Should policy makers be intellectuals? This is what Prof. Gary Gutting asks in an interesting article he wrote for the International Herald Tribune. His point of departure is that in his Republic, the Greek philosopher Plato ‘put forward the idea of a state ruled by intellectuals who combined comprehensive theoretical knowledge with the practical capacity for applying it to concrete problems.’ Republic was written by Plato in the form of a Socratic dialogue around 380 BC, and here we are 24 centuries later still debating how knowledge can help policy making and development.
Prof Gutting admits that in reality no one has the theoretical expertise in more than few specialized subjects and that there is no evidence of a strong correlation between having such knowledge and being able to use it to resolve complex social and political problems. However, he continues, it is often said that our leaders need common sense. But common sense ideas that work in everyday life are not automatically suitable to solve complex problems of a society.A solution? Good politicians need not to be intellectuals, argues prof. Gutting, but they should have intellectuals lives that is, engage in a ’life of the mind’ not simply to pursue practical goals but for the sake of knowing and understanding. This will strengthen their capacity to talk to experts, it will help them to understand how experts think and what they might have to offer to resolve a given problem.