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Q U I C K   L I N K S

To learn more about the engraver of the 17th-century head-piece pictured to the left, see the IN BRIEF biography for Wenceslaus Hollar.

Learn more about the American school of Pragmatism at Wikipedia.’s detailed study of California’s flawed “Good Neighbor Fence Act of 2013” (California Assembly Bill 1404) includes my clarion call for a new kind of democratic governance rooted in a revival of “passionate public deliberation and persuasion” (reasoned argument).
  I believe that a classical agonistic politics of persuasion — not the data-driven demagoguery which controls policy-making today — best serves the type of pluralist democratic society to which many of us aspire.

Quoting David Hume — “Truth springs from argument among friends.” — Jay Heinrichs (aka Figaro), author of Thank You for Arguing: What Aristotle, Lincoln and Homer Simpson Can Teach Us about the Art of Persuasion (2007), also writes about the demise of passionate public deliberation in the U.S.: specifically, “Why Americans Can’t Argue” about public affairs, and why a democracy needs “educated citizens who accept the uses of debate, who want to be persuaded, and who have the sophistication to avoid being manipulated.” (n. pag.)
  To speed our education along, Heinrichs practices witty rhetorical analysis at his Figures of Speech Served Fresh blog.
  And his essay critiquing the neglect of rhetorical education, “Why Harvard Destroyed Rhetoric” (2005), offers an interesting explanation for the sorry state of much contemporary political rhetoric, which privileges the epideictic (the discourse of praise/blame) over the deliberative (the discourse of truth & justice).

Katha Pollitt is skeptical that the art of persuasion can fundamentally change hearts & minds in her column, “A Convert’s Zeal? Why changing the minds of conservative white women is a losing game” (The Nation, 17/24 December 2018, vol. 307, no. 15, pp. 6 and 8).
  Pollitt argues here that our experiences influence us more than does the deliberative rhetoric of political antagonists: “Mostly, what changes people’s minds about important convictions is experience: something new and unusual that shakes their settled views. One of the evangelical Beto fans profiled by the Times was moved by her time meeting with a family separated at the border; it could just as easily have been new friends, a religious experience, falling in love, a charismatic teacher, or being surrounded by people with different beliefs.” (Katha Pollitt, 6)
  This comports with some scientists’ rethinking of nurture, and how it — along with nature — shapes us. E.g., in Blueprint: How DNA Makes Us Who We Are (2018), the behavioral geneticist Robert Plomin argues that “What makes us different environmentally are random experiences, not systematic forces like families.”’s LIBRARY page includes a brief commentary on “the old model of the respublica literaria (Republic of Letters), wherein diverse voices discussed a range of interesting issues ... with all ‘the heat and abstracted passion of intellectual inquiry.’”

Throughout history, there have been instances when the rough-and-tumble of scientific debate turns ugly — and decidedly personal.
  For instance, Robert Hooke was involved in multiple acrimonious disputes over priority (“most notably ... with Newton over the discovery of the principles of gravity and orbital motion,” and with Oldenburg plus Huygens “over the invention of the spring-regulated watch and some other devices”). (Patri J. Pugliese, n. pag.)
  But Hooke’s exchange of animadversions with Hevelius “over the accuracy of plain versus telescopic sights, in the midst of which Hooke remains free in his praise of Hevelius’s accomplishments” (Pugliese, n. pag.) was a model for peer review — “disputes and debates over the facts and the analysis of the facts” conducted with all “the heat and abstracted passion of intellectual inquiry.”
  Today, this academic ideal is under siege as experts seek to bypass such candid confrontations with one another, and instead resolve their differences by way of litigation in the courts. See Michael Hiltzik’s column, “Professor Didn’t Debate his Critics — He Sued Them” (Los Angeles Times, 11/26/2017, pp. C1 and C6). Also, “Professor Sues Critics of Article on Renewables,” by Rob Nikolewski (San Diego Union-Tribune, 11/3/2017, pp. C1 and C4), who points out that much was at stake here, as Stanford professor Mark Jacobson’s “peer-reviewed scientific article ... has very large implications for our future energy system in California and the United States.” (Rob Nikolewski, C4)
  Jacobson’s lawsuit against the National Academy of Sciences and the lead author of a critical paper was later dropped. SeeA Stanford Professor Drops his Ridiculous Defamation Lawsuit against his Scientific Critics,” by Michael Hiltzik (posted to the website for the Los Angeles Times on 2/23/2018); and “Lawsuit Over Energy Analysis Withdrawn: Professor filed $10M suit against other researchers who disputed his findings,” by Rob Nikolewski (San Diego Union-Tribune, 2/24/2018, pp. C1 and C3).
  But the strategic threat of legal action has had a chilling effect on scientific debate and peer review.
  Learn more about the controversy over Jacobson’s energy research and the $10-million lawsuit he filed in response to contentious peer review at Wikipedia.


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First Published:  August 2012
Revised (substantive):  21 February 2019

Opening quotation markA great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.Closing quotation mark

 WILLIAM JAMES (1842–1910)
physician, psychologist & philosopher associated with the American school of Pragmatism

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^ 17th-century head-piece, showing six boys with farm tools, engraved by Wenceslaus Hollar (1607–1677).

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