I’m not done reading Rights of Man yet but here’s what I have so far.

I’m appreciating all the one-liners (page references are according to the Adelaide ebook).

“What Athens was in miniature America will be in magnitude.” (140)

“Reason obeys itself; and Ignorance submits to whatever is dictated to it.” (99)

“…as there is but one species of man, there can be but one element of human power; and that element is man himself.” (101)

Okay, so the last one isn’t exactly one line, but still. I know that give the subject matter, one-liners are basically inevitable, but seeing how concisely Thomas Paine can state his ideas is refreshing.

There are, of course, callbacks to earlier books.

Rousseau (and maybe some Hobbes?): “We have now, in a few words, traced man from a natural individual to a member of society, and shown, or endeavoured to show, the quality of the natural rights retained, and of those which are exchanged for civil rights.” (38)

Plato: “If there existed a man so transcendently wise above all others, that his wisdom was necessary to instruct a nation, some reason might be offered for monarchy…” (86)

Césaire/Walcott: “Titles are but nicknames, and every nickname is a title. The thing is perfectly harmless in itself, but it marks a sort of foppery in the human character…” (47)

I’m in Part the Second right now, and a lot of it is Paine comparing/contrasting European governments with the American. So much of what he says in lauding is completely different from how the US government is so often criticized. It’s interesting.

One more thing: at the very, very beginning, Paine seems pretty polite towards Mr. Burke, but everything else Paine’s said about him after that is just complaint after complaint. I don’t get it. Am I missing something?

Short blog post, I guess. Thanks for reading, everyone.

“Gorgias”, apparently

I decided to not delete that first automatic blog post (“Hello, world!”) because in a few years I’ll probably look back on it and remember not really understanding exactly what I was supposed to do with this.

In our last seminar, our professor commented that we preferred syncretic (okay, I just googled that to make sure I spelled it correctly, and I didn’t at first) questions: as she explained it, questions that could be answered with a yes/no. That reminds me of two different memories: the first one being one of my teachers from high school, who would ask us if we had any questions and then pause. He would hold the pause for a while and one time he explained to us (as far as I can remember) that the silence was designed to give us time to formulate our questions and then get over the awkwardness of raising our hands to ask them. The second memory it reminded me of is that one time I was with some friends at a science exhibit and one part had us answer questions on a screen by pressing buttons. A friend of mine laughed when she noticed that I was slapping the buttons and I thought it was kind of funny too, and the best explanation I could come up with was that there are some topics I have very strong opinions on, and that I’m completely comfortable with having those strong opinions. For me, at least, I think the preference for close-ended questions is real. Just telling somebody what you think, without having to explain, without having to let them pick your brain a little, is easy and not as personal. Lately I’ve been wondering if having really strong opinions on something could just mean that I don’t want to consider other perspectives. Is the best opinion one that you’re willing to change? (I’ve thought about this and I’ve concluded there’s some kind of semantic tangle in that question, but I don’t know how to fix it.)

I do think that although yes/no questions are easy to answer, they’re really just good for warming up. If all you can get out of somebody is yes or no, it probably means that they don’t really want to talk to you or that you aren’t asking the right questions.  Sometimes I’m watching an interview and the interviewer asks a question that does more to show what they already think and less to show what the interviewee thinks (and isn’t that really the point of the interview?). The fact that I can’t go through the computer screen and say, “Objection – leading question” saddens me a little.

In the case of the seminar, we were lucky, and the yes/no questions were just a warmup. I remember checking the time on my computer, realizing we were halfway through, and thinking, “This is so great”, despite having trouble in the first bit even getting some thoughts together before somebody made a remark.

Also, thoughts on Gorgias:

Socrates talks so much that I used three different colours of tabs for him and one colour for everyone else. Trying to understand exactly what the other characters think can be a little difficult if a lot of what they express is a yes or a no to Socrates’ paragraphs. (more syncretic questions!) Being able to quote them is far better. The only note I have for Callicles, for example, is that he disagrees with Socrates, which isn’t exactly helpful. And Callicles and Socrates get to converse at length, unlike, for example, Gorgias, who has lines at the beginning but not much otherwise.

More generally, though, “Gorgias”‘ discusses of the exact definition and purpose of oratory extensively, which gets very Abed. Socrates gets the last word but ultimately we have to decide for ourselves and I’m still not sure about what oratory is (but if I hadn’t read “Gorgias”, I don’t think I would have thought about it).

That’s all I have for now. Hopefully I’ll write more soon. Good night, everyone. Thanks for reading.