The bioethicist as public intellectual

American Journal of Bioethics 4 (1):17 – 23 (2004)
Public intellectuals have long played a role in American culture, filling the gap between the academic elite and the educated public. According to some commentators, the role of the public intellectual has undergone a steady decline for the past several decades, being replaced by the academic expert. The most notable cause of this decline has been both the growth of the academy in the twentieth century,which has served to concentrate intellectual activity within its confines, and the changing nature of the media, which has framed the way in which information is conveyed to the public. We argue that although bioethics has developed primarily within the academic tradition and utilized the role of expert when dealing with the public, bioethicists are well suited to don the mantle of the public intellectual. Indeed, because they address issues in medicine and science of great relevance for the general public, bioethicists have a duty to revitalize the tradition of public intellectuals as a necessary complement to the important, but narrower role of expert.
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