Friday, December 21, 2007

Review of Taming Democracy

Harvey Yunis' Taming Democracy: Models of Political Rhetoric in Classical Athens is a thorough discussion of political rhetoric in Ancient Athens.

Political deliberation was an important feature of democratic Athens, and the methods and goals of that deliberation was obviously of great import. Different rhetors had different approaches to how and why one persuades an audience do adopt a particular suggestion.

Yunis addresses Thucydides' (and Pericles'), rhetoric implicit in the famous funeral oration, Plato's Gorgias, Phaedrus, and Laws, which displays the evolution of his thought on Rhetoric, and Demosthenes more practical approach to mass persuasion.

Thucydides, Plato, and Demostheses played radically different roles in classical Athens and their approaches to mass rhetoric, and also thereby, mass education are readily apparent. Yunis does a good job spelling it all out.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

who would've thunk it?

This is one of the more interesting headlines I've seen in a while.

Friday, December 14, 2007


On Wednesday night, right near the Manhattan Bridge, I asked "D" if she would marry me, and she said "of course". That makes us engaged.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Some philosophy

It was good to see a piece as sophisticated and clear as Keith Burgess-Jackson's recent piece on torture in the daily press. The world needs more of that. What Burgess-Jackson did for "torture", someone ought to do for "cult" too. While I am not crazy about Romney, or any of the political candidates, for that matter, Romney is plagued with the idea that he belongs to a cult, particularly Mormonism. Perhaps Burgess-Jackson himself would sort this out (he appears to be a fan). Mormonism has had that reputation for a while. Yesterday Romeny had to give a dull speech that seemed to me was designed to placate the right, rather than dispel any myths about his religion.

Discussing whether Mormonism is a cult is akin to discussing whether waterboarding is torture. It depends what you mean by "cult" and it depends on Mormon practices, and all of that is independent of whether or not there is something morally, spiritually, legally, or socially problematic about cults in the first place. A good philosopher would do well to sort this out for the right-wing public.

Look, I recently had a conversation with a (Catholic) friend, M, who was musing why anyone would believe in a religion that someone just made up. I remarked that his sentiment was exactly what my people were thinking when Christianity started.

I am not sure it changed his mind much. And now that I think about it, the inability to change one's mind about religious matters does seem to be the hallmark of cultish behavior. But I got to say, if he ever ran, he'd probably have my vote for president.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Real philosophy in the news

Keith Burgess-Jackson's piece in today's Wall Street Journal is quite refreshing. It is rare that one sees a competent piece of philosophical analysis in a daily newspaper. The article on torture actually gives no view on what torture is, but expresses the frustration that a lot of thinking people feel when confronted with questions like "is waterboarding torture". The answer, and he expresses it well, is a matter of one's definition of torture. Now, once we have that, we still want to know whether all torture is bad, and if it is always bad, and why. The question is also completely divorced from the legal question of whether this particular form of treatment is legal, and it is further divorced from the question of whether it ought to be legal.

It is nice to see that there is a market for real philosophical analysis out there, and that someone is taking the time to disseminate it.