Phronesis is an ongoing series of discussions with Yale faculty and visiting speakers on timely and timeless questions.


Fall 2019 Speakers

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Does Persuasion Occur? Austin, Aristotle, and Cicero

David Bromwich | 12pm, September 13, 2019

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 produced 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 their intended result.

David Bromwich is Sterling Professor of English at Yale University.

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Reading the Federalist Papers in a Time of Discord

Derek Webb ‘98 | 12pm, September 20

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.

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“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.

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Hildegard of Bingen, Medieval Thought, and Modern Medicine

Benjamin Doolittle | 12pm, Oct 4

We shall discuss the features of Hildegard's work, Causa et Cura, and her particular approach to healing that acknowledges the prevailing medical understanding of the medieval age with Christian doctrine and folk medicine. We shall also discuss the implications of her original ideas upon modern medicine.

Benjamin Dootlittle is Associate Professor of Medicine and Pediatrics at Yale Medical School and Associate Professor of Religion and Health at Yale Divinity School.

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Cicero on Trial

Norma Thompson | 12pm, October 11

At the origins of the Western tradition we find the simultaneous rise of the humanities and the rise of the idea of the trial. Cicero’s Murder Trials can be seen as an exemplary model of how to implement Aristotle’s Rhetoric. Cicero does what Aristotle theorizes, and an enduring case can be made for humanistic education through the unfolding of the murder trial. Perhaps the discontents of our time are overplayed.

Norma Thompson is Associate Director of the Whitney Humanities Center and Senior Lecturer in the Humanities at Yale University

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Is Consciousness a Curse? Rethinking the Human Story after the Fall

Samuel Loncar | 12pm, October 25

What if we are conscious only because we are evil? There is substantial if surprising support for this view in Eastern and Western thought. This talk explores a new project to assess the nature and value of human consciousness in philosophy and religion.

Samuel Loncar is the editor of the Marginalia Review of Books.

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The Three Languages of Politics: How to Talk Across Our Political Divides

Arnold Kling | 12pm, November 1

The progressive, conservative, and libertarian tendencies within contemporary politics are best understood as the product not only of different political values, but of different conceptual frameworks for thinking about politics. Mastering each of these “languages” is essential if we are to understand the sources of our political disagreements.

Arnold Kling is Senior Affiliated Scholar at the Mercatus Center, George Mason University.

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Christianity and the Origins of Toleration

Jed Atkins | 12pm, November 15

Long seen as an essential virtue for liberal democracies, tolerance has begun to fall out of favor in our current deeply polarized political climate. Doesn’t tolerating what we believe to be unjust allow injustice to continue and even make us complicit in the resulting harm? Paying special attention to this objection, I revisit the early history of toleration. The idea of toleration and the virtue of tolerance arose first, not from of the modern liberal enlightenment, but out of the theological reflections of Christians within the first five centuries CE: Tertullian, Cyprian, Lactantius, and Augustine. These thinkers made valuable contributions that deserve to be considered in our contemporary climate.

Jed Atkins is E. Blake Byrne Associate Professor of Classics at Duke University.

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“God, Country, Notre Dame”: Theodore Hesburgh, Religion, and American Higher Education

Wilson Miscamble, CSC, University of Notre Dame | 12pm, November 22

[Description forthcoming]

Wilson Miscamble, CSC is Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame.