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Scholar and elitism

  1. Mar 17, 2008 #1
    I will be frank: I am required to write an essay entitled "Is scholar an elitist?" for the Nanyang University scholarship. However, I am confused about the question given. I have done some research on elitism on web but still I don't understand the exact definition of it.
    I presume, that scholar is defined as a person who receives a scholarship in this context.

    In my opinion, this question sounds ambiguous and silly. Isn't it obvious that different individual will have different ideology? Are we supposed to argue that whether scholars are more inclined to elitism, or otherwise?
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 17, 2008 #2
    I think the question is asking if, at large, you think people who devote their lives to knowledge and learning through science, medicine, or arts, makes them an elitist. Generally I take "elitist" to mean someone who believes they're on a level above the people around them. They may have peers or colleagues they consider equal, but everyone else is considered beneath them.

    Basically it's asking if you think there's a correlation between arrogance and higher learning (in this case graduate level and such).
  4. Mar 17, 2008 #3


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    "Is scholar an elitist?" The question could be more specific, e.g. "Are scholars inherently elitist?"

    Scholarship is about learning and the capability to learn, which requires intelligence, motivation, and perhaps inspiration. One good trait of a scholar is the love or learning.

    Elitism is an attitude, usually one of superiority in regard to those one deems less capable, i.e. characterized by a feeling of superiority over others. One who is condescending to other would appear to be elitist. Snobbish is a synonym of elitist.

    Some scholars are elistist, and others are not. It depends on the person. In fact, one's capability and one's attitude to others of less capability are obviously a personal matter, but they are entirely two different characteristics.

    What does K'ung fu tzu say about a well-developed person?
  5. Mar 17, 2008 #4
    What did K'ung uf tzu say...courtesy, loyalty, morality, obedience? :)
  6. Mar 17, 2008 #5
    my friend argued that while scholar is not inherently an elitist, he is more incline towards elitism than the others. His argument was based on Machiavelli's assumption that all man tend to endorse a system that is beneficial to themselves. Since elitism favors the scholars, he argued that majority of them would endorse elitism.

    Is what he said reasonable?
  7. Mar 18, 2008 #6


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    It seems that another question is not asked here. Elitism seems to be taken at face value to be something "negative". However, look at the Wiki entry for elitism for instance:


    Elitism is not necessarily something bad. It is the opposite view of egalitarianism.

    Essentially, you have the choice:
    - elitism gives you the potential of the smartest and best choices by society, but the risk of a self-serving group of people
    - egalitarianism will give you only mediocre at best and stupid on average choices by society, but you have a build-in social control

    To give you an idea: if you are ill, and you need to take a medicine, are you going to ask a doctor (elitist) or are you going to organize a vote amongst your friends and family (egalitarianism) what medicine to take ?
    Last edited: Mar 18, 2008
  8. Mar 18, 2008 #7


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    elitism is pretty much the opposite of egalitarianism and is not always bad (and not always good). Wikipedia is a reference that is developed in an egalitarian manner. at least here in the U.S. (and nearly any other developed country), medicine is practiced in a highly elitist manner. if you're going into the operating room, who do you want cutting into you? someone who says or thinks he/she knows what he/she is doing? or someone who has demonstrated (to the existing medical establishment) that he/she knows what he/she is doing?

    now sometimes elitism excludes the wisdom offered by someone on the outside of the established professional community. that can be bad. sometimes elistists rest on their laurels, the credentials they, themselves, create and bestow/distribute that indicate, in their own judgement, who is competent (and, conversely, who is not). this might be the problem in scholarship. for an example in physics, check out the Wikipedia article on Freeman Dyson or even Albert Einstein (although, i think that Einstein got a PhD from somewhere, at least an honorary PhD, didn't he?). so ask yourself, should the scholarly physics community have included or excluded these persons from their circle? how, in a systemic manner, should the community of scholars include people in their circle? how about other similar professions such as medicine?

    this is not easy, and i am no disinterested observer. i have, at one time, been included in this community of scholars and have since been excluded simply because i lacked the "union card" that now even non-prestigious schools consider minimal (this was not always the case in some programs with extremely low supply/demand ratio, such as nursing or engineering). but, i have to admit, i would have trouble signing on the dotted line for surgery if the surgeon was not fully certified and credentialed. (but i think it's different for teaching in a post-high-school institution.)

    in politics, elitism is another issue. should the President of the United States be a person with a clear record of accomplishment (Bill Clinton was a Rhodes scholar) or are we better served by someone who is no more talented than the average Joe (the present Abomination in the White House)? even though it is not applicable, in my opinion, Barack Obama is now being attacked (hypocritically) by detractors saying that he has "no experience".

    maybe i did too much work for you. but this lays out what the issues regarding the virtue of elitism may be.
    Last edited: Mar 18, 2008
  9. Mar 17, 2009 #8
  10. Mar 17, 2009 #9


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    Scholarship and personality are really two separate aspects of a person.

    With respect to elitism, does one refer to the leadership of an elite, the selectivity of an elite (group), or conscientiousness of belonging to an elite group. Related to the 2nd and 3rd meanings is the term snob (one who tends to rebuff, avoid, or ignore those regarded as inferior b: one who has an offensive air of superiority in matters of knowledge or taste) or snobbery (snobbish conduct, character or behavior).

    Perhaps to a group of students, faculty members appear elitist.

    The alternative to being elitist is collegiality (in which one assumes a cooperative relationship of colleagues or peers). Sometimes collegiality can extend to others beyond one's colleagues or peers, to others not of the same level of expertise or experience. Some scholars take it upon themselves to mentor proteges or students (mentees).

    Of course, in past history, education and scholarship were restricted mainly to the wealthy and well-connected. Education was one means to elevate oneself in the social hierarchy, and perhaps that was conductive to the development of an elitist attitude on the part of the upper echelons of society.
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