Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Lawrence Summers as Socrates

I found an interesting passage in today’s NYT article on Lawrence Summers:

He takes a very Socratic approach," Mr. Gergen said, referring to Dr. Summers’s customary method of intellectually engaging others through probing, even combative, questioning and challenging.

It was this method, perhaps, that was on display at a conference last month when Dr. Summers suggested that "intrinsic aptitude" might be one explanation for women’s relative lack of success in math and science careers. Many women scientists and other academics at Harvard and around the country were furious.

Mr. Gergen said: "Socrates was ultimately put to death. People couldn’t deal with the hard questions all the time. History tells us that this approach can be jolting."

The execution of Socrates is often taken to point to the limits of enlightenment, limits that the modern university is supposed to have overcome as it served as a home for free inquiry and radical questioning. The only things you can’t question in the modern university are, it seems, the secular pieties of the faculty.

For further reflections prompted by this article, go

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