The Scholar's Dilemma

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Publication Date


Publication Information

Chad Oldfather, The Scholar's Dilemma, 101 Marq. L. Rev. 957 (2018)

Source Publication

101 Marquette Law Review 957 (2018)


This essay pursues questions relating to scholarly motivation. What motivates the production of scholarship, and what ought to motivate it? Is it appropriate for a scholar to seek a reputation for its own sake, or for the associated invitations, recognitions, and lateral offers a reputation might produce? Or should the scholar be more like the (stereotypical) artist, seeking to pursue her conception of truth regardless of whether the world rewards her vision? This essay begins with work considering related questions in the world of art, then turns to an examination of scholarly motivation and its relationship to academic freedom and academic responsibility. On most accounts, individual scholars enjoy academic freedom as a means of furthering the social goal of knowledge production. That freedom, like most freedoms, is qualified. It is a freedom not to do as one wishes, but to pursue truth, and to do so in a scholarly manner, using scholarly methods. It thus entails certain responsibilities, including to act free from financial and, under most accounts, overtly political motivations. This essay pushes these questions further, considering as well the more prosaic forces associated with efforts to build a reputation as a scholar and gain prominence in the world, and how those forces might sway a scholar from the sincere pursuit of truth. It concludes that, although scholars (and especially legal scholars) cannot divorce themselves from the world, their aim should be to bend their audiences to their view of the truth, rather than to shape their output to the perceived truths of their audiences. Notably, such a conception of the scholar’s role does not entail that the scholar engage solely in esoterica or abstraction, but rather also embraces pedagogically oriented work and, in the case of legal academia, doctrinal scholarship.