Naïve ReadingsReveilles Political and Philosophic

Naïve ReadingsReveilles Political and Philosophic

Ralph Lerner

Print publication date: 2016

ISBN: 9780226353296

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Abstract

We love our opinions and resist efforts by others to have us reconsider, let alone change, what we are pleased to treat as settled truths. Both philosophers and far-sighted political actors have long understood this about their intended audiences and have adjusted their speech accordingly. To the extent that they mean to convey unsettling thoughts, writers may resort to camouflage and concealment. Rather than shock their publics by direct confrontation, they fall back on various devices by which they would insinuate their message without raising alarm. This book is premised on the notion that this camouflage is best detected by paying attention to the obvious and by keeping our eyes wide open. Its essays are experiments testing whether an admittedly naïve reading can yield a good understanding of what some thinkers had in view when trying to stir their audiences to better, second thoughts. These thinkers are a diverse lot, to be sure—Francis Bacon, Benjamin Franklin, Edward Gibbon, Judah Halevi, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Moses Maimonides, and Alexis de Tocqueville—but resemble one another in taking up the challenge of artfully challenging others.