The Scholar's Dilemma

25 Pages Posted: 23 Jan 2018 Last revised: 24 Jul 2018

Date Written: January 15, 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.

Keywords: scholarly ethics, scholarly motivation, artists's dilemma, reputation, academic freedom, academic responsibility

JEL Classification: K00, K1, K10, K19

Suggested Citation

Oldfather, Chad M., The Scholar's Dilemma (January 15, 2018). Marquette Law Review, Vol. 101, No. 4; Marquette Law School Legal Studies Paper No. 18-01. Available at SSRN:

Chad M. Oldfather (Contact Author)

Marquette University - Law School ( email )

Eckstein Hall
P.O. Box 1881
Milwaukee, WI 53201
United States
414.288.8031 (Phone)

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