When academic debates become marked by personal rancor and
ad hominem attack, we lose faith that rigorous critique is offered in the service
of truth and not in service of some baser motive (self-aggrandizement, revenge). The
colleague who has fallen so far into cynicism—a generalized and destructive mistrust
of the other members of the community and its activities—that he or she can no longer
participate precludes the possibility of discourse altogether. The most extreme manifestation
of such malaise is a refusal even to be present at departmental or faculty meetings,
thus precluding the possibility of persuading or being persuaded by colleagues.
But academic community is equally threatened by behavior at the other end of the
continuum: by excessive political solidarity (sometimes verging on discipleship) among
a group of colleagues who make themselves impervious to argument or critique from
those outside their group and so have come to prefer friendship to truth in a deep
and destructive sense. A less virulent form of the preference of friendship to truth
is more commonly found among students than faculty, in the confusion of the democratic
principle that (a) everyone has a right to his or her beliefs with the notion that
(b) anyone's belief is therefore as good as anyone else's. Such a position represents
an extreme form of tolerance - actually, a type of intellectual euthanasia—that facilitates
living together at the cost of undermining critical discourse. Most insidiously, excessive
solidarity (under the guise of collegiality) threatens academic integrity when colleagues
fail to do the hard work of rigorous and principled peer evaluation at times of reviews
for reappointment, tenure, or promotion.
Academic leaders need to remain vigilant in the face of both these alternatives,
challenging either when it rears its head. More positively, leaders need to work constantly
and consciously to create the underlying conditions of trust within our communities
that make genuine critical discourse possible. Our first responsibility is to model
a spirit of openness and responsiveness to the ideas of others in our own behavior.
It is important to avoid seeming defensive in the face of criticism. However, the
most powerful sign of openness is a willingness to admit that one was wrong or to
indicate publicly that one actually has changed one's mind on some important issue
as a result of engaging in the shared conversation. We also need to model a readiness
to take risks in the service of truth. In a lecture to the AAC&U a few years ago,
the historian Patricia Limerick talked about being willing to "step on landmines"
in the course of a difficult conversation—to be candid and name a problem that was
present but unacknowledged.15
Second, leaders need to be carefully attuned to messages implicit in the common discourse
that can be variously interpreted by persons at different stages in their engagement
with the community. For example, imagine that a college is dealing with a difficult
and controversial question, one that finds the administration on one side and a sizeable
number of faculty members on the other. In the context of a heated discussion, a faculty
member proposes that the meeting go into "executive session," excluding all non-voting
members—i.e., all administrators—so that the faculty can "speak freely and develop
its own position," absent external influences. Senior members of the body will interpret
this request (including its conversational implicatures) against the background of
their long experience with the institution and their particular knowledge of the person
making the motion. Perhaps she speaks from the best of intentions, or perhaps he is
known to be someone who lets no occasion pass to cast aspersions at the administration.
Perhaps the institution has suffered at the hands of an autocratic president who really
has stifled open discourse by inflicting harm on those who have disagreed with her;
or perhaps the opposite is true and the president has struggled mightily to work collaboratively
with the faculty. Either way, those who have been members of the community will understand
But consider how a relatively junior colleague, one new to the institution and still
trying to figure out its particular history and political dynamics, might read this
moment. Absent comments to the contrary by other senior colleagues, that person would
be justified in parsing the request as a reasonable attempt to advance the discussion
by removing a potential obstacle. The new person would also be justified in wondering
whether her administrators are truly unworthy of her trust, whether she might indeed
place herself at risk by speaking freely in their presence. Even if such inferences
are not warranted in this particular case, they will stand unless others—and most
effectively, senior faculty leaders—challenge them at that moment. The more general
lesson is that we need to be intentional in attending to the tenor of our shared discourse
and understand that many members of the community will (with some legitimacy) interpret
silence in the face of some particular claim as assent to it. Leaders often have the
opportunity to set the agenda and can make the discourse itself a topic of conversation
when necessary. Moving to this meta-level of inquiry can be one powerful way of getting
a discussion back on track.
The deepest obstacle to preferring truth may well be the intrinsic difficulty of
expressing disagreement. That is, despite the stereotype of irascibility that sometimes
is used by others (or by us!) to portray the academic world as if it were indeed populated
by so many Poppers, a more accurate view would acknowledge the force of our own basic
human desire to like and to be liked by our colleagues. That is to say, we are more
likely to subvert academic community through excessive solidarity than through cynicism.
If this observation is accurate, then as academic leaders we need to acknowledge that
our most essential virtue may well be the courage needed to place friendship at risk
in the service of truth. Before the final day of the battle of Gettysburg, General
Robert E. Lee had a conversation with his second in command, General James Longstreet.
As portrayed Michael Shaara's novel The Killer Angels Lee tells Longstreet that the
most difficult choice of a general is to risk the very thing he loves the most, his
army, by committing it to battle without reservation. And yet without a willingness
to risk that most beloved thing, the general forfeits the possibility of victory.16 As
guardians of academic community, we must be equally willing to risk that most precious
friendship that we feel for our colleagues and possibly strain the bonds of community
by remaining committed, without reservation, to the service of truth. In doing so,
we must trust in the better angels of our compatriots—that they too are committed
to this common purpose.
As a scholar, Sir Karl Popper ultimately will be judged by the value of his ideas,
not by his personality or his actions. Academic leaders, by contrast, must be judged
by their actions—ultimately by their success in nurturing the central values of those
academic communities of which they are members. Each of us certainly would like to
embrace the "large-spiritedness" Gopnik discovered in his (fallen) idol and encourage
the kind of colleagueship and camaraderie represented in the story of Linda Olsen
while preserving, at the same time, the capacity for genuine critical discourse. Even
so, when faced with the choice, we need to affirm critical discourse as the ascendant
value. To the extent thats action follows thought, I hope that these remarks provide
some measure of assistance in thinking and acting creatively in regards to this most
intriguing relationship between friendship and truth.
1This article was developed from a plenary address to the Conference on Leadership
in Liberal Education co-sponsored by the American Conference of Academic Deans (ACAD)
and Phi Beta Kappa at the College of Charleston, Charleston, SC on October 25, 2003. An abbreviated
version appears in Liberal Education, V. 90, No. 1 (March 2004). The present version is published on the ACAD web site
by arrangement with Liberal Education.
2In defining community in this way, I am placing a premium on its instantiation in
individual colleges and universities, as opposed to the extended international academic
community that itself comprises the various disciplinary communities. However, much
of what I say here could apply mutatis mutandis to these broader contexts as well.
3Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Breakfast of Champions (New York: Delacorte Press/Semour Lawrence, 1973) p. 209.
4See W. V. O. Quine, "Two Dogmas of Empiricism," reprinted in From a Logical Point of View, W. V. O. Quine (New York: Harper Torch Books, 1961) and Ludwig Wittgenstein, On Certainty, ed. G. E. M. Anscombe and G. H. von Wright, trans. Denis Paul and G. E. M. Anscombe
(New York: J. & J. Harper Editions, 1969).
5See H. P. Grice, "Logic and Conversation," in P. Cole and J. L. Morgan (eds.), Syntax and Semantics, V. 3 (New York: Academic Press, 1975), pp. 43-44.
6Janice Paskey, "What the Fire Taught Her," The Chronicle of Higher Education, July 26, 2002, p. A56. My account of these events is taken from this article.
7Joseph J. Ellis, Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation (New York: Random House, 2002), p. 17.
8Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Richard McKeon trans., in The Basic Works of Aristotle, R. McKeon ed. (New York:
Random House, 1941), p. 939 (1096b 11-16), emphasis mine.
9See David Edmonds and John Eidinow, Wittgenstein's Poker (New York: Ecco, 2001).
10Adam Gopnik, "The Porcupine: A Pilgrimage to Popper," The New Yorker, V. 78, No. 7 (April 1, 2002), pp. 88-93, p. 91.
11Gopnik, p. 92.
12To cite a classic case, if cowardice occupies one end of a spectrum with foolhardiness
the other, then courage falls somewhere in between. But similar actions may represent
courage in battle but foolhardiness on a city street.
13Laurence Thomas, "Friendship," Synthese 72 (1987), pp. 217-36.
14More than thirty years ago, as a young and very green instructor still working
on my doctoral dissertation, I authored a critical review of Popper's (co-authored)
book, The Self and Its Brain. That paper, along with others, was presented at a symposium attended by Sir Karl
himself, at which he took exception to criticism in ways quite consistent with the
picture presented above. Regardless of the merits (or lack thereof) of my contribution,
the inclusion of such a junior colleague in this gathering was certainly not anomalous
15It is possible to become more adept at performing this difficult function through
attention and practice. Those wishing to work on this skill might consult a book by
Susan Scott, Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life, One Conversation at a
Time (New York: Viking, 2002).
16Michael Shaara, The Killer Angels (New York: Ballantine Books, 1974), pp. 202-3.