The word is at the last line.What does 'public and illustrious' mean?

This definition excludes many individuals usually referred to as intellectuals -- the average scientist, for one.

I have excluded him because, while his accomplishments may contribute to the solution of moral problems, he has not been charged with the task of approaching any but the factual aspects of those problems.

Like other human beings, he encounters moral issues even in the everyday performance of his routine duties -- he is not supposed to cook his experiments, manufacture evidence, or doctor his reports.

But his primary task is not to think about the moral code which governs his activity, any more than a businessman is expected to dedicate his energies to an exploration of rules of conduct in business.

During most of his waking life he will take his code for granted, as the businessman takes his ethics.

The definition also excludes the majority of teachers, despite the fact that teaching has traditionally been the method whereby many intellectuals earn their living.

They may teach very well and more than earn their salaries, but most of them make little or no independent reflections on human problems which involve moral judgment.

This description even fits the majority of eminent scholars.

Being learned in some branch of human knowledge is one thing, living in "public and illustrious thoughts, ” as Emerson would say, is something else.

1 Answer 1


It refers to a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson from a speech titled "On the American Scholar"

... I have now spoken of the education of the scholar by nature, by books, and by action. It remains to say somewhat of his duties.

They are such as become man thinking. They may all be comprised in self-trust. The office of the scholar is to cheer, to raise, and to guide men by showing them facts amid appearances. He plies the slow, unhonored, and unpaid task of observation ...

Worse yet, he must accept—how often!—poverty and solitude. For the ease and pleasure of treading the old road, accepting the fashions, the education, the religion of society, he takes the cross of making his own, and, of course, the self-accusation, the faint heart, the frequent uncertainty and loss of time, which are the nettles and tangling vines in the way of the self-relying and self-directed; and the state of virtual hostility in which he seems to stand to society, and especially to educated society. For all this loss and scorn, what offset? He is to find consolation in exercising the highest functions of human nature. He is one who raises himself from private consideration and breathes and lives on public and illustrious thoughts. He is the world’s eye. He is the world’s heart. He is to resist the vulgar prosperity that retrogrades ever to barbarism by preserving and communicating heroic sentiments, noble biographies, melodious verse, and the conclusions of history...

These being his functions, it becomes him to feel all confidence in himself and to defer never to the popular cry.

Emerson believed that the scholar held a special place in society, above and apart from other men. The author of your passage refers to this quote, further implying that not all scholars live up to Emerson's ideal.

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