Rhetoric, reason, and the problem of rule : Aristotle and J.S. Mill on speech and politics.
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Block, Stephen A.
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This dissertation examines the relation between reason, public speech, and rule in the thought of J.S. Mill and Aristotle. It argues that both Mill and Aristotle present alternatives to typical liberal theories of speech that distinguish private “moral” languages from non-moral public discourse based on artificially-constructed principles of “public reason.” Theories of “public reason” aim to disconnect reason from the human good in order to provide the individual with authority to pursue his own good freely while constructing rational political order. The result of such theories is a distortion of the purposes and meaning of human rationality. This dissertation argues that, in contrast to other modern liberal thinkers, Mill is inegalitarian in assuming a distinction between the wise “few” and the unwise “many.” His liberal theory takes its bearings from this outlook that affirms the possibility for the rational discovery of moral truth rather than the artificial rationality that characterizes other liberalisms. Mill’s argument for freedom of speech, which encourages public discourse about questions of morality, is a reflection of this distinction. Mill thus provides a richer and more satisfying account of human reason and its capacities that other liberals do. Mill denies that his inegalitarianism leads to a hierarchical and illiberal political order only because the life of the wisest does not entail the activity of ruling inasmuch as ruling is a burdensome task directed to the good of another rather than the ruler’s own good. In contrast to Mill, Aristotle affirms the intrinsic worth of political rule for the ruler and denies that political rule should be reduced to an instrument exercised in accordance with technical expertise. While ascribing such dignity to politics complicates any answer to the central questions that arise in political life – “who should rule?,” for example – it generates a perpetual need for speech and thought about the common good and justice that makes humans inseparably political and rational beings. Aristotle thus defends rhetoric as the language necessary to represent and communicate the ambiguous truths of politics and human action and as the highest manifestation of political rule.