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…

The Puzzle of Cicero’s Philosophy of Religion

by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse Cicero’s philosophical dialogues are notoriously difficult.  In some cases, as with the Academica and the Republic, their fragmentary state exacerbates the challenge of interpretation. In other cases, as with On Ends, the breadth of the discussion makes it difficult to locate the thread. In every case, Cicero…

How Does Belief Polarization Work?

by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse We have noted previously that there are two different phenomena called “polarization.” The first, political polarization, refers to the ideological distance between opposing political parties. When it’s rampant, political rivals share no common ground, and thus cannot find a basis for cooperation. Political polarization certainly poses a…

Epictetus and the Problem of Philosophical Progress

by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse Epictetus’ Enchiridion 52 is an exercise in metaphilosophy. It captures the double-vision students of Stoicism must have about their own progress. The core insight of E52 is that the tools of philosophical inquiry and progress toward insight can themselves become impediments to progress. E52 is the last…

Our Polarization Problem

by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse Popular political commentary from across the spectrum is replete with warnings social about “bubbles,” “silos,” and “echo chambers.” These are said to produce “closure,” “groupthink,” and an “alternate reality.” In turn, these forces result in the dysfunction of polarization, a condition where political officials and ordinary citizens…