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March 29, 2005


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were we ever?


I think Tocqueville thought we were.


Sorry for the previous short comment. If you are saying that democracy requires a foundation of rational discourse or some shared context within which to struggle with issues - then yes, our capacity for democracy has severely eroded.

You make an interesting point on how science is affected. Just as democracy has been excluded from politics, so critical inquiry is excluded from science. America will have its own Lysenko, just to prove a political point.



I think you have touched on one of the key issues of our day: how does an all pervasive skepticism allow for a common ethos, a way of being together in a community of shared assumptions and values? How do we participate in a shared public life if there aren't any shared standards of what even counts as a valid argument?

And I think it may even be worse than you suggest. It is not only the conservative fundamentalist that distrusts "liberal experts." The left is prone to the same sorts of suspicions. As I was reading your post, I was reminded of Foucault's demystification of experts in the fields of medicine, psychology and criminology. Though he takes an historical approach, I think he goes a long way toward contributing to the distrust of "the human sciences."

As a young person I was very attracted to Gadamer's philosophical hermeneutics. He was always confident that we postmoderns still shared a common normative consciousness. It was this belief that sustained his faith in the possibility of phronesis; human life is never so distorted as to preclude solidarity and mutual understanding.

But if democracy is not possible today, I wonder if political philosophy itself can be practiced. It would seem that both presuppose some shared sense of experience, a "Phronetic insight" into the ethical/political appearances as they show themselves today. If not, perhaps we can imitate theory, produce a copy of what political theory used to look like. I am not sure what a copy would be, but perhaps it is the kind of thinking you are doing here at I Cite?

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