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Posts tagged ‘Leo Strauss’

Wabash Chapel Talk: Nasty Snake-Filled Heads and the Workings of Ideology

(A group of student leaders on campus at Wabash organize a weekly talk by a member of the Wabash community.  This is a transcript of the talk I gave this morning.)

As a philosopher, one thing I like to think about is how our ideas about the world affect the way we live in the world.  Today I want to talk about how our ways of thinking about how things are variously affect the ability of different people from different groups to thrive. I want to talk specifically about how we use the concept of “natural” to describe the ways we experience the world.  We tend to describe things as natural, as “just being that way,” as the way things just happen to be with no input or interference from human beings, when we are unaware of the history of how they came to be that way.  That move whereby what was formed for political and social reasons appears as natural is what we call ideology.

As a philosopher, I want to own some responsibility for this, since, as Nietzsche says, “Lack of a historical sense is the original error of all philosophers.”

To correct this error, I want to first back up a little bit and think historically about how the turn to nature has been used as a justification for ways of organizing the world.  Leo Strauss explains the historical turn to a concept of nature as a turn to philosophizing.  As he puts it, as long as everyone seems to do what you do, you do not prompt the question, is that right?  It’s right because it seems like the only way.  It is right because it has always been done that way.  It is right because it is what everyone you know does.  But when you leave your people and you encounter other people who do things differently, you begin to ask whether what your people do is right.  Like when you are a kid like I was in a big family where we always sat down together for dinner every night and you think every family sits down for dinner every night until you go to your friends’ house and they have dinner in front of the television and you go home and ask why you have to eat dinner together and your mother tells you it’s because you don’t have a television.  Not having a television also seemed right because it was what my family did.  Like taking vacations in the mountains instead of at the beach. Read more

On Thomas Pangle’s New Book: Reading as Eristic

I read Thomas Pangle’s new book, Aristotle’s Teaching in the Politics (University of Chicago Press, 2013), with both great interest and suspicion.  With great interest because with Pangle, I think the Politics needs to be read creatively and imaginatively–an approach which many people seem willing to use in reading Plato but much more reticent to employ in reading Aristotle.  With suspicion because I realized early on in the monograph that Pangle was a Straussian, someone who thinks there are two levels of writing and reading at work–one wherein Aristotle speaks to the common reader and one wherein Aristotle writes for what Pangle calls “the morally serious reader.”  This kind of bifurcation of the world of thinkers and readers worries me for philosophical and political readings.  I began writing this post with the effort to criticize that reading strategy, and I finished realizing that Pangle’s reading of Aristotle was highly provocative, but it didn’t need the Straussian reading approach to get there.  Resorting to that approach explained some difficulties, but also testified to Aristotle’s explicit effort to take into account many varied and competing positions on the meaning of the political and the role of the philosophical. Read more