The Politics of Conversation

If, with Aristotle, we take the human as the political animal precisely because it is that animal possessing the gift of speech, then politics makes its entrance into our lives whenever we come to speak with one another, far before we consider politics as an activity of citizens in a state, or of states in an international order. In this course we will consider conversation as a specifically political phenomenon. We will address such questions as: What are the purposes of conversation, and how do we navigate these purposes? How do we excuse, justify, explain, forgive, or agree with one another, and what do we do when excuse, explanation, forgiveness, or agreement is no longer possible? These questions have become especially pertinent in a polarized America increasingly disenchanted with the possibility of conversations ‘across the aisle’. But the politics of conversation are relevant to the whole of our relations with other people: how we talk to our family, how we come to be friends, how we cease to be lovers. Readings include works by Plato, Jürgen Habermas, J. L. Austin, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Stanley Cavell. Recommended Course Background: One previous course in political theory or philosophy.