A Cynic’s take on the games

by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse 1. Diogenes met Kikermos, the Olympic pankration champion, on the road. Kikermos was followed by a cheering crowd.  Diogenes asked Kikermos why these people were so enamored with him. “I beat everyone at the pankration,” Kikermos replied. “Oh! So you beat everyone at the pankration, even Zeus?”…

Clearing the Decks

by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse Here’s a reasonable rule for critical discussion: all views for consideration should receive the same degree of scrutiny.  Subjecting one account to a low level of critical evaluation, but another to a higher level, is not only unfair, but it clearly risks incorrect outcomes. In retrospect, it…

Institutionalizing Public Philosophy

by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse Enthusiasm for public philosophy, and public-facing scholarship more generally, is pervasive. As active contributors to the “public philosophy” genre, we hold that it’s valuable for academics to reach out to broader audiences. It’s good to think deeply about the issues central to living a meaningful life, and…

Diogenes and a Puzzle of Social Critique

by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse Philosophical Cynicism is widely hailed as a critical voice from the margins. There are good grounds for this assessment. The Cynic confronts dominant culture and exposes its illusions. Diogenes famously walked the streets with a lit lantern, looking for an anthropos (a true human), thereby implying that…

Deep Disagreement and the QAnon Conspiracy Theory

by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse Deep disagreements are disagreements where two sides agree on so little that there are no shared resources for reasoned resolution. In some cases, argument itself is impossible. The fewer shared facts or means for identifying them, the deeper the disagreement. Some hold that many disagreements are deep…

On Missing Academic Conferences

by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse Before the COVID pandemic, travel to academic conferences and colloquia was a large part of the job of being a professor at a research-focused university. The last few months have given us the opportunity to reflect on the hurly burly of academic travel. We’ve keenly missed many…

Democracy’s Hard Truths

by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse Democracy is the ideal of a self-governing society of equals. An immediate upshot of political equality is political disagreement. Among equals, no one get simply to dictate what others must believe about politics. As equal citizens, each gets to exercise their own political judgment, for better or…

Trump Won the Debate Big

by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse The first of the US Presidential debates between incumbent Donald Trump and challenger Joe Biden is complete, and from the looks of the political landscape after Trump’s positive COVID test, it may be the only debate for this election cycle. Most who watched the debate called it…

On Straw Men and Their Audiences

by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse The straw man fallacy admits of a wide variety of forms, ranging from what we’ve called the weak man, to the burning man, and even to the iron man. What makes all these different forms instances of the same general kind is the dialectical core of the…

The Democratic Virtues of Skepticism

by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse Skepticism is the view that knowledge is unattainable. It comes in varying strengths. In the strongest version, it is a thesis about all knowledge, the global denial that anyone has ever known anything. More commonly, though, skepticism is constrained. It is the denial of the possibility of…

On War and Sports Metaphors for Argument

by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse The vocabularies of sports and war feel natural for describing arguments and their performances. From battle, we describe arguments as swords, as they may have a thrust, may cut both ways, and may be parried. A case, further, can be a full-frontal assault, and we may rush…

Democracy Can’t be Fixed

by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse Democracy is a precious social good. Not only is it necessary for legitimate government, in its absence other crucial social goods – liberty, autonomy, individuality, community, and the like – tend to spoil. It is often inferred from this that a perfectly realized democracy would be utopia,…

Paradoxes of Stoic Prescriptions

by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse Stoicism has been enjoying a renaissance lately. Popular books with Stoic advice are widespread, it’s being marketed as a life-hack, and now with the global coronavirus pandemic, Stoicism is a regular touchstone in prescriptions for maintaining sanity in troubled times. It’s not difficult to see why Stoicism…

Was Socrates Anti-Democratic?

by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse When people talk about Socrates, they typically refer to the leading character in Plato’s dialogues. This is because little is known about the historical Socrates beyond the fact that he wandered barefoot around Athens asking questions, an activity that got him executed for religious invention and corrupting…

Politicizing Tragedy

by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse Following the gun violence of the last weeks in the US, charges of “politicizing” the tragedies has become a regular staple of political discussion. Indeed, on “Meet the Press” this past Sunday, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott issued a warning against politicizing tragedies: “The first thing I’d…

The Debasement Puzzle

by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse Everybody knows what real-world political disagreement is like: shouting, name-calling, dissembling, browbeating, mobbing, and worse. As it is practiced, deliberation in actual democracy has little to do with collective reasoning about the common good; it’s instead a constrained, but nevertheless ruthless, struggle for power. Notice, however, that…