, Volume 56, Issue 6, pp 559–568 | Cite as

Escaping the Social Pull: Nonconformists and Self-Censorship

  • James R. OttesonEmail author
Symposium: Self-Censorship and Life in the Liberal Academy


Chamlee-Wright (2019) argues that Adam Smith’s moral psychology can help us understand the phenomenon of self-cenorship in today’s academy. But the lynchpin of Smith’s psychology, the desire for mutual sympathy of sentiments, can serve at least two purposes: pulling us into beneficial community with others, but also creating–and solidifying–social division. These two purposes can conflict and lead to potential problems: they can make it more difficult to nurture creativity, and they can lead to stigmatizing, ostracizing, and otherizing those outside the community. These problems can lead to stifling of, and underinvestment in, the innovative thinking necessary for a robust “life of the mind.” I diagnose the problem, explain the dynamics involved, and suggest a potential way out of the impasse.


Censorship Self-censorship Adam Smith Desire for mutual sympathy of sentiments Overton window Freedom of expression Innovation 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Wake Forest UniversityWinston-SalemUSA

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