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September 13

Does Persuasion Occur? Reflections on Austin, Aristotle, and Cicero

David Bromwich | 12pm

The combination of the idea that speakers control the effects of persuasive rhetoric with the modern idea of literary autonomy (“poetry makes nothing happen”) has resulted in a misleading account of the relationship between words and human action. Words can and do make things happen, but they cannot be counted on to produce the result they intend.

David Bromwich is Sterling Professor of English at Yale University.

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September 20

Reading the Federalist Papers in a Time of Discord

Derek Webb ‘98 | 12pm

When Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay attempted to defend the new U.S. Constitution in the Federalist Papers, they did so against a backdrop of deep disagreement between rivalrous emerging parties, mutual suspicion, intimidation, name-calling, and even political violence. In addition to offering a blueprint for the new federal system, the Federalist Papers also provide a sustained meditation on the deliberative process itself, both its occasional prospects and its enduringly fragile nature. This talk explores that meditation, particularly what the authors of the Federalist Papers called the "lesson in moderation" that all participants in a public debate should learn, and how best to make what they called "an argument open to all."

Derek A. Webb is an Associate at Sidley Austin LLP in the Supreme Court and Appellate and Commercial Litigation and Disputes practice groups.


“Standing on the Very Edge of the Infinite”: Aristotle, Kant and Václav Havel

Ian Marcus Corbin G ‘08 | 12pm, September 27

While imprisoned in Heřmanice, the Czech playwright, dissident, and future statesman Václav Havel had a profound experience of natural beauty that left him feeling like he was standing at the "very edge of the infinite." Havel's depiction of this experience provides the basis of an illuminating account of the relationship between natural beauty and the sublime.

Ian Marcus Corbin is Project Lead for The Human Network Initiative at Harvard Medical School.



Beauty and the Arts: Tolstoy’s What is Art?

A reading group focused on fundamental questions and themes in the philosophy of art and aesthetics. Past readings include Etienne Gilson’s Forms and Substances in the Arts and Roger Scruton’s Beauty. In fall 2019 the group will discuss What is Art?, Leo Tolstoy’s bold assault on the essential relationship between notions of beauty and the arts. Open to undergraduate and graduate students.



The Theology of Liberalism

In The Hebrew Republic (2011) and The Theology of Liberalism (2019) Eric Nelson argues that “the tradition of liberal political philosophy founded by John Rawls is, however unwittingly, the product of ancient theological debates about justice and evil.” This semester the political theology reading group will consider Nelson’s argument, starting with John Rawls less well-known writings on religion before turning to Nelson’s own work.