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Table of contents :
Title......Page 2
Introduction......Page 6
Contents......Page 11
About the Author......Page 14
The Many Faces of Democracy......Page 15
Deliberation and Representation......Page 19
What Is the Thing We Call Deliberative Democracy?......Page 23
The Principle of Justificatory Reciprocity and the Principle of Binding Reciprocity......Page 28
Deliberators Deliberate, and Representatives Represent......Page 32
Not All Deliberations Lead to a (Good) Consensus, and a (Good) Consensus Does Not Necessarily Result from Deliberation......Page 33
Why Deliberation Does Not Need Parties......Page 34
Deliberating Is Legitimating......Page 39
A Critic of Critics of Deliberation and the Sin of Parrhesia......Page 42
Aristotle and Deliberation......Page 45
Delibero, Deliberas, Deliberat, Deliberamus, Deliberates, Deliberant......Page 51
References......Page 57
Amid Historical Facts, Historical Interpretations and Philosophical Critiques......Page 59
A (Short) History of Athenian Democracy......Page 61
About Isegoria......Page 67
Dokimasia, Ostracism, Petalism, and Warning Out......Page 70
… The “Antidemocrats” Came......Page 72
Pseudo-Xenophon, The Old Oligarch: Against the Government of the Many......Page 75
Thucydides: Against the Lack of Concern with Public Good......Page 76
Plato: Against the Immoral and the Uneducated......Page 82
On Athenian Democracy and Contemporary Democracies......Page 90
About the Elite......Page 94
Things to Reflect Upon......Page 98
References......Page 100
Where Have All the Good Old Theologians Gone?......Page 102
Medieval Man Did It Better......Page 104
Translatio Studii e Translatio Stultitiae......Page 106
Logic as the Art of Correct Reasoning......Page 109
Quaestio and Disputatio......Page 111
Utrum a Human Embryonic Stem Cell Is a Person......Page 112
Still on Disputes......Page 120
The Semantic Journey of the Term ‘Rhetoric’......Page 121
The Canon of Rhetoric......Page 123
Inventio......Page 124
Dispositio......Page 127
Things to Reflect Upon......Page 131
References......Page 132
Help! Discussion Is Not Always the Easy Option It Might at First Appear......Page 135
Symmachus or Ambrose?......Page 138
Cuius Regio, Eius Religio......Page 144
Let Us Follow Locke and Be Intolerant of the Intolerant!......Page 149
Between Passive Disobedience and Active Tolerance......Page 153
References......Page 157
Parrhesiasts of the World, Unite!......Page 159
“A Conclusive ‘Argument’ Never Considered before”......Page 163
Long Life to Cybrids......Page 167
“Gather the Experts. Close the Door. Design a Policy. Roll It Out. Reject Criticism”......Page 170
Cybrids Forever......Page 173
Perspective Theories against Method Theories......Page 176
On Good Manners and the Deliberative Canon......Page 181
An Example of How the Canon Is Implemented......Page 183
Has the Deliberative Canon Ever Been Implemented?......Page 186
Speaking of Expertise......Page 187
References......Page 189
To Conclude......Page 191
Index......Page 192
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Studies in Applied Philosophy, Epistemology and Rational Ethics


Editor-in-Chief Prof. Dr. Lorenzo Magnani Department of Arts and Humanities Philosophy Section University of Pavia Piazza Botta 6 27100 Pavia Italy E-mail: [email protected] Editorial Board Prof. Atocha Aliseda Instituto de Investigaciones Filosoficas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacan, 04510, Mexico, D.F. E-mail: Prof. Giuseppe Longo Laboratoire et Departement d’Informatique, CREA, CNRS and Ecole Polytechnique, LIENS, 45, Rue D’Ulm, 75005 Paris, France E-mail: [email protected] Prof. Chris Sinha Centre for Languages and Literature, P.O. Box 201, 221 00 Lund, Sweden E-mail: [email protected] Prof. Paul Thagard Department of Philosophy, Faculty of Arts, Waterloo University, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada N2L 3G1 E-mail: [email protected] Prof. JohnWoods Department of Philosophy, University of British Columbia, 1866 Main Mall BUCH E370, Vancouver, BC Canada V6T 1Z1 E-mail: [email protected]

For further volumes:

Giovanni Boniolo

The Art of Deliberating Democracy, Deliberation and the Life Sciences between History and Theory


Author Giovanni Boniolo Faculty of Medicine University of Milano and European Institute of Oncology (IEO) Milan Italy

Originally published in Italian as “Il pulpito e la piazza. Democrazia, deliberazione e scienze della vita", in 2011 by Raffaello Cortina Publishing House, Milano, Italy, ISBN 978-8-860-30371-4 ISSN 2192-6255 e-ISSN 2192-6263 ISBN 978-3-642-31953-2 e-ISBN 978-3-642-31954-9 DOI 10.1007/978-3-642-31954-9 Springer Heidelberg New York Dordrecht London Library of Congress Control Number: 2012942937 c Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012  This work is subject to copyright. All rights are reserved by the Publisher, whether the whole or part of the material is concerned, specifically the rights of translation, reprinting, reuse of illustrations, recitation, broadcasting, reproduction on microfilms or in any other physical way, and transmission or information storage and retrieval, electronic adaptation, computer software, or by similar or dissimilar methodology now known or hereafter developed. Exempted from this legal reservation are brief excerpts in connection with reviews or scholarly analysis or material supplied specifically for the purpose of being entered and executed on a computer system, for exclusive use by the purchaser of the work. Duplication of this publication or parts thereof is permitted only under the provisions of the Copyright Law of the Publisher’s location, in its current version, and permission for use must always be obtained from Springer. Permissions for use may be obtained through RightsLink at the Copyright Clearance Center. Violations are liable to prosecution under the respective Copyright Law. The use of general descriptive names, registered names, trademarks, service marks, etc. in this publication does not imply, even in the absence of a specific statement, that such names are exempt from the relevant protective laws and regulations and therefore free for general use. While the advice and information in this book are believed to be true and accurate at the date of publication, neither the authors nor the editors nor the publisher can accept any legal responsibility for any errors or omissions that may be made. The publisher makes no warranty, express or implied, with respect to the material contained herein. Printed on acid-free paper Springer is part of Springer Science+Business Media (

To all those who have never had a book dedicated to them


I have no memory whatsoever of when I began to speak, although I know my parents strove for that to occur and eventually achieved it, given that I’ve been able to speak ever since. Nor do I remember anyone at school or university who taught me how to think and reason. I just knew I had to find my own way through all that, although I do not really know whether I have fully understood these acts, even now. Of course, I was taught a number of things, some of which turned out to be useful, while others were entirely pointless. However, I never attended a course on how to reason, how to argue in a discussion with one or more participants, how to intervene in a public setting or how to join a table at which decisions about policies are taken. I have never seen such a course advertised among the varied curricula I have come across. Since I do not think I am a rare bird, it is plausible to conclude that many have had this same experience and, perhaps, we should also conclude that many believe that the capacity to speak is equivalent to the capacity to think and to reason. Unfortunately, this is not exactly the case. Thinking and reasoning requires a level of expertise that I have never found to be widespread, despite the fact that this very expertise is needed in daily life. We are constantly required to evaluate what occurs around us, to decide whether or not to vote and for whom and to take decisions, which will impact on our own future as well as on the future of the community we live in. Everyday we are required to think and to reason. Democracy: “We live in a democracy”, or so they say. Many have attempted to depict democracy through maxims of differing degrees of sarcasm: • The tragedy of the modern democracies is that they have not yet succeeded in realizing democracy (Jacques Maritain). • The tendency of democracies is, in all things, to mediocrity (James Fenimor Cooper). • The difference between a democracy and a dictatorship is that in a democracy you vote first and take orders later; in a dictatorship you don't have to waste your time voting (Charles Bukowsky). • Democracy is the bread with which the few, who lead cliques named ‘parties’, feed the many after convincing these to be the real owners of power, whereas the many just foot the bill for the privileges and vices of the few (Zoran Itati). • Democracy is also a form of religion. It is the worship of jackals by jackasses (Henry Louis Mencken). • Democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people (Oscar Wilde).



• Democracy is supposed to give you the feeling of choice (Gore Vidal). • When we are all guilty—that will be democracy (Albert Camus). A list of similar sarcastic maxims on democracy could go on almost endlessly. Yet democracy allows, at least to a certain extent, for what Demosthenes found to be the main difference between Sparta and Athens: “In Athens, you can praise Sparta, but in Sparta you cannot praise Athens”; and this goes together with the following “In Athens, you can criticise Athens, whereas in Sparta you cannot criticise Sparta”. Yet there is something unsatisfactory here; indeed, there is something rotten in many contemporary democracies. I am not a catastrophist or an antidemocratic, nonetheless, there is hardly a different way of judging the fact that most of the leading class of our democracies is unable to get rid of the moral abjection and the political incapacity that envelops it. Who has chosen it? Who decides, and on which basis? ‘Hypocrisy’: a Greek word for ‘playing a role or pretending’. Many play a role and pretend; some prefer to do it while standing up, some even standing up on a podium. There are those who instead kneel, or even crawl when playing a role and pretending – like Baron Paul Henri Thiry d'Holbach detailed in his valuable work Essai sur l'art de ramper, à l'usage des courtisans (Essay on the art of climbing. To be used by courtiers)–. Sometimes, I enjoy directing sarcasm towards this conduct. ‘Sarcasm’ is derived (through Latin) from the Greek language and it means ‘to bite one’s lips’ in anger and gnashing of teeth, which, in turn, is related to ‘stripping away someone’s flesh’. Sometimes you smile in hypocrites’ faces, while biting them with a wellchosen comment from your lips. Sometimes there is no better option. Perhaps as a vain form of revenge, you can, at least, sink your teeth into their flesh. English actor Leonard Rossiter was possibly right in arguing that sarcasm is The Lowest Form of Wit, as he entitled his 1981 booklet. However, sometimes (though not always) you are obliged to content yourself with sarcasm. Probably some prefer to be content with rotten forms of democracy, or even to consciously strive to make them worse. Others, especially if they have no choice, prefer sarcasm and – why not? –join the Sarcasm Society ( In this way, at least, they do not harm other people, their children or grandchildren. In what follows, I will tell many stories about real events and people with a touch of sarcasm. Some may not like this, especially the heroes of these stories. It is something like the tip of the spear that Don Quixote, riding his Rocinante, was armed with in his assault against the windmills, which he believed to be monsters. Unfortunately, real monsters are often encountered in everyday life! Among the several different versions of democracy, I have chosen to deal with deliberative democracy, which focuses on direct citizen participation and engagement. I realise that this is a ‘fashionable’ topic. Many speak about the necessity of engaging “people” in public discussions on issues like environmental and scientific (in particular biomedical) choices, regulations and policies. Although I commence with general considerations about what deliberative democracy could be, I have decided to place special emphasis on the deliberative process in applied biomedical ethics, which has lately attracted much attention



from the mass media and has apparently terrified our contemporary politicians, to whom we give money (their salaries) as a form of self-punishment! Political masochism is truly great and one of the less despicable among the non standard sexual choices. In the development of my account, I will go through the ancient Greek period and the Middle Ages, as well as the philosophy and history of institutions, ethics and molecular biology moving between concepts in the hope of furnishing an exhaustive framework on deliberation. This is of course just one lone idea; I would not like to hurt the feelings of those like the aged professor of my first year philosophy course, who reproached me: “How might you, young man, possibly have an idea, if I have never had any throughout my career?” The pages of this book all converge upon one, and only one, idea: it is impossible to have a good deliberative democracy without deliberative expertise. Trivial, isn’t it? Of course it is but, unfortunately, hypocrisy touches this issue too when we just pretend to be able to deliberate without really knowing how to do it and just a pinch of proper argumentative training would suffice. Ethical deliberation on biomedical results, for example, requires just three conditions: sufficient knowledge of biomedicine in order to avoid foolish utterances about the relevant science; sufficient knowledge of ethics (which should be kept carefully separate from the history of moral doctrines) to avoid foolish utterances about the relevant philosophy and sufficient knowledge of argumentation in order to avoid empty speeches. I will place special emphasis on the need for knowledge as I strongly believe that to possess the sufficient knowledge is, in fact, the only requirement to be fulfilled if we really want moral and political choices to be the expression of active and participative citizenship. What about people lacking such knowledge? Frankly, they should simply stay at home; or come back later, when they are hopefully fully prepared. This is not an ideal-typical view, but rather a harshly pragmatic view. One ought not make decisions about things one is not acquainted with, and one ought not make decisions without knowing how decisions should be made. I got the impulse to write this book from the pervading sense of frustration at watching fraudulent debates in which mendacious experts on ethics and biomedicine would pretend to reason on issues that are in fact crucial to everyone. I just hope the final outcome of my writing might be beneficial to someone, although I am quite confident that others will find it infuriating, because they will feel directly or indirectly ridiculed. C'est la vie. They will just have to deal with it and make a double effort: first, getting all het up about it and, then, cooling off again (unless they prefer to remain angry all their lives). I propose a view of democracy that may look like it is elitist. However, I do not think it really is, because anyone can join such an alleged elite: it would be enough for one to gain sufficient knowledge in order to understand what is going on and how to take part, thus becoming a “man of honour”. ‘Honour’ is a term that is now unusual in both language and behaviour and that encapsulates concepts like reputation, integrity, respect, morality, trustworthiness, transparency and



accountability which, nowadays, seem to be becoming embellishments for the shrewd people, who – paradoxically enough - fail to think of the consequences their devious behaviour will have on their own offspring. Two more things should be said in order to conclude this short introduction. Both things will appear repeatedly in the text. However, I consider them essential for any good deliberation concerning biomedicine (though their scope could be easily extended to other fields as well): (1) A moral prejudice does not amount to an ethical stance! The latter requires a rational justification, and, differently from the former, it has a value in a public setting. At your home or in the pub, you can maintain all the moral prejudices you like. In the public arena, only ethical stances should be allowed; that is, ethical viewpoints that are supported by a correct argumentation. (2) Isegoria does not imply parrhesia! Isegoria is a Greek term referring to the right of intervening in the public debate. Parrhesia is another Greek term. Its negative meaning (though the whole issue will be better addressed starting in chapter one) indicates unmindful speaking. Well, the right of speaking in public should not be conflated with unmindful speaking, namely speaking without offering correct arguments, as often occurs. I wish that all those who justly fight for granting isegoria would at the same time be opposed to parrhesia. However, this rarely happens. What a pity! Obviously, it is here that the alleged elitism comes in.

First Caveat Some may object that in the following text sufficient attention is not paid to the emotional aspect inevitably involved in making any decision. This is an interesting observation that I cannot but hold in high regard. However, given the current overabundance of “emotiveness” that emerges every time we pretend to take a decision, some unclouded reason could not be harmful. However, in principle and from the very outset, I am grateful to these criticisms.

Acknowledgements I would like to thank some friends for reading and commenting on some, or all, chapters as well as for their help in adjusting in different ways what I thought, what I wrote and how I wrote it: Silvia Camporesi (for her curiosity), Giovanni Catapano (for his amazingly rigorous accuracy in reading and his inclination to make useful suggestions), Alessandra Coppola (for his lessons in ancient history), Gabriele De Anna (for his philosophical ability), Alessia Damonte (for refusing to read the manuscript and, thus, for teaching me tacitly what had to be omitted), Elena D’Este (for her cheerfulness), Giovanni Giorgini (for being my personal Virgil in the lands of history of political philosophy), Andrea Monti (for his legal expertise), Stefano Giaimo (for his great help in preparing the English version),



Louise Sweet (for her invaluable assistance in rendering my English more “English”), Leontina Di Cecco (for her work as Associate Editor at Springer), Lorenzo Magnani (for accepting this book in SAPERE), Maria Chiara Tallacchini (for her playful questioning) and, then, Irene Ksenija (for her growing up and my love for her). Of course, none of them should be considered liable for the views and the potential mistakes that are found here. However, I would like to give them, as a partial repayment, a quatrain by Omar Khayyâm: Drinking wine and being happy is my faith. Mine religion is far off from belief and hate. I asked the Bride of time about future credit. Said, ‘just happy hearts as credit I do admit. (translation by Simon Baghdasarian, source:


1 Deliberation and Democracy ...........................................................................1 1.1 Deliberation for All.....................................................................................1 1.2 The Many Faces of Democracy ..................................................................1 1.3 Deliberation and Representation.................................................................5 1.4 What Is the Thing We Call Deliberative Democracy?................................9 1.5 The Principle of Justificatory Reciprocity and the Principle of Binding Reciprocity ................................................................................14 1.6 Deliberators Deliberate, and Representatives Represent ..........................18 1.7 Not All Deliberations Lead to a (Good) Consensus, and a (Good) Consensus Does Not Necessarily Result from Deliberation........................19 1.8 Why Deliberation Does Not Need Parties ................................................20 1.9 Deliberating Is Legitimating .....................................................................25 1.10 A Critic of Critics of Deliberation and the Sin of Parrhesia ...................28 1.11 Aristotle and Deliberation.......................................................................31 1.12 Delibero, Deliberas, Deliberat, Deliberamus, Deliberates, Deliberant ...37 1.13 Things to Reflect Upon...........................................................................42 References ........................................................................................................43 Internet Websites ..............................................................................................44 2 Plato Was Not So Far Wrong: Recalling Athenian Democracy .................45 2.1 Amid Historical Facts, Historical Interpretations and Philosophical Critiques.......................................................................................................45 2.2 A (Short) History of Athenian Democracy ...............................................47 2.3 About Isegoria ..........................................................................................53 2.4 Dokimasia, Ostracism, Petalism, and Warning Out..................................56 2.5 …The “Antidemocrats” Came..................................................................58 2.5.1 Pseudo-Xenophon, The Old Oligarch: Against the Government of the Many....................................................................................61 2.5.2 Thucydides: Against the Lack of Concern with Public Good........62 2.5.3 Plato: Against the Immoral and the Uneducated............................68 2.6 On Athenian Democracy and Contemporary Democracies .......................76 2.7 About the Elite...........................................................................................80 2.8 Things to Reflect Upon..............................................................................84 References .........................................................................................................86



3 A Reappraisal of the Medieval Approach Will Lead to Excellent Deliberators.....................................................................................................89 3.1 Where Have All the Good Old Theologians Gone?..................................89 3.2 Medieval Man Did It Better......................................................................91 3.3 Translatio Studii e Translatio Stultitiae ....................................................93 3.4 Logic as the Art of Correct Reasoning......................................................96 3.5 Quaestio and Disputatio............................................................................98 3.5.1 Utrum a Human Embryonic Stem Cell Is a Person.......................99 3.6 Still on Disputes.....................................................................................107 3.7 The Semantic Journey of the Term ‘Rhetoric’.......................................108 3.8 The Canon of Rhetoric...........................................................................110 3.8.1 Inventio .......................................................................................111 3.8.2 Dispositio....................................................................................114 3.8.3 Three More Canons ....................................................................118 3.9 Things to Reflect Upon..........................................................................118 References .....................................................................................................119 Websites.........................................................................................................121 4 Beware of Those Who Think They Possess the Truth!..............................123 1 Help! Discussion Is Not Always the Easy Option It Might at First Appear .......................................................................................................123 2 Symmachus or Ambrose? ..........................................................................126 3 Cuius Regio, Eius Religio..........................................................................132 4 Let Us Follow Locke and Be Intolerant of the Intolerant!.........................137 5 Between Passive Disobedience and Active Tolerance...............................141 6 Things to Reflect Upon..............................................................................145 References ......................................................................................................145 Websites .........................................................................................................146 5 Let Us Learn How to Deliberate before Deliberating! Between Ethics and Biomedicine............................................................................................147 5.1 What a Good Deliberator Does Not Do ..................................................147 5.1.1 Parrhesiasts of the World, Unite!................................................147 5.1.2 “A Conclusive ‘Argument’ Never Considered before” ..............151 5.2 Shall We Deliberate? .............................................................................155 5.2.1 Long Life to Cybrids...................................................................155 5.2.2 “Gather the Experts. Close the Door. Design a Policy. Roll It Out. Reject Criticism” .....................................................158 5.2.3 Cybrids Forever ..........................................................................161 5.3 Perspective Theories against Method Theories .....................................164 5.4 On Good Manners and the Deliberative Canon .....................................169 5.5 An Example of How the Canon Is Implemented ...................................171



5.6 Has the Deliberative Canon Ever Been Implemented?..........................174 5.7 Speaking of Expertise ............................................................................175 5.8 Things to Reflect Upon..........................................................................177 References .....................................................................................................177 Websites.........................................................................................................178 To Conclude .......................................................................................................179 Index ...................................................................................................................181

About the Author

Giovanni Boniolo is a Professor of Philosophy of Science at the Department of Health Sciences (Faculty of Medicine) at the University of Milan, where he teaches Medical Humanities and the use of critical thinking in medicine and ethics. He directs the PhD in “Foundations of the Life Sciences and their Ethical Consequences” at the European School of Molecular Medicine (SEMM), Milan.

Chapter 1

Deliberation and Democracy

Where deliberative democracy is discussed and where it is recalled how it has been formulated in the contemporary debate and how this debate has failed to consider who (in particular Aristotle) discussed it previously.

1.1 Deliberation for All It is not always the most orthodox philosophical approach to look for the meaning or the etymology of a technical term in a dictionary. In fact, the everyday use of that term may largely differ from the technical one. Nevertheless, to look for the origin of ‘deliberation’ might not be such a bad idea. Etymological dictionaries say that deliberation comes from the Latin deliberatio, that is, from the verb deliberare; i.e., de (entirely) plus liberare (liberate), thus to free someone or something or deliver from, especially where decisions are concerned. Yet deliberare also has another meaning since it could have come from de-librare: to subtract something from a libra, i.e. a balance, after having measured its weight. This is the origin of the verb libro, libras, libravi, libratum, librare, which indicates, by extension, pondering or weighted judgement. Such an origin is worth keeping in mind. It is not an issue of cultural vanity, which may be serviceable in more or less sophisticated circles, or at conferences where we would like to show off. The origin of this word, instead, allows us to understand that ‘to deliberate’ relates to choosing on the grounds of the various reasons that enable us to ponder the different options that lay on the table. This entails that deliberation is not just the outcome of a process; rather, it is the whole process that eventually leads to the choosing. It is now time to start.

1.2 The Many Faces of Democracy It is not at all easy to define, in abstract terms and in a manner that is satisfactory in all circumstances, what democracy is (see Dahl, 1989). According to the etymon (again!), we could claim that democracy is that form of government in which the people (demos) handle the power (kratos). However, defining an unclear term through terms that are just as unclear like ‘people’ and ‘power’ is not G. Boniolo: The Art of Deliberating, SAPERE 6, pp. 1–44, 2012. © Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012


1 Deliberation and Democracy

very exciting if we are aiming at any degree of precision. For the sake of curiosity, we might wonder: Who are the people? Are they all the inhabitants of a nation? Are they just those who possess citizenship? What features qualify an individual as a citizen? Should all citizens be involved in the government or, perhaps, just those within a certain age range? Within what age range? Should only those in good mental and physical health be included? Who defines such mental and physical standards? Supposing we satisfactorily answered these questions of inclusion once and for all, we would still have to deal with the issue of ‘power’. What is power and, more significantly, what are the different powers we are speaking of? Should all powers or just some be considered and, in that case, which of them exactly? In short, it is quite worthless to speak of democracy in a general and shallow way. We would run the risk of using the term in a superficial fashion, which does not convey any meaning and cannot be used outside pub debates. As we all know, the pub is an excellent place for social gathering; however, the pub has its own communication rules, which may not coincide with those that govern an in-depth discussion. This does not mean that in-depth discussions are impossible at the pub. They are just uncommon. As we all know, pubs, bars and similar places can host writers that write, thinkers that think and serious discussants that seriously discuss, and so on. In high school, we were taught that, on the one hand, there is direct democracy, which, according to the typical hagiographic account, is “that of Athens in the classical age”, in which all citizens directly participated. On the other hand, there is indirect democracy, in which individuals delegate (and they pay for this) legislative and executive affairs to a portion of their number – the representatives. Obviously, in this latter case, there are rules that representatives must, or should, follow. Such rules shape the kind of indirect democracy we are considering. In Italy, for example, there should be an indirect, or representative, democracy, in which individuals with certain characteristics – and, therefore, not all those who live within the Italian territory, but only those that possess Italian citizenship and are at least 18 years old – can vote for representatives who constitute the Parliament, which then, in turn, elects the President in accordance with certain rules and so on. However, we must not fail to remember that, for example in Italy, there are forms of direct democracy too, like the ‘referendum’ and ‘popular initiative’. The former allows Italian citizens of appropriate age to directly claim (in a legally binding way) what they think about a certain issue. The latter concerns the possibility for a group of at least 50,000 citizens to submit to the Parliament a draft law to be discussed and possibly approved. Beyond this initial distinction, we must take an additional one into account, which is most probably not contemplated in the course of high-school studies, that is, the distinction between aggregative democracy and deliberative democracy. Aggregative democracy is a form of participation in political decisions in which all citizens (of appropriate age) are requested to give their opinion. It can be one of the possible realizations of direct democracy, as well as the mode that characterizes the referendum. However, aggregative democracy is mainly characterized by the fact that citizens are not required to justify their choices. They

1.2 The Many Faces of Democracy


are just required to make a choice. The citizen is then asked: “There are options A and B. Make your choice (vote).” Essentially, the notorious Pontius Pilate implemented a form of aggregative democracy when he brought Jesus and Barabbas before the inhabitants of Jerusalem asking whether Jesus or Barabbas should be set free. People could make a choice without justifying it. Neither Pilate nor anyone else argued in favour of whether Jesus or Barabbas should be set free. People could just make up their minds, if able and willing to do so, and express themselves. In Italy, the situation is similar when there is a call for a referendum. In this case, citizens cannot justify the choice they make. Unfortunately, there is a significant difference. Unlike the people of Jerusalem facing Pilate’s historic choice, Italians can turn on the television and read newspapers, in which a gigantic zoo of dwarfs, danseuses and genuine and alleged experts are on display and discuss the matter relevant to the referendum. However, there is an intriguing ruse here. Citizens, who would like to make up their own mind on the vote, are not given the chance or, better, the tools to distinguish the dwarf from the danseuse or the genuine expert from the mendacious one. It is a sort of “Guess who I might be and how competent I am”. Thus, it is as if, before letting the public decide between Jesus or Barabbas, Pilate had brought in, as free speakers in support of either party, a couple of courtesans, his wife – Claudia Procula –, a pair of philosophers directly from Greece plus two would-be philosophers very charming in their tunicae with the subligaculum – a sort of thong – shining through, an actor and a pair of hard-muscled gladiators. Honestly, I cannot really tell who is truly “democratic” whether it is Pilate, who left the responsibility and the choice entirely to the people of Jerusalem, or the Italian Parliament, which gives anchormen, good-looking girls, who are as pretty as they are incompetent, and less charming, thoughtful, boring would-be thinkers the burden of instructing people in the matter of the referendum. Pilate, however vituperated, let the people decide without pretending to correctly inform them about the subject matter. Of course, judicium ad populum (appeal to the people) is not really an advisable method to adopt to take decisions (as it is a rationally irrelevant argument) but, however argumentatively fallacious, Pilate was honest as he did not conceal his total lack of interest in informing people about the JesusBarabbas issue impartially and in a communicatively correct way. However, in the aggregative case, the endorsed decision is usually binding as regards the whole community independently of whether or not the single individual shares or grasps the rationale, fully understands, or holds personal unexpressed (either good or bad) reasons about such a decision. It should be noted that, in this case, the reasons that lead to the choice are unexpressed, and they are not even required to be assessed critically in a public debate. In fact, any citizen of Jerusalem could have quickly found some reason in favour of or against one of the two men in question before making the Jesus-Barabbas choice. However, no one would have had sufficient time to offer his/her personal reason to public scrutiny, namely, to the collective debate. One last point is worth considering. It is trivial to recall that in any aggregativedemocracy situation, in which nobody is obliged to disclose personal reasons of choice in order to submit them to the public scrutiny, many can chose (or vote) in


1 Deliberation and Democracy

bad faith. That is, they could be convinced of the ethical soundness of a given choice but nevertheless they could underwrite a different one, which is “politically” (here this adverb should be taken in its derogatory sense) more convenient to personal interest or to their party’s interest, which in turn entails beneficial effects for them themselves who owe their quality of life to such a party! After this digression and having looked at aggregative democracy, let us move to deliberative democracy. This latter, differently from the former, puts emphasis on the role of the reasons behind a given choice; namely, it stresses the need for and the importance of the offered justifications. In this case, what really matters is not just the final moment of the actual choice, but the relevant process that leads to the choosing, and such a process is always collective, since individuals with diverging positions should rationally dialogue with each other in order to achieve a common result. This point merits further inspection, since it is of great importance in order to clarify the epistemological context in which deliberation is implemented. In order to grasp it, we can think of a public situation of moral conflict like, for instance, a debate on the ethical tenability of heterologous artificial fertilisation, in which the inserted sperm belongs to a willing donor and not to the official partner. There are ethical theories that try to solve such moral conflict by showing that they are the only theories able to do so, whereas competitor theories are either too faulty or too weak to provide the same result. We could call these perspective theories, because they offer a precise perspective from which we can look at the relevant issue. Classic examples of perspective theories are the consequentialist theories (which try to solve the problem of whether it is permissible to make use of sperm from a stranger contingently on the evaluation of the consequences such an action might have) and the deontological theories (which try to achieve the same aim though starting from behavioural principles). Utilitarianism is the eponym of consequentialist theories. Accordingly, the choice is considered as the best in as much as it maximises collective benefits and, at once, minimises collective detriments. Instead, the paradigmatic case of deontological theories is Kantism, which claims that the best choice is that conforming to a potentially universalisable principle; namely, a principle that is applicable to anyone. As we know, there are additional perspective theories like liberalism, in which a choice is made on the basis of how much certain individual rights are met. Another perspective theory is communitarianism, which takes the best choice to be that coherent with the conventions and traditions of the community one belongs to. Thus, a utilitarian may consider heterologous artificial fertilisation as an ethically defensible choice on the basis of the fact that the social benefit it would imply largely outweighs its related detriments. A Kantian could derive such choice from the principle of individual autonomy, which is universalisable, and so on. These are not the only possible choices. Actually, we can think of them as families, or classes of perspective theories, each having spawned countless variants. This makes it quite complicated to understand in which sense someone may qualify him/herself as utilitarian, Kantian, or liberal. However, it suffices to get hold of (and go through) any compendium of history of moral philosophy to

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realize how varied the landscape of perspective theories is, and how much we can delight ourselves in finding the one that best captures our point of view. Yet, independently of mutual differences, each perspective theory attempts to solve the moral conflict by stressing its own strength and displaying, even through direct conflict, the frailty of others. Method theories work differently. These theories, that is, deliberative-like theories, do not propose a specific perspective, but they advance a methodological approach as a means to solving the conflict. Accordingly, the choice is taken without solving the moral conflict via a solution of the conflict among perspective theories; namely, through a solution of the metaethical conflict. Reflection upon this point suggests that meta-ethical conflict somehow removes real conflict, since it translates it into a different level, moving it from the particular and empirical level in which it normally resides, to the abstract and conceptual level where distinct ethical accounts live. Method theories, instead, keep the moral conflict at its original level by trying to solve it, if possible, at that level without appealing to any authority drawn from a specific perspective theory. Thus, method theories keep conflict alive insofar as it is solved, or it is proved to be unsolvable either absolutely, or relatively to the given cultural and historical context. A last aspect, which is of great relevance and will be taken into consideration several times in this book, is that deliberation does not necessarily lead to conflict resolution. It can often just (though not only) lead to the awareness of the (absolute, or historically and socio-culturally relative) impossibility of solving a conflict. It should be noticed that the (absolute or relative) impossibility is such from the point of view of reason and that any conflict can always be solved through an argumentum ad baculum (appeal to force), even if – as we know – this is far from being an example of a good rational mode of argumentation. On the other hand, if we cannot solve a conflict through rational deliberation and we do not want to use coercion, we can still solve it in an aggregative manner by putting it to a vote, which will be more or less binding, depending on the context in which it takes place. Obviously, as soon as we move from deliberation to aggregation, we move from reason as the sole instrument to some form of consensus by vote. This, if we think about it, is merely an edulcoration of the argumentum ad baculum. For, in this way the many, the majority, impose their numerical force on the few, the minority. Hence, the deliberative approach, which implies a method theory, does not remove the moral conflict as perspective theories would, but it keeps it at its proper level and tries to solve it through the use of good reasoning. Of course, this does not prevent participants in the debate from being utilitarian, Kantian, liberal or anything else. What really matters is respect for the proper features (to which we will return in a while) of the deliberative process.

1.3 Deliberation and Representation Between the 1980s and 1990s the (mainly North-American) community of political philosophers and political scholars started debating the attempt to rethink democracy in order to put citizens’ participation and engagement at its centre.


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Citizens’ participation and engagement were not meant as a passive endeavour as occurs in representative democracies, but rather as an active enterprise, as in deliberative democracy. Among other things, the community looked to classical Athens, especially as depicted by Mogens Herman Hansen (1991), as both an inspiring model and one to be achieved. It goes without saying that the discovery of deliberative democracy was only a reformulation of ideas that were already contemplated in the history of political philosophy. Moreover, adoption of the classical Athens’ model was a move towards a rather stereotypical and unreal idea of what deliberative democracy was. Let us put aside, for the time being, the rather mythical representation offered by many authors as regards the classical Athens’ democracy. I will tackle this issue extensively in the next chapter. It should suffice to say here that deliberative processes were also anticipated, of course with some differences, in republican Rome and later, in the theorisations of thinkers such as Marsilius of Padua in his 1324 Defensor pacis. Jumping here and there like a flea, which is notoriously one of the animals that jumps the furthest in relation to its size, in this historical overview, I would like to recall the interesting speech given by Edmund Burke at Bristol on the 3rd of November 1774. This is particularly interesting for us not only because it was centred on the refusal of the imperative mandate, but also becasuse it offered a defence of the idea that deliberation is one of the central stages of the parliamentary debate. For, he said: Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests; which interests each must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices, ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole. You choose a member indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not member of Bristol, but he is a member of parliament.

Aside from the appropriate detachment of representatives from their electors motivated by the fact that former are elected (and paid) to be at the service of the State and not of their own electors, Burke’s view is quite utopian and, to put it euphemistically, a little naïve as he claimed that Parliament is the place most suited to deliberation. If he were right, then deliberation would be at the core of any representative democracy. Actually, it would be really great if Parliament would debate correctly, making use of reason. Unfortunately, we are familiar enough with how discussions are conducted in Parliament to seriously doubt that this could be the case and, therefore, that deliberation could really take place there. Morever, we should keep in mind that any parliamentary debate cannot but be characterized, among other things, by compromises. Whether such compromises are of a (both politically and morally) low-level or a high-level, they are essential in politics, whereas deliberation does not necessarily require a compromise. On the contrary, in deliberation the absence of any compromise is desiderable. A compromise is characterized by the fact that individuals, or groups of individuals, with different initial views eventually converge upon a common solution no one is fully satisfied with, which nonetheless represents the only possible way of reaching an agreement.

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Instead, the outcome of deliberation should be a consensus position resting on the strongest justifications and on the weakest criticisms. There is no compromise here; deliberators agree on the positions they all consider to be the best, in particular the best from the point of view of deliberative reason. Speaking about the relationship between deliberation and representation, it is worth keeping in mind some nontrivial distinctions: 1) deliberation intended as a feature of a specific form of democracy; 2) deliberation intended as the practice implemented by the representatives; 3) deliberation intended as a preparative stage to aggregation or representation. In the first case, we have a conception of democracy in which individual citizens directly decide the political (‘political’ in the widest and noblest sense) course of decisions and actions to be undertaken. In the second case, deliberation is the way in which representatives should make their decisions (as Burke suggested). In the third case, deliberation is the stage that immediately precedes the vote on a given political decision or on the people to be appointed within institutions. Obviously, the first case has virtually no bearing on contemporary situations and ones in which the enormous amount of people to be asked for their opinion would make the whole process entirely unfeasible in a reasonably short time. We can at most have local situations of deliberative democracy, in which only a small fraction of citizens puts deliberative democracy into practice. A good deliberation, in order to be effective, must involve a small number of participants. The obvious reason for this is the length of each speech to be delivered either for or against the different alternatives at stake. If the first case is unthinkable in most situations because of practical considerations, so is the second. However, here, it is not really a matter of practical considerations, since even the biggest Parliament is not big enough as to prevent good deliberation. The problem lies instead both in the typical features of parliamentary discussions (i.e. necessarily aiming at compromises, as mentioned above), and in the prerequisite concerning every representatives’ moral integrity and deliberative capacity, which seems to be an unlikely occurrence. Finally, the third case implies that deliberation is seen as a preparatory stage to aggregative or representative situations, which is of course locally delimited and involves a restricted number of individuals. However, it was not just Burke who intended deliberation as the stage in which representatives manage a decision. For instance, in the same optimistic vein, John Stuart Mill shares this idea in his 1861 Considerations on Representative Government. Among other things, in Ch. II, he rhetorically asked – although the question could actually be addressed to some representative – how may we ever positively value those representatives who act in exclusive accordance with their own private interests, or with the sole aim of frustrating their political opponents’ activities, independently of any considerations regarding the common good. However, it is in Ch. V and VI that Mill tried coupling representation with deliberation. In Ch. V especially, he had enthusiastic words for the correct blend of these two aspects. Parliament, he wrote, is the arena in which the ideas of groups and single (and possibly “eminent”, he underlines) individuals can be presented and discussed in an atmosphere of critique and counter-critique. According to Mill, Parliament is the place where proponents may even abandon their own ideas. Not because of personal capriciousness or external command, but


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because they have received good objections. Hence, the British philosopher takes Parliament to be the paradigmatic place where deliberative debate is possible on the condition that – he claimed – whomsoever sits there is “honestly and intelligently chosen”. At the end of the day, this is the only manner to work for the good of the nation! Unfortunately, the problem of a fruitful instantiation of deliberation in a representative situation requires 1) honestly and 2) intelligently chosen people: a condition that seems as hard to satisfy (see Brennan, 2011) as the condition that the “chosen people” are themselves honest and intelligent. Perhaps it worth recalling that not everyone has been in favour of the necessity of public (and deliberative) debate in the political area. For instance, Jean-Jacques Rousseau argued that it would be better to avoid public engagement and to prefer the manifestation of an immediate choice apparently similar to the abovementioned Pilate case. The people of Jerusalem could not start a discussion on whether it was better to set Jesus or Barabbas free. They had to express their preference immediately. They could not discuss it among themselves, and they did not even have sufficient time for calm and undisturbed personal reflection, which is instead suggested by the good Rousseau. Let us take a better look at this. In the first three chapters of the second volume of Du contrat social (On the Social Contract) Rousseau introduced the largely echoed distinction between the general will and the will of all. The former is the expression of the political body (namely, the community) as a whole, and must guide the State. Being the expression of the whole political body, the general will necessarily curbs individual appetites to aim at some sort of equality, which would otherwise be impossible as the mere sum of distinct private wills. Each private will is, in fact, the expression of the interests of a single individual and, therefore, is always partisan. Now the sum of distinct private wills is the will of all, which obviously is but a mishmash of singular interests and desires. Of course, there may be the case in which private wills converge upon one single will, which is not yet, however, the general will and which to become such has to be promulgated. Granted these considerations, how can the general will be put into practice? According to Rousseau, we should find a way in which single individuals do not speak to each other, but they think independently of one another in the calm of their homes, perhaps sitting comfortably in their armchairs. Then, they will be asked to go to an appropriate place to express the outcome of their private reflection in order to contribute to the (aggregative) construction of the will of all. Some authors (e.g., Goodin, 2003) take this form of reflective “onanism” as an alternative conception of rational deliberation, namely, not as a process that is characterized by public debate, but as the distinctive act of choosing upon previous private reflection. There is an issue here, being what form of “deliberation” would we obtain in this way? It should be obvious that “onanistic deliberation” is deliberation in as much as “decaffeinated coffee” is coffee or “decaffeinated tea” is tea (although many would like to persuade you to the contrary). Private reflection ought to be admitted, but public debate remains necessary. There has to be contention for the tenability of the different positions and for the capacity of criticising them. Sitting in our armchair at home, these things cannot come about. In our home, we are always right and we always have the most valid opinion.

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There is then an issue concerning the rationale, which is not at all foolish, behind Rousseau’s proposal of pure personal reflection. He reached such a proposal, which is odd from the point of view of genuine deliberation, because, as he explicitly wrote, he did not trust in the capacity of individuals to maintain their own opinion, especially if they were to encounter someone able to manipulate them. On top of this, there is the danger of putting like-minded people together, since they may constitute a compact group, a clique, a faction, a party, which does not uphold the common good or the good of the state, but rather the good of the clique that has been formed. If this group is well organized, it might even transform its own will into general will at the expense of the common good. Ultimately, it is evident that not only was Rousseau a strong adversary of the real deliberative approach, but also a strong adversary of a governement based on parties.

1.4 What Is the Thing We Call Deliberative Democracy? Previously above, I made some reference to the history of deliberation, which actually still has to be written in full. However, whatever the real history is and whatever the historical depth of the references made by authors such as B. Ackerman, J. Elster, J. Fishkin, J. Gastil, A. Gutmann, P. Levine, S. Macedo, D. Thompson and colleagues (not to forget their American sources, namely J. Rawls, as well as their European sources, namely J.Habermas), the absolutely commendable fact remains that they have revitalised a theoretical debate concerning a way in which citizens can be brought back from the distant suburbs of representative democracy, in which they were and still are, at the centre of the democratic process. Needless to say that speaking of democracy in general terms means dealing with an umbrella under which everything can be found. Analogously, speaking of deliberative democracy in general terms entails considering a sub-umbrella, which likewise can cover too much and too many. Actually, there are many ways in which we can intend ‘deliberative democracy’: virtually as many as the authors that have discussed it plus all the additional ways that can be derived by reinterpreting or slightly modifying what such authors have proposed (all of us know of the possibility of many interpretations of the same text theorised by hermeneutics, and what Hans-Georg Gadamer called the Wirkungsgeschichte: the history of the effects). Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, reconstructing the debate on deliberation is not my task, and I am happy to hand it over to other, more competent, people. However, the main aspects of the most recent developments can be grasped just by reading the not too vast primary literature. As we have already underlined, the deliberative approach puts special emphasis on the process that leads to a given political choice, in particular, on the rationality of such a process. It goes without saying that it is not so easy to define what rationality is, and that is where many critics of deliberative democracy point their accusing finger, objecting that we do not know exactly how deliberative democracy works, since we do not have a good enough idea of what rationality is.


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We certainly lack a definition of ‘rationality’ that stands for everyone. However, this does not imply that we cannot agree on what rationality could be, at least prima facie. I shall try to explain myself better in order to prevent misunderstandings. The definiens of ‘rationality’ may contain different qualifications depending on the particular author who attempts to engage in this definitory task. However, this does not signify that there might not be some sort of “family resemblance” among all proposed definientia that, in the first instance, allows understanding of what we speak of. On the other hand, deliberative theorists assume the meaning of ‘rationality’ to be given and well known. From the point of view of Aristotle, they may be right under the assumption of the idea of rationality to be one of the endoxa, namely those concepts, statements and events that are common knowledge, at least among “wise people”. Nevertheless, the rhetorical choice of not even offering a first tentative definition of rationality, which then remains latent in common knowledge, may backfire on them. I do not want to tackle the issue of what rationality might be here. Instead let me go on hoping that all of us have an idea of what the “family resemblance” concerning rationality might be. Certainly this is not the best one can get (in terms of philosophy); but it is something (at least relative to our aims)! In short, as I have repeatedly affirmed, deliberation is to be intended as a rational process leading to a choice, be this ethical or political. A distinctive feature of this process is the initial coexistence of several positions that are supported by different individuals or different groups, who eventually reach a common choice through a severe confrontation between arguments and counterarguments. Deliberation, then, does not imply merely talking about a problem, but rather the critical debate of all its aspects, the proposal of different solutions derived from different perspectives, and the careful evaluation of the supporting justifications of these solutions. Offering a justification is, indeed, the central stage of a rational debate: no position should be accepted solely on the basis that someone (whether an individual or a group) proposes it. It has to be justified too, that is, reasons, preferably good reasons, have to be offered in its support. In truth, good deliberation requires more than rationally evaluating the justifications underpinning each position. Equal (both critical and constructive) attention to each position is required too. Initially, no position should be privileged; no position is hierarchically superior to any other. This is but the obvious and unavoidable consequence of not focusing mainly on the position itself. The emphasis is on the attached justification instead. In the best scenario, the consensus should reflect the best-justified position. Hence, the final choice of one position vis-à-vis another is not dictated solely by the content of either (though the content is obviously extremely relevant!), but it is the strength and the tenability of the supporting justification of either position that play the main role. This point is not trivial at all, especially if we are to consider deliberation as a rational process. There is an additional equally relevant issue. If what really matters is the justification of a given position rather than the position itself, then participants in the deliberative debate should pay special attention to the soundness of the

1.4 What Is the Thing We Call Deliberative Democracy?


justifications supporting each competing position. Of course, this does not mean that the content of a position is uninteresting. In truth, content is important. However, to the aim of the deliberative debate, it is even more important how compelling the arguments are, either for or against a certain position. Note that it is not necessary to hold a precise position beforehand. We can enter a debate because we find the discussed issue to be of interest even without having already made up our mind about it. We can then use the debate precisely in order to understand which solution we like the most, and then make use of our capacity of justification in its favour. From this point of view, the debate among participants will have the pedagogical function of helping to make up one’s mind and to take a certain decision. It is, or at least it should be, clear that when taking part in a deliberative process having a precise position does not entail that we must focus only on such a position with the aim of defending it at any cost. In truth, we should take all the other positions into account, equally carefully. We should also try to understand whether they might be superior (we could then endorse them instead) or inferior to ours (we should then discharge them). Furthermore, the deliberative debate necessarily entails mutual consideration and reflection upon the reasons given in support of or against one’s position. This reflective stage is essential for it aids the recognition of our own position’s tenability after received criticisms and the gaging of the tenability of other positions after our criticisms of them. There are three ways in which we – the participants in the deliberative process – should be able to understand both the content of others’ positions (often an easy task) and the reasons they offer in support of their position and against ours (often a less easy task): 1) by reflecting upon both our own position and theirs; 2) by reflecting upon the way in which we justify our position and criticise that of others; and 3) by reflecting upon the way in which others justify their own position and criticise ours. This is essential for mutual comprehension and, possibly, for the acceptance, or not, of a given position. However, we should not accept or reject it just at face value. We should accept it because the compelling reasons the position is supported by persuade us; or we should reject it because its supporting reasons are unconvincing and as laden by fallacies as muffins by blueberries. It is the validity and the strength of the underpinning reasons that should lead a position to be accepted, rather than the position as such. It is the weakness and the faultiness of the underpinning reasons that should lead a position to be rejected, rather than the position itself. Of course, I am not arguing here that everything we claim in our life should, or could, be rationally justified. I am just saying that the positions that are on the table of the deliberative debate must be justified. It should also be clear that deliberation has nothing to do with the acceptance or rejection of those metaphysical principles or religious beliefs which cannot be rationally justified due to their epistemological status. Hence, aside from this, the effort of participants in a deliberative process should be directed at understanding both whether others’ positions may be accepted or rejected, and whether our own position should be accepted or rejected. That is to say, participants should strive to understand the acceptability of the reasons that are demonstrated during the process in favour of or against each position.


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It should be natural to possess, as a minimal requirement, sufficient competence in the subject matter and its habitual context in order to discuss related issues; such competence should at least be sufficient in relation to the level of the deliberative process participated in. Unfortunately, this appears to be more the exception than the rule. We often forget, in fact, that just speaking of something is not enough; we also should be acquainted with the subject matter. Of course, there are extremely technical problems like the use of genetically modified organisms, the building of a nuclear plant, or the decrease in the cost of money. However, the level of technicality is no excuse for the lack of knowledge as regards the issue at hand, often observed in TV talk shows where intellectual dwarfs, pretty dancers, and know-it-all would-be intelligentsias carry out convivial discussions on issues of which they have no understanding. By the way, I remember I was once invited to take part in a debate on the moral legitimacy of the use of human embryonic stem cells with a certain “dissident” and Catholic theologian who is pretty famous in Italy. Just before the debate, he frankly, though a little blatantly, confessed to me that he had no idea whatsoever what stem cells were. In response to my puzzlement, he said that what stem cells are was irrelevant to the discussion of the problems concerning the status of the human being! So that is life, at least the (alledged) cultural life in certain circles. In reality, there are many would-be intellectuals who discuss human embryos without ever having seen one or ever having read anything about them. The call for knowledge does not entail that only experts in a topic are entitled to discuss it. However, those willing to enter the discussion should have the modesty to previously become sufficiently acquainted with the subject matter in order not to produce mere sounds or mere rambling phonema. Those who fail to do so, commit the reproachable crime of obtaining intellectual credit by false pretences, and act in a rhetorically and socially dangerous way. Since this speaker is in a predominant position the other participants may be induced to accept his claims, even if he actually has no idea of what he is taking about (it is the podium fallacy). The citizens who listened to that Italian Catholic “theologian” with his charming and evocative language speaking about stem cells gave credence to his opinion, obviously on the basis of the false belief that he was knowledgeable about stem cells. Unfortunately, that was not the case. He was just making use of terms he could not attach any real meaning to; he was pretending – in a fraudulent fashion – to be an expert. Will this would-be theologian go to Hell for his sins? Or will he go to Purgatory? Will he go on to repent on his deathbed finally “giving a damn” about the people he deceived, who have taken wrong decisions because of him? God knows! Perhaps he liked the way the term ‘stem cell’ sounds and, therefore repeatedly uttered it, as people do when they sing a song in a foreign language they cannot understand: they ignore the meaning of the lyrics, however they like the sounds and how they are generated in the mouth cavity. Let us abandon my memories of this man, proud enough to boast of his ignorance, with the bitter feeling that many citizens fall victim to similar ciarlatans. Let us go back to deliberation by making clear once more that its outcome should be a shared opinion (hopefully). Whatever this opinion might be, it should lead to the common good compatibly with the greatest respect of

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individual liberty, because the deliberative process tends to combine individual preferences with collective choices. If you think about it, things cannot be otherwise, for the rational discussion about the pros and cons of individual preferences with regard to a given issue cannot but result (or it should not but result) in a collective choice. “Achieving a collective choice”: even if this does not coincide with the one you originally opted for! Moreover deliberation should also regard a sort of ethical rule; we have the moral duty to put into practice the achieved choice, because also we have contributed to making it through offering reasons, either for or against, even if we initially held a different position. To put it differently, moral integrity should characterize the deliberator. If this were the case, then the deliberator would feel obliged to comply with the choices she has contributed to, even if different from those she would have initially championed. We know that not all of us are men or woman of integrity. However, we all hope that integrity is not like the Arab phoenix “that everyone claims to exist / but no one knows where”, as the Italian poet Pietro Antonio Domenico Trapassi, called Metastasio, taught us in the eighteenth century, and that Don Alfonso sings about with reference to “trustworthiness in women” in Così fan tutte (Thus Do They All) by Joannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart. From this point of view, the integrity required of a deliberator is not too different from the integrity we require of every man and woman. Thus, we can also evince from this the moral description of the perfect – let us call it – deliberator: the deliberator should be an individual who is aware of what he does, righteous in what he does, and of integrity in what he does. In short, deliberators should be women or men of honour, where ‘honour’ should not be thought of in its ironic or derogatory sense. In fact ‘honour’ is a term to be reevaluated because of the informational positivity it contains from an ethical point of view. At this point, we may venture to advance a sort of schematisation of the most relevant features of the deliberative process: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5.

Inclusiveness of positions: each position has the same right of exposure as any other. Inclusiveness of participants: each participant has the same right to speak as any other. Centrality of reason: the tenability of each position must be evaluated relatively to the arguments against and in favour of it. Centrality of justification: the position is relevant, but reasons for or against it are even more relevant. Centrality of acquaintance with the problem: you cannot speak of what you are not acquainted with. The way one speaks of a problem must conform to the level of the debate one takes part in, or would like to be involved in. If you are not acquainted with the subject matter, either you cannot participate (you have to remain silent), or you have to become acquainted with it (you have to study the issue, at least a little, before speaking of it).


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6. 7.

Centrality of reflection on the tenability of the different positions. Centrality of the possibility of changing position on the basis of a better justification. 8. Centrality of the thesis that the common good (which must not be without maximum possible individual liberty) is the overall aim of any deliberative process. 9. Centrality of moral commitment to the collective choice that has been deliberated. 10. Centrality of the participants’ honour and integrity.

1.5 The Principle of Justificatory Reciprocity and the Principle of Binding Reciprocity 1.5 The Principle of J ustificatory Reciprocity and the Principle

There are two main approaches from which the theory of deliberation can be seen: 1) from the point of view of the epistemological value we ascribe to it; 2) from the point of view of the principles we need to assume in order to make it effective. According to the epistemological perspective, deliberation can be thought of instrumentally, that is to say, as a methodological device (the best in its category) for achieving the best rational collective choice from different individual preferences. Adopting this point of view, one does not ascribe any specific additional value to deliberation, which is merely taken as an excellent device, arguably the best, to enable a group of individuals with different initial positions to make a shared choice solely on the basis of rational discussion. Other authors, instead, consider deliberation to be more than just simple methodological machinery. They take deliberation as the best instantiation of the mutual respect among supporters of different choices and, only consequentially, as the method for their rational reconciliation. From the point of view of principles, and independently of any epistemological interpretation, almost all the authors highlight the necessity of procedural principles that determine the series of steps through which participants enter, intervene in, and withdraw from the debate. It should be noticed here that such procedural principles, though mentioned, are basically never made fully explicit. This is not a minor issue! How are we supposed to implement deliberative democracy correctly, if the procedural principles are not clearly laid out? On the other hand it seems that not so many contemporary theorists are fully aware that their proposal is based on procedures codified centuries, or even millennia, ago, as we will see. To be honest, some deliberation theorists, like Gutmann and Thompson (1996, 2004), feel the need to say a few words about the procedural principles, in particular when they are discussing the non-procedural ones. Let us examine their position, since we can learn a lot by analysing it. They argue in favour of a noninstrumental idea of deliberation as made possible, among other things, by nonprocedural principles, like the principle of basic liberty and the principle of fair opportunity. Gutmann and Thompson claim that these two non-procedural principles are possible only within a deliberative democracy that is regulated by

1.5 The Principle of Justificatory Reciprocity and the Principle


the procedural principle of reciprocity, according to which “citizens owe to one another justifications for the mutually binding laws and public policies they collectively enact” (p. 98). We should pay attention to the fact that, in this way, the emphasis is shifted from the justification of implemented laws and policies to the justification of their being binding, which brings us to a different level. Regarding the link between procedural and non-procedural principles, it is worth going into more detail. At first, it seems that if we acted on a purely procedural basis, we could make a decision that may not ensure, for example, the right of free basic health care. In this case, the excluded minority could not accept the collective decision and its mandatory nature. Hence, if we do not want the reciprocity principle, which is a procedural principle, to be violated, then we should also accept the non-procedural principle of fair opportunity. That is, the two authors do not argue that the principle of reciprocity (or other procedural principles) entails (in the technical logical sense) the principle of fair opportunity (or other non-procedural principles). They argue, instead, that the latter is necessary in order to prevent the former from being infringed. To put it differently, only implementing the latter can we ensure the effectiveness of the former. Apparently, this position seems to be tenable. However, the issue looks more complex, if we analyze it more closely. First of all, the non-procedural principle of basic liberty should be kept separate from the principle of fair opportunity. Let us consider the former. Take this question: “What permits the deliberative debate?” or “What are the enabling conditions of the deliberative debate?” There has to be a communicative space, at least, for it to take place. What, however, makes this possible? The answer is easy: there has to be a principle that claims the right of expression and a principle that affirms the implementation of such a right. The formal liberty of expression is not enough. Such liberty has to be made concrete in order to really be able to express an opinion. In different words, it is useless to have such a right if I am not put in the proper condition to enjoy it. The right to eat is totally useless, if I am not in a position financially, to get some food. Hence, you need to be given the space to exert deliberation, namely the formal and substantial right of expression. It follows that the possibility of deliberation rests on the principle asserting the (both formal and substantial) right of expression, which is, to use Kant’s jargon, a sort of transcendental condition of deliberation. Once we have secured the space for deliberation, we can introduce procedural principles. However, it should be noted that the transcendental principle is not exclusively valid only for the instrumentalists; it is valid for them too. It does not matter whether we interpret deliberation merely as some form of methodological machinery or as something more: deliberation cannot flourish without a proper communicative space that is made possible by the principle of (formal and substantial) right of expression. Moreover, let us note that speaking of the (formal and substantial) right of expression means speaking of what the ancient Greeks used to call isegoria (from ‘isos’ = equal, ‘agorein’ = to speak before the public assembly), which I shall come back to extensively in the next chapter. Hence, in a word, (formal and substantial) isegoria can be seen as a transcendental (formal and substantial) condition of deliberation.


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Let us consider the procedural principles now. As already mentioned, I shall go through them more thoroughly in the next chapters when I will recall their historical foundations. However, I wish to dwell now upon what Gutmann and Thompson call the reciprocity principle. Actually it can be divided into two parts. For, on the one hand, it affirms that every deliberator has to produce justifications for the position she endorses and, therefore, for the laws and public policies that may follow accordingly (let us name this the principle of justificatory reciprocity). On the other hand, it affirms that every deliberator is bound by the collective choices that have been brought about by her participation (let us call this the principle of binding reciprocity). It is exactly the principle of justificatory reciprocity that was codified centuries (even millennia) ago. In fact the matter could not be otherwise, since without such a principle we would not have deliberation at all. Recall that deliberation is characterized by, though it would be better to say that it is grounded in, the reasons that are offered to justify a given position and the criticisms targeting it. Let us put aside the necessity of the justificatory side of the principle to concentrate on the other side, or the alleged necessity of binding reciprocity. Can we have deliberation without binding reciprocity? Of course! An individual or a group could meet and deliberate on a given topic, but then nobody might feel bound by the decision taken. So, where is the problem? Or where is the formal problem? There is actually only one substantial (i.e. moral) problem here and it concerns integrity. We would like or hope deliberators to be people of integrity who behave according to the deliberated choice they have made. In short, Gutmann and Thompson would also like people to be of integrity, however this cannot be taken as a content of procedural principle, since we can have deliberation without having the moral duty to implement the deliberated choice. It could be objected that the moral duty could be transformed into a legal duty. However, even in this case (we would be in the realm of deliberation that preceeds the elaboration of a law), there are no consequences from the deliberative point of view: either because the law may be infringed (this is not a desirable event although it is unfortunately possible if we look at the number of people who are in jail or on trial), or because deliberation does not necessarily need to be followed by consequent lawmaking. However, suppose that, after the deliberative space has been established through the transcendental principle of (formal and substantial) right of expression – namely, isegoria -, the series of steps which make up deliberation can be brought about through the procedural principles of justificatory and binding reciprocity. At this point, do we really need non-procedural principles like fair opportunity? As we have seen, the principle of basic liberty regarding isegoria has to be separated from this and considered as transcendental, that is, it has to be moved to the highest epistemological level since it makes the space for deliberation possible. If we accepted Gutmann and Thompson’s view, the answer would be positive. Actually this is not the case. Let us consider a thought experiment: through deliberative processes we have to build the norms of a new community from scratch. To start with, we need to establish the possibility of such processes, that is, we have to guarantee formal and

1.5 The Principle of Justificatory Reciprocity and the Principle


substantial isegoria. Then, and only then, we can fix the procedural principle and move on to discussion. Perhaps, among the first issues to be discussed, it would be worth deciding whether everyone should enjoy fair opportunities and precisely which ones. That is, if the above is sound, the non-procedural principle of fair opportunity could result from the first hypothetical deliberation. Potentially everything must be discussed and deliberated over, of course after the deliberation space has been made possible and it is clear how this should be used via procedural norms. I do not see any other authority upon which the quest for certain fair opportunities could be based. If, in order to make a choice, we resorted to tradition, to a political party, a given religion, to so-called “nature”, or something similar, then we certainly would not be appealing to rational justifications. All of this should be abhorred, if we want to engage in correct deliberation, and this cannot be based on any authority other than argumentative reason, even if, trivially enough, it cannot be but historically and culturally contextualized. The position I have just taken, especially if meant as a denial of fair opportunity, could irritate many. This is far from being my intention. On the contrary, I am arguing in favour of the idea that it is not written anywhere that fair opportunities (and what exactly is meant by ‘fair opportunities’?) have to be guaranteed “for free”. Instead, these should be the result of deliberation. Therefore, it is not true that deliberation requires the principle of fair opportunity; it is instead a well-justified principle of fair opportunity that requires a good deliberative debate. Let us think now about the justification of the principle of justificatory reciprocity. Why ever should I accept this principle? Exactly because deliberation would not be possible otherwise! We can think of it as a basic rule of the deliberative game. As for any rule of any game, it is justified in virtue of the will to play the game. Why should I only move the bishop diagonally, and why should the bishop that starts on a black square move only on black squares and the bishop that starts on a white square move only on white squares? There is no reason except that this is a rule of chess, and if I want to play chess I must comply with it. Analogously, I may have a “game” I call ‘deliberation’ whose players must conform to the principle of justificatory reciprocity if they want to play the game correctly. If they do not take it seriously, then they do not “play the game”, that is, they do not participate in the deliberative debate. To participate is not mandatory; however, if you want to, and one of the rules entails the rational justification of each position, then such a rule cannot be violated. There is a false, mystifying and hypocritical idea of democracy and deliberation according to which nobody should be excluded. In reality, there are rules you have to conform to; otherwise it is not the community that bans you, it is you who does not join in. One last point I would like to make is the following. The deliberative process, because of its very nature as we shall see, is always conducive to provisional results that, potentially, are subject to further deliberation. In this way, if you realize that the choice undertaken undermines some liberty that has been previously deliberated in a different process, or it implies a discriminatory attitude


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towards some minority, there is no impediment to a new deliberative process to question, and possibly to change, that choice. The deliberative process, even if it hopefully leads to a given result, does not entail that this result is immutable. In truth, the possible deliberated result is always revisable through new deliberation. However, it still holds true that the possible deliberated result should be accepted till its full revision. As said, this is an issue of integrity, which may be demanded, yet not obtained with certainty. To sum up, we have, first of all, the principle concerning isegoria, which is the (formal and substantial) right of speaking. This is the necessary condition for the possibility of the deliberative space, i.e. a kind of transcendental condition of it. Once such a possibility has been established, there are the procedural principles, among which, most notably, the principle of justificatory reciprocity can be found, according to which every position has in principle to be justified on the basis of rational arguments.

1.6 Deliberators Deliberate, and Representatives Represent At which level should deliberation take place? We have already touched upon this issue. Almost all Anglo-Saxon authors adopt the classical Athens’ agora as their model, where citizens meet and deliberate upon appropriate discussion. It must be immediately noted that in almost no contemporary State would such a process be feasible. If we exclude city-states of the size of the Principality of Monaco, the Most Serene Republic of San Marino, Vaduz, and the Principality of Liechtenstein, contemporary states are made up of millions, sometimes billions, of inhabitants like in the case of the People’s Republic of China with almost 1,400,000,000 inhabitants, or the Republic of India with almost 1,200,000,000 inhabitants. To think of the realization of a direct non-aggregative democracy is virtually impossible. In reality, and we shall examine some concrete examples towards the end of this chapter, the idea is to stimulate deliberative phases followed by representation phases. That is, deliberative processes can be instantiated in smaller groups of people that meet in order to deliberate on topics of national politics, and then the government or the representatives can be directly notified of the deliberation. It goes without saying that both situations may turn out to be unsatisfactory for deliberators. To notify the government of what a group a citizens have deliberated puts barely any political pressure on the government, unless the number of citizens involved is big enough, relatively to the entire population, to constitute a serious impulse to implement what has been deliberated. Alternatively, deliberators may be so authoritative, either in virtue of what they are or in virtue of their social position, that the government, or the Parliament, cannot ignore their decisions. In any case, let us recall that the role of the representatives, for example at the parliamentary level, is different from the role of the participants in a deliberative debate. The deliberator is the member of a community that wants to achieve a collective choice starting from initial individual choices exclusively through a procedure that is based on justificatory and critical reasons. The representative, instead, has an entirely different role. The representative belongs to a community,

1.7 Not All Deliberations Lead to a (Good) Consensus


such as the Parliament or a parliamentary commission, where the collective choice results from a process of compromises in which ideological, party political, religious, and lobby pressures are also taken into account. In other words, at the level of political representatives, one seeks the compromise that should lead to a consensus; at the level of participants in deliberation, one is engaged in the rational debate that can lead to that consensus. 1.7 Not All Deliberatio ns Lead to a (Good) Co nsens us

1.7 Not All Deliberations Lead to a (Good) Consensus, and a (Good) Consensus Does Not Necessarily Result from Deliberation The deliberative process as outlined above appears to be faultless and able to ensure, in the safest way, a collective result everyone would accept. In some sense, this could be the case, even if, as I shall show later on, special attention should be paid in order to secure the decisional procedure. Nevertheless, an important aspect must be stressed right away: not all deliberations lead to a (good) consensus, and a (good) consensus does not necessarily result from deliberation. The second part is, I believe, quite clear. Any aggregative act, be it an administrative vote or a referendum, always achieves a consensus, even if it is a consensus by majority, which is usually binding for those who lost the vote too. Instead, the first part of the relationship deserves some reflection. Although the deliberative process is capable of fusing individual tendencies into a collective result, it is unclear how such a result may not be attained, barring a failure of the process itself. In reality, this is not the case, at least in general. Let us recall, as I have pointed out, that the hallmark feature of the deliberative process is the rational discussion of a given problem through the submission of different solutions, and especially the reasons in favour of or against these solutions. However, to have a rational debate in no way means that we will achieve a result that all agree on. Of course this would be desirable in order to reach the collective synthesis of individual positions, however, this cannot be ensured. It may be the case that participants in the debate are not, either in good or in bad faith, rhetorically honest. In this situation, the deliberative process would be both formally and substantially vitiated, thereby posing an obstacle to the possibility of achieving a shared result. But, even if we assume that everyone is rhetorically honest, the conflict among different positions may be so harsh that no collective consensus is eventually reached. This can occur. Especially, if we are unwise enough to move the debate to the level of conflict among different and antithetical ethical (political, religious) perspectives or beliefs that nobody wants to question. Yet, even if a collective result is not achieved, mere participation in the debate brings about individual results of no minor importance. First of all, there is the recognition of an insuperable divergence among the positions. Then, we also realize that our positions are not the strongest (from a rational point of view), since they have not won the debate. They are just as strong as the opponents’ and


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no one has prevailed. This would be sufficient to lead a participant, or at any rate a reflective (or, rather, self-reflective) participant, to understand that his own position cannot be thought of as the only possibility, because there are others of equal tenability. A well-conducted deliberative process is never unsuccessful, because the rational discussion by itself leads participants to reflect upon the tenability of their own and their opponents’ positions. In short, there is always a deliberative result beyond any desired consensus. There is a further aspect that cannot be overlooked: rational discussion implies the attention of the participants to the soundness of what is claimed and how this is claimed. Therefore, any good deliberative debate is conducive to an educational outcome too. The deliberative procedure you have to go through is a sort of school enabling us to learn and put into practice how to discuss correctly. I have inserted in brackets the adjective ‘good’ in the title of this section. We must be clear about it. A ‘good’ collective consensus can be achieved through a vote too. The outcome of a vote is not necessarily terrible just because there is no preliminary rational discussion. In truth, on the one hand, many votes, especially within small institutions, are preceded by a rational discussion meant to clarify the debated issues, the positions that lay on the table, and the pros and cons of each of these. On the other hand, even if there is no such rational debate and the vote takes place without any collective reflection, the outcome may nevertheless not be bad. Chance (or fate or Providence, for those who believe in it) may lead to a good result. Finally, the consensus obtained through deliberation is not necessarily a good consensus, especially when not all the participants are rhetorically honest. And, even if they were all honest, there would still be the chance that, despite the debate being rational, a shared false belief present from the beginning of the discussion, or insinuated later on, may lead to a negative result. Remember that there are reasons why a bad result can be reached: 1) one or more steps in the deliberative process is wrong, either in good or in bad faith, 2) there is a false belief that plays a negative role; or 3) there is at least one deliberator who does not want to reach a really deliberative result. Furthermore the deliberative outcome is, by its own structure, revisable through further deliberation.

1.8 Why Deliberation Does Not Need Parties As we have seen, a properly conducted deliberative process entails indubitable direct advantages like the desirable consensus, the recognition of how tenable positions are, and the training in correct reasoning. However, it may have indirect effects of no minor importance too. First of all, deliberation allows rational confrontation among individuals that are considered, both formally and substantially, as peers. This concerns the fact that everyone has exactly the same right as everyone else of intervening and putting forth a position, arguments and objections. Exactly because of this, I argued that isegoria is the transcendental condition of the possibility of deliberation. That is, everyone who decides to take part in a deliberative process

1.8 Why Deliberation Does Not Need Parties


has the same right as everyone else of speaking independently on his/her social position, knowledge, sex, ethnic group, religion, culture, etc. Secondly, deliberation is surely the best method to solve political and moral conflicts without making use of coercion or deception. ‘Best’ is, needless to say, relative to the adopted benchmark: rationality. This can be rejected. In which case, deliberation has no primacy at all. There may be groups or communities that do not consider rationality to be essential, perhaps they instead rely on some undefined “instinct”, on tradition, or on a faith they blindly accept thinking that it should permeate through both the individual and social sphere. It is not so difficult to find examples of groups, or communities, that believe that the best method of solving a moral or political problem is to adopt a pre-established morality or ideology and that nothing has to be modified. Nor is it difficult to indicate states that are theocratic in principle or in practice where the politics and morality adhered to are those that follow most closely, or are most faithful to, the politics and morality that can be derived from a given interpretation of texts that are deemed sacred. Starting from recognition of the difference among the various positions, deliberation induces participants to share the value of rational debate, independently from any participant’s position, and to share the value of mutual respect and listening. In fact, to deliberate necessarily involves listening to others who have different positions and assessing the latter while being respectful towards their proponents. There is a distinction, indeed, between respect for the proponent of a position and the intention of showing that it is indefensible, or perhaps less tenable than ours. On the contrary, respect amounts to speaking about the real soundness of a participant’s position frankly and by arguing in favour of it, if we find it convincing, or against it otherwise. However, all this entails listening, which is not trivial at all in a society where almost everyone is always desperately trying to speak about everything. Listening to someone else, in its most profound and relevant sense, means understanding the reasons someone is offering in favour of their own position, against ours, or against another. As I briefly mentioned above, deliberation can mean harsh criticism of the opponent’s position through the use of counterarguments directed at the weakness or faultiness of their arguments. We should be careful about such criticism, which, as I said, should not be directed at the person, but their position, or, rather, its underpinning reasons. Attacking the position and attacking the person are often confused; yet, as we should know, this is a fallacy, in particular the one called argumentum ad hominem. However, this is wrong, rhetorically wrong. It does not matter whether a position is supported by a housewife, a singer, a bodybuilder, a Pope, a Prime Minister or a King. If that position looks unsound, then I, as deliberator, have the right, or in fact, the duty to attack it. This does not mean any lack of respect to the housewife, singer, bodybuilder, Pope, Prime Minister, or King. In fact, it holds true that there is no value in attacking a position through any personal attack on those individuals mentioned who put forth a position. I may find them subjectively unpleasant or hateful on a personal level, yet it is their position that has to undergo rational scrutiny.


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Deliberating also means finding a collective space for the debate. Therefore, to get publicly involved is a necessary stage in it. Indeed, to enter a deliberative debate entails offering your own position and ability to defend it against opponents’ attacks, as well as your ability to raise objections to rival positions. This is the essence of getting publicly involved. It is the desire to put the tenability of your own position at stake against the tenability of other positions. When you enter the challenge of the debate, which is aimed at solving a conflict, your theses and your ability to engage in a dialogue are under inspection, and you should be aware that you may end up loosing. To be publicly engaged in a deliberative process cannot be but an active endeavour, due to the fact that it requires you to put yourself at stake, for or against a given position. Indeed, there is no value in entering a deliberative debate as a mere observer. Being a deliberator means playing an active role. It involves engaging in politics in its most noble sense and participating in the dispute of politics or public ethics with the intention of reaching a collective consensus, if possible. This does not mean, of course, that we are supposed to indescriminately enter any deliberative process. It would be enough to join just those processes that appear to be more relevant to us in a given stage of our life, compatibly with our contingent interests and knowledge. Naturally, a citizen may be entirely uninterested in any collective decision, or in the idea of entering a process that means putting herself at stake. In this regard it cannot be denied that a certain individual apathy inevitably leads to a greater stability of the system. However, to exalt such an attitude implies supporting the maintenance of the status quo, whereas any deliberative-minded democratic community is, or should be, dynamic in character. Such a community sees its own generator of controlled change in the rational process; that is, change that is under the auspices of reason and, as such, should never be confused or chaotic. With continued regularity, such a community thinks about its own flourishing. However, we should bear in mind that the apathetic citizen is forced to accept deliberated decisions, especially when these are ratified by laws. From a certain point of view, the apathetic citizen, willing or not, has decided to be uninterested in the development of the society he lives in and, therefore, has also decided to accept others’ decisions. This may be a possibility, yet in doing so the citizen delegates guidance of his life and community to others. I may well take the decision not to participate in collective choosing by deliberation, but, as a consequence, other people take decisions in my stead, and I will end up living in a society built by others. The personal state of being uninterested can result from a particular form of liberty: the liberty not to participate, which is certainly a liberty one should have. However, this is a choice that is very costly in terms of limitations, and it means the acceptance of actions that one has not contributed to delineating. It is a lifestyle that many may enjoy, yet it is actually a way of breaking away which turns out to be existentially and politically negative, since the decisions others take always have an effect on those who have not taken any.

1.8 Why Deliberation Does Not Need Parties


Someone may be induced to apathy in the belief that their individual contribution is just one among thousands and thus irrelevant and virtually without any effect. However, this is wrong if we consider a deliberative process in which, initially, any position has the same right as any other, and in which all argument, for or against each position has to be equally evaluated. Indeed, it is through participation in the discussion that one becomes aware of the strength of his position and ability to argue a point. On the other hand, participation in discussions progressively reinforces the ability itself: it cannot be denied that practicing for active participation is an excellent educative task. No one is born “expert” in this field, even if some may have a greater natural disposition towards the rational debate. To withdraw from the competition does not bring about any improvement in the deliberative capacities you possess. Nor is it beneficial to the position you would like to support, which is then implicitly denied any support, if you refuse to enter the deliberative process. The idea that someone else may be paid to play this active role can be put forth. This is the job of the professional politician, someone who gets money to take a role we do not want to play ourselves. However, we must remember that there is no guarantee the polititian will play this role the way we like. Thus, we run the risk of paying a representative who may represent only himself, or the party he (and, perhaps, we) belongs to. The cost of direct democracy, like deliberative democracy, is that it takes time. This is inescapable. Either we keep this time for us and let others decide, or we devote this time to the community and collaborate in public choosing. However, if we think about this, such time is dedicated to ourselves too, and to our intellectual growth, because it is the only way we can become aware of the rational tenability of our own positions and those of others. Without deliberative confrontation, there is no control of our own ideas or other people’s on certain subjects. Not only does deliberation lead to the examination of the validity of the positions at stake. It also allows for control, within the limits of human critical ability, of the potential presence of individuals or groups among the participants, who have a propensity for the manipulation of the debate. As we shall see later on, this is an important issue. On the one hand, there is the ideal world, where everyone is good, and nobody thinks of herself as “smarter” than anybody else and, therefore, no one thinks of manipulating the debate. On the other hand, there is the real world, where it is easy to find someone, who feels “smarter” or behaves deceptively, whose intentions are far from being rhetorically honest, and who enters the debate to manipulate it. Such individuals or groups can be more easily unmasked when they participate in a debate with other individuals who have abilities of critique, who ask for rational justifications, who make rational objections and who have the ability of unmasking rhetorical dishonesty by imputing to the charlatan the fallacies made in bad faith or the intentional falsehood of the initial premises (I will discuss some amazing and funny cases in the last chapter). Hence, deliberation should have built-in defences against individuals or groups that are inclined to rhetorical dishonesty and aim at guiding the debate to an established outcome.


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The group of deliberators could also play a positive role in unmasking builders of social pseudo-identities, because deliberators are trained in rational problem solving; that is, they are accustomed to the evaluation of the tenability of solutions through the continuous production of arguments for or against them. When I speak of social pseudo-identity, I have two situations in mind: 1) the possibility that someone, who has sufficient self-awareness, nevertheless holds wrong beliefs about the actions that would be favourable to her own interests; 2) the possibility that someone may hold wrong beliefs about the group she belongs to and, therefore, acts inappropriately. Should anyone with a social pseudo-identity enter a deliberative process, he would also bring his wrong beliefs. But the debate would be able to reveal these beliefs thereby allowing the person to get rid of them – hopefully. Several times, indeed many times (though it can never be too many), I have spoken of the “rationality” of the deliberative process, of “rational” justification, and of “rational” objection. As I said, this emphasis on reason is but an emphasis on the central aspect of deliberation. In the end, rational discussion excludes, or it should exclude, ideology and dogma, which should be immediately censured by participants, hopefully. However, the emphasis on rationality does not mean that we must entertain a cold, passionless or unemotional discussion. On the contrary, it is our passion for rationality that elicits our propensity to deliberation and prompts us to participate in the deliberative processes actively. Moreover, it does not follow from the rationality of a discussion that this cannot be passionate and emotionally intense, even if many erroneously think otherwise. In reality, the genuine problem here is the opposite one: a passionate debate without reasoning is epistemologically blind and pragmatically pointless. A last remark to draw attention to an issue that is often neglected by advocates of deliberative democracy but certainly not by those theorists of anarchism, like Murray Bookchin, who argued in favour of what he called libertarian municipalism, which is based on the deliberative process: deliberation does not need parties! Deliberation is in need of individuals that actively participate in the making of a choice through a process of rational discussion. It does not need members of a party with a predetermined political schedule and fixed ethics. Of course, any militant can take part in a deliberative process, however, her militancy is totally irrelevant to the process; all that matters is her arguments and capacity for using them. Any argument based on her membership of a party would amount to a rhetorical fallacy: from one’s party membership, or one’s support for a position that aligns with that of a party, it does not follow that what is affirmed accordingly is valid or tenable. In other words, a party cannot access the deliberative process in virtue of how this process is built and regulated while a militant can access it. However, she should enter the debate qua an individual having her own ideas and capacity of defending them, and not qua militant of a party. Parties, lobbies, etc. lose their value when deliberation is at issue, since their membership is rationally irrelevant and, therefore, is irrelevant to the deliberative debate. Every participant in a deliberative process is an individual with his or her own knowledge, positions to defend and attack, and ability to do so.

1.9 Deliberating Is Legitimating


1.9 Deliberating Is Legitimating We could ask ourselves: “Why should we accept the result of deliberation?” This question, on the one hand, concerns the principle of binding reciprocity, namely, moral integrity; on the other hand, it regards the broader problem of legitimisation. As I said, the principle of binding reciprocity would imply that the deliberator should be bound by moral coherence with the deliberated choices. Naturally, it is fully possible to violate such a principle, as it is any principle. And there might be no sanctions at all if there is no law to enforce the implementation of a deliberated choice. In reality, the principle of binding reciprocity should be chiefly intended as a sort of gentlemen’s agreement, an agreement among persons of honour. It is an agreement through which participants in deliberation commit themselves to the respect for the choices they have made as deliberators. The issue of legitimisation is subtler. First of all, what is legitimisation? And how is it obtained? What are the features that qualify an individual or an institution as legitimated? Why should we obey, or at any rate comply with, the guidelines and policies of a given institution or individual? These are not easy questions, since the problem of authority legitimisation is, and has virtually always been, one of the hottest topics in political philosophy. This is not the right place to start a thorough analysis of the problem or a historically accurate reconstruction of it. Luckily, it suffices to recall the classic tripartition advanced by Max Weber, according to which there are three forms of legitimisation: 1) charismatic legitimisation, 2) traditional legitimisation, and 3) positive legitimisation. The first is based on the idea of charisma as that capacity an individual has of influencing others’ choices. Now ‘charisma’ comes from the ancient Greek. The root of the word is charis, namely, ‘grace’: gratuitous gift. Indeed, the charismatic individual is recognized as being gifted, in the sense that he owns something others do not and, therefore, he is worth being listened to and followed. If the charismatic individual is recognized as being gifted with special qualities, this means that it is not enough for him or her to affirm to having such qualities, these have instead to be recognized by someone else. It is not sufficient to proclaim yourself to be charismatic and, therefore, to require of others the right of being listened to and the right of guiding the community. In reality, the community must recognize your charisma and, consequently, accept your directive and control. Historically, the qualities that were deemed to be charismatic were those that would make the individual a direct or indirect part of the divinity. The Pharaoh was directly recognised as charismatic because he was the son of the god Osiris. The Pope used to be, and still is, indirectly recognised as charismatic because he currently has the role that Christ directly assigned to San Peter. Nowadays we are less inclined to connect charisma with divinity. This notwithstanding, charisma is essentially related to individuals, but sometimes it may be somehow “inherited” by institutions. That is to say, the socalled routinisation of charisma may occur: the charisma of an individual percolates into the institution this individual has founded. The charisma of San Peter percolates into the Church. The charisma of Pippin the Short percolates into the Carolingian dynasty by virtue of his being crowned by a Pope and his being


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the first anointed king, and so on. But if an institution becomes charismatic, then anybody who has an important role within that institution acquires charisma too. Here it is how charisma, as a relational property between an individual and the members of a community, becomes a relational property between an institution and the members of the community in which that institution is found. A second form of legitimisation is connected to tradition: an individual, or an institution, is considered legitimated to retain the role, or charge, it has had so far. Obviously, this poses the problem of what the reasons are that entitle individuals or institutions to be legitimated only in virtue of their past. There are many solutions to this problem. One of these connects with the original form of legitimisation whereby a historical institution is legitimated because at its historical root, it had a charismatic founder who passed charisma to the institution by routinisation. A second solution is related to the mere fact of long persistence over time. Actually, it may sound strange that an institution could be considered legitimated just because it is “old”; yet, however bizarre, this can also occur. There are Italian universities that consider themselves legitimated only by virtue of their being ancient. However, the problem is always relational: nothing is legitimated in virtue of the past, there must be a community that grants legitimisation on the basis of past history. For example, many of the “old” Italian universities insist on having scientific legitimisation because they have a long history, but such legitimisation is hardly accorded them because, at the international level, different criteria hold. In other words, their self-proclaimed legitimisation finds no echo or followers in a world where academic legitimisation cannot be based on the past, but is a function of scientific productivity. Only the credulous would accept that having a long history in a certain field would necessarily entail legitimisation in that field. The third form of legitimisation is the less a-rational, since it is grounded in positive law: it is based on the idea that a single individual is legitimated because they are in charge of a function within an institution that, in its turn, has been legitimated as a result of a process that is governed by rules codified in something written to which special value is attributed, like the constitution, a state law, or a founding regulation. What matters here are not exceptional personal abilities; but rather what the relevant charge and hosting institution are. To be honest, we should not forget about legitimisation through “stick”. Many times the authority is legitimated only because it has the power of force. Many of us may remember of that famous apologue contained in De civitate dei (The City of God) by Augustine of Hippo (Book IV, § 4), in which it is narrated that Alexander the Great asked a pirate why he had the “strange” idea of seizing the sea with his incursions. Looking at Alexander, the pirate says: “What thou meanest by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, whilst thou who dost it with a great fleet art styled emperor”. Of course, Augustine did not wish to glorify the power of force. He wanted to reflect upon authority legitimisation. However, it cannot be denied that many legitimisations have originated as acts of force that have then been revisited opportunely – to go back to Weber’s tripartition – as 1) charisma (the Gauls succumbed to the military force of Roman legions, and this contributed to

1.9 Deliberating Is Legitimating


enhancing Cesar’s charisma), 2) history (the military force of Muzio Attendolo, a soldier of fortune nicknamed Sforza because of his physical vigour and intrepidity in battles, gave rise to the history of the Sforza dynasty in Milan), 3) positive law (the military force of the URSS and United States legitimated Warsow Pact – ratified in 1955 by Nikita Chruščёv – and NATO – established in 1949 in Washington – respectively). Needless to say, deliberation has nothing to do with coercion. No legitimisation can derive from argumentum ad baculum, as it is a rationally irrelevant argument. “Vae victis” (“Woe the vanquished”), as Brennus, the commander of the Gauls who defeated the Romans in the 4th Century B.C., said, has no value within a deliberative framework. It is actually deliberation itself that unmasks those participants who would like to make use of force in one or another variant (“I was sent by God”, “You do not know who I am”, “I was given authority by the party”, etc.). In the deliberative debate, isocracy (from ‘isos’ = equal, ‘kratos’ = potere) must hold: everyone has the same power and force as everyone else. What about that forms of legitimisation advanced by Weber? Surely, there is no room for charismatic legitimisation in the deliberative framework, where all have the same right of speaking and submitting a position, as well as of arguing in favour of or against a position. Leaders qua leaders ought not be admitted who brag about being “the Lord’s anointed”. Nor is it possible that other participants accord them such status, otherwise deliberation itself is inhibited. In a deliberative process, if some participants proclaim to have features that would make their assertions superior to those of others’, and some members of the deliberative process grant it, then deliberation immediately halts and transforms into a totally different, and rationally misleading, method to reach a decisional outcome. In a debate among peers, there cannot be someone who is “more equal” than others, and there cannot be room for participants subscribing to such a spurious form of equality. Legitimisation by tradition is also excluded: to maintain that a certain tendency in deliberation is long established is not a good argument; on the contrary, it is a fallacy that should be avoided. Tradition cannot have any positive role in the appraisal of the tenability of a position or in the acceptability of a deliberated result, particularly when tradition becomes a dogmatic body. It does not follow from saying that certain choices or actions have long been customary that such choices or actions have necessarily to be valid or positively valued. We are then left with positive legitimisation. However, this is unviable too, because there is no, and there should not be any, constitutive act or norm that empowers deliberators or that sanctions the validity of their final choice. On the contrary, if we were to appeal to some, more or less fundamental, law or constitutive act, we would end up with a fallacy. The existence of a norm or act that empowers the group of deliberators does not prove the validity of their choice. In truth, the legitimisation of the deliberated result and, consequently, of the group of deliberators comes about through the deliberative method itself, since the result is produced through a collective process of rational analysis of the problem, of submission of possible solutions, of rational control as regards the validity of such solutions, and of comparison and choice of those solutions that progressively


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prove to be more tenable, until one (if any, of course) is eventually deliberated and then cannot be but legitimated. I would label this process deliberative legitimisation, that is, that form of legitimisation which stems from the deliberative method itself. Finally, it is (hopefully) extremely plausible that a wise and autonomous citizen considers the result of a collective and rational decisional process more legitimated than a decision based on the heritage of a tradition, on immanent or transcendent charisma or on a law he or she has not participated in making.

1.10 A Critic of Critics of Deliberation and the Sin of Parrhesia As we have seen, the deliberative process is based on critical thinking, which is a way of thinking that starts from an initial position and achieves a final one by means of reflection, analysis and a debate characterized by the submission of arguments for or against. But can we criticise the deliberative process? Thinking of this, it would be quite mortifying, psychologically, and rather problematic, epistemologically, if a critical approach could not be criticised in turn. Indeed, deliberation is criticisable, as any position, attitude, or method is. Criticisms can be made from two different angles: from an external angle, as critics of deliberation do when they say that deliberation is not as valid as their supporters say or from an internal angle, which is preferred by promoters of deliberation, who want to strengthen it by showing potential frailties that should possibly be removed. Promoters of deliberation believe this to be valid and, therefore, they have confidence in the method of arguing and counter-arguing. Hence, by making use of arguments and counter-arguments, they criticise the deliberative process to ameliorate it. However, in this way, they indirectly exalt deliberation, because they make use, and it would not be possible otherwise, of a method which is the same as that adopted in deliberation, that is, based on arguments and counterarguments. Critics of deliberation have two alternative ways of making their criticisms. One is the rational way and the other is the a-rational, or irrational, way. If they opt for the former, then what they do is not too different from what internal critics do. Moreover, if they start up a debate to criticise deliberation, and this debate is rational, then they are proposing to deliberate about deliberation, which would be a sort of meta-deliberation. Therefore, they end up using what they set out to criticise. As everyone knows, this is a self-destructive way of arguing that undermines the criticism itself, as this is exactly based on what is supposed to be criticised. It follows that the stronger the criticism, the more reinforced what is criticised, and, paradoxically, the more compromised the criticism itself. External, a-rational or irrational, criticisms deserve entirely separate consideration. In truth, it would suffice to say that such criticisms cannot be but risible and inconsequential. I do not think, in fact, that there would be any special interest in a criticism that just says “Deliberation does not work” or “Deliberation is not really democratic”. Unless there are reasons in support of these criticisms, there are no

1.10 A Critic of Critics of Deliberation and the Sin of Parrhesia


“reasons” to take them seriously. And if there are no reasons, then they (the criticisms) should not be considered at all. After these brief, and general, remarks on the nature of the criticisms of deliberation, we should look more closely at the main ones to understand whether they are grounded in good reasons. An initial objection to deliberation concerns the actual expertise of deliberators. It should be admitted that this is a real problem, which I shall tackle later on, because it is of significance for the whole issue. For the time being, it suffices to say that, in truth, the expertise required by a deliberator is threefold: an expertise with regard to the subject matter; a (political or ethical) expertise with regard to the (political or ethical) point of view from which one looks at a given problem; and, last but not least, a rhetoric expertise connected with the way in which one debates. What is the minimal requirement in terms of expertise? Should this be equal for all deliberators? Should the quantity of expertise be equal for each of the three components? Is good deliberation possible if no deliberator is acquainted with the subject matter, with the perspective one adopts on this, and with the debating method? Is good deliberation possible if competence is unequally distributed? Is there any risk of deliberation being distorted if some deliberator has greater competence, especially rhetorical competence, than others? I shall come back to these issues. Closely connected with the problem of expertise, arguably its most significant corollary, we find the problem of parrhesia. Parrhesia is a rather unusual term; indeed, if twenty years ago Michel Foucault had not made a series of lectures on it, this term would only be used in religious contexts, at best. Parrhesia comes from the Greek ‘pan’, that is, ‘all’, and ‘rhema’, which means ‘utterance, ‘speech’. Hence, in no way is parrhesia equal to isegoria, although such confusion sometimes arises. Isegoria, as we have seen, is the equal right every citizen has of speaking, while parrhesia relates to free and unrestrained speech. At the beginning of the Christian tradition, parrhesia was opposed to hypocrisy, which also comes from Greek: hypocrisis, namely, ‘playing a part, pretending’. Whoever engages in parrhesia, the parrhesiast, says it all, and indeed does so with truthfulness and bravery. The parrhesiast affirms the truth and, independently of the surrounding context, takes full responsibility for what he or she says. On the contrary, the hypocrite pretends to tell the truth, while lying. This is exactly the meaning of parrhesia Foucault was talking about in his lectures held between October and November 1983 at the University of Berkeley California, subsequently recorded in Discourse and Truth: the Problematization of Parrhesia. In actual fact, Foucault briefly mentioned a second meaning of the term, which is not as positive as the first. This second, negative, meaning is what interests me here. It is stigmatised by Plato in Book VIII of his The Republic, where he criticises those that say whatever comes to their mind without thinking seriously about what they are saying and its validity. This negative sense is then voiced again by the first Christian thinkers, particularly John Chrysostom, when they admonish those who speak without thinking, by mere virtue of their possession of a vocal apparatus. Such people, the Christian thinkers stated, should stay silent.


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Many times we see acoustically polluting exemplars of parrhesiasts (in the negative sense), who --- alas --- blabber on, having no arguments or knowledge. These people are harmful to the deliberative process. Indeed, they are the antithesis of the deliberator as the person who speaks as a result of her knowledge and analysis, offering good arguments. Hence, dear deliberators, be cautious of parrhesiasts! Another significant problem is that the deliberative process obliterates any arational or irrational position. I shall come back to this later. For the present, it would be sufficient appreciate the importance and awkwardness of this problem, because obliterating any a-rational or irrational position means eliminating faithbased positions. In all honesty, we can try to put this issue in one way or another, we can hide behind more or less vacuous talk, but if we really want to have full deliberation, then we should not allow for positions that cannot be rationally justified and, in turn, objections that have no rational structure. Hence, this problem does not arise from a certain point of view, namely, from the point of view of deliberative coherence. To accuse the deliberative process of not accepting a-rationality or irrationality is like accusing people dressing in black of not dressing in red. Of course! If I am wearing black, I am not wearing red, or green or yellow. If I agree to participate in a deliberative process, then I also accept that this takes place within the bounds of rationality and, therefore, I also accept not to submit, or to be submitted, positions that cannot be rationally justified and criticised. Here, it should be clear, that we are just reaffirming the principle of justificatory reciprocity: anyone who does not accept this principle is out of the deliberative game. Thus, there is no value in the screaming and shouting of those who would like to participate in the deliberative process with a-rational or irrational positions. They simply have to be banned from deliberation. On the other hand, they do have a different gaming table. This could be a sort of armwresting table where the problem of who has the best and most powerful faith is settled. It could be a table where indoctrination and dogmas are admissible. It should be noticed, however, that the non-acceptance of a-rational and irrational positions does not mean that any stance coming from a religious approach should be banned. It is not the religious approach as such that should be banned, but the a-rational and irrational positions concerning it should. These two things cannot, and must not be confused, there are religious approaches that are (at least in part) rational, while there are a-rational and irrational positions that have nothing to do with religion. There is another issue of great significance: “What if citizens refuse to participate?” I already touched upon the issue that a citizen’s lack of interest in participation in a deliberative process is fully legitimate: there is a right not to be involved in politics. This is widely acknowledged, but sometimes the dark side of this issue has not been highlighted sufficiently. As underlined, lack of participation does not only entail the positive facet connected with the right of being uninterested in politics, it also entails the negative facet that the uninterested person is subject to the decisions taken by others.

1.11 Aristotle and Deliberation


We should also take into account that someone who decides not to participate in the deliberative process can be motivated by his being uninterested in politics or ethics, as well as by his satisfaction with the status quo. The deliberative process promotes political and moral change, because it highlights the transiency of any decision. However, someone may not like changes and, therefore, may not have good reasons to be involved in a deliberative activity. We must take into consideration that, in the population, there are traditionalists and conservatives, who, with or without good reasons, detest any change. There are those who are repelled by a rational procedure because it disturbs their dogmas and faiths. Of course, they could get in on the process as “saboteurs”: they could pretend to be inclined towards rational debate having, in truth, no real commitment to it and, therefore, no intention of changing their position, which they are sure is “right and good”. I am not fabricating fictional events of politics and morality. Every day political and moral prejudices are confused with political and moral stances. For example, it would be sufficient to look at the participants in many ethical committees. Let us consider the Italian National Committee on Bioethics. Members are politically appointed and many take part in it by having an implicit mandate: they must defend the positions of those who have supported their candidature. This is particularly patent if we look at the way catholic members act within the institution. Of course, they declare to be in favour of dialogue and rational discussion, but they are actually fixed to their positions. Perhaps, they believe they are paving their way to Heaven, but I would not bet on them achieving it. However, even if “saboteurs” can surreptitiously enter the deliberative process to carry on their “dirty war”, “deliberatively mature” deliberators, who have a clear idea of what deliberation is, should quickly indentify and get rid of them. Saboteurs should not be physically expelled (!), they must be banned from the debate and shown the exit. If they are allowed to stay, in a moment of foolish benevolence, then the deliberative process as such comes to a halt there and then, because an asymmetry would arise between those who are inclined to modify their position in the light of rational arguments and those who are not, despite the manifest non-tenability of their positions from the rational point of view. In this case, at most, a compromise can be reached, however, as I have already stated, no compromise can be thought of as a deliberative consensus.

1.11 Aristotle and Deliberation There is an aspect of the current discussion on deliberation that puzzles those who are historically-minded. In fact, theorists of deliberative democracy, who often refer to a rather idealized view of Athens’ democracy in the classical age, also seem to have overlooked the fact that the first theorist of deliberation was Aristotle, who, in addition, also had the chance “to pass through” Athens and to write a booklet about its “constitution”. I do not have the aspiration or desire to trace everything back to Plato or Aristotle – God save me! – however, to have some familiarity with the history of philosophy would not be such a bad idea, especially if we consider that advocates


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of deliberative democracy would be quite happy to find a historically robust tradition upon which their account could be grounded. Again from the point of view of historical awareness, the Greek term for ‘to deliberate’ is bouleuo, which is clearly related to boulé, the gathering, namely the council of citizens (bouleutai) who, precisely in Athens, would take decisions upon discussion. Needless to say, any historical account of Athens’ democracy mentions boulé. However, let us go back to good old Aristotle. I would not even dream of embarking on an exegetical reconstruction of Aristotelian thought, which is not my job at all. Still, I would like to recall some fragments of it in order provide a view which is as complete as possible, on the issue of ‘deliberation’ (to start with, see Wiggins, 1975-1976; Thornton, 1982). Many of us know that the fame of Book VI of Nicomachean Ethics is due to the fact that it is where Aristotle discusses the subdivision of dianoia, the rational part of the soul (the other part regards ethics, and is not of interest here). He says that the rational part, in turn, is divided in two. On the one hand, there is the scientific part: this regards 1) all those principles which cannot be otherwise and, therefore, are necessary (as in the case of the theoretical sciences: physics, metaphysics, mathematics), and 2) with all those principles which hold in most of cases (as in the case of the practical sciences). On the other hand, there is the calculating part which regards all those principles which can be otherwise, and has to do with the sphere of action (praxis) and production (poiesis). With regard to the calculating part, the Stagirite distinguishes two virtues: wisdom (phronesis), intended as the rational disposition towards the choice that leads to action, and art (techne), intended as the rational disposition towards both poetic and rhetorical production. Hence, on the one hand, wisdom, intended as a dianoetic virtue, is found within the rational dimension; on the other hand, it is focused on action. In fact, wisdom is about deliberation, that is, about what aims at “the means to a good result” (Eth. Nic. VI, 5, 1140a 25-30). Therefore, in a sort of motto, the wise person (phronimos), that Aristotle paradigmatically gives to classical Pericles as a paradigmatic example, is “that one who is able to deliberate”. Aristotle certainly claims that one needs wisdom to choose well, to deliberate. But what does ‘to deliberate’ mean? The Stagirite discusses it in chapters 2 and 3 of Book III, as well as in chapter 9 of Book VI. Here, in particular, he tells us that deliberating closely resembles seeking, since deliberation prompts us to find out what we still do not know. More precisely, it is a rational seeking for the (unknown as yet) means that can lead to a good goal, which, according to Aristotle, is the happiness of the single citizen within the happiness of the polis, i.e., collectivity. As a sort of slogan, politics can then be seen as the science that, by means of deliberation, works towards the happiness of the polis and, therefore, of the citizens. Oh my goodness, what a wonderful definition of ‘politics’! It should be brought to the attention of our politicians, who may have forgotten the original reason behind their job. Going back to our Greek philosopher, in the two above-mentioned chapters of Book III, he claims that the deliberative choice is rational and voluntary in essence. It cannot be otherwise, if we think of it: there is no genuine choice without consciousness and voluntariness.

1.11 Aristotle and Deliberation


I would like to say a couple of words about voluntariness, which characterises choosing, in general, as well as moral choosing and, therefore, moral actions, in particular. Among other things, in chapter 5 of Book III, Aristotle makes it very clear that any moral action is fully voluntary, and the moral agent, should this be a simple citizen or a legislator, is held fully accountable for it. In morality, you cannot get rid of responsibility: you are in charge of your actions. The voluntary, as Aristotle explains in chapter 1 of Book III, is what is done neither through compulsion nor ignorance. With regard to compulsion, “[t]he compulsory, then, seems to be that whose moving principle is outside, the person compelled contributing nothing” (Eth. Nic. III, 1, 1110a 1-5). Of course, there are “mixed” cases, for instance, when we act through fear; however, even in this case, there is always an action-directed rationalisation that can solve the situation. For example, if we are on a boat in a storm, we are forced to act for fear of the possible shipwreck. Yet we can rationalize what should be done to achive the best we can; in this case we could throw the cargo overboard in order to survive the shipwreck. Instead if there are external morally despicable and unforgivable coercions, we ought not to act: “some acts, perhaps, we cannot be forced to do, but ought rather to face death after the most fearful sufferings” (Eth. Nic. III, 1, 1110a 25-30). With respect to this, impeccable and coherent (at least in theory) Aristotle recalls Alcmaeon. According to the tale, Alcmaeon discovered that his mother Eriphyle betrayed both his father, who then died because of this, and himself. Alcmaeon then decided to ask the Delphic oracle for advice on what to do and, therefore, he handed over decisions to the oracle. This gave him a solution, which he then interpreted as a suggestion to kill Eriphyle, which he eventually did. Alcmaeon cannot be excused for the matricide, not even by invoking the divination. According to Aristotle, Alcmaeon is simply unforgivable, and any attempt in the direction of excusing him would be “risible” before the severity of his act. However, Aristotle tells us that it is not easy at all to define what voluntary is, and the current literature on the topic shows this too (see Boniolo, De Anna, 2006). Nevertheless, at least prima facie, we can agree that voluntary is an action perfomed without external constraints. There is a different correlation, instead, between voluntariness and ignorance. In fact, the ignorant person acts involuntarily, with respect to what she ignores. Here, we must immediately distinguish between to act as a result of ignorance and to act in purposeful ignorance of. In the latter case, you know you are violating a rule, or you know you are going to cause distress or pain, but you purposefully decide to ignore all of this. Here, we cannot talk of involuntariness: “every wicked man is ignorant of what he ought to do and what he ought to abstain from” (Eth. Nic. III, 1, 1110b 25-30). In practice, unscrupulous or ruthless people behave knowing that they behave wrongly, yet value more greatly a different goal (typically, their own interest) than the pain and suffering they may cause others. Instead, if I act “as a result of ignorance”, then I am not aware of the circumstances of my doing; that is, I ignore the real nature of the action I am going to take (for example, I could ignore that what I am saying should be kept secret); I ignore the instrument I am using (for example, I ignore that the stone I


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am using is not a hard stone, but it is a pumice stone); I ignore a certain intention (for example, I could try to stop a person who is escaping a danger); I ignore the right way something should be done (for example, I could break a person’s arm by using too much strength in an attempt to help them). If I had been aware of the circumstances, then I would have acted differently, but, ignoring them, I acted in way that was eventually revealed to be quite negative. However, in these cases, I can be excused. Naturally, ignorance can never be excused when it regards general principles: these are always known. As it is for law: ignorance of the law is no valid excuse (ignorantia legis non excusat). Hence, “the voluntary would seem to be that of which the moving principle is in the agent himself, he being aware of the particular circumstances of the action” (Eth. Nic. III, 1, 1111a 20-25). A good choice is always a voluntary choice. We can now summarise by saying that, in Aristotle’s view, deliberation (bouleusis) is the instrument that the wise person (phronimos), namely, the good deliberator, employs to make a choice (proairesis) that is directed at an action (praxis) towards a given aim. The supreme aim is the happiness of the citizen within the happiness of the polis. It follows that we deliberate on the means and not on the end: “For a doctor does not deliberate whether he shall heal, nor an orator whether he shall persuade, nor a statesman whether he shall produce law and order” (Eth. Nic. III, 3, 1112b 10-15); a doctor deliberates on how to heal, an orator deliberates on how to persuade, a statesman deliberates on how to make a good government. However, it should be noticed that to deliberate on means does not entail that there is no deliberation at all upon the aims. In fact, we can deliberate on aims too, if these are taken as intermediate steps towards a superior aim. However, and from an Aristotelian point of view it could not be otherwise, there is no deliberation on the ultimate aim, which, as already noted, is happiness. But what is the method of deliberation (and here we begin discussing the procedural principles!)? One would immediately think of practical syllogism, namely, the form of syllogism or argumentation whose conclusion is the choice of the action to be undertaken, as in the following examples:

Major premise Minor premise Conclusion

Example 1 Every sweet food must be tried This food is sweet

Example 2 The brave person does not escape In this situation, bravery is not to escape Those who can (because they are Those who can (because they are not forced or ignorant of the not forced or ignorant of the circumstances) must try that food circumstances) must not escape

It goes without saying that, especially after the works of Gertrud Elisabeth Anscombe (1957) and Georg Henrik von Wright (1971), there has been a huge debate on how practical syllogism should be construed. Luckily, this is not our problem. It would be helpful, however, to recall that practical syllogism is one of the many forms of syllogism discussed by Aristotle, each being characteristic of a particular field of knowledge. Practical syllogism is characteristic of deliberation,

1.11 Aristotle and Deliberation


whereas scientific syllogism, which is examined in Posterior Analytics, is characteristic of apodictic sciences, namely of theoretical philosophy as meant to encompass physics, metaphysics and mathematics. This kind of syllogism, which is also called philosophema, is characterised by its leading from necessary premises to necessary conclusions. Instead, in the Topics and On Sophistical Refutations, dialectical syllogism, also named epicheirema, is discussed. This is characteristic of practical philosophy and is of special interest for our account. Let us have a look at it. Right at the beginning of the Topics, we read that “our treatise proposes to find a line of inquiry whereby we shall be able to build syllogisms from opinions that are generally accepted about every problem propounded to us, and also shall ourselves, when standing up to an argument, avoid saying anything that will contradict us.” (Top. I, 1, 100a 15-20). That is to say, Aristotle informs us that, in the Topics, he will speak of dialectic and of its main tool, which is dialectical syllogism. But there is something more in that passage: something about the definition of dialectic. Let us try to understand. Dialectic regards the rational discussion of a given thesis with arguments in favour of or against it to check whether the thesis holds or must be abandoned because of the contradictions it entails. In other words, dialectic is the method through which two opponents reason about a given problem with the aim of reaching a solution. More precisely, given two opponents, the first presents the problem and the second offers a solution (thesis). Then, it is the turn of the first opponent again, who starts to pose questions that could lead the second to a contradiction, this being an attempt at affecting the validity of the proposed thesis. The method the first opponent uses in order to show the contradictions of the second is precisely the syllogism, which is called elenchus in this case. However – and this is the most intriguing aspect – neither of the two opponents judges whether the other has fallen into contradiction and, therefore, what the outcome of the dispute is. The judges are the attendants of the dispute: they are the referees. If this mechanism is to be functional, everyone (both opponents and the attendants) must agree on a set of premises; how would it be possible to reach a contradiction and detect it, otherwise? What is agreed upon, or taken for granted, is what in the above passage is mentioned as “opinions that are generally accepted”, namely, the endoxa. Endoxa too have been the subject of thousands of interpretations, but there seems to be consensus on the fact that they are statements that are not fully questionable but have a certain epistemological strength, even if they are not on a par with the necessary statements from which scientific syllogism starts. In fact, “on the other hand, those opinions are ‘generally accepted’ which are accepted by every one or by the majority or by the philosophers- i.e. by all, or by the majority, or by the most notable and illustrious of them” (Top. I, 1, 100b, 20-23). Confuting the opponent means leading them to contradiction, that is, showing that their thesis contradicts an endoxon. Along with scientific syllogism, which is characteristic of theoretical philosophy, and dialectical syllogism, which is characteristic of practical philosophy, Aristotle also mentions eristic syllogism and parasyllogism. In reality, these two are forms in which an invalid reasoning – a fallacy - can arise.


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The eristic syllogism, which is mainly present in the practical context and is also called sophisma, is a syllogism that, however formally correct, starts from presuppositions that are similar to endoxa, namely, to valid statements grounded in expert opinion, but they are not real endoxa. This is the way of vicious and malicious reasoning typical of the users of eristic, namely, that mode of discussion that is only interested in persuading the audience and is not interested in the validity – especially content validity – of the reasoning that is used to persuade. In other words, the person who makes use of eristic is a barker who is not afraid of using tricks, like pretending that certain statements are endoxa, in order to convince the audience and win the dispute against the opponent. Instead, the parasyllogism, which is mentioned along with the eristic syllogism in chapter 1 of Book I in the Topics, is just a formally wrong syllogism. Therefore, it is an incorrect way of reasoning that is due either to the assumption of false premises or to the insertion of a fallacy in the process that should have led from true premises to true conclusions. Hence, Aristotle alerts us to how the dialectic debate should develop. In fact, we must pay attention to detect any parasyllogism of the opponent and not to produce any ourselves. Equal attention must be paid to barkers as well, who may make use of eristic reasoning to maliciously persuade both the audience and us of some fabrication. However, in order to be aware of this, we would need to be able to detect argumentative errors and false endoxa (Top. I, 1, 100b 26, 101a 1). If we do not possess such ability, then we are condemned to be the easy prey of skilled and deceitful merchants of words. Put simply, if we do not identify barkers because we ignore their techniques, then we will be their victims. Given that we have just talked of barker unmasking, we should also recall the peirastic, or examinational, reasoning, which is discussed along with the eristic syllogism and the parasyllogism in On Sophistical Refutations. This is a way of reasoning that is of special interest in our times, when everyone speaks without any knowledge whatsoever of the subject matter (do you remember the parrhesiast?). In fact, peirastic is that way of reasoning that allows you to examine your opponent’s thesis by starting from what they say and then showing that if this were accepted, then we would obtain a contradiction with the endoxa or with what they themselves presupposed. “For the art of examining […] has in view not the man who has knowledge, but the ignorant pretender” (Soph. El. 11, 171b 4-9). Indeed, many times Aristotle underlines the importance of being knowledgeable about what you say (Metaph. II, 1094b 22- 1095a 2; as well as II, 995a 13); and this importance can never be overstated. We should remember peirastic reasoning and put it in practice every day to unmask the “wiseacre”, the “besserwisser”, the “saputello” and the “know-it-all” at large! We should remember this form of reasoning when we meet somebody, like the theologian I mentioned at the beginning, who is thought to be a master in flatus vocis. Let us conclude our bird’s eye view on this aspect of Aristotelian thought with a last reflection. As we have seen, on the one hand, there is theoretical philosophy, which deals with truth as such; on the other hand, there is practical philosophy, which is concerned with action or praxis. Practical philosophy is mainly discussed

1.12 Delibero, Deliberas, Deliberat, Deliberamus, Deliberates, Deliberant


in Eudemian Ethics, Nicomachean Ethics (as well as in Great Ethics, if this were really attributable to Aristotle) and in Politics. It is the philosophy that investigates both the aim of man, which, as I have mentioned, is the happiness of the citizen within the happiness of the polis, and the means to reach such an aim. Needless to say, the supreme method of practical philosophy is the dialectic, which is here particularised as a diaporetic procedure. It starts with the aporetic moment of showing the different stances (solutions) on a given issue (problem); the aporia develops through the analysis of the consequences of each stance. It is then shown that all stances but one lead to contradiction with an accepted premise, notably, with some endoxon; then it ends up with the validity of the solution that has not led to contradiction. However, the scope of practical philosophy is distinct from the scope of the deliberator’s wisdom, even if both are concerned with action. The former is connected with the scientific part of rationality; the latter is connected with its calculating part. In particular, as I have recalled above, the difference lies in the validity of principles. The principles from which the reasoning that is characteristic of practical philosophy starts are valid in most circumstances and not by necessity (as it is for the principles of theoretical philosophy), while the principles of deliberation can be otherwise, as they are endoxa. A final point on this subject is the following: we have seen that, among the calculating virtues, there is also art (techne). Among the arts, of special relevance to our discourse is rhetoric, examined in the homonymous work (Rhetoric). We know that rhetoric is the art of convincing the audience in relation to a certain topic. However, Aristotle immediately makes clear that there is bad rhetoric (exemplified by Gorgia, the author of the Encomium of Helen). This rhetoric is vacuous and not directed at truth. But there is also good rhetoric, which is fruitful and targeted at truth. This same position is shared by Plato who, in Gorgia, attacks bad rhetoric and, in Phaedrus, defends good rhetoric. Within the Aristotelian framework, it is quite easy to differentiate good rhetoric from bad rhetoric, since good rhetoric is based on the dialectic: the syllogisms that are characteristic of good rhetoric, the enthymemes, are but a special form of dialectical syllogism. Unfortunately, daily life is not as favourable to us as the Aristotelian framework. Nevertheless we should protect ourselves against bad rhetors (in particular erists, paralogists and peirasts), every time we enter a (deliberative) debate. In order to do so, we must first know the techniques that bad rhetors employ; we ignore them at our peril. Hence, as always, you cannot complain if you are the cause of your own pain or, if you like, ignorance never pays off.

1.12 Delibero, Deliberas, Deliberat, Deliberamus, Deliberates, Deliberant Nowadays, when we speak of deliberation we think of deliberation poll, deliberative day, town meetings and so on. This cannot be avoided if we are to


1 Deliberation and Democracy

fully enjoy the times we live in. Perhaps, however, in this way we forget, or facilitate the forgetting, about the long history of deliberation, which has gone through the boulé and the boulutài in the agora, through the comitia of Republican Rome and through the arenghi in Italian Communes. Almost to comply with a sense of historical responsibility, let me spend no more than a couple of sentences on the comitium and the arengo, while I will speak of the agora in the next chapter. Comitium, which later originated the Italian ‘comizio’, has its root in com-ire, that is, come together, namely the gathering. It used to indicate both the place where Roman citizens would gather, a part of the Roman Forum, and the gathering itself. As a citizen assembly, the comitium was an institution characteristic of Republican Rome that can be dated between 509 B.C. and 27 A.C. The first date indicates the year in which Sextus Tarquinius, son of Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, raped a noblewoman – Lucretia – and thus sparked the rebellion that led to the expulsion of the royal family. The second date is the year in which Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus took the power and was awarded by the Senate the honorary title of Augustus giving rise to the age of the empire. In this period of time, the government of the city was in the hands of the Magistrates. In the apical position among Magistrates, there were the two consuls, which alongside with praetors were the Magistrates cum imperio. Owning the imperium meant having the power of giving orders whose derogation was associated with bodily or pecuniary punishments. However, all Magistrates were elected yearly within assemblies, namely the comitia, which also had the task of putting laws to the vote. Such assemblies were of various kinds (comitia curiata, comitia centuriata, comitia populi tributa, concilia plebis) depending on who were their members and tasks (Taylor, 1966). In all these assemblies, it was customary to discuss deliberatively about the decisions to be taken. Instead, the arengo was the place in which citizens gathered, especially after their insurrection against feudatories, in order to deliberate and elect their representatives, also called boni homines or consoli, to govern the Comune (this occured in between the 11th-12th Century and the 14th Century). Precisely as the comitium was both the place of assembly and the assembly itself, so the arengo was a place, typically a building (also called Palazzo del Pretorio, Palazzo della Ragione, Palazzo della Comunità), as well as the assembly. Although both the Roman comitium and the Medieval arengo belong to our history and are the first examples, after the Greek agora, of deliberative assemblies, they do not seem to be fashionable among supporters of deliberative democracy. Nevertheless, let us recall what town meetings, deliberation polls, and deliberation days are (for further examples, see Gastil and Levine 2005). Town meetings are a form of direct participation in the city government originating in the 17th Century, from the settlements of New England – which Alexis Henri Charles de Clérel de Tocqueville explicitly praises in his De la démocratie en Amérique (Democracy in America) published in 1835 (Vol. I), and 1840 (Vol. II). The term has more than one meaning, ‘town meeting’ is that form of democracy that was put into practice in the cities of New England, as well as – by extension and according to the use of this term made by Jimmy Carter in his

1.12 Delibero, Deliberas, Deliberat, Deliberamus, Deliberates, Deliberant


1976 presidential campaign – every form of meeting in which a certain number, be it high or low, of citizens was invited to discuss and, possibly, to deliberate on a given topic. Therefore, the town meeting is but a moment of deliberative discussion, whose participation is open or by invitation, which should lead participants to a given result upon, as we say nowadays “open and rigorous discussion”. Nothing would change if we used ‘deliberative assembly’, ‘comitium’, or ‘arengo’ instead of ‘town meeting’. Yet this last locution seems much more à la page. Moving to opinion polls, I think they need no explaination, since we are accustomed to their everyday presence in the newspapers, especially since politics has become “please the people, and they will vote for you in turn”. However, for the sake of the absentminded, opinion polls are an event through which, after the statistical elaboration of data harvested on a sample of population thanks to interviews or questionnaires, you hypothesise what that population would think of an issue, or what the most shared opinion about this issue could be (notoriously, this is very different from the communis opinio, which, around the 15th Century, used to indicate the thought of the majority of the jurists on a given issue. This was needed because of the great uncertainty of the then legal order). Of course, it is known that it was the American statistician George Gallup who carried out the first important research into opinion polls and statistical sampling. It may not be known that Gallup became famous when, in 1936, his American Institute of Public Opinion (not communis opinio, please!) succeeded in predicting who would be the next President of the United States, namely, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (it would have been his second term as President). Instead, in 1948, the American Institute of Public Opinion made the wrong prediction that Harry Truman would have lost the election. However, opinion polls, especially of a political nature, have flourished and become increasingly important since Gallup; especially, when it comes to political leaders who do not want to win with their own political programme but rather with a programme that matches the desires of the majority of the voters. On the same track as opinion polls, in 1988, James S. Fishkin proposed what he called deliberative polling. This should be not seen as a method of evaluating public opinion, but rather as an experiment in social sciences as well as an instantiation of an aspect of deliberative democracy. Basically, the idea is to gather a group of people in order to let them deliberate on a given political event, like an election. The sampled individuals are then given a questionnaire about a given event (future elections, political choices, etc.) to fill in. This sample of individuals is then sampled again. The sub-sampled individuals are invited to spend a weekend in a certain place, where they are given basic information about the issue they will be asked to give an opinion on. These selected individuals are then split into small groups in order to let the deliberative debate fully flourish. Politicians and experts on the subject matter are invited to these debates too. At the end, they are asked to express their opinion by filling in a second questionnaire, which is about the same issue and the same order of problems as the first one. In this way, one can see how correct information and the possibility


1 Deliberation and Democracy

of deliberating rationally, also in the presence of experts and politicians (as we all know, these two categories never quite overlap), can significantly modify the expressed preferences. Moreover, some of the meetings, which usually take place at the weekend in order not to interfere with the jobs of the participants, are recorded on video and then broadcasted with or without being edited. Basically, this is a sort of reality show with a deliberative flavour! If Pilate had made use of deliberative polling about the Jesus-Barabbas issue, he should have asked, first, all the inhabitants of Jerusalem to express their opinion having no information. Then, he should have invited a selected portion of them to his palace, during the weekend in order to provide them with all the relevant information about Jesus and Barabbas’ identities. Thus, Pilate would have let them discuss the issue rationally, possibly in the presence of some expert in the subject matter (maybe a Temple priest, a defender (if any) of the rights of prisoners or a politician). Finally, he should have addressed the famous question “Jesus or Barabbas?” to this selected group and, then, he should have observed any modification in their opinion. I would not like to be pedantic, yet I regard the fact that a group of people can change their mind on a given issue as rather natural, if they are accurately informed and have the chance of exchanging ideas and arguments with other people. As we have seen with Aristotle, any choice should be informed in order to be fully voluntary. Moreover much depends on what information is given, how it is given and how the debate is carried out. In fact, deliberative polling, as it is structured, says that there might be a change in one’s opinion after debate and information acquisition. However, this seems to be quite obvious, especially, to those who have some exposure to hermeneutics. It may be more relevant from a sociological point of view to understand whether variation in opinion is a function of the change in the informational standpoint and in the way in which the debate is carried out, and regulated, among individuals in the subsample. I do not believe that the fictional case of Jesus and Barabbas would have had the same outcome if the group had been informed by Pilate himself or by one of Jesus’ apostles. What I want to underline is that, while it is perfectly normal to change your mind once you have more information and you can discuss, it is not at all trivial how such change may depend on the kind of information and on the kind of debate, since neither information nor debate is never fully neutral. In any event, the technique of deliberative polling by Fishkin has been repeatedly experimented. I shall mention some of these instances (see the Center for Deliberative Democracy web site). In October 1999, in Australia a deliberative polling was conducted about the possible modification to the monarchic constitution in a more republican direction. Thus, 347 Australians, who were chosen from a larger sample of surveyed people, were invited to spend a weekend at the Old Parliament House in Canberra. Here, filmed by the ‘ABC’ (Australian Broadcasting Corp) and ‘Nine Network’, they had the chance to discuss the issue among themselves as well as with experts. The results are reported in Tab. 1.1.

1.12 Delibero, Deliberas, Deliberat, Deliberamus, Deliberates, Deliberant


Table 1.1

Do you approve the proposed modification of the constitution? Yes No Uncommitted

Before deliberation %

After deliberation %

Difference %

53 40 7

73 27 -

+20 -13 -7

In August 2000, a sample of 364 Danish people was convoked to spend a week at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense to discuss whether Denmark should enter the ‘Euro zone’. Here, too, there was a broadcast by DR, the national television company. Results are reported in Tab. 1.2. Table 1.2

Yes on the EURO No on the EURO Undecided Do you think that: Being a member of the EU is positive for Denmark Keeping our own currency is more important than possible economic gain from participating in the single currency The single currency is a step toward 'the United States of Europe' Do you think that Danish participation in The single currency: Weakens the Danish welfare system Gives Denmark a stronger say in EU decisions

Before deliberation % 45 36 19

After deliberation % 51 40 9

+6 +4 -10










26 57

35 64

+9 +7

Difference %

In Italy too, there have been cases in which deliberative polling has been experimented. It started on the 3rd of December 2006, when the Region of Lazio planned a deliberative polling, in collaboration with the journal ‘Reset’ and the ISPO (Institute of Studies on Public Opinion), about the reorganization of the public health care system. Sociologically the most interesting fact of the whole issue is not that people change their mind once they are given information, rather it is that Deliberative Polling® is a registered trademark. This means that every time you want to carry out this kind of social experiment, you need to ask for permission. Basically, you ask for permission in order to carry out an experiment that has a foregone


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conclusion: everyone knows, or should know, that additional information can change one’s opinion on a given event or process. Aristotle taught us this (we will speak about this again when we refer to a publication of John Locke and the reply to this by Jonas Proast). It is unfortunate that, from the point of view of Aristotle’s descendants and heirs, the Stagirite never had the idea of registering the trademark, and neither did Locke or Proast. Let us end with deliberation day: another implementation of deliberative democracy proposed, again, by Fishkin together with Bruce A. Ackermann in their 2004 book precisely entitled Deliberation Day. The deliberation day should be a holiday established a couple of weeks before a particularly important election. Voters should gather in groups of 15 to 50 in order to discuss the main issues of the election campaign. These deliberators would be paid around 150 $ to carry out their work as active citizens. Naturally, while nobody would be forced to spend the deliberation day holiday deliberating, it is important that a few people, at least, do so. In conclusion, the authors of this proposal have done some calculations and hypothesized that, if we take into account the attendance fee, transportation and lunch, the final cost would be 2 billion dollars. Of course, citizens would thus gather to discuss and then change their mind, as Fishkin’s experiments demonstrate (and as we have known since classical Athens age). In short, we would have a more informed electorate. The problem is finding the 2 billion dollars.

1.13 Things to Reflect Upon I think that “it is right and just” to end this chapter, as I shall the following too, by taking stock in order to reflect upon certain points. In this way, we can create an intellectual reservoir of which we can avail ourselves in the future, if needed. One. Ethical and political theories, as they are perspective theories, tend to eliminate the conflict among different solutions to a given problem by eliminating rival theories. Therefore, they have a tendency to move it to the meta-level. On the contrary, deliberative approaches, as they are method theories, try to solve the conflict on its own level. Two. We should separate three aspects: 1) deliberation as a characteristic of a specific form of democracy; 2) deliberation as the activity of representatives; 3) deliberation as a preliminary stage to aggregation or representation. Three. Isegoria is a transcendental condition of deliberation. In other words, isegoria, as the (formal and substantial) right of speaking, is what allows the space for the possibility of the deliberative process to exist. No deliberation can take place without isegoria. Four. The principle of justificatory reciprocity claims that any proposal has to be justified by rational arguments offered by its proponent. This means that the tenability of a position depends on the strength of the arguments in favour of it and on the weakness of the arguments against it, that is, everything depends on how able we are to offer compelling arguments and to highlight the frailties of the counterarguments we receive.



Five. A good deliberator must be sufficiently acquainted with the subject matter; with the (ethical or political) approach he or she takes in debating; and with the techniques of debating. Six. It would be desirable that all deliberators were honourable people, namely, during the deliberative debate they should behave in a morally correct fashion, and they should personally put in to practice any deliberated choice they have contributed to making (this is the content of the principle of binding reciprocity). Seven. In a deliberative process, parrhesiasts (those who speak just for the sake of speaking with no arguments at all), erists (those who possess rhetorical abilities yet are not knowledgeable about what they are speaking of or do not pursue the common good), and paralogists (those who commit argumentative fallacies either in good faith or bad faith) ought not to be admitted. Or, if they are unmasked in the process, they ought to be expelled.

References Ackerman, B.A., Fishkin, J.S.: Deliberation Day. Yale University Press, New Haven (2004) Augustine: The City of God, pp. 412–426. The Modern Library, New York (1993) Anscombe, G.E.M.: Intention. Basil Blackwell, Oxford (1957) Aristotle: On Sophistical refutations. In: Categories, on Interpretation, and on Sophistical Refutations. Lightning Source Inc., La Vergne (2006) Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics. Oxford University Press, Oxford (1998) Aristotle: Topics., Lawrence (2006) Brennan, J.: The Right To a Competent Electorate. The Philosophical Quarterly 61, 700– 724 (2011) Bohman, J., Rehg, W. (eds.): Deliberative Democracy. Essays on Reason and Politics. The MIT Press, Cambridge (1997) Boniolo, G., De Anna, G.: The Four Faces of Omission. Ontology, Terminology, Epistemology, and Ethics. Philosophical Explorations 9, 276–293 (2006) Burke, E.: Speech to the Electors of Bristol (November 3, 1774); Bohn, H.G.: The Works of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke, London, vol. I, pp. 446–448 (1854-1856) Dahl, R.A.: Democracy and its Critics. Yale University Press, New Haven (1989) Elster, J. (ed.): Deliberative Democracy. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (1998) Fishkin, J.S.: Democracy and Deliberation: New Directions for Democratic Reform. Yale University Press, New Haven (1991) Fishkin, J.S.: The Voice of the People: Public Opinion and Democracy. Yale University Press, New Haven (1995) Foucault, M.: Discourse and Truth: the Problematization of Parrhesia. Northwestern University, Evanston (1985) Gastil, J., Levine, P. (eds.): The Deliberative Democracy Handbook. Strategies for Effective Civic Engagement in the Twenty-First Century. Jossey Bass, San Francisco (2005) Goodin, R.E.: Reflective Democracy. Oxford University Press, Oxford (2003) Gutmann, A., Thompson, D.: Democracy and Disagreement. Harvard University Press, Cambridge (1996) Gutmann, A., Thompson, D.: Why Deliberative Democracy? Princeton University Press, Princeton (2004) Habermas, J.: The Theory of Communicative Action, vol. I-II. Beacon, Boston (1981) (1984-1987)


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Habermas, J.: Between Facts and Norms: Contributions to a Discourse Theory of Law and Democracy. MIT Press, Cambridge (1992, 1996) Hansen, M.H.: The Athenian Democracy in the Age of Demosthenes: Structure, Principles, and Ideology. Blackwell Publishing, Oxford (1991) Held, D.: Models of Democracy. Polity Press, Cambridge (1996) Macedo, S. (ed.): Deliberative Politics. Essays on Democracy and Disagreement. Oxford University Press, Oxford (1999) Mcdowell, J.: Deliberation and Moral Development in Aristotle. In: Engstrom, S., Whiting, J. (eds.) Aristotle, Kant and the Stoics. Rethinking Happiness and Duty. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (1996) Mill, J.S.: Considerations on Representative Government. Prometheus Books, New York (1861, 1991) Plato: The Republic. Penguin Classics, London (2007) Pocock, J.G.A.: The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition. Princeton University Press, Princeton (1975, 2003) Rawls, J.: A Theory of Justice. Harvard University Press, Cambridge (1971) Rousseau, J.-J.: The Social Contract. Penguin, London (1762, 1953) Taylor, L.R.: Roman Voting Assemblies. From the Hannibalic War to the Dictatorship of Caesar. University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor (1966) Thornton, M.T.: Aristotelian Practical Reason. Mind 91, 57–76 (1982) Weber, M.: The Theory of Social and Economic Organisation. The Free Press, New York (1922, 1964) Wiggins, D.: Deliberation and Practical Reason. In: Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, vol. 76, pp. 29–51 (1975-1976); now in Needs, Values, Truth. Blackwell, Oxford (1991) Wright, G.H.: Explanation and Understanding. Cornell University Press, Ithaca (1971)

Internet Websites Website of the Center for Deliberative Democracy: The section on deliberation in Italy: Bookchin, M.: Libertarian municipalism: an overview, at

Chapter 2

Plato Was Not So Far Wrong: Recalling Athenian Democracy

Where the history of Greek democracy is told in brief and it is shown that it was not all a bed of roses. Where the truth of whether Pseudo-Xenophon, Thucydides and Plato were really antidemocratic is evaluated and finally, where it is claimed that the role of elites can be hindered (for demagogical reasons), but not eliminated.

2.1 Amid Historical Facts, Historical Interpretations and Philosophical Critiques Over recent years, there has been an unprecedented peak in the number of accidents – some fatal, unfortunately – involving people who assess their own skills rather immodestly. They go to the mountains for the weekend and venture out on via ferrata routes, to experience the thrill of a climb. Unfortunately they end up falling and getting injured or worse. The swelling number of unfortunate neomountaineers is certainly due to the increasing number of mountain enthusiasts, but also to the swelling number of those who believe themselves to be experts just because they went to the best sports shop in town and bought the most costly and technical equipment. Thus they go towards disaster, happily and dressed nicely. This could happen to me too if I had the same hubris. That is, if I, with boldness and arrogance, embarked on the difficult task of recalling what Athenian democracy really was without having an expert guide, setting off alone where my abilities would not allow me to venture. Here, difficulties lie in the need to consider what occurred in Athens as well as the reports of what happened, the historical interpretations of these reports, and what critics like Pseudo-Xenophon, Thucydides and Plato wrote about Athenian democracy and the interpretation we can give of their accounts. In short, this is indeed a real historical and exegetical task! Work that may lead me to disaster, like the neo-mountaineers, since I am only an amateur and not a professional: I am neither a historian of ancient times, nor a historian of ancient philosophy. I am just a nonspecialist who wants to enjoy the beauty of the rise of a political event that is unique to the history of Western political philosophy and, perhaps, to history of the whole world. This is not a case of excusatio non petita, accusatio manifesta (an excuse that has not been sought is an obvious accusation), but it is a mere declaration of limitedness. G. Boniolo: The Art of Deliberating, SAPERE 6, pp. 45–87, 2012. © Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012


2 Plato Was Not So Far Wrong: Recalling Athenian Democracy

In any event, “What is to be done?” as Nikolaj Gavrilovič Černyševskij asked when thinking about the title of the homonymous work he wrote in 1862-1863 while enjoying all the comforts of tsarist prisons in St. Petersburg, and as Vladimir Ilich Uljanov (better known as Lenin) asked again in 1901-1902. An answer to this landmark question could be found in 1976 Eloge de la fuite, written by the eclectic French biologist Henri Laborit. Thus, if the issue became too difficult or tricky, I could just break away from the task in hopes that I could escape to more pleasant, and less problematic, places. In certain circumstances, I would really like to flee, especially when I find discussants who regard ‘argumentative rationality’ and ‘honour’ as mere phonemes with no real referent or, at most, regard them as memories of juvenile readings. Nonetheless, I do not always think that flight is the best solution. There are moments of our life when flight allows us to reach nicer places uncrowded by troops of humans shouting out their moral prejudices and dogmas. Yet this could also mean that we may never aquire the capability to cross The Shadow Line that, as in the 1917 tale by Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski, later Joseph Conrad, allows for the passage from lesser to greater maturity and awareness. How am I to captain my ship in the sea of deliberative democracy? Shall I face the storm, and go through it, trying to reach the origin of deliberative democracy in Athens during the 5th and 6th Century B.C., or shall I break free from all this? It depends! I could run the risk of falling like an arrogant weekend mountaineer, even if – at least, post mortem – I would enjoy that 15 minutes of celebrity everyone aspires to with my name in the Monday newspaper following my Sunday accident. There is a middle way between leaping like an acrobat through the circle of fire and escaping in all circumstances, for one can take an expert guide through the storm, up the mountain or amongst historical facts, their interpretations and coeval philosophical analysis. In my case, I have decided to take Josiah Ober as my guide, a classical philologian with expertise in political philosophy and author of a tetralogy: Mass and Elite in Democratic Athens; The Athenian Revolution; Political Dissent in Democratic Athens: Intellectual Critics of Popular Rule; Democracy and Knowledge: Innovation and Learning in Classical Athens. Of course, anyone who takes a guide also takes responsibility for the choice and for the use he or she will make of that guide. Some rely on the guide blindly; however, this attitude is far from being consistent with my personal inclinations. Some confide in the guide with the intention of understanding where the guide will take them, why the guide chooses to go precisely there, and whether the chosen path is the best. This is my way. Thus, on the one hand, I take responsibility for the choice of Ober and, on the other, I would like to understand where he guides me, bearing in mind that I could have taken a different guide, who would have shown me different things in a different way. Different guides lead you to see different things, or even the same things but in a different light. I could have enjoyed alternative views under different guides of equal competence. Just to mention some of them: Hignett (1952), Finley (1973), Raaflaub (1985), Sinclair (1988), and Hansen (1991). Of course, a written guide like Ober does not make the matter very interactive, but you cannot have it all.

2.2 A (Short) History of Athenian Democracy


Well, let us begin to pack for this trip. It would be helpful to make clear right away that the manner in which Athenian democracy came about and took shape was quite anomalous in antiquity, especially because of the characteristically high degree of potential popular participation it involved. It should be noticed that I speak of ‘potential popular participation’ because one thing is the formal right of participating in a public debate, and another thing is both the substantial right of putting this formal right into practice and the real practice of this right. There is a distinction, indeed, between the level of formal possibility, the level of substantial possibility and the level of actualisation. I shall come back to this. I would like to recall two further aspects before starting out. First, in Athenian democracy, women, slaves, metics – namely, resident aliens – and children were not considered as citizens. Just to give an idea of numbers, it is worth keeping in mind that at Pericles’ time (right in the middle of the classical age, towards the middle of the 5th Century B.C.) there were approximately 80-100.000 slaves, 10.000 metics and about 30.000 citizens. Second, Athens was not the only city in ancient Greece where there was a democratic form of government. In truth, democracy, in some more or less primitive form, was present in many cities. Just think of Siracuse. Here, in 450 B.C., inhabitants decided to get rid of the dynasty of Deinomenid rulers, in particular when one of them, Thrasybulus, unnecessarily out-heroded (although I have a hard time in understanding those who claim that a certain degree of cruelty may be necessary in particular occasions). Thus, Syracusans “sent him home” and established a period of democracy that lasted sixty years and had the honour of being mentioned by Thucydides (History of the Peloponnesian War), Aristotle (Politics), and Diodorus Siculus (Bibliotheca historica) (see Berger, 1992; Robinson, 2000 e 2011). Among other things, the rebellion against the tyrant was then recalled every year with a festival dedicated to Zeus Eleutherios (Liberator). It is good to recall liberation, even if, sooner or later, some revisionist dude comes along and shouts that there was no liberation at all and, if any, it was a negative event. However, let the adventure begin.

2.2 A (Short) History of Athenian Democracy The first problem you have to face when you want to recount a piece of history, or even make a sketch of it, is where it should start. This issue is not trivial at all. In our case, there are two sides to it: “When can we start to talk about democracy?” and “Why in Athens?” However, even the most inexperienced historian knows that you cannot engage with the first question if you do not have a precomprehension, as hermeneutic scholars would say, of what ‘democracy’ means. We cannot ascertain the date of something if we ignore what it is. The second question requires some initial knowledge too: we need a precomprehension of what can give rise to a democratic phenomenon. It goes without saying that neither of the two precomprehensions should be intended in an absolute sense. Both can be criticised and changed accordingly. This change, however, would mean that we should then question the solutions we have given to the problem at


2 Plato Was Not So Far Wrong: Recalling Athenian Democracy

hand. In short, there would be different solutions to the same problem depending on the precomprehensions we start with to address it. To give some examples that are relevant to the problem of “Why in Athens?” we can take the answer given by Ian Morris (1996), who assumes the position by Robert Dahl (1989) and claims that there is an extremely high probability that some form of democratic government may arise in a society whose members consider themselves equal to one another. This is precisely what occurred in Athens, according to Morris and perhaps he is right but, with reference to this proposal, a 1952 book (then published in 1954) by William Gerald Golding, also comes to mind. It is, as many of you would have guessed, the Lord of the Flies. Golding’s tale allows understanding of how right or wrong Morris might be. For Lord of the Flies is the story of a group of kids of high social class that have a plane crash while they are escaping from an impending international conflict. Here we have a group of people who are apparently equal, at least from the point of view of social status. Yet the kind of government they give themselves is not democratic at all, as anyone who has read the book or seen the homonymous 1963 movie by Peter Brook, knows. What I would like to stress is that there is no guarantee that a group whose members consider themselves equal to one another will give rise to a democratic government. Of course, both Dahl and Morris prudently have spoken of probability, however high, of the occurrence of a democratic event. Nevertheless, I am afraid that, in this way, one would be able to explain both the birth of democracy (“I told you: there was a high probability that democracy would have arisen”), and the potential non-birth of it (“I told you: it is a probabilistic, and not deterministic, event”). In reality, initial equality may be (may be!) a necessary condition, yet, I confirm my fear, it may not be a sufficient condition. However, we could abandon Morris’s plausible hypothesis to embrace the equally plausible hypothesis proposed by Hansen (1991). Hansen does not draw attention to the social and cultural parity of Athenians, but rather he focuses on the pre-existing political institutions that – in his view – allowed for the rise of democracy. Sophisticated readers may have already noticed that such conjecture could be disputed on the basis of the ideas of Austrian methodological individualists like Carl Menger, Ludwig von Mises, and Friedrich August von Hayek. In their view, Hansen could be criticized as a constructivist since every socio-political institution - democracy included – should be taken as the unintentional outcome of intentional human actions performed by single individuals. These scholars may be not right, yet the birth of Athenian democracy could be seen through the lens of their anti-constructivism too. In short, it is not at all easy to answer the question “Why in Athens?” Nor is it easy to answer the temporal question: “When exactly?”. As I have just said, the answer depends both on what we mean by democracy and on the moment to which we want to fix the origin of the history that has led to it. One possibility is to start in 700 B.C., approximately when we move from a situation in which the Archons had a ten-year term and they were nominated from among the members of few noble families, to a situation in which Archons only had a one-year term. We do not know with precision how they were invested for

2.2 A (Short) History of Athenian Democracy


this year long task, although it is certain that their choice was controlled by the eupatridai, those who were “well born”: the nobles. Nine Archons were chosen, there was the Eponymos archon, who gave name to the year and dealt with the civil administration as well as with public and private jurisdiction; the Polemarch Archon, who was the head of the army, although in the 5th Century B.C., his functions were given to the strategoi (the strategist); the Archon Basileus, who took charge of religious issues and finally, there were six Thesmothétai, who established and presided over court proceedings with the task of enforcing the laws. At the end of their term, Archons were enrolled – until their death – in the Areopagus, which was the supreme court of Athens and had the explicit task of controlling the work of Archons in office and the implicit task of strengthening the aristocratic dominion over the population. At some point, in 594 B.C., a remarkable event for our story occurred: Solon was nominated Archon with extraordinary powers. He kick-started a series of institutional reforms that step by step led to the so-called democracy in classical Athens. Let us have a look at them. First of all, the exact aims of Solon’s reform are not entirely clear; for sure, it opened the door to a government that was no longer in the hands of few noble families. Solon started by reforming the boulé, namely, the council that controlled the ekklesia, the general assembly of citizens. Until that moment the boulé was made up of 400 members with one hundred members from each of the four aristocratic tribes: Geleontes, Hopletes, Argadeis, and Aegicoreis. Solon left the quadripartite division untouched, but he eliminated the tribes and introduced a new social tetrad: the Pentacosiomedimnoi, those who produced at least 500 medimnoi of cereals annually (the medimnos was the unit of measure for the capacity that was applied to dry materials, it was approximately equal to 51 litres), or had a comparable income; the Hippeis, namely, the knights, those who had enough wealth to equip themselves with a horse; that is, those who produced 300 medimnoi or had a comparable income; the Zeugitai, the small-scale landowners that had a pair of oxen (zeugos) to plow, or produced at least 200 medimnoi; and, finally, the Thetes, that is, all those remaining who produced less than 200 medimnoi or had smaller comparable income; therefore, dispossessed people were included in this last category. With the introduction of a social division based on income, Solon succeeded in reducing the power of the aristocratic class thereby introducing potential social change, since anyone could move from one income group to another and, therefore, have access to a different quantity of enjoyable rights. In fact, citizens of different income status had different political rights; everybody could vote for the Archons, but only Pentacosiomedimnoi could become Archons, and citizens of lower social status could only occupy political charges of lesser importance. The poorest, the Thetes, had no access to any charge. Not really what we would define a democratic situation, yet a promising start. Solon also made another move that cannot be overlooked, even if it was partially forced by the then turbulent social context: he decided to abolish slavery because of debts. From that moment on, no Athenian citizen, for however indigent and insolvent, could lose his freedom to become slave to another Athenian.


2 Plato Was Not So Far Wrong: Recalling Athenian Democracy

We know that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, as the wisest ones among us often claim. Thus, in parallel, I would say that the road to democracy is paved with tyrannical holes. In fact, although Solon’s innovations started that road, in 560 B.C. Peisistratos came, and became tyrant. This interruption to democracy was short, because Peisistratos’ son, Hippias, provoked an insurrection that got rid of him. The Alcmaeonid family, which included Cleisthenes, took part in the insurrection. Cleisthenes was initially defeated by those supported by Sparta but, in 508 B.C., he succeeded in starting with the second phase of Athenian democracy. Cleisthenes began his work with a census of the Athenian citizens that entailed the establishment both of the conditions for being a citizen and of the controls on who really met such conditions. Every citizen had to register in one of the demoi in which the Attica territory was divided. The citizen was then identified by his proper name, his father’s name, and his demos of birth or residence. Every demos had its own assembly that deliberated on local issues, including the entrance into citizenship by the eighteen year old sons of Athenian males who were already registered in a demos. In this way, it was known who was an Athenian citizen and, concomitantly, the essential requirements for citizenship were fixed. That is, to be at least eighteen years old and to be the son of a citizen. Every demos sent a fixed number of members to the boulé, which came to be made up of 500 components with two-year terms. The boulé retained the task of controlling the ekklesia. Note that Solon’s attempt at reducing aristocratic power was almost accomplished, because one could access the boulé not only through noble blood but also by mandate received from the assembly of the demos in which one was registered. There was a further indirect consequence of the establishment of demoi. Local assemblies were the first place in which citizens could exercise and develop their deliberative abilities, which would then be used in more important situations such as the general assembly. In reality, the demos was the lowest hierarchial unit, even if it was the most relevant because of its connections with the determination of citizenship. In fact, Cleisthenes divided the population into ten tribes; each tribe was named after a hero (Erechthesis, Aegeis, Pandiani, Leontis, Acamantis, Oeneis, Cecropi, Hippothontis, Aeantis, Antiochis) and then divided into progressively smaller districts and, finally, into demoi. Each tribe was made up of three districts (trittyes), each representing one of the three areas into which Attica was divided, that is, asty (city), paralia (seaside) and mesogaia (interior land). Then, about one hundred demoi were identified, which were then clustered by draw into trittyes. In this way, ten territorial tribes were obtained. Each of them represented the whole Attic territory, since each had one trittys that overlooked the seaside, one in a flat land and one in a hilly territory. Moreover, and this is a crucial point, the territory on which aristocratic families exerted their influence was dismembered, and the power of these families, which had led to the tyranny of the previous years, collapsed. The tribe contributed to the army with a group of hoplites (named taxis) and a group of knights (named ipparchia). The tribe also served as the electoral basis for the choice of one of the ten generals and one of the Archons. Moreover, each tribe participated in the boulé with a prytanis; that is, a delegation of fifty members chosen by draw among those who were elected in their own demoi. Therefore, the

2.2 A (Short) History of Athenian Democracy


demoi of a tribe appointed their own members; among these, 50 were chosen to take part in the prytanis of that tribe. However, it was not enough to be chosen by draw in order to access the boulé. For those chosen also had to pass a kind of aptitude test of a moral nature known as the dokimasia; but I shall come back to this. In this way, the boulé was made up of 10 prytaneis, each prytanis was the executive of the boulé during a 1/10th of the year term. The appointed leader of each prytanis was the epistates, who was also the chief of the boulé during the period in which his prytanis was in charge of it. The boulé, aside from dealing with issues of ordinary administration, took care of the assembly by setting its agenda and proposing the draft laws to be discussed. However, the general assembly, ekklesia, had the central role. This was scheduled four times a month. It had legislative powers, but it was subordinated, as mentioned before, to the proposal of new laws by the boulé. Proposals could be approved, rejected, or amended, in this latter case, they were sent back to the boulé, which would then resubmit them. It was the assembly that controlled the elections for the public offices and the draws, even for members of the boulé. Moreover, the assembly handled economic resources and regulated foreign affairs, war declarations included. It is worth noticing that Cleisthenes introduced the draw mechanism both for the access to the boulé and for access to other public offices. In this way, the risk of lobby formation was almost ruled out, especially aristocratic lobbying, that could lead to the indirect control of the polis. Moreover, the person chosen by draw was not necessarily an expert in what he was called to administrate. Because of the draw, though this was followed by the dokimasia, the elected person was implicitly not expected to be an expert in the field or a professional politician, he just had to be a citizen of “certified” moral standing. There is a latent, though highly precise, idea here of what a statesman should be, that is, a citizen who, independently of his social status, was called to administrate an institution temporarily, either alone or in a team and only morality, and no specific competence, was required of him. This was a highly innovative idea that, however, Plato, as we shall see later, did not like. According to him, a statesman could not be someone who was not knowledgeable; on the contrary, the statesman should possess knowledge. In particular, the statesman should be “knowledgeable of human things and of ends at which humans ought to aim”. In fact, if Cleisthenes’ idea of statesman was fascinating, Plato’s critique is not to be overlooked, since it highlights the unavoidable frailty of “not knowing”: if you are not knowledgeable, then your are easy prey for anyone who is knowledgeable, or who is ignorant but pretends to be knowledgeable in order to manipulate you. The strategist was the only one among the public officers that was not assigned after draw, because the head of the army had to be an expert, someone familiar with military issues, and not a layman. It would have been very dangerous and silly, indeed, if the strategist had been chosen by draw and untrained in military activities. However, in order to avoid the risk of a tyrannical drift under the chosen strategist, he had a one-year term and then ceded his role to the strategist elected by another tribe. In this way, military affairs were controlled by each of the ten tribes in rotation.


2 Plato Was Not So Far Wrong: Recalling Athenian Democracy

As it may be understood, the democratisation that Solon started had a strong acceleration under Cleisthenes. However, it continued even further, and the decisional processes were increasingly put in the people’s hands. Another development was achieved in 487 B.C., a few years after Cleisthenes’ death. The fundamental passage was the introduction of the lottery mechanism for the election of the nine Archons, who were selected within a group of citizens chosen by tribes and demoi. In this way, aristocracy had an even smaller chance of influencing the course of Athenian politics. Further progress was made in 462 B.C., when Ephialtes, who was one of the leaders of the party most inclined towards the democratisation process, and Pericles obliterated de facto any political power of the Areopagus, whose scope of action was restricted to cases of murder and sacrilege only. However the apogee was reached just before the death of Pericles (429 B.C.) when the misthoforia was introduced, which was a reimbursement that was given to anyone who held an institutional office. In this way, everyone, Thetes too, could have substantial, and not merely formal, access to public office. It was basically unthinkable that a citizen of the lowest social status could not go to work in order to comply with his political duties: he would have suffered too high a loss in terms of time and work to sustain himself. The formal right of having access to a public office or of participating in the general assembly was not enough. With the misthoforia, the substantial right of participation was introduced. Then, it was up to the single citizen whether he wanted to implement this right offered to him by the polis. Between 403 and 399 B.C., such a substantial right was extended to the ekklesia and it was decided, in fact, that the misthoforia would have been given to the participants in the general assembly too, or, at any rate, to the first thousand of them to show up (there was the never trivial issue of the amount of money available in the state treasury to consider). It should be recalled that, in 451 B.C., a restriction in the criteria for citizenship was introduced where previously it was enough to be born to an Athenian father to be an Athenian citizen from that moment on it was required to be born to parents who were both Athenian. This restriction limited the number of citizens and impeded growth because of exterior flux but it also had the effect of intensifying cohesion among Athenians and of increasing belief in their own spiritual superiority. For the limited aim of this historical outline, the last event to be recalled is the establishment, between 427 and 415 B.C., of the graphè paranomon, which affirmed the principle that anyone who proposed an unjust law, or – if you like – a law against the constitution, had to be punished and the law abrogated. A popular panel whose members were randomly chosen decided upon such “lack of constitutionality”. In pratice, to make use of a more contemporary terminology, parliamentary immunity in the legislative field was eliminated and the proposer of a law was held accountable for the legality of his law proposal. As it may be easily grasped, the establishment of such a juridical institution meant that it had to be clear which law proposal went against the current laws, first and foremost. However, this presupposed knowledge of the current laws. Thus, the need arose for knowing what the real body of laws was; and this led to

2.3 About About Isegoria Isegoria 2.3


their written compilation. Around 410 B.C., a special commission was established to achieve this task, which was not easy. The task was eventually accomplished only in 399 B.C.; that is, 4 years after that democracy was restored. For, it should be recalled that, between 427 and 399 B.C., there was the unfortunate (for Athens) Peloponnesus War (431-404 B.C.), which ended with the imposition by the Spartans of an oligarchy favourable to them. Nevertheless, this oligarchy did not last long (it ended in 403 B.C.) and democracy was restored. Both the establishment of the graphè paranomon and the written compilation of the legislative body led to rethinking the process, called nomothesia, through which laws were proposed and promulgated. A yearly reunion of the ekklesia was devoted to the discussion of current laws. On that occasion, each citizen could intervene and propose a change in a law or a new law, obviously taking full responsibility for it. Then, if the assembly upheld the proposal, this had to undergo examination by the nomothetai, who were chosen (perhaps, by draw) among the people and the magistrates. At the end of this process, the legality of the proposal could be officially confirmed. The nomothetai also had the task of checking whether the legislative body as a whole was actually coherent. However, along with laws (nomoi), norms (psephismata) also started to be introduced. The latter had a jurical status different from the former. They were similar to decrees and would go through a different lawmaking process, since norms had to be approved by the ekklesia only. As a “constitutional” result, the general assembly lost part of its power: it was deprived of the true lawmaking power, which was then delegated to the nomothetai. The assembly retained the power to discuss the laws and issue decrees, although these had an inferior juridical force. However, it should be added that the number of nomothetai was quite high; it is even reported be high as 1500. Citizen representation was preserved to some extent but there was a shift from a direct democracy, in which the assembly had a primary role, to a less direct democracy, in which the group certifying legality had a significant role compared to the assembly. We then reach end of the age of Athenian democracy, when the balance of history shifts towards Macedonian power. The temporal window of Athenian democracy is considered at an end when the Macedonians defeat the Athenians in the battle of Chaeronea (338 B.C.).

2.3 About Isegoria It is thought that Cleisthenes introduced the isegoria (see Lewis, 1971); that is, the right for every citizen to intervene in the ekklesia expressing his own position. In fact, the epistates opened the assembly each day with the question: “Who among you Athenians (of course the Athenian citizens!) has advice to give?”. If someone wanted to speak, he could go to the bema, which was the place from which to express a viewpoint. The orator could stay there either until he was finished, or until a bored audience forced him to leave. This latter occurrence was rather frequent, especially if the orator was not good at the art of speaking, at rhetoric, or if he was proposing something that, at least for that audience, was considered to be outrageous. Sometimes, reactions were not merely vocal. For instance, Herodotus,


2 Plato Was Not So Far Wrong: Recalling Athenian Democracy

in The Histories (Book IX, 5), tells of a man named Lycides, a member of the boulé, who was stoned to death together with his wife and children because he proposed to accept offers of peace from the Persian general Mardonius during the Second Persian invasion of Greece (around 480 B.C.). This is an extreme case, of course. Yet it suggests the fact that there were quite significant suspensions of the right of isegoria. Before coming back to the limitations of isegoria, I would like to underline an aspect, typical of many Atenians that should not be overlooked. We know that isegoria, the right to speak, is necessary for a good deliberative process and can be as seen as its transcendental condition, however Cleisthenes was not so enthusiastic about it (this is why it is unclear whether it was introduced by him or not). He thought that public discussion was unnecessary since Athenian citizens had a common vision of the issues, due to their shared, superior way of seeing the facts of life. An idea shared by many of his peers. In short, Cleisthenes and many others believed that: “Great minds think alike”, though, in this case, it would be more appropriate to say: “Athenian citizens, those who have the greatest minds among the Greeks, think alike”. Despite this rather high self-regard, isegoria was established and its establishment really was a great step forward for democracy. However, there is another point that should be recalled. The introduction of the right to speak gave everyone the formal possibility of speaking, but not everyone was (or is) able to speak with the same ability, especially persuasively. This ability was evaluated by the audience and could be learned by those who wanted to excel in it. This had significant political consequences, as those who had higher rhetorical abilities, either “innate” or learned, had higher chances of having their view accepted. Needless to say, a class of expert speakers or political rhetoricians soon arose. Hence, isegoria, together with corresponding rhetorical ability, dramatically changed the answer to the question: “Who is really in power?” The person in power was no longer the aristocrat or the rich man, as before Solon’s age, but it was the good public speaker. What became really relevant was not birth or social census, but the ability to argue a position. Therefore, those who aspired to become political leaders could not rely on the noble status or wealth of their family, but only on their own rhetorical ability. Of course, the son of the nobleman or of the rich family had greater economic resources to employ a good teacher of rhetoric than the son of the dispossessed or of the peasant. It follows that it was not sufficient to go to the ekklesia in order to enjoy the isegoria, correct rhetorical expertise was also needed. Misthoforia was not sufficient either. It was sufficient to make the formal right of participating in the ekklesia substantial, but it had no effect on implementation of the right of speaking effectively. A citizen had to be born with rhetorical abilities, or to a father with the economic resources to afford a teacher, otherwise he had to keep quiet or face being silenced by his peers because of his inability to deliver a discourse appropriately. Thus, in a short time, a class of excellent political orators, or excellent rhetoricians (the rhetores), arose, even if it was not a well-defined group with its own rules or with a precise political profile. Instead, it was just the plain outcome of a sort of rhetorical selection, where the selective pressure was exerted over by the ekklesia; that is, the audience. An Athenian was recognised as a good, or

2.3 About About Isegoria Isegoria 2.3


excellent, rhetor just because his peers in isegoria recognised him as such. He was just like any other citizen, but one who had refined his rhetorical skills with appropriate training. Naturally, the existence of isegoria did not mean that everyone enjoyed it. If this had been the case and all citizens in the ekklesia had spoken, then each assembly would have lasted too long to lead to any deliberation. In reality, not many citizens asked to speak, partially because of the fear of being ridiculed by the audience, perhaps aware of their limited rhetorical expertise. There were also people who did not go to the ekklesia at all, although they had the right to do so and, from a certain date onwards, to be reimbursed for their attendance. In fact, there were the idiotai, namely those citizens who were not interested in the political life of the city. Conversely, there were the politai, those who went to the assembly. Even if they did not speak there, they still retained a direct function consisting in giving their opinion either in favour of or against the position argued for by the rhetor on duty. At the beginning, many were forced to be idiotai, because they did not have the chance of participating in the ekklesia or other institutions, because they could not afford to lose an entire day’s work. However, as we have seen, with the progressive development of Athenian democracy, the dispossessed and the poor, namely the Thetes, could have access to public offices and were also granted the misthoforia. From the moment in which everyone could participate in political life, getting compensation, the idiotai had no excuse. Any non-partecipating citizen was held in contempt, as Pericles makes clear in his oration: “for, unlike any other nation, regarding him who takes no part in these duties not as unambitious but as useless” (Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War, Book II, 40). There was no possibility of being regarded as unambitious: those who did not participate in the political life were simply useless! In this respect, we should also take into account the fact, which I will discuss again later, that for a Greek the good of the community was valued more highly than the good of the individual. Hence, on the one hand, there were the non-participating citizens and, on the other hand, there were the participating citizens. Among these, there were those who asked to speak because they were sufficiently talented to do so: the rhetores. Nevertheless we should recall that there was a great difference between the group of rhetoricians and the group of the other citizens. Such a difference could, and did, create not insignificant problems. This difference was partially mitigated, however, by the fact that the group of rhetores was not homogeneous. Each rhetor was playing his own game, so to speak, before an audience that could be partially sophisticated (though not fully so, as we shall see) because it was continuously exposed to debates between (sometimes excellent) orators arguing for different positions. There is then an aspect that cannot be overlooked, while among the participants in the assembly the relationships were at an equal level (because of isegoria), this was not the case for the relationship between rhetores and rhetorically incompetent members of the audience: there was a gap in persuasive skills. However, some form of equality was somehow established again within the group of rhetoricians and this contributed to maintaining the equilibrium of the debate aimed at a hopefully good deliberative outcome.


2 Plato Was Not So Far Wrong: Recalling Athenian Democracy

2.4 Dokimasia, Ostracism, Petalism, and Warning Out Isegoria, or the equal right for every citizen to speak in the ekklesia, but is it really true that anyone could say what he wanted? Not exactly, we have just seen the extreme case of Lycides. However, while not all debates ended with the lynching of the orator, many were indeed characterised by exchanges of accusations and offences that were not pleasant at all. It is Thucydides who recounts the injurious speech that Athenagoras addressed to Hermocrates. We are within the Syracusan context and the debated issue concerns the potential invasion by Athens. Athenagoras did not spare insults to Hermocrates, who had some perplexities about the imminency of the attack: As to the Athenians, indeed, whoever does not wish them to counsel so ill, and, by coming hither, fall a prey into our hands, is either a coward, or disaffected to the state. […] As to the fearful, they, on their pail: wish to throw the city into consternation, in order that they may overshadow their own terror under the common fear (VI, 36).

Immediately thereafter, however, a strategist intervened to close the debate fearing it could degenerate: Whereupon one of the generals arose, and would not suffer any other orator to come forward, but himself spoke respecting the present points to the following effect: «Criminations such as these it is neither decorous in any to vent against each other, nor prudent in the hearers to listen to […]» (Ibid.)

This is a serious reproach to a way of speaking that goes beyond facts and arguments to drift in calumnious attacks. In this case, we have a censure “in due course” thanks to citizens with the appropriate authority who could stop the debate if it was crossing the boundaries of mutual respect. However, there were also cases of suspension of isegoria. You may remember that I previously mentioned the institution of dokimasia, which was the examination anyone had to undergo and pass in order to access public offices independently on whether he was voted or selected by draw for that office. This examination was held before the boulé or the court, as Aristotle says in The Athenian Constitution (XLV-XLIX). The candidate was asked whether he was an Athenian citizen, whether he was a devotee of Apollo Patroos (the protector of the family) and of Zeus Herkeios (the protector of the home), whether he owned a family grave, whether he was good to his parents, whether he was paying taxes and whether he had previous military experience. The candidate had to bring witnesses in support of his answers. Finally, it was asked whether anyone had any objections. In this event, a debate started and it ended with the acceptance, or not, of the candidate. This was a severe examination of public morality, and it is disgraceful that it has been abandoned almost everywhere. In reality, something analogous to this examination still exists in the United States for those who have been appointed by the President to serve as constitutional judges. To be confirmed, they must pass a sort of trial, the Hearing, before the Judiciary Committee of the Senate.

2.4 Dokimasia, Ostracism, Petalism, and Warning Out


The Athenian dokimasia, however, not only had the role of assessing the morality of the candidate for public office, it could also be invoked to prove whether a citizen in the ekklesia had violated any laws. This is exactly the situation at the centre of Aeschines’ oration Against Timarchus. Here, Aeschines mentions four cases in which, according to the law, dokimasia could be invoked for the orator: if it was suspected or ascertained that he was abusing his parents and not providing them with full accommodation and food; if it was suspected or ascertained that he did not participate in military expeditions or that he escaped before the enemy; if it was suspected or ascertained that he committed prostitution (this is the accusation of Aeschines against Timarchus); if it was suspected or ascertained that he wasted the inherited patrimony. Under the suspicion of guilt for one of these crimes, the issue was cleared up by invoking the dokimasia for the suspected person. In fact, it was unthinkable that a deplorable man with a shameful past should have the right to speak. Someone like this would not be allowed to speak in the ekklesia, because he could damage the whole community. In this case, then, isegoria was denied. Only citizens of unimpeachable morality, or those who were deemed so, could enjoy isegoria. In short, the isegoria could be denied to a deplorable citizen. Of course, this possibility soon became an instrument of political struggle and eventually took the harsher form of ostracism. Ostracism was the mechanism through which an undesirable citizen could be exiled. Every year there was an assembly – considered valid if there were at least 6000 partecipants –, at the beginning of which the epistates asked whether there was someone who had to be banished from the city for 10 years because he could seriously put Athens in danger. There was no trial, no deliberative debate, and no previous criminal record was needed. If the answer to the epistates was positive, the name of the person, or of the persons, was written on a piece of broken pottery (ostrakon). At the end, the person with the most votes was exiled and threatened with death if he came back. This happened, for example, in 471 B.C. to Themistocles, the great strategist who a few years before had defeated the Persians in the naval battle of Salamis (480 B.C). According to Aristotle, ostracism was introduced in 510 B.C. by Cleisthenes. It is clear, that such a practice was highly political and far from the protection of civil liberties, as we would note today. The only positive, or perhaps the most curious, aspect of it, is that the victim of ostracism did not lose his goods, which were given to a trustee during the forced absence (see Thomsen, 1972). This rather drastic method of solving political issues was an instrument in the hands of the (relative) majority of citizens, who could decide to banish any citizen they found, or were induced to find, undesirable, especially if he was a member of an opposing political party. This institution was not an Athenian peculiarity. Something analogous can be found in Siracuse, where it was introduced in the 4th Century B.C. Nevertheless Siracusans were more lenient than Athenians, since exile lasted only 5 years. Here, this practice was called petalism, because the name of the person to be banished from the city was written on a leaf (petalismos).


2 Plato Was Not So Far Wrong: Recalling Athenian Democracy

Basically, dokimasia, ostracism, and petalism were methods to eliminate unwanted people, but they were also helpful to restrain parrhesia, oratorical madness, and indignity. We cannot think, however, that such a means of restraining (and of grim political battle) were limited to the dawn of democracy. In the previous chapter, I mentioned the town meeting and its supporters. Do they know that in New England in the context of the town meeting the practice of warning out existed? The warning out was an institution established in the middle of the 17th Century, which lasted until the beginning of the 19th Century, through which the Board of Selectmen, or the group of people with executive power in the cities of New England, could prevent an undesirable person (even a whole family), or someone who might become a burden to the community, from becoming a citizen. This possibility was based on the idea that the city had both the right to defend its own inhabitants and to take care of them. Therefore, those who were warned out of town were considered to be undesirable and the city would not assist them (or their family) even if they were really indigent (see Benton, 1911). In short, there was the right of speaking, the isegoria, but there were also limits to it, which could degenerate into a means of political struggle. Nevertheless they were principally meant to protect the city and the citizens from untrustworthy and morally reproachable people. It is good that there are rights, but it is also good that such rights are not abused; an idea that, in different forms, has run through the whole development of political theory. Indeed, things could not be otherwise! The only problem is that such a means to defend a right could be easily converted into means to deny a right and, alas, this has often been the case.

2.5 … The “Antidemocrats” Came I have just touched upon the history of Athenian democracy with special emphasis on certain institutions. If we stopped here, then we could suppose that, aside from the case of suspension of isegoria, in Athens there was an almost optimal political situation in which the citizens, independently of their social status (but not women, metics, slaves, and children!), had a role in the decisional process and could access any institutional office. Actually, things were not really as optimal and fair as they appear in the writings of many contemporary theorists of deliberation, who praise classical Athens as the model to be followed. To understand the real situation and the problems that constrained political life, we must read the writings of the critics of democracy. For very different reasons, authors like Pseudo-Xenophon, Thucydides, Aristophanes, Plato and Isocrates, had a bad and sometimes even extreme and harsh, opinion of Athenian democracy. However, one can see that their opinions bear on any democratic architecture. Therefore, these opinions give rise to theoretical problems that go beyond the social and political context in which they were formulated. Any political philosopher, or political theorist, willing to improve democracy should have the intellectual duty to engage with such problems, which contain criticisms that cannot be overlooked just by saying

2.5 … The “Antidemocrats” Came


that democracy is the best form of government, even if it has some weaknesses. Of course, a contented mind is a perpetual feast, and many argue that it is better to live with a bad situation than move to an even worse one. But I believe that there is something more here beyond such platitudes. Perhaps, we should envisage the possibility of thinking and behaving in such a way as to improve, at least a little, upon the quality of the political life we currently experience. This is far from being moralism. This is just common sense: why should we live in the mud if, with some effort, we could live in a dry place? Someone may answer that the mud is beneficial to some people who do not want to get rid of it because it is instrumental to their self-sustenance. But why should we accept the status quo and the corresponding sea of mud? It may seem weird and factious that we avail ourselves of authors who are considered to be antidemocratic in order to highlight the real problems of Athenian democracy, which, as just said, are also the problems of any democracy. “Come on! Obviously, – someone may argue – we will find criticisms of deliberative democracy in authors who are antidemocratic!” In fact, it is obvious and trivial that criticisms to democracy can be found in antidemocratic authors. But this is not the issue. First of all, it is still to be established whether the aforementioned authors are really antidemocratic. For instance, I would not be inclined to accept the interpretation proposed by Karl Raimund Popper in his 1945 The Open Society and Its Enemies, in which Plato is regarded as an antidemocratic and totalitarian thinker, tout court. Popper was not a historian of Athenian institutions nor was he a historian of ancient philosophy. He was a non-expert reader of Plato’s writings who actually had a strong intellectual prejudice that biased his interpretation, which, moreover, has no solid philological basis. Moreover, he never took care enough to assume a guide who could tell him what the right path through the philological difficulties of the issue was. In short, he behaved like the weekend mountaineer I was speaking about at the beginning of this chapter: someone who takes the route to the peak of the mountain without any preparation or guide. However, it goes beyond my intentions to highlight the defects of the Popperian interpretation of Plato (I am happy to hand over to serious historians of philosophy) or to qualify myself as an “antidemocratic”. Instead, I just want to show, that certain criticisms, even if they originally came from so-called “antidemocratic” authors, point to genuine problems of democracy that cannot be ignored by anyone who wants to theorise about democracy and, in particular, about the decisional process. I will then recall one by one the objections to Athenian democracy made by Pseudo-Xenophon, Thucydides, and Plato. Indeed, these objections will help me to flesh out and grasp, rather than hide behind bogus rhetoric, the possible “bugs” of the democratic process. Precisely these “bugs” should be at the centre of the contemporary philosophical and theoretical analysis of politics. In short, I will try to show that we can find highly valuable suggestions towards a more realistic, and less idealised and fanciful, conception of democracy in those writings that are considered to be classics of antidemocratic thought.


2 Plato Was Not So Far Wrong: Recalling Athenian Democracy

Before starting, I would like to recall just one historical curiosity: there are plenty of texts in which Athenian democracy is criticised, while there are not so many in which Athenian democracy is explicitely praised. Moreover there are even less texts in which Athenian democracy is fully and correctly described as in Athenaion politeia (The Athenian Constitutio) by Aristotle (or by some member of his school; this issue has not been settled yet). Infact this text puts an end to the period of discussion about Athenian democracy that started with a writing of the same title by Pseudo-Xenophon. On top of this, the Aristotelian Athenaion politeia dates to the same period in which Athenian democracy is at the end, since it was written when Athens was about to lose its independence. I already mentioned that Philippus II of Macedon defeated the Achaean League at Chaeronea in 338 B.C. Now we have to mention the unfortunate Battle of Lamia (the city in which Antipater, the head of the Macedonian army, was forced to take refuge) in 322 B.C., when Athenians and their allies were definitely defeated. Before considering the “antidemocrats”, I would like to recall some lines of Euripides’ (be careful, not Aeschylus’) Suppliants since they summarise the “antidemocratic” criticisms upon which every good theorist of democracy should reflect. This Euripidean tragedy is about a group of mothers from Argo who make a plea to Athenians for having back their sons’ corpses, which are in the hands of the victorious Thebans after Argo failed in conquering Thebas. At a certain point, there is a dialogue between the Athenian king Theseus and the Theban herald: the former produces an apology for the Athenian freedom and equality in contrast with the entirely different situation of Thebas, the latter replies with some very insightful, and effective, critical remarks: THESEUS Sir stranger, thou hast made a false beginning to thy speech, in seeking here a despot. For this city is not ruled by one man, but is free. The people rule in succession year by year, allowing no preference to wealth, but the poor man shares equally with the rich. THEBAN HERALD Thou givest me here an advantage, as it might be in a game of draughts; for the city, whence I come, is ruled by one man only, not by the mob; none there puffs up the citizens with specious words, and for his own advantage twists them this way or that,-one moment dear to them and lavish of his favours, the next a bane to all; and yet by fresh calumnies of others he hides his former failures and escapes punishment. Besides, how shall the people, if it cannot form true judgments, be able rightly to direct the state? Nay, 'tis time, not haste, that affords a better understanding. A poor hind, granted be he not all unschooled, would still be unable from his toil to give his mind to politics. Verily the better sort count it no healthy sign when the worthless man obtains a reputation by beguiling with words the populace, though aforetime he was naught.

As you can read here, the Herald raises strong objections to Theseus’ claims. These are precisely the objections that summarise what I am interested in and that may be found also in the writings of Pseudo-Xenophon, Thucydides and Plato. They concern 1) the positive and negative role of rhetoric in the deliberative process; 2) the nontrivial problem of having the required knowledge to deliberate.

2.5 … The “Antidemocrats” Came


2.5.1 Pseudo-Xenophon, The Old Oligarch: Against the Government of the Many Initially, Athenaion Politeia that started the period of political discussion about democracy was attributed to Xenophon, since it was found among his works. However, it was later discovered that such attribution was wrong, and that it was written by a different, unknown, author who was called Pseudo-Xenophon or The Old Oligarch. This epithet derives from the historical works produced by Anglosaxon scholars and based on the seminal 1863 study of Athens by U. von Wilamowitz. The book, which was written in the second half of the 5th Century B.C., is not an essay in political philosophy. There is no argument in it. Actually, it is a sort of resigned invective against the government of the many, that is, against the government of the demos, which is meant not as the sum of all citizens but as the sum of these who do not belong to any elite. We must always keep in mind that demos has two meanings: a negative one, which indicated the lowest socioeconomic class, and a positive one, which denoted the citizenry in its entirety. The first meaning was used mainly when one wanted to criticise democracy meant as the government of the many that harms the few who constitute the elite. When demos was used according to the second meaning, it was usually made explicit that the reference is to all citizens, as occurs in Athenagora’s speech before the Syracusan ekklesia when he says: “first of all, the term people (demos) indicates the state collectivity” (6.39). I speak of “resigned invective” because the Old Oligarch has no problem in recognising that democracy is the best way through which the demos, the many, can preserve the power. However, he also believes that democracy is not the best government system at all, especially if one considers who is really knowledgeable and who knows how to govern the state. This is the elite, which is a minority in democracy: I repeat that my position concerning the polity of the Athenians is this: the type of polity is not to my taste, but given that a democratic form of government has been agreed upon, they do seem to me to go the right way to preserve the democracy (III.1).

As said before, in the Pseudo-Xenophon’s libel we do not find any political theory or full argument in favour of the government of the few and against the government of the many. We just find some attempts of reasoning that is, however, fully based on the prejudice that the few are good, while the many are bad. Yet we also find some questions, which any theoretical and applied political thinking should try to answer: Who is in power and in whose best interest? Who ought to be in power and in whose best interest? Let us go to the text. In the incipit, the Old Oligarch states his resigned disappointment openly: Now, as concerning the Polity of the Athenians, and the type or manner of constitution which they have chosen, I praise it not, in so far as the very choice involves the welfare of the baser folk as opposed to that of the better class. (I.1).


2 Plato Was Not So Far Wrong: Recalling Athenian Democracy

This is his problem: the best citizens are not in power; instead, power is in the hands of demos, the worst citizens. This cannot be good, because only within the elite you can find morality and knowledge: In fact, all the world over, the cream of society is in opposition to the democracy. Naturally, since the smallest amount of intemperance and injustice, together with the highest scrupulousness in the pursuit of excellence, is to be found in the ranks of the better class, while within the ranks of the People will be found the greatest amount of ignorance, disorderliness, rascality—poverty acting as a stronger incentive to base conduct, not to speak of lack of education and ignorance, traceable to the lack of means which afflicts the average of mankind. (I.5). The universal right of speech and a seat in council should have been reserved for the cleverest, the flower of the community. But here, again, it will be found that they are acting with wise deliberation in granting to even the baser sort the right of speech, for supposing only the better people might speak, or sit in council, blessings would fall to the lot of those like themselves, but to the commonalty the reverse of blessings. Whereas now, any one who likes, any base fellow, may get up and discover something to the advantage of himself and his equals. (I.6).

In short, according to the Old Oligarch, democracy is the self-interested government of the many, of the bad people with poor education and morality. Hence: Who is in power? The demos. In whose best interest? For its own gain. Who ought to be in power? The elite. In whose best interest? In the interest of the polis. Unfortunately, as we know also from recent history, it has never occurred that the few, the elite, would govern for the good of the polis and the state. To be aware of this, Pseudo-Xenophon would have to have been alive between 411 and 404 B.C., when “the few” ruled over Athens: it was called the period of the Thirty Tyrants. These few people did not govern in the best interest of the city at all. We must admit, however, that the Thirty Tyrants did not put in practice the Old Oligarch’s vision according to which only “the few” are good and smart. But this is always the case when an empirical example contradicts an ideological or political idealisation. For example, according to many supporters of communism, in the Soviet Union there was no genuine instantiation of such political theory. According to many supporters of catholicim, the Spanish Inquisition was not an instance of how their religion should be implemented. This might be so but try to tell this to the relatives of those who died because they were not communist in the socio-cultural context of the former Soviet Union, or because they were not catholic in the socio-cultural context of the Spanish Inquisition!

2.5.2 Thucydides: Against the Lack of Concern with Public Good Thucydides did not like the government of the many either. He also used the term demos in its derogatory sense to refer to the poor, those who are not the dunatoi, the affluent. Unlike Pseudo-Xenophon, however, he did offer arguments, even if they are not explicit, just like his “antidemocratic” thesis. In reality, these

2.5 … The “Antidemocrats” Came


arguments are latent in the orations by great men and rhetoricians whose lives Thucydides describes and comments upon. They are a posteriori arguments of an empirical kind that have the following structure: 1) there is the description of a historical event; 2) there is an interpretation of this event based on the precomprehension that the many are easy prey of malicious rhetoricians who do not value the common good; 3) it is suggested, sometimes implicitly, that the many cannot give rise to a good government. Moreover, within this argumentative scheme, the interpretation of the events has epistemological priority, even if it is peripheral to the narrative. It is interesting that Thucydides, in the methodological part of his work, affirms the opposite; that is, that he favours events (erga) over their interpretation and discussion (logoi), but I will come back to this later. The report of the Peloponnesian War is full of orations from which the Thucydidean view on democracy, not limited to Athens, emerges clearly. I may start by disclosing his thought, or at any rate my reading of it, placing emphasis on the dispute between the ambassador of Cocyra and the ambassador of Corinth before the Athenian ekklesia. The episode took place in the second half of the 5th Century B.C. and each ambassador argues in favour of an alliance between his city and Athens: “Before the convoked assembly, they offered their reasons […]” (1.31). It is at this point that Thucydides introduced a fundamental issue for the whole history of democracy: how can the audience, which is mainly made up of the demos, reach a correct decision when there are two antilogic discourses; that is, two opposing positions that are both rhetorically well structured? When the Athenians had heard both out, two assemblies were held. In the first there was a manifest disposition to listen to the representations of Corinth; in the second, public feeling had changed and an alliance with Corcyra was decided on, with certain reservations. It was to be a defensive, not an offensive alliance. […] [E]ach of the contracting parties had a right to the other's assistance against invasion, whether of his own territory or that of an ally. (1.44)

In the end, the ekklesia favoured Corcyra. However, what were the facts (the erga) on which such a choice was based, given that the orations (the logoi) were equivalent? As recalled, Thucydides devoted the first part of his historical work to the methodological aspects that underpin his account. He openly claims that he prefers erga over logoi, even if, being hermeneutically wise – as we would say today – it was clear to him that you cannot have erga totally free from logoi, by means of which the former receive cognitive meaning (1.22.1-2). But if this is true, namely, if it is epistemologically impossible to have erga without logoi, a fact without any interpretation, then how is it possible that the former should be favoured over the latter? This is a fundamental problem that can generate confusion if you are not sufficiently exposed to epistemology. It is argued that historians have to ground their work on facts, but, as a result of a long and established epistemological way of thinking, it is also admitted that there are no facts without interpretations. This means that interpretations have primacy. However, it should be noticed that this affirmation does not imply at all that everything is but interpretation, particularly, a “savage” interpretation. It involves,


2 Plato Was Not So Far Wrong: Recalling Athenian Democracy

instead, the awareness of the “Copernican revolution” by Immanuel Kant, according to which the knowing subject (in this case, the historian) recognizes as cognitively significant (in this case, the fact) only what is such on the basis of his or her conceptual representations (that is, historical pre-comprehensions or interpretations) (see Boniolo, 2007). Then, there is always the interplay between the historical interpretation and the facts, so that you can corroborate or reject the former, just as Thucydides writes in his methodological introduction. There ought not to be just a historical interpretation, otherwise, you would run the risk of inventing and constructing the historical process. Hence, Thucydides had a strong intuition about the epistemological impossibility of reporting any fact without an interpretation; however, he explicitly writes that he privileges the facts. Is this a contradiction? Could there be a sort of schizophrenia between Thucydides1, the naïve historian who states he speaks of facts, and Thucydides2, the epistemologically sophisticated historian who argues that there cannot be facts without interpretations? This might be the case. However, I prefer to believe that he would have argued that, even if aware that facts cannot go without interpretations, he not would have reported speculations or rumours, but facts interpreted to make them significant. If this were the case, then anyone with sufficient epistemological awareness would gloss that Thucydides should not be seen as a supporter of naïve realism (facts must be reported without interpretation) or an advocate of the strong thesis of the theoryladenness of knowledge (there are no facts, everything is but interpretation). Rather he is a champion of the weak thesis of the theory-ladenness of knowledge (there is an interplay à la Kant between facts and interpretations even if every fact is made cognitively significant by an interpretation). Of course, one has to pay some attention to the terminology and the corresponding meanings, but once this is done, then Thucydides’ historiographical framework becomes clearer. Now that the methodological issue has been tackled, I would like to consider another passage of the Thucydidean text, in particular the oration delivered by Pericles about the Athenians who died in the first phase of the Peloponnesian War (towards the end of the 5th Century B.C.). This oration is made of fragments that represent an undeniable apology of democracy, but the structure is rather complex and Thucydides is not easy to interpret (see Ober, 1998, p. 84 onwards). First of all, as already recalled, Thucydides imposes a hierarchy on facts and discourses. Well, Thucydidean Pericles immediately underlines that he sides with logos and not with erga: it is a funeral oration and not an exposition of what occurred, or is occurring, however, “since our ancestors have stamped this custom with their approval, it becomes my duty to obey the law” and to offer a commemorative speech (2.35). The distinction between facts and discourse is very clear to Pericles: In short, I say that as a city we are the school of Hellas, while I doubt if the world can produce a man who, where he has only himself to depend upon, is equal to so many emergencies, and graced by so happy a versatility, as the Athenian. And that this is no mere boast thrown out for the occasion, but plain matter of fact, the power of the state acquired by these habits proves. (2.41)

2.5 … The “Antidemocrats” Came


Let us now read the famous passage: Our constitution does not copy the laws of neighbouring states; we are rather a pattern to others than imitators ourselves. Its administration favours the many instead of the few; this is why it is called a democracy. (2.37)

This is an ambiguous statement. It may be intended as affirming that democracy is the government of entire citizenry, but also as affirming that it is the government of the many but not of the all, that is, of the demos in its derogatory sense since it does not include the dunatoi. In this regard, we could recall Athenagoras’ words: It will be said, perhaps, that democracy is neither wise nor equitable, but that the holders of property are also the best fitted to rule. I say, on the contrary, first, that the word demos, or people, includes the whole state, oligarchy only a part; next, […] the best counsellors are the wise, none can hear and decide so well as the many; and that all these talents, severally and collectively, have their just place in a democracy (6.39)

Here democracy is considered the government of all citizens, but we cannot miss the antagonism between the demos and the dunatoi. Moreover, in this passage the decisional process is quite clear: first, there is a discussion and, then, there is the decision, but the decision is taken by the majority and the majority is made by the demos, which is here intended as the many. In any event, the proposed “antidemocratic” reading of the Periclean oration is not so bizarre if we consider what Thucydides writes in the The History of the Peloponnesian War about who is in power and who ought to be in power (the same kind of questions raised by Pseudo-Xenophon). For example, at the end of the passage we have just seen by Athenagoras, there is a mention of both public discussion and deliberation by the majority, a theme touched upon several times in Thucydides and also mentioned in Pericles’ funeral oration. In other passages, he explicitly recognises that literally everybody cannot come up with a plan and put it into practice, even if many can participate in the decision, which is based on logoi (2.40.2-3). That the decision should be based on logoi is not trivial, because it implies both positive and negative aspects. The positive aspects are obvious: it is thanks to the logoi that there can be genuine deliberation. The collective discussion is, indeed, the foundation of democratic deliberation and Athenian democracy with its basic characteristic, the isegoria, should be acknowledged for this: [W]e Athenians are able to judge at all events if we cannot originate, and, instead of looking on discussion as a stumbling-block in the way of action, we think it an indispensable preliminary to any wise action at all. Again, in our enterprises we present the singular spectacle of daring and deliberation, each carried to its highest point, and both united in the same persons (2.40)

But the discussion, if it is not done properly, entails potential risks for the whole city. These risks are the target of many “antidemocratic” thinkers like Thucydides and, as we will see, Plato.


2 Plato Was Not So Far Wrong: Recalling Athenian Democracy

There are two more passages of The History of the Peloponnesian War that can be seen in support of my account. The first passage concerns the bitter reflection made by Thucydides upon the real government of Athens during the Periclean, and post-Periclean, age. The second passage is the superb confrontation between Cleon and Diodotus, which revolves around the perils of political rhetoric. Let us have a look at the first passage. After saying that Athens is overcome in the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides relentlessly enumerates the causes of the defeat. Particularly, he concentrates on the main one: Pericles’ political successors have taken care of their personal interest rather than of the common good (2.65.7). In addition, Pericles did not need to blandish the assembly, while his successors did if they wanted the assembly to side with them and, therefore, give them power. It is at this point that we get Thucydides’ answer to the question “Who is in power in Athens?”: in logos, there was democracy under Pericles, but, in ergon, there was the government of the best man – that is, Pericles. After his death, however, Athenian democracy in ergon was in trouble, because those who wanted to stand out were equally unmemorable and they would just coax complacency out of the demos (2.65.9). This was the origin of a series of errors that eventually culminated in the decision to set off on the catastrophic Sicilian campaign, which led to the defeat of Athens (2.65.10-11). Let us recall this passage: He told them to wait quietly, to pay attention to their marine, to attempt no new conquests, and to expose the city to no hazards during the war, and doing this, promised them a favorable result. What they did was the very contrary, allowing private ambitions and private interests, in matters apparently quite foreign to the war, to lead them into projects unjust both to themselves and to their allies—projects whose success would only conduce to the honor and advantage of private persons, and whose failure entailed certain disaster on the country in the war. The causes of this are not far to seek. Pericles indeed, by his rank, ability, and known integrity, was enabled to exercise an independent control over the multitude—in short, to lead them instead of being led by them; for as he never sought power by improper means, he was never compelled to flatter them, but, on the contrary, enjoyed so high an estimation that he could afford to anger them by contradiction. Whenever he saw them unreasonably and insolently elated, he would with a word reduce them to alarm; on the other hand, if they fell victims to a panic, he could at once restore them to confidence. In short, what was nominally a democracy became in his hands government by the first citizen. With his successors it was different. More on a level with one another, and each grasping at supremacy, they ended by committing even the conduct of state affairs to the whims of the multitude. This, as might have been expected in a great and sovereign state, produced a host of blunders, and amongst them the Sicilian expedition; though this failed not so much through a miscalculation of the power of those against whom it was sent, as through a fault in the senders in not taking the best measures afterwards to assist those who had gone out, but choosing rather to occupy themselves with private cabals for the leadership of the commons, by which they not only paralyzed operations in the field, but also first introduced civil discord at home. (2.65).

Hence, Thucydides was critic of the government of the many not because of resentment, as happened with the Old Oligarch, but because he had in mind empirical cases that lead him to think that the mass was, on the one hand, an easy prey for rhetoricians working in their own interest and not in the interest of the

2.5 … The “Antidemocrats” Came


collectivity and on the other hand that the mass was also a beast to be tamed, with malicious rethors pleasing it in order to gain personal power. As we shall see, this is precisely the essence of one of Plato’s criticisms. The difference is that Plato reached such a conclusion through a reflection on the unavoidable and manifest ignorance of the demos, while Thucydides reached the same conclusion through a reflection on the shift from the Periclean age to the post-Periclean age. The second passage I wish to recall concerns the rebellion of Mytilene against Athenian domination (aroung 427 B.C.). Athenians easily put down the rebellion and decided to kill all adult males and to sell everybody else into slavery in order to avoid similar problems in the future. This should be sufficient to understand that democracy was for Athenians only, not for anyone else. Athenians did not want to export democracy, on the contrary, they were rather antidemocratic towards other nations: “In such passion were most men against the Athenians, Thucydides writes – some for desire to be delivered from under their government and others for fear of falling into it” (2.8). Democracy, meant as the government of all citizens or just of the demos, was considered to be something that only the Athenian people, who had a very high self-esteem, deserved. Democracy in Athens, and an iron hand in the empire, as Pericles says in his second speech: “For what you hold is, to speak somewhat plainly, a tyranny; to take it perhaps was wrong, but to let it go is unsafe.” (2.63). And a few lines before he was recalling “danger from the animosities incurred in its exercise [of empire]” (Id.) In any event, after the first decision of settling the issue of Mytilene drastically, Athenians had second thoughts and they convoked an ekklesia. Here, there is the “exchange of ideas” between Cleon, who argues that the destruction of Mytilene cannot be renounced, and Diodotus, who is in favour of a more benevolent solution. Cleon and Diodotus can be thought of not only as advocates of divergent lines on foreign affairs, but also as proponents of two different meta-rhetorical points of view, from which much can be learned. The dispute starts with Cleon who says that the decision to kill all males of Mytilene and to sell everyone else into slavery should be upheld. Athenians should not change their minds, he argues. According to him, there is no value in further reflection; something concrete must be done on the spur of the moment: For myself, I adhere to my former opinion, and wonder at those who have proposed to reopen the case of the Mitylenians, and who are thus causing a delay which is all in favour of the guilty, by making the sufferer proceed against the offender with the edge of his anger blunted; although where vengeance follows most closely upon the wrong, it best equals it and most amply requites it. (3.38)

As he says, he feels a moral duty to prevent Athenians from persevering with the silly habit of being spectators of a useless rhetorical battle: let us put an end to the hearing of an ineffective deliberative debate, emotional action is much better: The persons to blame are you who are so foolish as to institute these contests; who go to see an oration as you would to see a sight, take your facts on hearsay, judge of the practicability of a project by the wit of its advocates, and trust for the truth as to past events not to the fact which you saw more than to the clever strictures which you heard; the easy victims of


2 Plato Was Not So Far Wrong: Recalling Athenian Democracy

newfangled arguments, unwilling to follow received conclusions; slaves to every new paradox, despisers of the commonplace; the first wish of every man being that he could speak himself, the next to rival those who can speak by seeming to be quite up with their ideas by applauding every hit almost before it is made, and by being as quick in catching an argument as you are slow in foreseeing its consequences; asking, if I may so say, for something different from the conditions under which we live, and yet comprehending inadequately those very conditions; very slaves to the pleasure of the ear, and more like the audience of a rhetorician than the council of a city. In order to keep you from this, I proceed to [speak of facts …] (3.38-3.39)

It is then the turn of Diodotus, who stresses two main aspects. The first aspect is of a moral nature: it is wise to discuss (and therefore, to reason) before any action, while it is not recommendable to act on the basis of emotions, which are ephemeral. The second aspect concerns meta-rhetoric. Cleon is a barker, because he argues that one must act rather than speak, but he speaks in order to argue for his position and, therefore, he contradicts himself. To put it properly, Diodotus accuses Cleon of proposing an autophagic discourse and his actions (his words) cancel out his claims, infact he argues that one must act and not speak, however, he has to speak, and not to act, in order to support his claim! I think the two things most opposed to good counsel are haste and passion; haste usually goes hand in hand with folly, passion with coarseness and narrowness of mind. As for the argument that speech ought not to be the exponent of action, the man who uses it must be either senseless or interested: senseless if he believes it possible to treat of the uncertain future through any other medium; interested if wishing to carry a disgraceful measure and doubting his ability to speak well in a bad cause, he thinks to frighten opponents and hearers by well-aimed calumny. What is still more intolerable is to accuse a speaker of making a display in order to be paid for it. If ignorance only were imputed, an unsuccessful speaker might retire with a reputation for honesty, if not for wisdom; while the charge of dishonesty makes him suspected, if successful, and thought, if defeated, not only a fool but a rogue. The city is no gainer by such a system, since fear deprives it of its advisers; although in truth, if our speakers are to make such assertions, it would be better for the country if they could not speak at all, as we should then make fewer blunders. The good citizen ought to triumph not by frightening his opponents but by beating them fairly in argument; and a wise city without over-distinguishing its best advisers, will nevertheless not deprive them of their due, and far from punishing an unlucky counsellor will not even regard him as disgraced. In this way successful orators would be least tempted to sacrifice their convictions for popularity, in the hope of still higher honors, and unsuccessful speakers to resort to the same popular arts in order to win over the multitude. (3.42).

Autophagy is a rather common fallacy among rhetoricians and Thucydides, through Diodotus, does not fail to ascribe it to Cleon. It is the same fallacy we are going to find in Plato.

2.5.3 Plato: Against the Immoral and the Uneducated Let us enter into Plato through the interpretations of his writings, trying to avoid the hidden perils, taking an alternative route that does not go through his

2.5 … The “Antidemocrats” Came


kallipolis, the ideal city he describes in The Republic and rethinks in Laws. In fact, it is not of interest here to reconstruct his political philosophy or his ideal city. Rather, it is interesting to gain valuable indications on how to build a good democracy from his criticisms of it. As is well known especially to those who see Plato as a totalitarian, our good Athenian philosopher did not hold the ability of people convened in assembly to deliberate properly in high regard. In fact, this is the same scepticism that we found in Pseudo-Xenophon’s complaints and in the Thucydidean reports of orations. However, in contrast, Plato offers a reason for this scepticism: neither the blandished mass nor the rhetores who cajoles possess the proper expertise. Real politics, based on good deliberation, requires knowledge and expertise. Plato criticizes a situation that was produced purposefully by the founders of Athenian democracy. In fact, we saw that Solon, Cleisthenes and their successors had consistently supported the idea that participation in the administration of the polis should not only be open to experts in a specific subject, but that all citizens should be able to take part for a given period of time even without having any specific expertise. They were only required to be people of high moral standing (as “certified” by the dokimasia). However, as you remember, in the case of strategists, there was an exception to this lack of expertise. The head of the army had to be an expert; and it would have been senseless otherwise. It is useful to recall that it was in fact the isegoria, which led to the establishment of another group of specialists, namely the rhetoricians, who were merely experts in rhetorical techniques and nothing else! Basically, Plato was accusing the politicians and the demos of ignorance, even if lack of technical competence in the choice of candidates for public office was a conscious decision. Anyway, let us try to be loyal to Plato and not regard him as the aristocrat who despises the masses and does not want the people in power. Let us look at him as a critic of the idea that government should be in the hands of ignorant people, who walk into the rhetorical traps that other, equally ignorant people, devise. To put it differently, are we really sure that his position is that execrable? Are we certain that the ignorant can play a valid role in public institutions? Evidently, the fathers of Athenian democracy thought this way and, at any rate, they believed that a lack of technical knowledge was better than the creation of a political elite. Frequent rotation in public offices and the use of draw mechanisms also supported this conviction. Plato did not accuse the demos and the political rhetoricians simply of lack of technical competence. His accusation concerns their ignorance of what is good and what is true. However, let us proceed methodically with our glance through his writings. I wish to start with the Seventh Letter. Let us put aside issues of authenticity, leaving the joys of this thorny debate to the philologians. Ultimately, it hardly matters whether or not the letter was written by the Athenian philosopher. What I am really interested in is to recall why he abandoned the idea of participating in active politics. Even if the letter is not authentic, its author provides us with a plausible reason for this decision.


2 Plato Was Not So Far Wrong: Recalling Athenian Democracy

The Seventh Letter is directed at Dion’s relatives and it contains an answer to their request for help. It happened that, during his first trip to Syracuse (about 387 B.C.), Plato met Dion, a young nobleman, who was rapidly convinced of the correctness of the philosopher’s theories, especially of his political theories. When the ruler of Syracuse, Dionysius I, died (367 B.C.), Dion tried to persuade his successor, that is, his son Dionysius II, to govern in accordance with the principles of Plato’s thought. However, Dion was banished as an extremist from the city. This is when Plato intervened, trying to persuade Dionysius II to let the young nobleman come back. Unfortunately, Plato failed in his attempt and Dion remained in exile. On the way back from his third trip to Syracuse (360-361 B.C.), Plato met Dion again, and he tried to induce Plato to get rid of the tyrant cum baculo; that is, with an armed rebellion. Plato did not agree with Dion’s proposal, but Dion successfully put his plan into practice anyway. Thus things apparently ended well for Dion and badly for Dionysius II. Unfortunately, in 354 B.C. Dion, then tyrant, was murdered by some conjurers who probably did not appreciate his style of government in Syracuse. Dion’s relatives then asked Plato to support them in their effort to preserve power. Plato’s reply contains a reconstruction of the whole story, which is, however, coloured by sadness and disillusion for a political conduct that hardly matched his ideal of morality and knowledge. This is his admission: In the days of my youth my experience was the same as that of many others. I thought that as soon as I should become my own master I would immediately enter into public life. But it so happened, I found, that the following changes occurred in the political situation. In the government then existing, reviled as it was by many, a revolution took place; and the revolution was headed by fifty-one leaders, of whom eleven were in the City and ten in the Piraeus—each of these sections dealing with the market and with all municipal matters requiring management—and Thirty were established as irresponsible rulers of all. [Plato speaks of the period of the Thirty Tyrants: a regime that was established by Spartans at the end of the Peloponnesian War between 404 and 403 B.C.]. Now of these some were actually connections and acquaintances of mine [Note]; and indeed they invited me at once to join their administration, thinking it would be congenial. The feelings I then experienced, owing to my youth, were in no way surprising: for I imagined that they would administer the State by leading it out of an unjust way of life into a just way, and consequently I gave my mind to them very diligently, to see what they would do. And indeed I saw how these men within a short time caused men to look back on the former government as a golden age; and above all how they treated my aged friend Socrates, whom I would hardly scruple to call the most just of men then living, when they tried to send him, along with others, after one of the citizens, to fetch him by force that he might be put to death—their object being that Socrates, whether he wished or no, might be made to share in their political actions; he, however, refused to obey and risked the uttermost penalties rather than be a partaker in their unholy deeds. So when I beheld all these actions and others of a similar grave kind, I was indignant, and I withdrew myself from the evil practices then going on. (Seventh Letter, 324b-325a).

Plato hoped that the government of the Thirty Tyrants might be better than the previous democratic government, however, he soon realised that this was not the case. In particular, he was especially disturbed by the vicissitudes of his friend Socrates, which eventually estranged him from politics. As we know, the

2.5 … The “Antidemocrats” Came


government that was siding with Sparta was removed and democracy was restored. However, things did not improve, at least in Plato’s view. In particular, Socrates was at the centre of new dramatic events: [Y]et, notwithstanding, the exiles who then returned exercised no little moderation. But, as ill-luck would have it, certain men of authority summoned our comrade Socrates before the law-courts, laying a charge against him which was most unholy, and which Socrates of all men least deserved; for it was on the charge of impiety that those men summoned him and the rest condemned and slew him—the very man who on the former occasion, when they themselves had the misfortune to be in exile, had refused to take part in the unholy arrest of one of the friends of the men then exiled. When, therefore, I considered all this, and the type of men who were administering the affairs of State, with their laws too and their customs, the more I considered them and the more I advanced in years myself, the more difficult appeared to me the task of managing affairs of State rightly. For it was impossible to take action without friends and trusty companions; and these it was not easy to find ready to hand, since our State was no longer managed according to the principles and institutions of our forefathers; while to acquire other new friends with any facility was a thing impossible. Moreover, both the written laws and the customs were being corrupted, and that with surprising rapidity. Consequently, although at first I was filled with an ardent desire to engage in public affairs, when I considered all this and saw how things were shifting about anyhow in all directions, I finally became dizzy; and although I continued to consider by what means some betterment could be brought about not only in these matters but also in the government as a whole, yet as regards political action I kept constantly waiting for an opportune moment; until, finally, looking at all the States which now exist, I perceived that one and all they are badly governed; for the state of their laws is such as to be almost incurable without some marvellous overhauling and good-luck to boot. So in my praise of the right philosophy I was compelled to declare that by it one is enabled to discern all forms of justice both political and individual. Wherefore the classes of mankind (I said) will have no cessation from evils until either the class of those who are right and true philosophers attains political supremacy, or else the class of those who hold power in the States becomes, by some dispensation of Heaven, really philosophic. (Seventh Letter, 325b-326b)

Plato becomes aware of how “difficult it is for those who participate in the government of the state to remain honest”. If there is no morality among those who rule the state, or want to rule it, then you have to get your hands dirty if you want to participate in politics, actively. Otherwise, you are out of the game. This is the bitter observation that Plato made, which coincides with Thucydides’ accusation against the post-Periclean governors. However, the issue does not end here. We learn from the Seventh Letter that Plato refused to participate in active politics because he believed that there was a diffuse immorality among active politicians. Instead from Gorgias, we learn how much ignorance cooperated in the creation and persistence of such a situation of widespread immorality. Gorgias is a dialogue that takes place in Athens. The characters are Gorgias himself, a rhetorician who is too often pilloried by the rhetorical abilities of Socrates, another of the characters along with Chaerephon, a pupil of Socrates, then Polus, a student of Gorgias, and Callicles, the aristocrat hosting Gorgias. This dialogue is usually seen as a clear sign of Plato’s aversion to rhetoric. Gorgias of Leontini, the author of the Encomium of Helen, is taken as a scapegoat. Actually, if we read the dialogue from a meta-rhetorical point of view, as we have learned


2 Plato Was Not So Far Wrong: Recalling Athenian Democracy

with Thucydides’ Diodotus, then we can understand that Socrates’ accusation against Gorgias is very well supported rhetorically, and Gorgias is constantly cornered. In fact, Socrates succeeds in doing so through the use of very sophisticated rhetorical techniques. In practice, we face a long autophagic argument: rhetorical techniques are used to accuse Gorgias of being a rhetorician. In addition, we must not forget that Socrates is able to corner Gorgias because Plato, the author of the dialogue, wants this to happen. Here we have the recognized problem that Socrates’ opponents are not always treated fairly and they rarely shine. This is the case for Gorgias too, who does not really look like a great rhetorician; he rather looks like an amateur who is constantly pressed and trapped by Socrates’ smartness. In truth, this dialogue should be considered as an apology for rhetoric, in particular, for political rhetoric; at least, for good political rhetoric as opposed to bad political rhetoric. If we put aside the autophagic nature of his discourse, Socrates avails himself of good rhetoric both from a technical-formal point of view and from the point of view of content. In short, Gorgias should be read as an apology for rhetoric when this is made by those who have a good formal background and use it to convey morally sound content, in particular, on political issues. Let us read some passages. Socrates is ironic, as usual, and Plato, the author, lets Gorgias be permissive about this. To be honest, I do not know whether the real Gorgias would have allowed another rhetorician, like the real Socrates, to behave in this way. However, this is what occurs in the fictional dialogue: Socrates. or rather, Gorgias, do you tell us yourself in what art it is you are skilled, and hence, what we ought to call you. Gorgias. Rhetoric, Socrates. Socrates. So we are to call you a rhetorician? […] Gorgia. Then call me such. (Gorg., III, 449a).

The Platonic Gorgias falls into the rhetorical trap devised by Socrates, who presses him with questions about the subject of rhetoric. Socrates proves a little irritating when proposing a number of analogies: the subject of textile art is the manufacture of clothes and the subject of music is the composition of tunes, what then is the subject of rhetoric? “The discourse, of course”, Gorgias answers. But what kind of discourse? Gorgias. I call it the ability to persuade with speeches either judges in the law courts or statesmen in the council-chamber or the commons in the Assembly or an audience at any other meeting that may be held on public affairs. And I tell you that by virtue of this power you will have the doctor as your slave, and the trainer as your slave; your money-getter will turn out to be making money not for himself, but for another,—in fact for you, who are able to speak and persuade the multitude. (Gorg., VII, 452d-e).

Hence, the rhetorician deals with persuasive discourses. If we pay attention, we can easily grasp how Plato – as the author – makes use of a sneaky rhetorical technique by letting Gorgias say something that will then be used against him. In this way, the reader takes a negative attitude towards the latter. In fact, Plato also lets the rhetorician admit that he can enslave anyone by his persuasive ability.

2.5 … The “Antidemocrats” Came


Nevertheless, the Platonic Gorgias makes it clear that there are two types of persuasion: one is based on belief and the other is based on knowledge: Socrates. Then would you have us assume two forms of persuasion—one providing belief without knowledge, and the other sure knowledge? Gorgias. Certainly. Socrates. Now which kind of persuasion is it that rhetoric creates in law courts or any public meeting on matters of right and wrong? The kind from which we get belief without knowledge, or that from which we get knowledge? Gorgias. Obviously, I presume, Socrates, that from which we get belief. (Gorg., XIX, 454e).

Here we have another rhetorically disputable move by Socrates, namely by Plato: he twists the knife in the wound he opened and insists on the fact that the rhetorician speaks of what he does not know with the ignorant, who is eventually persuaded. But this kind of persuasion cannot be but judged negatively, since it is grounded in belief and not in knowledge: Gorgias. And if he had to contend with a member of any other profession whatsoever, the rhetorician would persuade the meeting to appoint him before anyone else in the place: for there is no subject on which the rhetorician could not speak more persuasively than a member of any other profession whatsoever, before a multitude. So great, so strange, is the power of this art. At the same time, Socrates, our use of rhetoric should be like our use of any other sort of exercise. For other exercises are not to be used against all and sundry, just because one has learnt boxing or wrestling or fighting in armour so well as to vanquish friend and foe alike: this gives one no right to strike one's friends, or stab them to death. […F]or the orator is able, indeed, to speak against every one and on every question in such a way as to win over the votes of the multitude, practically in any matter he may choose to take up: 457b but he is no whit the more entitled to deprive the doctors of their credit, just because he could do so, or other professionals of theirs; he must use his rhetoric fairly, […]. Thus it is the man who does not use it aright who deserves to be hated and expelled and put to death, and not his teacher. (Gorg., XI, 456c-457c).

Once this has been ascertained, Socrates goes ahead with a new attack and circumscribes rhetoric within political issues. In this case, the audience of the rhetorician is the mass, the demos. Unfortunately, the mass is ignorant and does not possess knowledge; therefore, it is easily persuaded by well structured discourses, even if they are empty of content and void of truth: Socrates. And “to the crowd” means “to the ignorant?” For surely, to those who know, he will not be more convincing than the doctor. […] So he who does not know will be more convincing to those who do not know than he who knows, supposing the orator to be more convincing than the doctor. (Gorg., XIII, 459a-b). Socrates. Very well; but now, the rhetoric addressed to the Athenian people, or to the other assemblies of freemen in the various cities—what can we make of that? Do the orators strike you as speaking always with a view to what is best, with the single aim of making the citizens as good as possible by their speeches, or are they, like the poets, set on gratifying the citizens, and do they, sacrificing the common weal to their own personal interest, behave to these assemblies as to children, trying merely to gratify them, nor care a jot whether they will be better or worse in consequence? Callicles. This question of yours is not quite so simple; for there are some who have a regard for the citizens in the words that


2 Plato Was Not So Far Wrong: Recalling Athenian Democracy

they utter, while there are also others of the sort that you mention. Socrates. That is enough for me. For if this thing also is twofold, one part of it, I presume, will be flattery and a base mob-oratory, while the other is noble—the endeavor, that is, to make the citizens' souls as good as possible, and the persistent effort to say what is best, whether it prove more or less pleasant to one's hearers. But this is a rhetoric you never yet saw […]! (Gorg., LVIII, 502a-503b).

The rhetorician, who does not know, persuades those who do not know the matters which should be known to better decide on them. Yet if he had spoken in front of an audience that knew, then he could not succeed. We know from the previous chapter about Aristotelian theory that rhetoric can be used by those who possess knowledge in order to contribute to the moral and cognitive development of the citizens. However, as the Platonic Socrates remarks, this has never occurred. According to him Athens has never seen rhetoricians acting correctly and never have they tried to make men better; not even those who considered as the greatest Athenians, like Themistocles, Cimon, Miltiades, or Pericles (who, conversely, was deemed by Thucydides and Aristotle as a model to be followed), have attempted to pursue this task. We could think that precisely when the mass is accused of ignorance we have a clear attack against democracy. In reality, this is an attack on that form of democracy in which empty speech rather than substance is applauded, and barkers are preferred to wise people. Of course, the mass is not really taken into consideration and its political role is judged negatively, but Plato is not against those who “make some effort to get some knowledge” and then enter the political arena, even just to vote. In truth, the Athenian philosopher is a strong opponent of anyone who is open to easy persuasion, anyone who cannot distinguish between the knowledgeable person and ignorant, between the real expert and the fake. Obviously, Plato also attacks anyone who profits out of this widespread ignorance. His way of saving politics, as Plato tells us in the Seventh Letter, is to rely on the abstraction of philosophy. He ends up preferring the clean and incontaminated philosophical world which he gradually builds in several books, because it is far from the actual world. Philosophers ought to be in power, because they are the only ones who would really work in the best interest of the polis. They are the only ones who possess the knowledge: as he defines them in the Book V of The Republic, they are “those who love to contemplate the truth” in its completeness (The Rep., V, 473a-480a). But we could read this thought as claiming that only those who know (in particular what is good) ought to be in power, because only they can really work for the collective good. This would be a happy solution, if we knew what truth and goodness were and if those who alledgely knew really did succeed in governing the polis. It might all work out. However, my problem (but, hopefully, your problem too) is that the ignorant are easy prey to a smart orator who wants the people on side in order to further his own private cause. My problem (but, hopefully, your problem too) is that widespread ignorance and immorality generate bad decisions and bad government.

2.5 … The “Antidemocrats” Came


As we have seen, Plato does not hold deliberative democracy in high esteem on the basis of the discouraging experiences he had both in Athens and in Syracuse. But his main reason for this is that he believes that good deliberation comes from knowledge and he thinks that neither the mass of citizens nor his coeval rhetoricians were knowledgeable enough. This anthropological distrust of the masses is the background of his negative views about democracy and deliberation that pushes him towards his philosophical haven. We cannot overlook this distrust, because, like it or not, it is hard to discount it empirically. “It is impossible that the mass can make philosophy”, Plato says (The Rep., VIII, 494a). In the Statesman, he confirms: Does it seem at all possible that a multitude in a state could acquire this science? (the science of ruling men) […]But in a state of one thousand men could perhaps a hundred or as many as fifty acquire it adequately? […]And in agreement with this, we must, I suppose, look for the right kind of rule in one or two or very few men, whenever such right rule occurs. (Statesman., XXXII, 292e-293a).

Let us reflect upon the reasons for Plato’s distrust and then think about our daily experience. We have all faced or read about political decisions that are wrong or made to further individual interest, taking advantage of people’s ignorance or employing morally despicable rhetoric – both from a formal and from a substantial point of view. We have all seen how ignorant politicians who hide behind empty words have devastated the social progress of our countries. Therefore, we must ask whether our current politicians are so different from the post-Periclean politicians who are mentioned sadly by Thucydides and Plato. Can we really neglect the criticisms of these authors just because we were taught to consider them as “antidemocratics”? Does it really make no sense to rethink democracy in order to eliminate those flaws that derive directly from immorality and ignorance? Would we really be happy with a lack of meritocracy, morality, and knowledge just because we are in a “democracy”? What form of democracy do we want to live in? Plato alerts us to the dangers that are inherent in deliberating with ignorant citizens and with both ignorant and dishonest politicians but he also shows us the other side of the issue, that is, what occurs when the politicians comply with the will of the mass to please it and ensure their own success. In fact, in his reply to Adeimantus, one of the discussants in The Republic, Plato underlines that the demos is so powerful that it can, in a certain sense, compel young statesmen and rhetoricians to do what it wants: “When,” I said, “the multitude are seated together in assemblies or in court-rooms or theaters or camps or any other public gathering of a crowd, and with loud uproar censure some of the things that are said and done and approve others, both in excess, with fullthroated clamor and clapping of hands. […] In such case how do you think the young man's heart, as the saying is, is moved within him? [Note] What private teaching do you think will hold out and not rather be swept away by the torrent of censure and applause, and borne off on its current, so that he will affirm [Note] the same things that they do to be honorable and base, 492d and will do as they do, and be even such as they? (The Rep. VI, 492b-d).


2 Plato Was Not So Far Wrong: Recalling Athenian Democracy

The immoral and empty politician is able to persuade the mass of citizens. Relying on their ignorance, he cajoles them into doing what he wants. On the other hand, however, the lowest instincts of the mass of citizens must be satified. This is the only way to lead it, in turn, to the satisfaction of the politician’s interest. The immoral and empty politician is able to understand what the mass really wants (perhaps, through the use of opinion polls) and then tries to blandish it to get what he or she wants, exactly as the tamer does with wild beasts: It is as if a man were acquiring the knowledge of the humors and desires of a great strong beast which he had in his keeping, how it is to be approached and touched, and when and by what things it is made most savage or gentle, yes, and the several sounds it is wont to utter on the occasion of each, and again what sounds uttered by another make it tame or fierce, and after mastering this knowledge by living with the creature and by lapse of time should call it wisdom, and should construct thereof a system and art and turn to the teaching of it, knowing nothing in reality about which of these opinions and desires is honorable or base, good or evil, just or unjust, but should apply all these terms to the judgements of the great beast, calling the things that pleased it good, and the things that vexed it bad, having no other account to render of them, but should call what is necessary just and honorable, never having observed how great is the real difference between the necessary and the good, and being incapable of explaining it to another. (The Republic, VII, 493a-c).

In short, And the tolerance of democracy, its superiority to all our meticulous requirements, its disdain or our solemn pronouncements (The Republic, VIII, 558, b).

Plato is not just an antidemocratic; he is a strong critic of the ignorant and immoral political power that keeps itself alive by perpetuating the citizenry’s ignorance.

2.6 On Athenian Democracy and Contemporary Democracies At this point, we need a new Henri-Benjamin Constant de Rebecque. In 1819 he delivered the famous speech titled ‘De la liberté des anciens comparée à celle des modernes’ (‘The Liberty of the Ancients Compared with that of the Moderns’) at the Athénée Royal and, today, someone should deliver a new ‘De la démocratie des anciens comparée à celle des modernes’. Unfortunately, Constant is no longer available and, therefore, I will autarchically attempt to draft a first comparison by myself, limited to some of the aspects relevant for our aims. Whenever you draw a comparison, or an analogy, you must always keep in mind that there are properties that are shared and properties that are not. If we place emphasis on the shared properties, then we can claim that there is a similarity whereas, if we place emphasis on properties that are not shared, then we can claim that there is a difference. Thus, two opposing factions are created that can protract long discussions about the similarities and differences between two facts or two events forgetting that they are both right (since those who favour

2.6 On Athenian Democracy and Contemporary Democracies


similarity can point to properties that are shared and those who favour difference can point to properties that are not) and both wrong (since those who favour similarity have neglected properties that are not shared and those who favour difference have neglected properties that are shared). In my comparison, I will try to follow Father Aristotle and find a “golden mean”. I will try to be equidistant from both extremes, without searching for a definitive answer. I care much more about fruitfulness for the current idea of democracy of the criticisms that were made to ancient Athenian democracy. Let us get started. I believe we should immediately mention that the modern distinction between state and society, which was adumbrated by Niccolò Machiavelli and Thomas Hobbes and later systematised by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, does not belong to the conception of classical Greece and nor does the distinction, on the one hand, between bureaucrats, professional functionaries, and citizens and, on the other hand, between the people and the government. In classical Athens, the citizenry was also the society and the government. There were no professionals except for strategists and the group of rhetoricians, who had a role that does not exist any longer in contemporary democracies. In particular, no contemporary politician is as educated as an Athenian rhetorician and no contemporary politician “is an independent player”. Now all politicians “play for the party” or “for their idea of the party”. In this regard, it is worth recalling that in the democracy of Athens there were no parties, at least not as they are conceived now. Of course, there were factions that formed around shared interests, but these factions did not become actual parties with a precise ideology and, importantly, the group of rhetoricians never formed a party. There is, then, an aspect that was peculiar to Greek society and culture: the individual citizen was identified with his community and a great emphasis was placed on the common good (see Pohlenz, 1946; Snell, 1946; Ostwald, 1996, Vernant, 1999). This feature can be extrapolated from, for example, PseudoXenophon, Thucydides and Plato: they criticise the behaviour of a given citizen by condemning his actions because aimed at self-interest rather than at the common good. At this point, an episode that is revealing of how a Greek would consider any self-interested action as execrable comes to mind. I am thinking about the situation, which belongs to the pre-classical age, generated by the dispute between Achilles and Agamemnon placed by Homer at the beginning of the Iliad. Perhaps, there is no need to summarise this episode, because it has become famous after the movie ‘Troy’ (2004) by W. Petersen, in which the poor Eric Bana, in the role of Hector, is defeated, and over shadowed in the eyes of women, by Achilles-Brad Pitt. However, for those who are not so familiar with the movies or Homeric texts, I am happy to introduce the two Achaen heroes of the story: Agamemnon – the head of the army – and Achilles – the strongest warrior. Both the former, Atreus’ son, and the latter, Peleus’ son, are reproachable somehow but for different reasons. Peleus’ son is reproachable because his anger almost causes the defeat of the Achaen army, but he is also “forgivable”, because it is “natural” for heros to get angry when they are offended or when their pride is wounded. Instead, Atreus’ son is reproachable because – and this what interests us – he puts his self pride and his own good above the common good. What is the action that makes Agamemnon reproachable in the


2 Plato Was Not So Far Wrong: Recalling Athenian Democracy

eyes of the Greeks (and for some of us too)? What action led to the “strife Atreus' son, king of men, and brilliant Achilles”? (Iliad, I, 1-5). Agamemnon, with the typical arrogance of a man who believes that everything is conceded to the person in power, wanted Chryseis. Unfortunately, Chryseis was the daughter of the Trojan priest Chryses. When the later discovered the fact, he went to the Achaen camp hoping to get his daughter back, perhaps by ransom. With scarce prevision, Agamemnon rejected Chryses request and Apollo, to whom Chryses was priest, revenged his follower inflicting a terrible epidemy on the Greeks. Immediately, they convened an assembly to deliberate on the issue. Notice, by the way, that the manner in which the structure of assemblies is described in Homer tells us much about the relationships among the participants. During the aforementioned assembly, Achilles attacked Agamemnon vehemently by offending him openly and blatantly. But Achilles is Achilles and not Thersites. Who is Thersites? His “mind was full of great store of disorderly words, wherewith to utter revilings against the kings, idly, and in no orderly wise, but whatsoever he deemed would raise a laugh among the Argives. Evil-favoured was he beyond all men that came to Ilios: he was bandy-legged and lame in the one foot, and his two shoulders were rounded, stooping together over his chest, and above them his head was warped, and a scant stubble grew thereon. Hateful was he to Achilles above all, and to Odysseus” (Iliad, II, 210-220). Actually the story of the ill-fated Thersites, the only warrior among the Trojans and Achaeans described as ugly by Homer (and physical ugliness was a representation of moral ugliness for ancient Greeks) is related to an assembly following the one in which Achilles and Agamemnon had the “hot exchange of ideas”, but it is interesting to mention it now. The ugly Thersites had the unfortunate idea of intervening in an assembly held to discuss whether the war against Troy should be continued. Thersites favoured an end to the war and he started speaking, however - poor man - he did so in the same argumentative vein in which Achilles had spoken in the previous assembly. Thersites thus violated the hierarchy that existed in preclassical assemblies meaning that only the important figures, the agathoi – such as Achilles and Agamemnon - and not the lowly kakoi, like the pathetic Thersites, could discuss points brutally and risk offending others. Thersites is ugly and repugnant, not like Achilles, who is good-looking, commendable, and above all, one of the agathoi. Thersites does not have the same rights as Peleus’ son. Thus, to restore order, Ulysses intervenes “killing” Thersites, rhetorically, for he ridicules him and then hits him with his sceptre. When rationally correct arguments were not enough, the argument ad baculum worked well, especially against one of the kakoi. This is very telling from a rhetorical and decisional point of view. We must always remember that, even if we live in a democracy (in logoi, at least, as Thucydides would have said), all too often quod licet Iovi, non licet bovi (What is legitimate for Jove, is not legitimate for oxen). Let us go back to the former assembly. Agamemnon, even if wounded in his pride as King and head of army, eventually sent Chryseis home. However, he wanted compensation for his loss, “give me a prize, suiting it to my mind, so that it will be worth just as much—but if they do not, I myself will come and take your prize” (Iliad, I, 135-140). This is when he commits his second selfish, and

2.6 On Athenian Democracy and Contemporary Democracies


therefore reproachable, act: he wants Briseis, unfortunately one of Achilles’ slaves! The fleet-footed Achilles goes blind with rage, and we know that when Achilles flies into a rage all suffer. Luckily, Pallas Athena prevents him from killing the king. However, Achilles cannot restrain himself from yelling his hate at Agamemnon: Heavy with wine, with the face of a dog but the heart of a deer, never have you had courage to arm for battle along with your people, or go forth to an ambush with the chiefs of the Achaeans. That seems to you even as death. Indeed it is far better throughout the wide camp of the Achaeans to deprive of his prize whoever speaks contrary to you. Peopledevouring king, since you rule over nobodies; else, son of Atreus, this would be your last piece of insolence. But I will speak out to you, and will swear thereto a mighty oath: by this staff, that shall never more put forth leaves or shoots since first it left its stump among the mountains, nor shall it again grow green, for the bronze has stripped it on all sides of leaves and bark, and now the sons of the Achaeans carry it in their hands when they act as judges, those who guard the ordinances that come from Zeus; and this shall be for you a mighty oath. Surely some day a longing for Achilles will come upon the sons of the Achaeans one and all, and on that day you will not be able to help them at all, for all your grief, when many shall fall dying before man-slaying Hector. But you will gnaw the heart within you, in anger that you did no honour to the best of the Achaeans. (Iliad, I, 225-245).

Digression: just think of Thersites launching into similar tirade; no way! After this profusion of insults, Achilles leaves. We know what the effects of his anger will be, but what is important here is to stress the fact that Atreides was guilty of taking care of himself and not of the common good. Agamemnon was guilty of violating the implict societal covenant among the Achean fighters (see Raaflaub, 1988). The primacy of the common good over the individual good is a feature that lasted beyond the time of Homeric heroes characterising all periods of Greek history. Of course, Homeric heroes are individuals fighting as single monads, but they also fight for the social group within which they find their existential meaning. This communitarian conception will last until the classical age and Aristotle summarises it in the first book of Politics as follows: Again, the object for which a thing exists, its end, is its chief good; and self-sufficiency is an end, and a chief good. From these things therefore it is clear that the city-state is a natural growth, and that man is by nature a political animal, and a man that is by nature and not merely by fortune citiless is either low in the scale of humanity or above it (like the clanless, lawless, hearthless man reviled by Homer, [Iliad, IX, 63]: for one by nature unsocial is also ‘a lover of war’) inasmuch as he is solitary, like an isolated piece at draughts. (Politics, I, 2, 1253a, 1-7).

To be part of the citizenry was not just a right that you would acquire at birth, if born to an Athenian father or Athenian parents. To be part of the citizenry was an inclusive and exclusive privilege too. Inclusiveness was due to the relationship of solidarity and commonality that existed among citizens who both participated in the same political whole and shared a belief of superiority. Esclusiveness was due to the fact that people outside the community were not given any rights or recognition (not even existential), they were just ruled out.


2 Plato Was Not So Far Wrong: Recalling Athenian Democracy

This way of conceiveing the community and the role of each person in it are characteristic of Greek democracy and does not belong at all to our democracies. But what can we learn from the study of Athenian democracy? It depends! It depends on what we want to learn. For sure, it is a study that permits us to go more deeply into the tradition from which we are descended and in which we are still living. This is a good thing, especially when different ideologies try to recount our origin as they please or, even worse, when we forgive our own history. There are some contemporary theorists of deliberation who argue that Athenian democracy is a marvelous model for deliberative democracy. But, as shown, this is a little exaggerated. Not just because citizens represented a small fraction of the Athenian population, while women, metics, and slaves did not count. Not even because Athenians were not very inclined to export their model of government either in a good way (as, sometimes hypocritically, many international organisations would like to) or in a bad way (as George W. Bush tried to do in Iraq). Nor does the reason lie in the difference between the classical and the contemporary conception of the human being. It is simply because it is impossible, as Plato put it brutally, to have a full deliberative democracy if next to nobody is sufficiently knowledgeable about the subject to be discussed, how one ought to discuss it, and if nearly everybody is victim to malicious rhetoricians who are not interested in making either the people or the polis better. This is the take-home message, indeed, which we should hold in high regard. Of course, from Athenian democracy we can learn the usefulness of certain institutions or of certain institutional arrangements. Just think of the rotation in government offices, of the dokimasia to give a preliminary evaluation of the person appointed to a public office, of the misthoforia, and so on. But we learn from the critics of democracy too: we learn that formal and substantial isegoria is not enough, if we want this to become neither empty parrhesia, nor eristic barking. We also learn that the deliberator must be knowledgeable and that the ignorant are always at risk of being swayed and deceptively persuaded.

2.7 About the Elite Let us suppose that at an ekklesia about 6.000 Athenian citizens participate. If each one had spoken for, say, 10 minutes, then a full round of opinions would have taken 60.000 minutes, or 1.000 hours, which are equal to about 42 consecutive days. Suppose they had slept for 12 hours during the night, then 84 days would have been necessary. This is not feasable, of course. In reality, the ekklesia would last about 4 to 5 hours. Assuming 10 minute talks – even if the discourses reported by Thucydides are longer –, this implies that only about twenty slots were allowed. What about the 5.980 participants left? They would just not speak at all. They were listening and, possibly, thinking about what they heard. Then, they could make up their mind by expressing their opinion. In practice, Athenian deliberation did not entail the active participation of all citizens or of all the participants in the ekklesiai, but it was restricted to the small group of speakers. Every one else had a passive role, which became active only when they could express their judgement.

2.7 About the Elite


Are we in presence of an elite? Well, it looks like it. This view is strengthened by the fact that the group of rhetores was limited and, in practice, they were the only ones speaking at the assembly. In this regard, there are two schools of thought: one argues that Athenian democracy was actually ruled by an elite, while the other rejects this view. Let us try to have a look at this by keeping in mind that the answer we give to the Athenian case could serve as a model (mutatis mutandis, i.e. changing what has to be changed) for contemporary situations too. The most fierceful supporter of the anti-elitist theory is J. Ober. In most of his writings (in particular in his 2008 work) he tenaciously argues that, even if not everyone participated in the ekklesiai, there was such a widespread knowledge that made deliberations collective, anyway. Moreover, he maintains that the diffusion of knowledge was due to the intricate network of communications among citizens, independently of their social status, who had numerous possibilities to develop a shared language and thought. Ober’s position follows from, and is consistent with, his historical-philological approach, which is centred on political language and favours the analysis of the orations in the reconstruction of how the popular will was translated into individual and collective actions within the developing institutional framework of Athenian politics. In fact, there were places like the courts, the ekklesia, the theatre, and the marketplace where the citizen was exposed to social, cultural, and political issues of intermediate/high profile. However, this does not imply the emergence of an intermediate/high common knowledge that could bring about a good deliberative result. The citizen of intermediate or low social status was not “trained” in rhetorical activities. This means that he could not participate in court or assembly debate, and, most importantly, he had insufficient rhetorical knowledge to understand whether the rhetorician was persuading him through fallacies or eristic discourses. In short, what Plato affirms, despite Popper, cannot be considered as incorrect: if you are not knowledgeable (also in rhetoric), then you cannot intervene effectively, you cannot defend yourself from subtle and malicious attacks, and you cannot judge whether rhetorician speaks out of ingnorance. Of course, some may argue that shared knowledge counts for more than individual knowledge, but if we consider that shared knowledge is made up of many individuals’ knowledge and that few individuals are deemed knowledgeable, then no higher knowledge is shared. For how ever many zeros you sum, you will always get zero! If Ober were right, then in a situation like that found in Italy, where the average citizen is not very sophisticated from a rhetorical, political, and biomedical point of view, quite an effective political and bioethical debate should be possible, with high level deliberation. However, this is not what is occurring. Are elitists right? Actually, Ober’s opponents support a plausible position. To understand this plausibility let us recall that sort of law in social sciences called the “iron law of oligarchy” (a law targeted by Ober in his attack on elitists). This was first proposed by the German, then naturalised Italian, sociologist Robert Michels in his 1910 essay, La democrazia e la legge ferrea dell'oligarchia: saggio sociologico (Democracy and the iron law of oligarchy: a sociological essay), and then in his 1911 work, Zur Soziologie des Parteiwesens in der modernen Demokratie. Untersuchungen über die oligarchischen Tendenzen des Gruppenlebens (On the


2 Plato Was Not So Far Wrong: Recalling Athenian Democracy

Sociology of political parties in modern democracy: a study on oligarchic tendencies in political aggregations). Incidentally, it is worth recalling that Michels was fascinated by Benito Mussolini and the ideals of fascism, which he saw as an anti-racism and pro-peace force (sic!). His “law” was then rediscovered and adopted in 1939 by the New Zelander and historian Ronald Syme to account for the political situation in ancient Rome. The content of the law is quite simple (like most so-called laws in social sciences) and rather plausible (again like most so-called laws in social sciences): behind any form or label of government (monarchy or democracy) there is always an oligarchy, a minority. It follows that the elitist scholars who adopt this law believe that we should focus on the behaviour of a few persons rather than on the knowledge shared by the collectivity. In reality, the elitist theory summarised by the law has a long standing tradition that dates back to Plato, goes through Aristotle’s Politics – where it is suggested that an elite is an oligarchic group whose members belong because of richness (the economic-financial elite), because of birth (the aristocratic elite), because of virtue (the moral elite), or because of culture (the intellectual elite) (Politics, IV, 4, 1291b 14 -30) – and culminates in contemporary theorists like Wilfredo Pareto and Gaetano Mosca. To give a more comprehensive sketch, we should also recall that, in one way or another, this theory was held by both conservative and nonconservative thinkers, who had little trust in the masses and shared knowledge. In his Esprit des lois (The Spirit of the Laws), Charles-Louis de Secondat, baron of La Brède et de Montesquieu, takes it for granted that there are people who are born excellent or are excellent because of richness or honour as well as people of such low condition as “to be considered as void of any own will”. In the Considerations on Representative Governement, the liberal John Stuart Mill argues that, on the one hand, all adults have the right to vote, but, on the other hand, the vote of the wisest and most talented people ought to be considered as comparable to many votes by less knowledgeable and less talented people. In fact, in Chapter VIII, he writes that everybody’s right to a “voice” is one thing but whether or not all voices are equal is a different thing altogether. In addition, he claims, if one is more knowledgeable or more wise, such knowledge or wisdom must be accounted for when a decision is taken: “Does justice require that both opinions should be held of exactly equal value?”, he asks himself. His answer is “that every one should have an equal voice is a totally different proposition, […] I hasten to say that I consider it entirely inadmissible”. Mill is known for his educative elitism, according to which, at first, not all voters are equally important. They are all equal only when they all meet certain moral and cultural requirements. In short, there is no problem between genuine peers; the problem comes about when there is heterogeneity among voters. Finally, I would like to mention Max Weber. In his Politik als Beruf (Politics as a Vocation), he speaks of mass emotivity, while Joseph Schumpeter, in his Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, emphasises his scarce trust for the citizenry’s political and intellectual abilities. Schumpeter also describes the electorship as typically weak, prone to emotional impulses, cognitively unable to perform important actions, and vulnerable to external pressures even of an irrational nature. According to the Austrian economist, the average citizen reasons

2.7 About the Elite


in a childish fashion, as if stuck at some primitive stage, when engaging in political thinking. In short, the alleged contribution of the average citizen to political issues is vitiated by prejudices and irrational impulses. This makes political will easy prey for groups that want to profit from the situation, for dishonest professional politicians, and for people with an eye to economic gain. Hence, there is no popular will and this ought to be thought of as a social construct. In reality, there are oligarchies that create needs and trends, instrumental to their own interests. Along with this elitist conception of government, we should also take criticisms against the democratic majority into account (see Ruffini, 1927). It is considered easy to manipulate by smart barkers, wide open to persusion and unable to judge things correctly. Moreover, from this same viewpoint, democracy is also seen as making just what is strong but incapable of making strong what is just, to paraphrase a maxim attributed to Blaise Pascal. This is the aspect of democracy attacked by the classical Greek authors reviewed above. According to Pseudo-Xenophon, it is clear that the majority is made up of bad and immoral individuals, while goodness and morality are rare qualities. According to Thucydides, when there is true democracy (in erga and not just in logoi), the majority is under the influence of malicious rhetoricians thinking just of themselves and not of the common good. Finally, according to Plato, the majority has no knowledge and is therefore, easy prey to barkers (parrhesiasts, erists, and paralogists) who, sometimes have no idea what they are speaking about but are able to cajole the ignorant majority into doing what they want. All three criticisms point to the same, undeniable, pathology of democracy. However, not all the treatments suggested to cure it are desiderable. According to Pseudo-Xenophon, the majority ought not to be in power; according to Thucydides, a man like Pericles is necessary; according to Plato, we need those with knowledge. Maybe Pseudo-Xenophon and Thucydides could be wrong, but are we sure that Plato was also wrong? Let us look briefly at the relation between majority and minory and remember what was stressed by Gustav Le Bon, one of the founders of social psychology, in his 1895 Psychologie des foules (The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind) At the beginning of this work, he offers a striking image: when the building of the city is rotten, the mass pulls it down and the number appears to be the real philosophy of history. That is, it seems that history is made by the number rather than by the idea, or by the plan. However, this is not entirely correct. In fact, Gustav Le Bon also warns us not to conflate mass and majority, because the mass is a numerical majority but it is usually led by a minority. This point is not at all trivial! Summing up, are we really sure that the majority is not led by a minority that has succeeded in gathering around itself a sufficient number of individuals to support its positions? Behind the tyranny of the majority, which is adumbrated by the leading figures in the modern democratic movement like James Madison in his The Federalist Papers, Alexis de Tocqueville in his 1835-1840 work De la démocratie en Amérique (Democracy in America), and John Stuart Mill in his 1859 On Liberty, are we really sure that a minority is not at work to create the due “consensus” to gain power?


2 Plato Was Not So Far Wrong: Recalling Athenian Democracy

2.8 Things to Reflect Upon Let us try to summarise, as we did in the first chapter, some points that may be particularly useful. One. The moral and political validity of isegoria is undebatable. The formal and substantial right to speak is a common good that no society can dispense with if it wants to be democratic. However, given the crucial importance of isegoria, it should be preserved with the same attention and care, as a good gardener would use to nurture plants. Just as the gardener gets rid of weeds that could impair the growth of prize cultivars, so the lover of democracy should avoid the two pathologies that could affect its trascendental condition or isegoria. They try to protect against the degeneration of isegoria into parrhesia, in its negative sense; and avoid its mutation into the bridgehead of a small group of malicious rhetoricians in the conquest of power. Let us start with the first pathology. Isegoria is not parrhesia, as said repeatedly. We usually believe that formal and substantial freedom of speech means that one can say whatever he or she wants. However, this is not the case, in fact the right time, way, and context must be respected. In democratic public arenas we cannot just have parrhesia like that seen on TV talk shows, where parrhesiasts of all sorts convene: the soubrette, the macho man, the smart guy in vogue, the grim criminologist, the inspired psychologist, the meaningless-butarrogant politician, the egomaniac selling himself as enlightened, the theologian with a propensity to talk nonsense, and so on. They carry on speaking about the universe, of good and evil, of beauty and ugliness, relentlessly. The formal and substantial right to speak should not merely become a vacuous exercise of the vocal chords. In some cases, saying the first thing that comes to mind is just not enough. Sometimes, you need employ well-structured reasoning, because the object of discussion is important. In this case, parrhesiasts should not be allowed. We must accept this fact, even if some may consider it politically incorrect: there are situations in which isegoria must not degenerate into parrhesia and parrhesiasts ought to be banned from the debate. If we are to preserve the strength and importance of isegoria, and therefore of democracy, we have to exclude them whenever we deliberate. Of course, it is not a pleasant (and politically correct) caveat, yet it is the only way in which we can safeguard the deliberative process we are engaging in. Parrhesiasts can participate in TV shows but not in deliberative debates. They may well become famous through mass-media parrhesiasts, but their fame should not give them access to the important deliberations of a community. The second pathology of isegoria concerns the fact that it can entail a rhetorical selection favouring those who have greater abilities to speak, as happened in Athens. We may pretend this is not the case and that there is no rhetorical hierarchy in democracy, but this is make-believe: we can hide reality but we cannot eliminate it. The only way in which we can avoid this flaw is to reappraise the teaching of good speaking and reasoning. I shall come back to this issue in the next chapters. For the moment, it is important to understand that isegoria only becomes everyone’s right, rather than the right of just a few, when we all learn how to speak and reason again.

2.8 Things to Reflect Upon


Hence, we should stay away from parrhesiasts and we should be wary of empty speakers. In any case, however, we must be able to make the best use of isegoria; we must learn how to master public speaking or even better, how to reason. Two. Rhetoric has a positive aspect and a negative one, as we have seen both in the first chapter with Aristotle, and in this one with Plato. The good rhetorician persuades the audience and debates by making use of correct arguments; that is, he offers reasons. The good rhetorician does not play tricks by making use of fallacies or rationally irrelevant arguments. The good rhetorician does not blandish or boast. The good and honest rhetorician (the rhetorician of honour) knows what he is speaking about and how to correctly argue and counter-argue. Of course, he also knows how to counteract those who would like to persuade you with mischievous techniques. Three. We ought to be knowledgeable. Democracy is in need of knowledge. The person lacking knowledge is victim to those who are knowledgeable or pretend to be such. Hence, acquaintance with the subject under discussion must accompany rhetorical expertise. We saw this in Plato. Lack of knowledge makes of us an ignorant mass, susceptible to the shimmering whip of the tamer. If we do not know, we cannot know whether what is discussed is valid. This does not mean that we should always know everything, but that we should be keen to learn what is needed when we (have to) deliberate on a given issue. Many times we are asked an opinion about something we know nothing about but how many times do we answer “I cannot tell you, I cannot participate in the debate, because I do not know enough”? How many times do we answer “Before telling you something and getting into the debate, I need some time to study the issue”? Of course, it is hard and we have to take the celebrated “step back” that nobody seems willing to make, but it is the only way in which we can improve the community we live in and avoid falling victim to those who want to cajole us into doing what they want. Four. Think again of dokimasia. It was a way in which the moral tenability of the candidate for a public office was put on trial. We can think of it as a sort of test to access the debate. What is tested is whether the person who wants to participate in deliberation fulfils the necessary requirements; whether the person is sufficiently knowledgeable of argumentative techniques and of the subject matter. Why is this objectionable? Is it really antidemocratic not to want parrhesiasts or argumentatively incompetent people to take decisions? Do we really want the debate to be in the hands of the person who shouts the loudest or of professional politicians who have forgotten the meaning of ‘politics’? The only way out of this is to ask for specific competence. We may not save democracy in this way, yet we may contribute to its preservation. Plato was not so wrong in his plea for knowledge and ethics. He abhorred politics played out by ignorant immorals to persuade credulous ignorants. Five. Are we really sure that the majority is not a mere aggregation of votes in favour of a proposal due to a minority that was lucky enough, (more so than other minorities), to get a sufficient number of “hands up”? Has the majority ever been in power? It seems to me that, if we put aside its idealised version, even Athenian democracy was but the government of a minority that succeeded in having the greatest number of citizens siding with it.


2 Plato Was Not So Far Wrong: Recalling Athenian Democracy

Six. To conclude, we should always recall Thucydides’ problem: how can a community take the right decision when its decision making ability is impaired by a lack of knowledge, especially as regards who the real experts are and what might constitute a plausible solution?

References Aristotle: Athenian Constitution. Penguin Classics, London (1984) Aristotle: Politics. Penguin Classics, London (1981) Benton, J.H.: Warning out in New England, 1656-1817. W.B. Clarke, Boston (1911) Berger, S.: Revolution and Society in Greek Sicily and Southern Italy. Franz Steiner Verlag, Stuttgart (1992) Boniolo, G.: On Scientific Representations. From Kant to a New Philosophy of Science. Palgrave Macmillan, Houndmills (2007) Černyševskij, N.G.: What is to be done? Cornell University Press, Cornell (1862-1863) (1989) Conrad, J.: The Shadow Line. Penguin Books, London (1917,1990) Constant, De Rebecque, H.-B.: De la liberté des anciens comparée à celle des modernes. In: Euvres Politiques. Charpentier, Paris (1819,1874) Dahl, R.A.: Democracy and its Critics. Yale University Press, New Haven (1989) Herodotus: The Histories. Penguin Classics, London (1996) Euripides: Suppliants. Kessinger Publishing, LLC (2004) Finley, M.I.: Democracy Ancient and Modern. Chatto & Windus, London (1973) Golding, W.: Lord of the flies. Faber and Faber, London (1954) Hansen, M.H.: The Athenian Democracy in the Age of Demosthenes: Structure, Principles, and Ideology. University of Oklahoma Press, New York (1991) Hansen, M.H.: The Ancient Athenian and the Modern Liberal View of Liberty as a Democratic Ideal. In: Robinson (ed.), pp. 171–183 (1996,2004) Hignett, C.: A History of the Athenian Constitution to the End of the Fifth Century. B.C. Clarendon, Oxford (1952) Laborit, H.: Eloge de la fuite. Gallimard, Paris (1976) Le Bon, G.: La psychologie des foules. Alcan, Paris (1895) Lenin: What is to be done? Oxford University Press, Oxford (1901-1902) (1963) Lewis, I.D.: Isegoria at Athens: When Did it Begin? Historia 20, 129–140 (1971) Michels, R.: La democrazia e la legge ferrea dell’oligarchia: saggio sociologico. In: Cooperativa Tipografica Manuzio, Roma (1910) Michels, R.: Zur Soziologie des Parteiwesens in der modernen Demokratie. In: Untersuchungen über die oligarchischen Tendenzen des Gruppenlebens, W. Klinkhardt, Leipzig (1911) Mill, J.S.: Considerations on Representative Government. Prometheus Books, New York (1861,1991) De Secondat, C., de Montesquieu, B.: The Spirit of Laws. Prometheus Books, New York (1748,2002) Morris, I.: The Strong Principle of Equality and the Archaic Origins of Greek Democracy. In: Robinson (ed.), pp. 45–75 (1996,2007) Mosca, G.: Sulla teoria dei governi e sul governo parlamentare. UTET, Torino (1882,1884)



Ober, J.: Mass and Elite in Democratic Athens. Princeton University Press, Princeton (1989) Ober, J.: The Athenian Revolution. Princeton University Press, Princeton (1996) Ober, J.: Political Dissent in Democratic Athens: Intellectual Critics of Popular Rule. Princeton University Press, Princeton (1998) Ober, J.: Democracy and Knowledge. Innovation and Learning in Classical Athens. Princeton University Press, Princeton (2008) Homer: Iliad. Johnathan Cape, London (1925) Ostwald, M.: Shares and Rights: “Citizenships” Greek Style and American Style. In: Robinson (ed.), pp. 159–171 (1996,2004) Pareto, W.: Treatise of General Sociology. Dover Publications, USA (1916) Plato: Gorgias. Agora Publications, Millis (1994) Plato: The Republic. Agora Publications, Millis (2001) Plato: Laws. Cosimo Classics, New York (2008) Plato: Seventh Letter. In: Plato in Twelve Volumes. William Heinemann, London (1966); vol. 7 translated by R.G. Bury Pohlenz, M.: Der hellenische Mensch. Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, Göttingen (1946) Popper, K.R.: The Open Society and Its Enemies. Routledge, London (1945) Pseudo-Xenophon: Constitution of the Athenians. Lactor, London (1969) Raaflaub, K.A.: The Discovery of Freedom in Ancient Greece. Engl. Transl. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago (1985,2004) Raaflaub, K.A.: Homer and the Beginning of Political thought in Greece. In: Robinson (ed.), pp. 28–40 (1988,2004) Robinson, E.W.: Democracy in Syracuse, 466-412 BC. In: Robinson (ed.), pp. 140–151 (2000,2004) Robinson, E.W. (ed.): Ancient Greek Democracy: Readings and Sources. Blackwell, Oxford (2004) Robinson, E.W.: Democracy Beyond Athens: Popular Governments in the Greek Classical Age. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (2011) Ruffini, E.: Il principio maggioritario. Profilo storico. Adelphi, Milano (1927,2002) Schumpeter, J.: Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy. Harper Perennial, New York (1942,1962) Sinclair, R.K.: Democracy and Participation in Athens. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (1988) Snell, B.: The Discovery of the Mind: The Greek Origins of European Thought. Harvard University Press, Cambridge (1946,1960) Syme, R.: The Roman Revolution. Oxford University Press, Oxford (1939,1960) Thomsen, R.: The Origin of Ostracism: A Synthesis. Gyldendalske, Copenhagen (1972) Thucydides: History of the Peloponnesian War. Dover Publications Inc., Mineola (2004) Vernant, J.-P. (ed.): L’Homme grec. Le Seuil, Paris (1993) Weber, M.: Politics as a Vocation. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (1919/1978) Wilamowitz, U.: Aristoteles und Athen. Weidmann, Berlin (1883,1966)

Chapter 3

A Reappraisal of the Medieval Approach Will Lead to Excellent Deliberators A Reappraisal of t he Medieval A pproach will Lead to Excellent Deliberators

Here we find a demonstration that the Middle Ages produced a canon of good deliberation and that it was taught in universities at that time. It is argued that we should take up the study of such a canon once again. And, finally, the peregrination of the meaning of ‘rhetoric’ is presented and the art of correct reasoning finds its apotheosis.

3.1 Where Have All the Good Old Theologians Gone? In the first chapter, I mentioned a debate I was invited to with a theologian (maybe a would-be theologian) on the moral legitimacy of the use of human embryonic stem cells. I reported his embarrassing (although he did not think so) confession of ignorance on the issue, but I did not mention his amazing ability to speak for almost one hour without ever using words such as “if … then …”; that is, without offering any argument. Are all theologians like that? Do they all speak of things they are not suitably knowledgeable about without offering any argument? Have they always been like that? I would commit an eristic fallacy if I inferred from my personal experience as regards that particular theologian the conclusion that all theologians speak of issues they are ignorant about and without producing arguments. I would commit the fallacy of hasty generalisation; and this would be unforgivable for someone who is writing about the indispensability of correct reasoning in deliberation. As regards the story just told, we could remember an event that occurred some centuries ago. It was the second half of the 13th Century and the so-called mendicant orders had already existed for five decades. These were Christian orders (Dominicans, Franciscans, Carmelites, Augustinians, Servants of Mary) preaching about poverty and living by what they preached, depending for their livehood on the charity and good will of the people. At that time, Nicolaus Gallicus (also known as Nicolaus French) was appointed prior-general of one of these orders, the Carmelites, namely, the Order of the Brothers of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. If you are curious, such a name derives from the fact that, at the beginning of the 13th Century, a group of Christian monks decided to retire to a mountain in Galilee, Mount Carmel, in homage to the acts of prophet Elias. Here, G. Boniolo: The Art of Deliberating, SAPERE 6, pp. 89–121, 2012. © Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012


3 A Reappraisal of the Medieval Approach Will Lead to Excellent Deliberators

towards the second half of the 9th Century B.C., the Bible says that Elias defeated the followers of god Baal, a divinity of Phoenician origin. It is narrated that, to show the power of Israel’s God, Elias set on fire green, wet wood only by praying. Then, Elias had the good idea of massacring all of Baal’s followers, because, as, much later on, the doges in Venice used to say, “homo morto no fa Guerra” (dead man does not make war): Then Elias said to all the people, “Come here to me.” They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the LORD, which had been torn down. Elias took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob, to whom the word of the LORD had come, saying, “Your name shall be Israel.” With the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD, and he dug a trench around it large enough to hold two seahs of seed. He arranged the wood, cut the bull into pieces and laid it on the wood. Then he said to them, “Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood.” “Do it again,” he said, and they did it again. “Do it a third time,” he ordered, and they did it the third time. The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench. At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elias stepped forward and prayed: “LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.” Then the fire of the LORD fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The LORD—he is God! The LORD—he is God!” Then Elias commanded them, “Seize the prophets of Baal. Don’t let anyone get away!” They seized them, and Elias had them brought down to the Kishon Valley and slaughtered there. (Kings, 1,18, 30-40).

Let us come back to Nicolaus Gallicus. As soon as he became the leader of his confreres, since he knew of their propensity towards a life without any pinch of study and knowledge, he wrote a letter, the Ignea sagitta (The Flaming Arrow), through which he tried to persuade them to change their habits. In particular, towards the end of the letter, he kindly asked them not to teach things they were not acquainted with and not to speak of things they were ignorant about. As he explicitly wrote, his worry was motivated by the fact that his confreres were used to fiercely sustaining, in public, positions concerning subjects that they did not understand or know well, as if they “had digested the whole theology in the stomach of their memory”. In short, Nicolaus was asking them to speak less and study more, especially if they wanted to maintain a public role. Unfortunately, his efforts were in vain and he eventually gave up, aware that it is better to abandon certain battlefields rather than uselessly and exhaustingly fight in them. Of course, not all Carmelites are like the confreres of Nicolaus Gallicus and not all theologians are like the one I met. Moreover, the current education that theologians receive is far from being like that of Nicolaus’ times, which prompted him to write his letter, initially, and then to desist from his battle susequently. In any event, I am not convinced that, nowadays, in a theologian’s education the ability of reasoning is particularly emphasised, nor am I convinced that in the university curricula there is a special place given to such skill. At this point, it seems inevitable to concede that a Medieval student was more prepared than any contemporary fellow in the art of correct reasoning. Some might ask why. Let us find out.

3.2 Medieval Man Did It Better


3.2 Medieval Man Did It Better In the previous chapter, I mentioned that in classical Greece, particularly in Athens, a fundamental event in Western, and then global, civilisation occurred, that is, the birth of democracy. In this chapter, instead, I would like to discuss another fundamental event in European, and then universal, history: the birth of universities in between the 12th and 13th Centuries. Universities were the institutional places in which knowledge was both transmitted from mentors to disciples and, importantly, produced. It is important to recall that these new institutions became the cornerstones on which modern and contemporary sciences and humanities were (and are) built but, more significantly, in Medieval universities the method characterising Western knowledge was crystallized, even if it had its birth in ancient Greece, thanks to the reflections of great philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle. It was the method students could become familiar with from the very first years at university and it was (and it still is) based on three pillars: 1) a clear statement of the problem to be addressed; 2) the identification of an appropriate solution; and 3) the rational justification of the solution. In the Middle Ages, there was, as a consequence of the institutionalisation of higher education into universities, another novelty: the birth of a new figure of great importance for Western history: the professional intellectual (yes, I know: the term ‘intellectual’ came much later but please, forgive me this historically incorrect use). This was a person who started very early in life to take a well structured course of study that gave him access to a career based on the production and management of knowledge through the instruments of reason. Notably, the Medieval intellectual was a cosmopolitan and a traveller: as a student he moved about looking for the best university lecturers and this attitude was maintained later, when he gained the licence to teach. For, the licentia ubique docendi given by his university had a value recognized everywhere and he could teach in all the other European universities without undergoing further preliminary exams. Thus, the Medieval intellectual could travel throughout Europe in search of knowledge, spreading knowledge and his expertise where there was freedom to do so and a request for good teachers. Among other things, this exchange of knowledge between people of different nationalities was made easier by Latin, which, after being abandoned, was taken up once again in cultured circles thanks to Charles the Great and the institution of the Schola palatina, around 780, in his Palace at Aachen. Some may ask “Why did universities come about?”; that is, “Why was there a shift from the situation of Studium, where only certain disciplines were taught and degrees were bestowed by local authorities, to the situation of Universitas, where many disciplines were taught and degrees had validity within all Europe?”. This is an interesting question; historians studying such institutions are still divided about it (see Makdisi 1981; Rüegg 1996). However, it seems rather plausible to claim that time was ripe for new institutions to arise spontaneously in opposition to a form of teaching that was entirely under the control of ecclesiastical authorities. Notably, there were new subjects, like medicine and law, which were better put


3 A Reappraisal of the Medieval Approach Will Lead to Excellent Deliberators

into practice outside of the limitations of religious schools, which were more interested in theological problems rather than in such “secular” issues. Nevertheless, and unfortunately, this aspiration to knowledge and education, which contributed to the birth of universities, was soon channelled and constrained when, towards the end of the 13th Century, the kings of France and England, the Italian communal magistrates and the ecclesiastical hierarchies (of Rome, especially) thought that it was a good idea to exert some more control over such institutions, which were becoming ever more powerful corporations. In any event, between the 12th and the 13th Century, the first universities arose in Europe. Perhaps, even before that time, if we consider the Medical School of Salerno as a university – dating from around the 9th or early 10th Century – in which logic, theology, and law were also taught. Putting aside the querelle over priority, the organisation that was adopted by the School of Salerno is interesting, made up of three years of logic, five years of medicine (which would encompass human autopsies), and one year of apprenticeship with an experienced practitioner. Please, notice the three years of logic: a student had to learn how to reason before learning medicine! Is that to be considered so odd? Aside from Salerno, it is quite easy to list the first universities, even if the year of foundation is not always precisely known and, therefore, not everybody agrees on the temporal order. However, starting from the most ancient: Bologna (1088) and then Paris (1090), Oxford (1096), Montpellier (1150), Cambridge (1209), Padua (1222), Naples (1224), Toulouse (1229), Siena (1240), Coimbra (1290), Rome (1303), Perugia (1308), Florence (1321), Pisa (1343), Valladolid (1346), Prague (1348), Pavia (1361), Krakow (1364), Vienna (1365), Heidelberg (1386), Ferrara (1391), and so on. Ten of these are Italian, but, unfortunately, this temporal and qualitative primacy has not been maintained over the centuries. Inevitably, more recent institutions (we may recall that the first universities “in the colonies” were Lima – 1551 – in South America; Pennsylvania – 1749 – in North America; and Sydney – 1850 – in Australia) that have been more active and interested in merit and innovative cultural production have started to conquer the primacy of both knowledge transmission and knowledge production, thereby relegating Italian universities to the lower ranks. Although each Medieval university had its own regulations, there was a certain homogeneity in their didactical structure, which was based on an initial module that granted the access to the higher degrees of specialisation. Moreover, all the universities had a method of teaching that was centred on lectiones (lectures) and disputationes (disputes). However, let us proceed methodically. Let us think abstractly of a university at that time (see Bianchi 1997). Usually, there was a unique first level, that of the faculty of artes liberals (liberal arts), in which you could enrol yourself at the age of 14-15. Then a student had the possibility of proceeding to a second level and choosing among Medicine, Law, and Theology. The Faculty of Arts lasted 4 years. In the first two, a student had lectiones about the arts of the Trivium (logic, rhetoric, grammar) and the Quadrivium (geometry, arithmetic, astronomy, music). In the second year each student begun the disputes (disputationes), to which I will return in a while. At the end, he could

3.3 Translatio Studii e Translatio Stultitiae


obtain a bachelors degree (Artium Baccalaureus). Among other things, we should notice that it is only from the 1250s that the Faculty of Arts, which was previously preliminary to each of the other three faculties, become a faculty in its own right: that is, the Faculty of Philosophy. It is approximately in that same period that we could speak of philosophi rather than artistae. In practice, only then was the profile of the ‘philosopher’ established. Before that time, ‘philosopher’ was an appellative especially for ancient or non-Christian thinkers. There is another aspect worth remembering here. As noticed, I have always used the masculine pronoun to indicate a student. This is because women were not admitted to study in universities at the time. The first woman to be awarded a degree was Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia on June 25, 1678, at the University of Padova. Once a graduate, the student could proceed for two to three more years assisting the master (magister), participating in disputes, giving introductory lectures (lectiones cursoriae), or helping younger students by going over what they had previously been taught (repetitiones). This was the way in which a student prepared to get the licence (licentia) and, therefore, to become a master. But that was not enough: if he wanted to become a theologian, he had to teach for a couple of years in order gain access to the full course of theological studies, which then lasted until the age of 35. As you may observe, also in this case the core teachings were based on liberal arts, in particular in the extensive study of the Trivium, independently of whether one wanted to become a physician, a lawyer, or a theologian. In fact, it was unthinkable that a physician, a lawyer, or a theologian would not be able to reason, to write and to speak properly. Those really were good times (at least, from this point of view)!

3.3 Translatio Studii e Translatio Stultitiae Above, I was posing a historical question about the origin of the universities. Of course, I do not intend to glibly answer this question, one that preoccupies even the best of historians studying such institutions. However, I did mention that the “time was ripe”. Honestly, any statement of this sort is rather vacuous, especially when we are speaking afterwards, or a posteriori. Basically we can say that any event has occurred because the “time was ripe”. Therefore, it would be more helpful to give some details about the cultural context to make the issue more substantial and less empty, informationally. It is not a trivial fact that universities came about in the 12th Century, a period characterised by a general cultural flourishing that would encompass law, philosophy, and science. In fact, this was made possible by the culmination, between the 12th and 13th Century, of a process that could be called the Medieval translatio studii (transfer of knowledge and learning), which, on the one hand, included the massive and systematic Latin translation of Greek texts via Arabic and, on the other hand, was characterized by the cosmopolitan education of the intellectuals.


3 A Reappraisal of the Medieval Approach Will Lead to Excellent Deliberators

For those who like pleasantries, please note that translatio studii has its antagonistic counterpart in translatio stultitiae (transfer of stupidity). As well known, this is a typical feature of human nature, beautifully illustrated by Alexander Pope in his satirical work The Dunciad (the first anonymous edition was published in 1728; the second edition was anonymous too, it came out in 1729 with the title Dunciad Variorum; in 1743, the third edition was titled New Dunciad). Here, the heroine is the goddess Dulness, who is the daughter of Nyx, the goddess of the night, and Chaos. Her aim was to convert the world to stupidity: is there any other task that is more noble and less difficult? Needless to say, the name of the goddess is a play on words between ‘dull’ and ‘dunce’. This latter term has a curious origin, since it was originally a derisive epithet for the followers of Duns Scotus (1266 - 1308), the so-called Dunses or Dunsmen, who, because of their opposition to the English Renaissance in the 15th Century, were perceived negatively as empty and conservative sophists incapable of appreciating novelty. By extension, the dunce’s cap was a paper cone put on the head of disgraced students as a sign of humiliation. By the way, in Italy it is called the “donkey’s hat”. Exactly that cap was also used in the Spanish Inquisition to stigmatise the defendant, as shown in the wonderful painting ‘Tribunal de la Inquisición’ by Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828). With regard to the cosmopolitan nature of intellectuals in the 11th Century, it is worth recalling the phenomenon of clerici vagantes (itinerant clerics). These were scholars who travelled through Europe to follow the lectures of the best masters. The clerici vagantes were called ‘clerics’ because they enjoyed some ecclesiastical privileges conferring a para-ecclesiastical status that granted them to travel freely and under some protection. We should also recall that this phenomenon started disappearing with the institutionalisation of universities – towards the beginning of the 13th Century –, in part because the clerici were morally “progressive”, also from the point of view of the freedom of criticism they were claiming for. The phenomenon was not looked on favourably in the Church, which (as always) preferred a pious ignorant to a cultivated, critical, pleasure-loving student. This is the period in which the term ‘goliard’ is coined, which rapidly became another way of denoting the itinerant clerics and that, in Italian, still indicates the university student who loves revelry and pranks. From the point of view of the sociology of knowledge, another aspect of this phenomenon should not be overlooked. The travelling of the clerics around Europe was a direct and indirect cause of the (not necessarily high) cultural transmission, of the increase in the teaching standards, and of the creation of a shared European spirit. Intellectuals, both as itinerant students looking for the best education and as masters looking for freedom and jobs in studia and universities, were not however the only people travelling around. There were merchants, knights, and pilgrims looking for blessings or penances. The Medieval man was truly a homo viator, a traveller, and when you travel, your knowledge comes with you, and you encounter new knowledge, be this sophisticated or naive. A necessary condition for all this to happen, however, is that the traveller must not be a dimwit. As the Venetian wisdom says, “viagiar descanta, ma chi parte mona torna mona” (travelling stirs one up, but if you leave a simpleton, you return a simpleton).

3.3 Translatio Studii e Translatio Stultitiae


However, when the clericus met an appropriate master to further his chosen studies, he negotiated a fee (collecta) to attend his lectures. Thus there was an economic exchange and a pact to be respected by both parties: the student was bound to behave in a certain way, while the master was bound to give specific lectures. For instance, to avoid “laziness” on the part of the master the punctatio librorum was established, which consisted in the identification of the parts of the books that the master was committed to discuss. Beside the real movement of individuals across Europe (and beyond), in those years there was also a more abstract journey taking place, involving the ideas contained in those books that were coming back to the centre of European intellectual life after being translated through the Arabic culture (see D’Ancona Costa, 1996 and 2005). To give a brief survey of this aspect of the Medieval translatio studii, one could start with the Arabic conquest of Beirut (635) and Alexandria (641) by the Arabs. These cities were the two greatest centres of education and knowledge transmission in the Byzantine Empire. This conquest produced the discovery of the great Greek philosophy and the construction of cultural centres such as Harran, in Mesopotamia, and then Damascus and Baghdad, which rapidly became pivotal in the translation of Greek texts to Syriac. They also became the place in which the knowledge of the first philosophers blended with the knowledge of the Middle East. As a consequence, this cultural fusion started to spread anywhere the Arabs settled. The division between Eastern Islam (led by the dynasty of Abbasid Caliphate, which took its name from the paternal uncle of Muhammad: al-'Abbās b. 'Abd al-Muttalib) and Western Islam (led by the dynasty of Omayyad Caliphate, named after the original group of the Banū Umayya) that had a great role in Spain, did not halt this cultural diffusion. With regard to Western Islam, the texts of Galen and Aristotle were widespread even before the Abbasid period (between the 8th Century and the 13th Century), during which the Aristotelian Organon, as well as the Neoplatonic works by Plotinus, Porphyry, and Proclus, were translated into Arabic, which had substituted Syriac as the philosophical language. Unfortunately, this great cultural endeavour found one of its main obstacles in the rising of Muslim theology, which was developed independently of the Greek philosophical tradition (differently from Christian theology which searched for its foundations in that philosophy). This made a strong contribution to the philosophical thought in that geographical area fading into oblivion. On the western front, instead, things went differently. Cordoba and Toledo became key centres of the translatio studii. Here, a phenomenon that cannot be compared with any other in the world, was observed. In Spain, there was a numerous Jewish community, some members of which could speak Arabic and they served as catalysts for exchange between the Middle East and the Western culture. At a certain point, the Reconquista began. Reconquista is the name of the period of 750 years during which the Moorish kingdoms in Spain were reconquered. This period ended in 1492 when Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile, Los Reyes Católicos, defeated the last sultan: Abu 'Abd Allāh Muhammad also known as Boabdil. This had the unexpected effect of discovering


3 A Reappraisal of the Medieval Approach Will Lead to Excellent Deliberators

the immense greatness of the Arabic and Greek culture, which the Moorish kingdoms had preserved with love. The Greek philosophical texts were then translated into Latin and soon became the “classics” from which any student of the Medieval universities began his education. In short, there was a great exchange of books and ideas that, together with the cultural heritage that was preserved in the isolation of the monasteries spread through Europe, gave rise to a cultural milieu in which knowledge was established and studia and universities were founded.

3.4 Logic as the Art of Correct Reasoning It is impressive how much we are intellectually canalized by Enlightenment heritage, which placed a great emphasis on reason and made of this its ensign. The Enlightenment has left many of us with the conviction that there was no other âge de la raison or l’âge des lumières, as French intellectuals used to call it. This belief is often held in comparison with the previous centuries, which are typically seen as “dark”. Of course, in the Middle Ages, blind dogmatism, irrationality and superstition played a great role. However, the Middle Ages was also the age in which logic (or dialectic: the two terms were almost synonymous), as the art of correct reasoning, was rediscovered and put at the centre of education. However, such an interpretation of logic is perfectly consistent with its founder’s: Aristotle. He considered logic not as a science per se, but as a preliminary discipline fundamental to any other kind of knowledge. This is exactly the idea found among those who designed the first universities. For them purus logicus est asinus, or purus logicus purus asinus, that is, a pure logician is to be thought of as a donkey. In the end, they tacitly convened that it was unthinkable to tackle any area of knowledge without having some notions on how to draw correct inferences. Obviously, this ancillary function of logic was, and is, not shared by everybody. We know, for instance, that Stoics considered logic, like ethics and physics, as independent from philosophy and not as instrumental to it. In Late Antiquity and in the High Middle Ages, the neoplatonic philosophers shared this stoic idea of logic as not merely an instrument. However, they did not fail to see it as a sort of essential “mental gym”, or “exercitatio animi”, as Augustine of Hippo (354 - 430) used to say. In any event, the instrumental interpretation of logic soon became customary, as is clear in Peter Abelard (1079 1142), who considered logic to be the art of differentiating valid arguments from invalid ones in any field of knowledge. Since arguments are made of words and propositions, logic must take the form of an art of language (ars sermocinalis). In the same tradition, we find another fundamental work: the Metalogicon (1159) by John of Salisbury (1115 ca-1180), a pupil of Abelard. Here, logic is considered as one of the three disciplines of the Trivium and it is stressed that, though born after other areas of knowledge, it is fundamental to all of them: posterior tempore, sed ordine prima. This means that there cannot be good knowledge if this is not grounded on a logical basis. Logic was thus the backbone of artes liberales and it was the essential instrument of every intellectual.

3.4 Logic as the Art of Correct Reasoning


A couple of words on the artes liberales, whose history dates back to the classical world, in particular, to the Latin world. For it was in that age that the name was coined. They were the arts deemed representative of the free men, as opposed to the arts related to servitude, the artes serviles, like textile art, craftsmanship, metallurgy, architecture and so on. However, liberal arts were not intended as merely typical of free men, they were also considered as the arts that elevated the spiritual condition of the person who cultivated them. One of the first systems of classification regarding the liberal arts was proposed by Marcus Terentius Varro, also known as Varro Reatinus since he was born in Rieti in 116 B.C. However, the canonical structuring into seven arts, that was very popular in the Middle Ages, has to be attributed to the Carthaginian jurist Martianus Minneus Felix Capella (365 approx. - 440). He, in his poetic work De nuptiis Mercurii et Philologiae, also known as De septem disciplinis, deemed grammar, dialectic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy as fundamental to human knowledge. The seven liberal arts were then grouped into two fields: one concerning language (artes sermocinales), and one concerning measurement (artes reales). The former field was about the art of good writing in Latin (grammar), the art of good reasoning (dialectic or logic), and the art of good persuasion (rhetoric); the second field consisted of four arts that had to do with the knowledge of numbers (arithmetic), space (geometry), harmony (music), and the motion of the stars (astronomy). The De nuptiis Mercurii et Philologiae, dedicated by Martianus to his son, was structured as a sort of recollection of classical knowledge in verse and prose into which Capella put a little of everything. Among other things, there is a non-Ptolemaic system (the Sun, the Moon, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn orbit around the stationary Earth; while Mercury and Venus orbit around the Sun) that partially resembles the system that Tycho Brahe would propose in the second half of the 16th Century (the Earth is the stationary centre around which the Moon and the Sun orbit; while the other five planets, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn orbit around the Sun). The De nuptiis is a strongly allegorical text in which the 7 liberal arts are represented as 7 maidens offered as slaves to Philology, the bride of Mercury. During the first part of the Middle Ages, the practice of these seven disciplines was also consolidated thanks to widely available textbooks and compendia studied in the main centres of knowledge preservation and transmission, that is, the monastic communities. As an example, we could recall the Institutiones divinarum et saecularium litterarum (also known as De artibus et disciplina liberalium litterarum) written by Flavius Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus (490-583), who spent his life in the monastery of Vivarium in Calabria. In that work, he summarised what, in his opinion, a monk needed to know; that is, the liberal arts, which he compares to the seven pillars on which Solomon’s temple stood. Another two examples are given by Heptateuchon, prepared by Theodore of Chartres (who died about 1150), and Didascalicon by Hugh of Saint Victor (1096-1141).


3 A Reappraisal of the Medieval Approach Will Lead to Excellent Deliberators

3.5 Quaestio and Disputatio Now that I have wandered enough among the newly founded universities, cultural environments, and theologians selling intellectual snake oil, I can address the issue I am really interested in: the dispute. As I recalled before, even if each university had its own, more or less detailed, regulation (called actus scholastici) concerning didactical activities, the curriculum was basically identical everywhere: lectures, disputes, recitations, and sermons (see Maierù, 1994). We are interested in disputes, but lectures are worth a brief mention. During lectures (lectiones), a text, considered an auctoritas, was read and commented upon. We should note immediately that, for Medieval scholars, the fact that a text was an auctoritas did not mean that it had to be accepted indolently. In truth, it was considered, first, as the Golden Gate to the knowledge it contained and, second, as an incentive to foster critical and creative thinking. There were ordinary lectures, typically held by the magister and devoted to the reading of texts considered fundamental for student education. There were also extraordinary lectures. They were typically held by bachelors or young masters and addressed the reading of texts or excerpts that were considered important, even if not fundamental. Finally we find the lectiones cursoriae, in which the text to be discussed in depth in ordinary lectures was briefly introduced. Then, we must also mention a sort of remedial lecture (repetitiones) held by senior students (repetitores) to review what was taught in the main lectures. The second pillar of the didactic system was the dispute (disputatio). This was structured as a debate between two students of an equal level of education and chaired by a master. This latter started by introducing a topic (casus, or thema) and posing a question (problema, or quaestio). Then, one of the students, the opponens (or impugnans), had to offer some arguments to which the other student, the respondens (or defendens), had to reply with other arguments. At the end, the master stopped the dispute by proposing his view and his arguments, which were considered as the determinatio or solutio (see Bazán, Wippel, Fransen, Jacquart, 1985; Lawn, 1993; Weijers, 2002 and 2009). It should be noticed that arguments in favour of, or against, were based both on auctoritates “of the past” and on positions supported by contemporary thinkers. This induced both the mastering of established knowledge and the ability of contextualising the problem. There were many kinds of disputes. The most common ones (quaestiones disputatae in scholis) were connected with a lectio. The magister posed a problem related to the text that had just been read, and suggested ways of solving it through a disputatio, which allowed students to argue and counter-argue properly. There were quodlibet disputes too (disputationes de quolibet o quodlibetales), in which the topics could be proposed by anyone (they were ad voluntatem cuiuslibet). These disputes were a severe test of the two opponents’ abilities, since they could not prepare themselves beforehand. Disputes in front of an audience were very important (quaestiones solemnes seu publicae). Usually they involved two masters one against the other in a sort of rhetorical competition. Both when disputes were held privately (in scholis) and when they were held publicly, they

3.5 Quaestio and Disputatio


were characterized by liberaliter disputare; that is, the dispute was held between men who considered themselves free and aware that they had to present valid arguments and counter-arguments and not mere vocal sounds badly arranged in parrhesiastic discourse. Finally, we must recollect that a student or a spectator (the reportator) could write a report about what he had heard. It is thanks to the work of reportatores and to the fact that many Medieval texts were written along the lines of a disputatio that we have the possibility of understanding how things worked and how important the interplay was between arguments for and against a thesis.

3.5.1 Utrum a Human Embryonic Stem Cell Is a Person To have an idea of the interaction between arguments and counter-arguments, I wish to focus on the written form of the quaestio, which is usually made up of the following elements: I. a description of the casus to be addressed; II. a statement of the quaestio, often introduced by the adverb utrum: namely ‘whether or not …’; III. the statement of the solution; IV. the reasons for and against, the solution (argumenta and obiectiones); V. sometimes there is the distinctio, to clarify limits of validity regarding arguments the proposed solution. At this point, I could write down a question concerning human embryonic stell cells and following the indications above, attempt to replicate the Medieval procedure. The case The aim of biomedical research is, on the one hand, to create new knowledge about the molecular mechanisms underlying the correct and pathological functioning of the human body, and, on the other hand, to discover new diagnostic and therapeutic tools against pathologies. That aim has two sides, then: one oriented towards the creation of knowledge and the other oriented towards the treatment of future patients. In contemporary biomedical research, we might encounter the production and use of human embryonic stem cells. There is a debate concerning their being a person. It seems clear that this is an ontological problem, since involves the status of the human embryonic stem cells or of the embryo tout court. It also seems clear that this is not a biological or ethical problem. That this is not a biological problem arises from the fact that the concept of ‘person’ does not belong to the lexicon of any biological or biomedical science. On the other hand, such sciences do not touch the ontological level at all, if by ‘ontology’ we mean the branch of philosophy that deals with the deepest structure of entities. We must recall that no science, and a fortiori no biological or


3 A Reappraisal of the Medieval Approach Will Lead to Excellent Deliberators

biomedical science, deals with the intrinsic structure of things. Science gives us only a hypothetical representation of how things are. The fact that we are not dealing with evaluations of human actions, but with a reflection upon the status of an entity signifies that this is not an ethical problem. It seems evident that we are not entitled to say anything about the status of human embryonic stem cells if we lack knowledge of what they are from a biological point of view. Of course, we do not need to be as knowledgeable as an embryologist or as a stem cell biologist. Nevertheless, some aspects have to be known to us and, in particular, the following. After the human spermatozoon has found and fertilised the human egg, a cell (zygote) is formed. It contains the genetic information of the mother and of the father in equal parts. After twenty to thirty hours, this single cell starts dividing by segmentation and it gives rise to two daughter cells, called blastomeres. These in turn divide into two giving rise to four cells, and so on. Two or three days after fertilisation, the stage of morula is reached. This is a compact aggregation of cells (made up of eight to ten blastomeres) that commences its entrance into the uterine cavity. The process of segmentation goes on until a structure, called blastocyst, is formed around five or six days after fertilisation. The blastocyst is made of a number of cells between seventy and one hundred. Its superficial layer of cells is called trophoblast. This will later originate the placenta and implant into the maternal endometrium, which is the tissue of the uterine cavity. The trophoblast contains a cavity, the blastocoel, in which there is a cell formation named embryoblast or inner cellular mass. This is in contact with the trophoblast and it will produce the embryo. The embryoblast cells have the special ability of differentiating giving rise to every kind of cellular lineage composing the human body; for this reason, they are called totipotent. These cells are the human embryonic stem cells. One last thing: we have just mentioned the formation of the zygote and the process following the fertilisation of the egg by the spermatozoon. This is not the only way one can get a zygote, however. A zygote can be obtained through cell biology techniques like cloning. This possibility will not be considered now. However, it is worth noting that this is an alternative way to the stage of blastocyst and, therefore, to human embryonic stem cells, which are the subject of our analysis. Thus, from a biological point of view, a human embryonic stem cell is a cell that belongs to the inner cell mass of a blastocyst, which is a cell formation derived from the development of the zygote. It seems evident that you are claiming a truism if you are affirming that you support, or do not support, your position by claiming that they are “human”. If the egg and the sperm are human, then both the zygote and any of its later stages (morula, blastula etc.) have to be human. It seems evident that you are claiming a truism if you are affirming that you support, or do not support, your position by claiming that they are “alive”. If they were dead, there would be no reason whatsoever to manipulate them and they would not undergo any later development (see Boniolo, Di Fiore 2008; Boniolo, Giaimo 2008).

3.5 Quaestio and Disputatio


It seems evident that those who ascribe (or do not ascribe) the status of being a person to a single stem cell or to the embryo act in this way since they recognize in them the same features that characterize a person. Therefore we need to know what a person is. Yet over the history of Western thought, the term ‘person’ has been given many different meanings since it was originally introduced in the philosophical lexicon, which happened during the Middle Ages (see Boniolo, De Anna, Vincenti, 2007). Hence, attribution of personhood to a single stem cell or to the embryo will depend on the definition of ‘person’ one chooses. The question Utrum (whether) a human embryonic stem is a person. The solution The question is misposed since the term ‘person’ is polysemantic and the different meanings could create categorical misunderstandings. The arguments Since we are dealing with the term ‘person’, it seems evident that we have to research its definitions and check if one of them could be correctly applicable. Thus let us consider the most common among them. Definition 1 A person is any human being endowed with higher mental functions, such as consciousness, self-consciousness, and memory. Consequences of definition 1 Every human being who does not have higher mental functions or, alternatively, has a central nervous system that is not able to support such functions (i.e. the central nervous system is not well developed or its functions are impaired after a pathology or accident) is not a person. This implies that anencephalic children, human beings in a permanent vegetative state or with a central nervous system not sufficiently developed to allow for superior mental functions, are not people. Hence, the human zygote, the human morula, the human gastrula, and the human embryo are not people. In favour of definition 1 According to definition 1, neither a stem cell nor an embryo is a person. It is worth recalling that this so-called psychological approach to personhood starts with J. Locke and his theory of identity (see Boniolo, Testa 2012). According to the latter, a seven year old individual and a fifty year old individual are the same individual if there is psychological continuity between the two; that is, the older individual has always successfully remembered his experiences from the age of the younger individual. This also entails that we are what we are in virtue of our knowing what we were at any moment in our life. Thus, it seems rather plausible to consider as a person anyone who has such psychological abilities, which necessarily depend on the correct development and functioning of the central nervous system.


3 A Reappraisal of the Medieval Approach Will Lead to Excellent Deliberators

Against definition 1 To support that people are only those who are self-conscious and possess memories of their past is counterintuitive. Does this mean, perhaps, that anyone who looses such higher mental functions because of some contingent event (i.e. accident or pathology) is no longer a person? What would they be? Would they just be a body? In this way, one would have a hard gap to fill between somatic continuity, on the one hand, and psychological continuity, on the other hand. When we are sleeping and, therefore, we lack consciousness, self-consciousness and memory of our past, do we cease to be a person? And why should a human being in permanent vegetative state not be qualified any longer as a person? Thus, it does not seem so plausible to accept this definition. Determination In truth, it seems plausible to argue that consciousness, self-consciousness and memory are important elements that characterise certain stages of human development and certain psychological and physiological situations. Nevertheless it seems also rather implausible to qualify as a person, with all the consequences this entails, only humans at certain developmental stages and in certain psychological and physiological conditions. In addition, there is also the intellectually uncomfortable situation that arises as soon as we look at individuals that do not belong to the species Homo sapiens. Some animal species seem to have consciousness, self-consciousness and memory. Therefore, we could even consider all those non-human animals with a central nervous system that allows for such higher functions as people. This would mean that we should consider some non-human animals as people, while some human animals would not be considered as such. In any event, we lack strong arguments either a priori, or a posteriori both for and against this definition. The final advice is to avoid such a definition. Definition 2 A Person is any human being after birth. Consequences of definition 2 A zygote, a morula, a blastula, an embryo, a foetus would not be classed as people. Instead, an anencephalic child or an individual in permanent vegetative state would be a person. In favour of definition 2 This definition is grounded in the Roman law, since Roman jurists considered as a person any human being after birth. However, this did not mean that all people had the same rights. People of different social status had different rights. To put is differently, the set of rights a person enjoyed depended on the “personal status” (status personarum). The person with most rights was the pater familias, the head of the family, but also the dominus, the owner of the family estate. That is, a male Roman citizen not subject to any custody and empowered to exert his dominium, his rule, over every “thing” that was of his property and over every member of his family: his wife, his children and his slaves. Note that exactly because the dominium could be exerted only after birth, only after birth could one be a person.

3.5 Quaestio and Disputatio


This definition of ‘person’ should be accepted, because only after birth can one be a property owner and only after birth does a person have the possibility of a communal life regulated by positive law. Against definition 2 To solve an ontological problem via a juridical category based on property owning is bizarre, unless one is able to find a compelling a priori argument in support of the view that if, and only if, a human being is born then he or she does have the right of being a property owner. But as long as we lack such an argument, any attempt to solve an ontological problem via a juridical stipulation is pointless. Determination Arguments against this definition are stronger than arguments in favour of it. Therefore, the definition should be abandoned. Definition 3 Person is any living being possessing a soul. Prolegomenon to definition 3 We must believe in the existence of the soul and in ensoulment. Limits To avoid conceptual confusion, we must state clearly within which cultural context such a definition will be examined. We shall consider the context of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, which has the task of both interpreting God’s words and transmitting the revelation authentically. The Magisterium is, therefore, the source of the correct doctrine of the Catholic Church. That is, it offers the only true and orthodox interpretation of what being Catholic means, and its scope and authority derive on its acting on Jesus Christ’s behalf. It follows that the validity of what we are going to say is limited to this context and cannot be extended to theories of the soul that are not coherent with the Magisterium. According to this view, which gained new support during the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) thanks to the constitutions Lumen gentium and Dei verbum, the Magisterium is provided either by the council of bishops led by the Pope or by the Pope himself when he speaks ex cathedra or delivers encyclicals. In the former case, the Magisterium is infallible; in the latter case, it is not, even if this does not mean that the Magisterium may be subject to revision or that it may be false (Notice, by the way, a sort of underlying non-classical logic!). At this point, it is also worth recalling that Catholic orthodoxy can only be outlined by the Magisterium and not by the catholic theologians. They have an entirely different task, as regulated by the Second Vatican Council: This service to the ecclesial community brings the theologian and the Magisterium into a reciprocal relationship. The latter authentically teaches the doctrine of the Apostles. And, benefiting from the work of theologians, it refutes objections to and distortions of the faith and promotes, with the authority received from Jesus Christ, new and deeper comprehension, clarification, and application of revealed doctrine. Theology, for its part,


3 A Reappraisal of the Medieval Approach Will Lead to Excellent Deliberators

gains, by way of reflection, an ever deeper understanding of the Word of God found in the Scripture and handed on faithfully by the Church's living Tradition under the guidance of the Magisterium. Theology strives to clarify the teaching of Revelation with regard to reason and gives it finally an organic and systematic form. (Donum veritatis, 21).

Such a position about theology is found again in Redemptor hominis, the 1979 encyclical by John Paul II: Theology has always had and continues to have great importance for the Church, the People of God, to be able to share creatively and fruitfully in Christ's mission as prophet. Therefore, when theologians, as servants of divine truth, dedicate their studies and labours to ever deeper understanding of that truth, they can never lose sight of the meaning of their service in the Church, which is enshrined in the concept intellectus fidei. […] If it is permissible and even desirable that the enormous work to be done in this direction should take into consideration a certain pluralism of methodology, the work cannot however depart from the fundamental unity in the teaching of Faith and Morals which is that work's end. Accordingly, close collaboration by theology with the Magisterium is indispensable. Every theologian must be particularly aware of what Christ himself stated when he said: “The word which you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me”. Nobody, therefore, can make of theology as it were a simple collection of his own personal ideas, but everybody must be aware of being in close union with the mission of teaching truth for which the Church is responsible. (19, italics added)

To put it simply, the Magisterium says how things really are and any theologian who wants to be considered as part of the Church has to take a position without contradicting it; otherwise he or she is out. We should not forget this, as it was strongly stressed by Pius XII in his 1950 Humani generis: What is expounded in the Encyclical Letters of the Roman Pontiffs concerning the nature and constitution of the Church, is deliberately and habitually neglected by some with the idea of giving force to a certain vague notion which they profess to have found in the ancient Fathers, especially the Greeks. […] It is true that Popes generally leave theologians free in those matters which are disputed in various ways by men of very high authority in this field; but history teaches that many matters that formerly were open to discussion, no longer now admit of discussion […] But if the Supreme Pontiffs in their official documents purposely pass judgment on a matter up to that time under dispute, it is obvious that that matter, according to the mind and will of the Pontiffs, cannot be any longer considered a question open to discussion among theologians. (Humani generis, 18-20).

One last point to be recalled is that what Magisterium says officially “cannot be any longer considered a question open to discussion among theologians and, a fortiori, among catholics, in general”. Problems of definition 3 To accept definition 3 means facing the question of ensoulment, in general, and to admit the existence of God, from the particular point of view of the context of the Catholic Magisterium.

3.5 Quaestio and Disputatio


Consequences of definition 3 All human beings are persons from the moment of ensoulment up to the moment the soul departs from the body. In favour of definition 3 Once we have made clear the kind of context we are considering to interpret definition 3, we can have a look at the arguments in its favour. To this aim, we need the help of the authoritative and authoritarian Magisterium of the Church, because it “provides the fundamental criterion for the solution of the various problems posed by the development of the biomedical sciences” (Donum vitae, Part I, 1). Unfortunately, “the Magisterium has not expressly committed itself to an affirmation of a philosophical nature,” (Ibid.) about the issue of whether an embryonic stem cell, or the embryo at some stage, is a person. This is important: it seems that the Magisterium of the Church has never declared whether an embryonic stem cell or an embryo is a person! However, it affirms something equally important: The human being must be respected - as a person - from the very first instant of his existence. […]. The human being is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception; and therefore from that same moment his rights as a person must be recognized, among which in the first place is the inviolable right of every innocent human being to life (Ibid.).

In other words, [O]ver and above all scientific debates and those philosophical affirmations to which the Magisterium has not expressly committed itself, the Church has always taught and continues to teach that the result of human procreation, from the first moment of its existence, must be guaranteed that unconditional respect which is morally due to the human being in his/her totality and unity as body and spirit (Evangelium vitae, 60).

and This teaching has not been changed and is unchangeable (Donum vitae, Parte I, 1).

Consequently, It follows that all research, even when limited to the simple observation of the embryo, would become illicit were it to involve risk to the embryo's physical integrity or life by reason of the methods used or the effects induced. […]. [E]xperimentation on embryos which is not directly therapeutic is illicit […]. To use human embryos or foetuses as the object or instrument of experimentation constitutes a crime (Part I, 4).

It seems then that if we want to be respectful of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, then we should not consider the embryonic stem cell and the embryo as a ‘person’ but rather as if they were a ‘person’. In other words, the Magisterium is


3 A Reappraisal of the Medieval Approach Will Lead to Excellent Deliberators

saying something like: “We do not know whether they are a ‘person’ (and we may never know). But this is a philosophical problem that we leave up to theologians (as long as they do not cross the borders imposed by the Magisterium!). That said, we introduce a fictional form of thinking (i.e., the fictio juris, largely used in Roman law, where it was first theorised). Thus we can think of embryonic stem cells and embryos as if they were a ‘person’. That’s it!” This also means that those who forcefully state that stem cells and embryos are persons are presumptuous. Even worse those who do not hesitate to claim that stem cells and embryos are persons in potency. Please! Slow down! This is not what the Magisterium says at all (even if it does not say the contrary either!). Actually the Magisterium forbids the two claims above and those who accept either of them should be considered outside of the Church. Against definition 3 It seems to be clear that, according to the Magisterium of the Church, there is a God who created the sky, the earth and, obviously, life ex nihilo; that is, from scratch. It also seems to be clear that for anyone who does not believe so … anathema sit, as Toledo Council deliberated (400-447): Si qui ergo (autem) dixent atque (aut) crederit, a Deo, omnipotente mundum hunc factum non fuisse, atque eius omnia instrumenta, anathema sit.

Here a small note on the term ‘anathema’, which may sound unfamiliar to some, could be useful. It comes from the Greek ‘anathema’, which means ‘suspended’. In the Church, it was considered as a form of damnation against heretics and dissidents. While excommunicated people were considered to be outside Christian communion (a fraterna societate separat), the people who received anathema were considered as excluded from the Church itself (ab ipso corpore Christi). To be honest, we should admit that the expression “if they claimed that ..., then let them be anathema” (“Si … anathema sit”) was used in the written transcription of many councils, but it has disappeared from the most recent ones. However, let us go back to our issue. Not only is God the creator of the world, whatever this means. God is also the creator of human souls, again, ex nihilo. This means that the soul of each human being does not exist before him or her and it does not belong to, or descend from, the divine substance either. The soul comes about from a pure creative act. In other words, following the 1950 encyclical Humani generis by Pius XII: animas eninm a Deo immediate creari catholica fides nos retinere iubet. Hence, every human being has a soul created by God ex nihilo. At this point, the idea of thinking of a stem cell or an embryo as if they were persons is grounded in the following beliefs: 1) the soul exists; 2) God exists; 3) God creates the soul and this “enters” the body. However, if the argument were to be compelling for a general audience, it should not be based on beliefs that are shared only by a fraction of such an audience (the Catholics). Otherwise, the argument would be valid only for that fraction and not for everybody else.

3.6 Still on Disputes


It follows that the argument in favour of the position that human embryonic stem cells and embryos are persons, where person is any ensouled human, cannot be taken as valid by those who do not endorse the three beliefs above. Determination It is never a good philosophical strategy to solve an ontological issue through the introduction of religious beliefs. There ought to be a strong distinction between a philosophically pure ontology, in which every sentence is rationally justified, and an ontology that relies in part or exclusively on religious beliefs, because in such ontology questions such as “Why?” find their ultimate answer in “Because God said it, and it is to be believed”. Final determination It seems that all the three different ways of define ‘person’ we have reviewed are not viable, though for different reasons: 1) defining ‘person’ on the basis of continuity of the higher mental functions is not backed by any strong argument in its favour but on an intuitive, for however understandable, idea that such functions do have a fundamental role in a flourished and fully satisfactory life; 2) defining ‘person’ on the basis of Roman law appears to be a strategy that cannot be brought into the field of ontology, where problems cannot be solved through juridical decisions (on the contrary, sometimes a given ontology could inspire the principles of jurisprudence); 3) the definition of ‘person’ based on the Magisterium of the Catholic Church cannot be accepted by everybody, because it is based on religious beliefs that are not shared by everybody. At this point, we can only limit our use of the term ‘person’ in common language and avoid its use when we speak of embryonic stem cells or of embryos. Anyone using the term in such a field would introduce terminological and categorical confusions and put forward their own prejudice without rational support.

3.6 Still on Disputes It is needless to underline that a student and a master in Medieval times had to be very knowledgeable of logic, dialectic and rhetoric in order to be really good at the art of disputes. Logic gave them argumentative techniques to be applied to specific issues; rhetoric gave them skills to deliver a persuasive and effective discourse. In any event, disputes were of great didactic value for the students. They could be seen as gyms in which correct reasoning was trained under the master’s expert eyes, who, in his determinatio, pointed to the weaknesses and strengths of the different proposals. In those “gyms”, parrhesia was not allowed and one could understand the value of making use of reason in human affairs as well as in more abstract issues, such as the trinity of God, or the existence of the world. Those were “gyms” in which you were taught the value of the quaerere, the questioning, which is an activity that anyone with the ability of using the brain can put into practice. It is the activity regarding the proposal of valid and wellargued solutions to important problems.


3 A Reappraisal of the Medieval Approach Will Lead to Excellent Deliberators

Who invented the dispute? No one knows exactly and, perhaps, it is not an entirely relevant question. Even if the dispute was canonised for pedagogical reasons in the Medieval universities, its birth could be dated back, under different names. It is pointless to know whether it was used first by the jurists (as the jurists say) or by theologians (as the theologians say). Both theologians and jurists made use of the dispute, which they adopted from the Greek tradition, for we can find the dispute in Plato, and Aristotle provides us with a seminal treatment of it. We know that Roman jurists Gnaeus Domitius Annius Ulpianus (2nd Century) and Aemilius Papinianus (3rd Century) wrote using quaestiones and responsa, which eventually became part of the Digest (o Pandects) made under the order of the great Byzantine Emperor Justinian I (482-565). He wanted to recollect all the Roman juridical knowledge into the Corpus iuris civilis (or Corpus iuris Iustinianeum). As we know, after a fall into oblivion, the rising law school of Bologna rediscovered the method of dispute of Ulpianus and Papinianus, in particular thanks to Irnerius (1050 approx. – 1130 approx.). Also among the first theologians we find many supporters of the validity of this method as a good way of “training” the mind, as we have seen. In short, the “dispute” about when the dispute was first introduced in the universities could be a serious issue for historians (and I am not one of them). The important thing for us is that the techniques used by Plato in his dialogues and then theorised by Aristotle in his writings became the cornerstone of Medieval education as well as the canon of good reasoning in the Western world. To be frank about it, not everyone liked the method of teaching based on disputes. For instance, in his Verbum abbreviatum the bishop Peter Cantor – towards the beginning of the 12th Century – criticised those who engaged in disputes, because in his view they were fruitless and vain for the faith, but positive only for the participants’ vainglory. This is just an emblematic case, as that one we can find in the third letter to Lucilius by Lucius Annaeus Seneca (4 B.C. – 65 A.C.). Here it is clearly stated that those who love the dispute lose knowledge of the real world, even if they gain in terms of greater analytical ability. In short, the dispute had (and still has) its critics.

3.7 The Semantic Journey of the Term ‘Rhetoric’ We have seen that, in the Trivium, rhetoric was considered as the art of correct and persuasive speech, in other words it was the same thing as oratory; while the task of dealing with correct thinking was left to logic or dialectic. However, rhetoric has not always enjoyed such a reputation both before and after the Middle Ages. To avoid confusion, we should recall some historical facts. Let us begin with a story which happened a couple of millennia ago when Thrasybulus, the tyrant of Syracuse, was overthrown (around 465 B.C) and a new democratic government came about. Many people then went to the court asking for their confiscated goods back. Unfortunately, they did not have any written record as evidence for their claim for property. That is, they did not have empirical reasons in favour of their thesis (a document can be considered as an a posteriori argument, in particular an empirical one). Thus, they had to persuade the judge through different arguments and they started to refine their skills in the

3.7 The Semantic Journey of the Term ‘Rhetoric’


art of good persuasion. How did they do that? There was a guy named Corax and he begun giving them lessons in persuasive techniques. At a certain point, Corax decided to record his teaching system and a pupil of his, Tisias, collected Corax’s lectures in what could be considered the first textbook of rhetoric. Let us read Cicero about this: Aristotle, therefore, informs us, that when the Tyrants were expelled from Sicily, and private property (after a long interval of servitude) was determined by public trials, the Sicilians Corax and Tisias (for this people, in general, were very quick and acute, and had a natural turn for controversy) first attempted to write precepts on the art of speaking. Before them, he says, there was no one who spoke by method, and rules of art, though there were many who discoursed very sensibly, and generally from written notes (Bruto, 46).

Moving ahead, we meet Gorgias from Leontini (c. 485 –c. 375 B.C), who was one of the greatest rhetors in the ancient Greece. His ability is exhibited in his Encomium of Helen, in which he works to persuade us that Helen has no responsibility for the war of Troy. Because of his great abilities, Gorgias became the prototypical rhetor both in the positive and in the negative sense. Thus, as we saw in the previous chapter, he became the main character in the homonymous Plato’s dialogue, which is not at all a declaration of love for (empty) rhetoric, even if Plato himself was, and could not but be, a rhetor. In that dialogue, as we mentioned, a great rhetor, Plato, makes a rhetorical act by attacking what he dislikes – the eristic speech – personified in a real rhetor – Gorgias - who perhaps was not exactly an eristic speaker. Unfortunately, too many had (and have) passively accepted the idea that rhetoric is the art of deception mastered by charlatans and barkers. But such an idea, as I stressed, was conveyed through a great rhetorical act. Fortunately, Aristotle then arrived. In his Rhetoric, he put all these things straight. For in this work, he showed that rhetoric is not just the art of the barker and, therefore, a method void of content that can be used to persuade an audience of “geese”. But, in his view, rhetoric is an important art, especially for philosophy, since philosophical discourse had (and still has) to be well-built and persuasive. Beyond the Greek age, we cannot forget to mention what happened in Rome and the role that great rhetors such as Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 – 43 B.C) and great writers of treatises that were focused on rhetoric intended as oratory had. Among such writers, we have Quintus Cornificius, who is often acknowledged as the author of Rhetorica ad Herennium (approx. 85 B.C.), and Marcus Fabius Quintilianus, the author of an immortal masterpiece (approx. 93-96 A.C.): Institutio oratoria. This idea of rhetoric as the art of correct and persuasive speech, which was prevalent in Roman times, was preserved in the Middle Ages and crystallised into the Trivium, although the Institutio oratoria was rediscovered much later, since a copy of it was only found in 1416 in the Benedictine Abbey of St. Gallen, Switzerland. In any event, this was the meaning of rhetoric that went through the Renaissance until the last Century, when, in 1958, two fundamental books were published: Traité de l'argumentation: La nouvelle rhétorique, by Chaïm Perelman and Lucie OlbrechtsTyteca, and The Uses of Argument, by Stephen Edelston Toulmin.


3 A Reappraisal of the Medieval Approach Will Lead to Excellent Deliberators

Especially the first of these two books rescued the Aristotelian idea of rhetoric as the art of correct and rational argumentation rather than just correct and persuasive speech. And I am interested in exactly this Aristotelian interpretation of rhetoric. The works of Perelman, Olbrechts-Tyteca and Toulmin prompted huge scholarly interest in correct argumentation and in informal logic. Here we have the origin of so-called critical thinking, an ancestor of which could be found in John Dewey’s 1910 How We Think. And therefore we have Paul Grice’s conversational logic; Paul Lorenzen’s dialogic logic; Else Barth’s formal dialectic; the pragmadialectic by Frans van Eemeren and Rob Grootendorst; the new dialectic by Douglas Walton and Erik Krabbe; Karl Otto Apel’s transcendental-pragmatic perspective; Jürgen Habermas’ discourse ethics, and so on. In short, as occurs, once someone opens up a new path more and more travellers go through it. Two interesting détours cross at this point. At the beginning, rhetoric is the art of correct persuasion, even if it later becomes the art of blandishing (in the Platonic Gorgias). Then, it becomes once again the art of correct argumentation (in Aristotle) but it soon transforms into the art of correct persuasion, especially among scholars of oratory (in Cornificius, Cicero, Quintilian). Finally, it changes into the art of correct argumentation (in Perelman), which is almost a kind of informal logic. Instead, logic is born as an organon, as instrumental to the building of well-structured knowledge (Aristotle). Some however preferred to consider logic as a discipline on its own (Greek stoics and Medieval Platonic authors), but the instrumental idea of logic reaches the Middle Ages where ‘logic’ was virtually a synonymous of dialectic (in the Trivium). Then, towards the end of the 19th Century, logic made amazing progress really becoming an independent research field. By taking the above into consideration, from now on (although it was implicit in the previous chapters) we should consider rhetoric along Aristotelian lines; that is, as the art of correct reasoning intended to persuade an audience. Note that the latter may be composed of a single person, as occurs in a dialogue; of an undefined number of people, as occurs in deliberative debates or public speeches; or of an infinite number of people, as it is ideally often assumed.

3.8 The Canon of Rhetoric Since the time of Cornificius, Cicero and Quintilian rhetoric, mainly intended as an oratory art, has been divided into five parts or canons that are still presented in every textbook (see, e.g., Corbett, Connors, 1999) for humanities students (very few, in truth) or for eager people (even less than the humanities students) who want to know something about the roots and techniques of right and effective speeches. With regard to this, and before going ahead, it is worth emphasising again the two main interpretations of the term ‘rhetoric’, putting its negative readings aside. These, as we have seen, consider rhetoric as the art of charlatans, barkers, braggarts, or even bullshitters (this last term can be used as it has been “cleared” by Harry Gordon Frankfurt’s 1986 work On Bullshit. By the way, for a similar “approach”, see Black, 1983).

3.8 The Canon of Rhetoric


Apart from these interpretations, rhetoric can be intended 1) as the art of correct and persuasive speech (as it was for the Romans, in Medieval times, and in the Renaissance), but also 2) as the art of correct persuasive reasoning (as it was for the tradition which began with Aristotle and continued with Perelman), that can be performed in individual oratory acts (conferences, peroration, etc.), in collective acts (dialogues, debates, discussions, round tables, etc.), and in written documents (essays, articles, etc.). After this digression, I feel much more comforted and I can go back to the canons of rhetoric by suggesting that the curious reader visit The Forest of Rhetoric. Silva rhetoricae: a website in which they can find everything they always wanted to know about rhetoric but were afraid to ask. The 5 canons codified in the Latin manuals are inventio, dispositio, elocutio, memoria and pronunciatio. They are clearly meant for oratory but some of them, in particular the first two, can be applied fruitfully any time we consider good reasoning. Let us have a look at them one by one.

3.8.1 Inventio How can we find a good argument to support our thesis? The inventio deals exactly with this theme because it has to do with the discovery of compelling arguments. Needless to say, to find a good argument for a position is fundamental for any orator, deliberant, philosopher, or essay writer. The argument is the essence of the rhetorical act. And we had better shut up, if we do not have any argument. However, it is not always easy to find the argument we need for the particular thesis we want to convey and the particular audience we have to face. For, we should always recall that an argument is good and effective only with reference to a given audience. There is no argument which is good and effective per se. For instance, after a car accident there is no point in offering an argument on human brotherhood, if there is a drunken man who is getting out of his car brandishing a jack handle. Analogously, there is no point in availing ourselves of historical documents if we are before an audience composed of Nazis who blindly believe that the holocaust is an invention. Hence, finding a good argument is necessary, but how is it to be acomplished? Aristotle was conscious of this problem, which he treated in his Rhetoric and in the Topics. He developed the topics as the art of finding arguments. A topos, or locus communis, is just a scheme of possible arguments that can be used by the rhetor to find the right argument in support their position. Notice that the topics have something to do with mnemonics too. This is the art of improving and assisting memory and it was practiced especially by Greek and Latin rhetors (and later in the Renaissance). It consists in the association of each moment of a discourse, should this be an argument, a citation, or an embellishing rhetorical figure, with a place (from which the name topos) in a room or along a street. In this way, looking at, or imagining, the room or the street, each part of the discourse comes to the rhetor’s mind in the correct order initially established.


3 A Reappraisal of the Medieval Approach Will Lead to Excellent Deliberators

With regard to the topics intended as schemes of potential arguments, Aristotle divides them in two major classes: 1) topics that are common to all forms of rhetorical exposition, 2) topics that are typical of one particular kind of rhetorical exposition. It is worth recalling that the Stagirite considered three major groups of possible rhetorical fields (see Rhet. I, 3) depending on the three elements any discourse requires: 1) the speaker; 2) the content of the speech; and 3) the listener or, more in general, the audience. The audience may be i) judge or ii) spectator. In turn, if it is judge, it may be a) judge of past things or b) of future things. Therefore, 1) if the audience is judge of future things, it means that it is part of an assembly that has to decide upon what is to be done; in this case, the speaker is engaging in a deliberative discourse; 2) if the audience is judge of past things, it means that the acts to be judged have already occurred; in this case, the speaker is engaging in a forensic discourse; finally, 3) if the audience is a mere spectator, then it is judge of the orator’s abilities; in this case, the speaker is engaging in an epideictic discourse. It follows that 1) the deliberative practice concerns public affairs (be they political or ethical) and the persuasion of someone to take a certain action or to accept a given point of view (needless to say, this is the aspect we are interested in); 2) the forensic practice concerns the defence or the accusation of someone for past acts that they may or may not have committed; 3) the epideictic practice concerns laudatory or derogatory discourses such as panegyrics and ceremonial speeches. Aristotle tells us which topics are valid for any practice and those that are valid just for one practice (deliberative, forensic, epideictic) (Top. II.). Let us have a look at some concrete examples to get an intuitive idea, at least, of the functioning of the schemes. Topic of definition. Let us suppose we are discussing whether the commercialisation of genetically modified organisms is morally legitimate. In this case, we can find an argument in favour of commercialisation by using the topic of the definition. In particular, we could show that the definiendum ‘genetically modified organism’ can be applied to genetically engineered living beings, which are then under a sort of “artificial selection”. But we could continue showing that it can be applied also to living beings born to individuals of different species, or to individuals of the same species with the traits we want to improve. In this latter case we are looking at so-called “domestic selection”, which has always been used to increase the yield, to have cows with more milk, or stronger horses to pull heavy carts, and so on. We can infer from these two possibilities that to label genetically modified organisms as threatening is wrong and a source of confusion if we do not justify why one should accept one and reject the other. Another use of the topos of the definition is given by Plato, when he tells us that Socrates defends himself from the charge of atheism by asking his accuser Meletus what ‘divine’ means: nevertheless you swear in the indictment that I teach and believe in divine or spiritual agencies (new or old, no matter for that); at any rate, I believe in spiritual agencies, as you say and swear in the affidavit; but if I believe in divine beings, I must believe in spirits or demigods; - is not that true? Yes, that is true, for I may assume that your silence gives assent to that. Now what are spirits or demigods? Are they not either gods or the sons of gods? Is that true?

3.8 The Canon of Rhetoric


Yes, that is true. But this is just the ingenious riddle of which I was speaking: the demigods or spirits are gods, and you say first that I don't believe in gods, and then again that I do believe in gods; that is, if I believe in demigods. (Apology, XV, 27c-d).

Here, Socrates explains how to argue by finding a predicate of a proposition where the subject (‘the demigods’) belongs to a genus: “Demigods are either gods or the sons of gods”. From this he can conclude that to claim he is an atheist is false, since at the same time it is also affirmed that he believes in demigods, and these are gods. Topos of comparison concerning the greater and lesser degree. This is how Aristotle develops it in Rhetoric: […] It follows, then, that a greater number of goods is a greater good than one or than a smaller number, if that one or that smaller number is included in the count (Rhetoric I, 7, 1363b, 15-21)

That is, if one wants to argue in favour of the view that to attend philosophy lectures provides great an educational advantage, one can start to argue by showing the positive impact that even one single philosophy lecture can have. Then, the reasoning could develop as follows: “Given that one single philosophy lecture is useful to the education of the human spirit, many more such lectures will provide even greater usefulness”. Topos of authority. I wish to make a last example by recalling a sub-topos of the topos of testimony, concerning authority. Very often we hear arguments like: “X said it on TV”, “Y wrote it in the newspaper”, and so on. Does this argument really work? Is it a valid, compelling argument? It depends. Much depends on how it is structured. First of all, we must be clear about the fact that the appeal to authority is a fundamental argumentative strategy. It is used correctly every time we refer to a source (an author, a text, a theory) held as valid within the cultural context in which that source “lives”. Even scientific practice validates some results on the basis of authority. Just think of the use of references and bibliography. In short, the argument from authority, argumentum ad auctoritatem, is fully valid when you are writing a research article or a paper. For instance, let us suppose that you are writing a paper concerning the DNA double helix structure and you write: “[…] according to the classic work by James Dewey Watson and Francis Harry Compton Crick entitled ‘A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid’ and published in 1953 in volume 171 of Nature […]”. This appeal to authority is fully legitimate: in fact, that work is a milestone in the history of molecular biology and of science in general. Moreover, if we indicate exactly where and when such a work was published, we also give a sceptic of our citation, the possibility of looking for that source and checking what we are saying and even what is claimed in that paper. In addition, the very fact that we quote the 1953 work gives an idea of our theoretical position and that we share certain research results.


3 A Reappraisal of the Medieval Approach Will Lead to Excellent Deliberators

Hence, the argument from authority works well. Of course, this occurs if it is well structured and the “authority” is really an authority in the field under discussion. Nobody is so sceptical as to carry out all the experiments or the mathematical demonstrations ever put forward in the development of scientific thought all over again and we rely on authorities recognised by the scientific community. Nobody doubts to the extent that they measure the weight capacity of a bridge before going over it: we trust the authority of the engineer who made the original calculation. Nobody is such a sceptic that they check the electric wiring of their house whenever they plug in the TV: we trust the electrician who did the wiring. However, even if the argument from authority works and even if it is fundamental to both scientific and daily life, it transforms itself into the rationally irrelevant argument known as argumentum ad verecundiam (appeal to reverence, or to an irrelevant authority). This is the case when the author, the text or the spoken words quoted in support of our claim do not constitute an authority for what we are discussing. They might be authorities in a different field, but, as we should know, there is no transmigration of authority from one field to another: it is not automatic that an authority in one field is also an authority in a different field. Thus, if someone argues in favour of the moral legitimacy of abortion by saying: “This is what Vladimir Vladimirovič Putin claims”, the justification for the proposed view is fully irrelevant because Putin is not an authority in the field of ethical consequences of abortion. He could be, at most, a Russian political authority, but transmigration of authority does not work. Analogously, we could affirm that “The 1995 demonstration by Andrew John Wiles of Fermat’s last theorem, according to which there are no positive integer solutions for n > 2 that can satisfy the equation a + b = c , is invalid” on the basis that a scientific writer, or journalist, wrote it in a newspaper but our argument would be irrelevant, because usually no scientific writer, or journalist, is an authority in mathematics. This is a major problem in the sociology of communication and knowledge: we should be able to understand who really is an authority. This problem is getting worse as many have succeeded in making others believe they are authorities in a given field, when they are not. Unfortunately, it is not at all easy to unmask such false or irrelevant authorities, but we should try to do so. n



3.8.2 Dispositio Let us move to the second canon: the dispositio, which concerns how the different parts of a discourse should be arranged to have a real rhetorical effect. This is an important point. For, after we have found the correct arguments, we must arrange them in the correct order. Any arrangement should consist of the following elements, which – under different names – already appeared in our discussion of disputes and questions: 1. 2.

Exordium. This is the introduction, in which the proposal is presented to the audience; Narration. This is the clear presentation of the case at issue;

3.8 The Canon of Rhetoric

3. 4. 5. 6.


Division. This is the list of steps that will be gone through; Confirmation. This is where arguments in favour of the proposed position are offered; Confutation. This is where arguments against the proposed position are rejected because they are either weak or fallacious; Peroration. This is where a summary of the discussion is presented and the conclusion is reached.

I would like to put special emphasis on two of these six points. First of all, we should notice that the narratio, in which the discussed case is exposed, is pivotal to any effective speech, to any incisive written piece, and to any well-structured intervention in a debate. Indeed, the subject matter must be clear from the very beginning. For this reason, it is interesting to recall the three formulas that, in Roman times, were taught to law students to help them formulate their issue correctly: 1.



An sit; namely, “whether something exists” (it concerns a fact). For example, “Is there really somebody producing or using human embryonic stem cells?”. Quid sit; namely, “what something is” (it concerns the definition). For example, “If somebody produces or uses human embryonic stem cells, are they carrying out an action subject to moral scrutiny?”. Quale sit; namely, “what kind of thing it is” (it concerns the quality). For example, “If the action is subject to moral judgement, is it morally legitimate?”.

These three questions deal with the status or stasis, or the process through which the problem addressed is formulated clearly. Hence, it is not of direct help to support one’s position, but it can be helpful to formulate the problem one wants solve correctly. Such a solution will then be based on the arguments that one has found via the canon of inventio. A second interesting issue is connected with the confutatio. This is the moment in which one demonstrates knowledge of the debate regarding the problem under discussion attacking differing solutions from the one proposed showing that they should be rejected, either because they are fallacious or too weak. In short, this is a moment that entails some sort of humility and can be summarised as: “Before submitting my view, I show why I do not accept the views proposed by others.” This is something that should be remembered. It teaches us that it is not endearing to begin arrogantly with our own opinion regardless of what others may have said about the subject. Let us illustrate, now, how dispositio works. Question: “Utrum (whether) the use of genetically modified pigs for xenotransplantation is morally legitimate”


3 A Reappraisal of the Medieval Approach Will Lead to Excellent Deliberators

1. Exordium From the very beginning in the history of transplantation, there has always been a scarcity of organs to transplant. For example, in 2008, more than 100.000 people in the USA were on the waiting list for a transplant. One way to deal with this paucity is to take organs from non-human animals that are genetically modified in a way (through the silencing of some of their genes or through the introduction of human genes) that renders the transplanted organ immunologically compatible with the human recipient. Among non-human animals, pigs are well suited for valid scientific reasons, mainly based on anatomic and physiological considerations. This solution to the lack of organs for transplantation is at the centre of a heated ethical debate. In particular, some object to the possible violation of the distinction between natural and artificial that would be entailed by the passage of genes or organs between animals of different species (Sus domesticus and Homo sapiens). Others argue that such a practice is morally illegitimate, because the rights of nonhuman animals are violated. 2. Narratio Taking the above into account, we will try to offer a solution to the problem of the “moral legitimacy” of the use of genetically modified pigs for xenotransplantation. 3. Divisio With the aim of proposing a solution to the issue just mentioned and showing the validity of such a solution through argumentation, we shall proceed as follows: 1) we will introduce some arguments in favour of the proposed solution; 2) we will show that arguments against are either weak or fallacious; 3) we will conclude that to produce genetically modified pigs for xenotransplantation is morally legitimate. 4. Confirmatio One way in which debates in bioethics are carried out is by appeal to four principles: 1) the principle of autonomy, according to which every individual should have the possibility of choosing what is best for his or her life without external intrusions; 2) the principle of non-maleficence, according to which others should not be harmed (one may recall here the famous precept of clinical ethics: primum non nocere); 3) the principle of beneficence, according to which we have the duty to act to increase the welfare of others; 4) the principle of justice, according to which equals should be treated equally and unequals unequally. In our case, the principles of autonomy and of justice are not so important, while the principles of non-maleficence and of beneficence are pertinent. For, it could be argued that the production and use of genetically modified pigs for xenotransplantation is morally legitimate because no human being is harmed and the welfare of everybody who needs an organ is increased. 5. Refutatio An opponent may argue that the quantity of welfare that, in this way, is granted to some individuals may be much less than the potential damage that the whole community could suffer. A simple reply to this objection involves the fact that the

3.8 The Canon of Rhetoric


number of individuals who would benefit is certainly not small, while we totally lack any prediction of the bad consequences that a big population would suffer. Other opponents could counterargue that, in this way, the natural limits between living species could be broken, thereby creating something artificial. But it is easy to show that this argument is also weak: the distinction between natural and artificial is entirely useless, since it is very hard to find a criterion upon which such a distinction can be based, as anyone can understand by reflecting on whether a cultivated field, a river bed maintained to prevent flooding, or the athlete’s body who is training to participate in the Olympics is natural or artificial. Moreover, all artificial things should not be assumed negative (as in the case of computed axial tomography in image diagnostics or medical drugs), nor should all natural things be assumed to be positive (as in the case of tornados, earthquakes, or diseases). Another objection could be put forward, recalling that human dignity may be harmed by xenotransplantation, because non-human animal organs would be introduced into humans. However, this objection appears to be weak as well, if we make some further considerations. First of all, we should recall that mammals, which include both the species Sus domesticus and the species Homo sapiens, share a huge quantity of molecular pathways and physiological traits and are very close genetically. Of course, there are problems of immunological compatibility, but this is the reason behind the production of genetically engineered pigs, which would receive a gene, for example, from the patient needing a liver. At this point, it would be very hard to argue that the liver is more “swinish” than human. In fact, the engineered liver would be accepted by the immune system of the patient and it would be bizarre to say that it is not human. However, if someone wanted to persevere with this objection, than he or she would be in the uncomfortable situation of denying the possibility of (xeno)transplantation of immunologically compatible organs and of allowing human-human transplantation even in the disastrous absence of immunological compatibility. Others could object that xenotransplantation would cause useless suffering to non-human animals, but this is a weak objection as well. Of course, xenotransplantation leads to the killing of the genetically modified donor pigs. However, aren’t pigs constantly killed to get food? A possible reply is that to harm living beings to sustain our lives is not just and alternative sources of nutrition should be found. Does this mean that we should all become vegetarian? Even those dying of starvation and, perhaps, unable to choose what food they eat? In addition, aren’t vegetables living things as well? Let us weigh up the life of a human being on one side and the life of a pig on the other. Are we so sure that it would be better to save the pig and not the human, even if this would entail the death of former? 6. Peroratio In the above, we have shown that 1) to create and make use of genetically engineered pigs in order to get organs to transplant is morally legitimate, and 2) arguments against are possibly too weak to form valid objections.


3 A Reappraisal of the Medieval Approach Will Lead to Excellent Deliberators

3.8.3 Three More Canons As we have seen, the inventio and the dispositio contain very useful suggestions about how a written text should be laid out or how correct debate should be conducted, even if these two canons have been conceived for the oratory art. For, the first canon teaches us to find arguments and the second teaches us how to arrange an argumentative discourse. The third canon, the elocutio, also has something to teach us, and this goes beyond the scope of oratory too. The elocutio concerns the style one employs to build an argumentative proposal, especially in the context of oratory. But the canon can be extended to the context of writing and debating as well. Unfortunately, it is not at all easy to define what style is (see Shapiro, 1953). However, I would be very much in favour of what Alfred North Whitehead said in his ‘Presidential Address of the Mathematical Association of England’ in January 1916. The title was ‘The Aims of Education. A Plea for Reform’. At a certain point, he made the following statement: “Style, in its finest sense, is the last acquirement of the educated mind; it is also the most useful. It pervades the whole being”. Furthermore, this position had already been beautifully defended by Georges-Louis Leclerc, conte de Buffon in his ‘Discours sur le style’ delivered on the 25th of August 1753 at the Académie Française. Buffon’s discourse is summarised by the motto: “Le style est l’homme même” (The style is the man himself). However, for our purposes and as a first approximation, we can say that the style (the philosophical style, at least) is the specific way in which an author or orator puts the canon of the dispositio into practice. That is, after the invention of the arguments, each rhetorical act should contain the exordium, the narratio, the divisio, the confirmatio, the confutatio and the peroratio. However it is the specific way in which such elements are disposed, the specific words used, the structure of the sentences, the use (if any) of given rhetorical figures, as well as the overall tone (ironic, courtly, didactical, etc.) that dictates the style. Finally, there are the last canons, which can be left aside here, since they are peculiar to oratory. They are memory, which concerns the way in which one can recall the discourse one wants to deliver, and the pronunciatio, which is the way of communicating by correctly and efficaciously using the voice, gesture, and the proxemics (i.e., the study of how to manage the space between the speaker and the audience).

3.9 Things to Reflect Upon Now I wish, as usual, to summarise the above and highlight some points. One. We should always keep in mind the following triad in any type of deliberative or dialogical event: problem, solution, and justification of the solution. There is no point in starting a discussion if the subject matter is not clear. There is no point in starting a discussion without the aim of finding a good solution and, in particular, a shared solution. There is no point in starting a discussion without the aim of finding a good justification for such a solution.



Two. One should know how to reason. It is not true that this cannot be learned. It is not true that there are no argumentative techniques. It is not true that there are no justificatory techniques. Such techniques exist, as anyone who is minimally acquainted with the history of Western thought knows. Above all, a debate without reasoning or with people who refuse to reason is just losing time. Three. We should accept the idea that a 17 or 18 year old Medieval student, who was already experienced in the arts of the Trivium (grammar, logic/dialectic, rhetoric) and engaged in disputes, knew argumentative techniques sufficiently well and was better equipped than any current graduate, or “TV intellectual”, to take part in debates, especially in deliberative debates. Unfortunately, nowadays logic and rhetoric, like the art of good reasoning and the art of persuasive speech, are not commonly taught and this is a sign of the decadence of our educative methods. Four. Basically, every time we intervene in a public debate, we should develop our discourse with an introduction (exordium), with a stage in which the problem to be addressed is clearly stated (narratio), with a stage in which the future steps are outlined (divisio), with a stage in which the arguments in favour of our own solution are offered (confirmatio), with a stage in which arguments against rival solutions are presented (confutatio) and with a stage in which a conclusion is reached (peroratio). The manner in which such elements are introduced, the adopted linguistic register, and so on has to do with the personal style, however, all such elements have to be there: this is the canon. Five. Genuine experts and authorities are one thing; false or irrelevant authorities are quite another. The problem is how to distinguish between the two. Failing to perceive this difference makes us a victim of any barker. Six. The “transmigration of authority” from one field to another does not work. A fortiori ratione, the “self-transmigration of authority” does not work. Seven. If we really want to have a good deliberative debate or a good dialogue, then we should accept the idea that only those who want, and know how, to offer arguments are entitled to participate. This may be not politically correct, yet it is the only way in which we can try to reach a shared position. Anyone who does not offer arguments, whether unable or unwilling to do so, is just an obstacle to deliberation and ought to be banished. Eight. Would it be worth recalling that the deliberator ought to be honest and a person of integrity?

References Aristotle: Rhetoric. Dover Publications, Dover Thrift Eds (2004) Aristotle: Topics., Lawrence, KS (2006) Bazán, B., Wippel, J., Fransen, G., Jacquart, D. (eds.): Les Questions Disputées et Les Questions Quodlibétiques dans les Facultés de Théologie. de Droit et de Médecine, Brepols (1985) Bianchi, L. (ed.): La filosofia nelle università. Secoli XIII-XIV. La Nuova Italia, Firenze (1997)


3 A Reappraisal of the Medieval Approach Will Lead to Excellent Deliberators

Black, M.: The Prevalence of Humbug And Other Essays. Cornell University Press, Ithaca (1983) Boniolo, G., De Anna, G., Vincenti, U.: Individuo e persona. Tre saggi su chi siamo. Bompiani, Milano (2007) Boniolo, G., Di Fiore, P.P.: A Defining Analysis of the Life and Death Dyad: Paving the Way for an Ethical Debate. Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 33, 609–634 (2008) Boniolo, G., Giaimo, S. (eds.): Filosofia e scienze della vita. Un’analisi dei fondamenti della biologia e della biomedicina. Bruno Mondadori, Milano (2008) Boniolo, G., Testa, G.: The Identity of Living Beings, Epigenetics, and The Modesty of Philosophy. Erkenntnis 76, 279–298 (2012) Boniolo, G., Vidali, P.: Strumenti per ragionare. Bruno Mondadori, Milano (2002) Cicero, M.T.: Cicero’s Brutus: or history of famous orators. B. White, London (1776) Corbett, E.P.J., Connors, R.J.: Classical Rhetoric for Modern Student. Oxford University Press, Oxford (1999) D’Ancona Costa, C.: La casa della sapienza. La trasmissione della metafisica greca e la formazione della filosofia araba. Guerini e Associati, Milano (1996) D’Ancona Costa, C. (ed.): Storia della filosofia nell’Islam medievale. Einaudi, Torino (2005) Dewey, J.: How we think. Harrap, London (1910) Frankfurt, H.G.: On Bullshit. Princeton University Press, Princeton (1986) Kamen, N.: The Rise of Toleration. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London (1967) Lawn, B.: The Rise and Decline of the Scholastic “Quaestio Disputata”. E.J. Brill, Leiden (1993) Maierù, A.: University Training in Medieval Europe. E.J. Brill, Leiden (1994) Makdisi, G.: The Rise of Colleges: Institutions of Learning in Islam and the West. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh (1981) Perelman, C., Olbrechts-Tyteca, L.: The new rhetoric: A treatise on argumentation. University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame (19581,1969) Perelman, C.: Argomentazione. In: Enciclopedia Einaudi, Einaudi, Torino, vol. I, pp. 791–823 (1977) Plato: Apology. In: Selected Dialogues of Plato: The Benjamin Jowett Translation. Modern Library, New York (2001) Remer, V.: Logica Minor, Summa Philosophiae Scholasticae, vol. I. Pontificiae Universitatis Gregorianae, Romae (1963) Rüegg, W. (ed.): A History of the University in Europe. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (1996) Shapiro, M.: Style. In: Kroeber, A.L. (ed.) Anthropology Today. University of Chicago Press, Chicago (1953) Toulmin, S.: The Uses of Argument. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (1958) Weijers, O.: La “disputatio” dans les Facultés des arts au Moyen Age. Brepols, Turnhout (2002) Weijers, O. (ed.): Quaeritur utrum. Recherches sur la ’disputatio’ dans les universités médiévales. Brepols, Turnhout (2009) Weston, A.: A Rulebook for Arguments. Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., Indianapolis (2000) Whitehead, A.N.: The Aims of Education: A Plea for Reform. Mathematical Gazette 8, 191–203 (1916); reprint in The Aims of Education and Other Essays. Macmillan Company, New York (1929)


Websites Papal Documents: The ‘Discours sur le style’ di Georges-Louis Leclerc, conte de Buffon: The Bible: The Summa Theologiae by Thomas Aquinas: The website of fallacies, Fallacy files: The website of rhetoric, The Forest of Rhetoric. Silva rhetoricae:


Chapter 4

Beware of Those Who Think They Possess the Truth! Beware of Those Who Think t hey Pos sess the Truth!

Here the danger of firm believers in one Truth is discussed. Active tolerance and passive disobedience are examined. It is resolutely stated that, in a deliberation, there ought to be no room for the intolerant or dogmatic.

4.1 Help! Discussion Is Not Always the Easy Option It Might at First Appear In the previous chapter, I mentioned the importance of the audience, a fact that the speaker, the essay writer, or the participant in a debate cannot overlook if she does not want to fail to calibrate her words. If the level of the audience is too “high” compared to the arguments proposed, then the rhetor runs the risk of being ridiculed, thereby transforming her contribution into something irrelevant. If, on the other hand, the level of the audience is too “low”, the rhetor runs the risk of not being understood and, possibly, of being taken as an arrogant, snooty person, thereby also rendering her contribution irrelevant. Strictly related to this problem, is the issue of whether it is always worth intervening in a debate. In truth, if we think about it, we cannot avoid the conclusion that, sometimes, to start a discussion by voicing our own reasons or proposing a rational view is totally useless. There are situations in which the audience is just unable to accept proposals in such a rational framework. If this is the case, probably the only wise course of action is … just say nothing and leave. The possibility of withdrawing from a debate, in the case in which the audience is fully impermeable to rational arguments, was clear to Plato, who was – we should admit – a little aristocratic towards those who were not argumentatively sophisticated, or lacked knowledge. This was true of Aristotle as well; for he firmly claims at the end of Topics: Do not argue with every one, nor practise upon the man in the street: for there are some people with whom any argument is bound to degenerate. For against any one who is ready to try all means in order to seem not to be beaten, it is indeed fair to try all means of bringing about one's conclusion: but it is not good form. Wherefore the best rule is, not lightly to engage with casual acquaintances, or bad argument is sure to result. (Top., VIII, 14, 164b 6-15).

G. Boniolo: The Art of Deliberating, SAPERE 6, pp. 123–146, 2012. © Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012


4 Beware of Those Who Think they Possess the Truth!

Here, Aristotle notes an aspect that we should keep in mind: if we discuss with someone who is rhetorically poor and we try to accept their rhetorical level in an attempt to make our point clearer and be more persuasive, then our arguments could become too simplistic. Therefore, sometimes, with the aim and the desire to popularize what we wish to communicate, we might be tempted to advance poor arguments, but this could have only one effect, that is, the reduction of our proposal to a superficial and clumsy speech. To be concise, we should take into consideration the possibility of abandoning the discussion. However, there are cases in which the role we have obliges us to remain in the debate. In these situations, we should accept a lowering of rhetoric, yet we must keep in mind that this borders the territory of empty speech, or even of shouted speech if our interlocutors like. In this regard, it should be noted that shouting or speaking loudly to drown others out is just one manifestation of the argumentum ad baculum (appeal to force, to stick) and it is a form of coercion. If we realize that we prefer to leave because we are before an audience of too low a level from an argumentative point of view, we should not take this as a sign of our arrogance, as some may incorrectly believe. It is just one of the many possible rhetorical acts. On the other hand, the good rhetor is like the good tennis player. The tennis player knows what the level of his opponent is, in particular if she is a dilettante and, thus, he could decide not to play. If he decides to play anyway, possibly because of friendship or because forced to so do, then he has to play below his level; otherwise, the opponent would not be able to hit a single ball. However, this may mean that the two are not playing tennis any longer, but some other sport. This holds true for reasoning as well, it is true that different people can reason at different levels; not all of us master the argumentative art at the same level. If the level of the interlocutors is very low, then there is the concrete possibility of producing a mere exchange of vocal sounds with no positive effect whatsoever. Here I would like to recall a passage from the Critique of Pure Reason, in which Kant, with great malice, states exactly this idea: To know what questions may reasonably be asked is already a great and necessary proof of sagacity and insight. For if a question is absurd in itself and calls for an answer where none is required, it not only brings shame on the pro-pounder of the question, but may betray an incautious listener into absurd answers, thus presenting, as the ancients said, the ludicrous spectacle of one man milking a he-goat and the other holding a sieve underneath. (Kant, 1787, p. 98).

How many times have we found ourselves involved in debates or dialogues in which we have tried to milk he-goats and collected the improbable milk with a sieve? An audience of too low a level is not the only problem a rhetor may face. A much more serious one occurs when they encounter an audience that is convinced of possessing the Truth and does not conceive the possibility of being wrong. In this case, we should also get up and leave, as perhaps this is the wisest thing to do. Having to deal with a man, a woman, or a group of people with full confidence in possessing the Truth and no propensity to question it is a really devastating experience, which may even become dangerous if those who believe they possess

4.1 Help! Discussion Is Not Always the Easy Option It Might at First Appear


the Truth are also in power. The fanatic in possession of the Truth and the dogmatic committed to their belief as the only one conceivable, prevent any possible debate. Such people do not want to listen to different positions or allow room for critical arguments. The blind believer does not discuss. Yet why should they, given that they already know the Truth? The blind believer does not accept rational argumentation, because no reason can impinge on the faith in his totem. Speaking of total repellence to any basic reasoning, I would like to mention an article by Steve Bradshaw, which appeared in the Guardian (October 9th, 2003) with the title ‘Vatican: condoms don't stop Aids’: The Catholic Church is telling people in countries stricken by Aids not to use condoms because they have tiny holes in them through which HIV can pass - potentially exposing thousands of people to risk. The church is making the claims across four continents despite a widespread scientific consensus that condoms are impermeable to HIV. A senior Vatican spokesman backs the claims about permeable condoms, despite assurances by the World Health Organisation that they are untrue. The church's claims are revealed in a BBC1 Panorama programme, Sex and the Holy City, to be broadcast on Sunday. The president of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Family, Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, told the programme: "The Aids virus is roughly 450 times smaller than the spermatozoon. The spermatozoon can easily pass through the 'net' that is formed by the condom. "These margins of uncertainty... should represent an obligation on the part of the health ministries and all these campaigns to act in the same way as they do with regard to cigarettes, which they state to be a danger." The WHO has condemned the Vatican's views, saying: "These incorrect statements about condoms and HIV are dangerous when we are facing a global pandemic which has already killed more than 20 million people, and currently affects at least 42 million." The organisation says "consistent and correct" condom use reduces the risk of HIV infection by 90%. There may be breakage or slippage of condoms - but not, the WHO says, holes through which the virus can pass . Scientific research by a group including the US National Institutes of Health and the WHO found "intact condoms... are essentially impermeable to particles the size of STD pathogens including the smallest sexually transmitted virus... condoms provide a highly effective barrier to transmission of particles of similar size to those of the smallest STD viruses". The Vatican's Cardinal Trujillo said: "They are wrong about that... this is an easily recognisable fact." The church opposes any kind of contraception because it claims it breaks the link between sex and procreation - a position Pope John Paul II has fought to defend. In Kenya - where an estimated 20% of people have HIV - the church condemns condoms for promoting promiscuity and repeats the claim about permeability. The archbishop of Nairobi, Raphael Ndingi Nzeki, said: "Aids... has grown so fast because of the availability of condoms." Sex and the Holy City includes a Catholic nun advising her HIV-infected choirmaster against using condoms with his wife because "the virus can pass through". In Lwak, near Lake Victoria, the director of an Aids testing centre says he cannot distribute condoms because of church opposition. Gordon Wambi told the programme: "Some priests have even been saying that condoms are laced with HIV/Aids." Panorama found the claims about permeable condoms repeated by Catholics as far apart as Asia and Latin America.


4 Beware of Those Who Think they Possess the Truth!

Of course, we have to trust what the Guardian’s journalist is writing. Yet if it is true, we cannot but consider the fully irrational and dogmatic position held by the Cardinal embarrassing, to say the least. It is embarrassing because of the huge number of victims that there have been and, probably, will be in the name of this opinion about sexuality. Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo’s declarations (“They are wrong about that [...] this is an easily recognisable fact”) are simply an offence to anyone who recognises the heritage of a 2400-year-old tradition of rational thinking. The Cardinal does not reject a religion he does not like; he does not reject ethics he does not like; he does not reject a biological fact he does not like. Instead, he rejects the most elementary physics; he rejects the possibility that an object, like the HIV virus, cannot go through a hole of smaller size; he simply rejects reasoning. What should we do at such a point? We should leave. Or, rather, instead of shouting “Stop the world I want to get off!”, we had better say “Stop the world, I want him to get off!”. Let us hypothesise what may happen if a dogmatic, who will not see reason, someone like the Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, entered a group of deliberators. Surely deliberation would end at that very moment. Even if the dogmatic initially claimed that he wanted to accept a constructive dialogue, he would actually never do so, nor could he, already knowing (actually, pretending to know) what the Truth is! Let us hypothesise what may happen if a dogmatic, like Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, got into power. Simply, all those that did not believe in the same Truth, or had no belief in any particular Truth, would run the risk of being eliminated as dangerous, as subversives who do not see the Light. They would also run the risk of being educated, possibly by foul means (as they are so effective!), to grasp what the Truth is, which accidentally always turns out to be that believed by those who are in power. In short, the Truth can be a source of severe trouble, if we consider the evil consequences that can stem from the actions of those who want to enforce such Truth on others: those who have a different Truth. At this point, we cannot avoid the following issue: tolerance and reason in matters of faith. This is a forced step, because there is a decision that should be taken for deliberation to occur: “Can someone who believes in one Truth participate in a deliberative debate? In particular, can people of a specific religious belief, that they consider to be the only True faith, participate in such debate?”. I would like to address these questions by making reference to some historical facts (see Kamen, 1967). However, let us keep in mind the intellectual and existential obscurantism of Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo’s outrageous declarations: “They are wrong about that [...] this is an easily recognisable fact”.

4.2 Symmachus or Ambrose? “Jesus or Barabbas?”, this was the question Ponzius Pilate addressed to the people of Jerusalem and we know what the answer was. Analogously, I could ask: “Do you want Symmachus or Ambrose?” Perhaps, not everyone knows who these two were, and the majority of those who know who they were would be inclined to

4.2 Symmachus or Ambrose?


prefer Ambrose, bishop of Milan during the 4th Century (he eventually became saint and was proclaimed Doctor of the Church in 1298 along with Augustine of Hippo, Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus - the first one who translated the Bible into Latin - and Pope Gregory I). However, if we pose this question within a context of tolerance, then some might actually prefer Symmachus to Ambrose. As we all know, year 0 in our calendar (in reality, the Gregorian calendar, which was introduced by in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII, starts with year 1) is the year that ends with Jesus Christ’s birth. In that year, a number of events involving Jesus happened and gave rise to the Christian religion. It is not of interest here to recall all such events, as most of them are (or should be) quite known. Instead, it is interesting to look at the period of eighty years that started from 303, when Diocletian ordered what is considered to be the tenth persecution of Christians. This was the last persecution and ended in 311 when the Edit of Nichomedia was delivered by the emperor Galerius, then reinforced in 313 with the Edit of Milan issued by Constantine, emperor of the Western Roman Empire, and Licinius, emperor of the Easter Roman Empire. The Edit of Milan affirmed a sort of neutrality of the empire in religious matters and bestowed Christianity the same juridical status as both the traditional Roman religion and the other religious cults. That was the beginning of a smooth process that eventually led to February 27th, 380, when Theodosius I, Gratian, and Valentinian II delivered the Edict of Thessalonica, in which Christianity was proclaimed the religion of the empire, as already indicated in 325 with the Council of Nicaea. Here there was an underlying problem: how to understand and establish the True interpretation of God’s word? This question was faced starting out from the Council of Nicaea, where, for the first time, the avenue that then led to identify Catholic orthodoxy with the Magisterium of the Church was established. Since then, there has been only one correct interpretation of God’s word, namely the one contained in the Magisterium and any other was banned. In particular, that Council rejected many variants of Christianity; among which the one proposed by Arius (256-336), an Egyptian priest, who considered the Son (Jesus) as subordinate to the Father (God). Accordingly, Father and Son were not consubstantial; that is, made of the same substance. Identifying the true interpretation of the Holy Writ means affirming that the others are not true and anyone who endorses any of them is wrong and, if possible, has to be rectified. However, we do not have a trivial problem here: those who support the other interpretations take them as true as well and, therefore, believe that those who follow the precepts of the Magisterium are wrong. Hence, which is the True interpretation, that should be accepted? Let us make a useful digression to better contextualize the matter and go back to Roman times. There was a part of the Roman “intelligentsia” concerned with the progressive rise of Christianity in the Empire. For example there was Celsus (II Century), who wrote the Alethès logos (The True Word), and Porphyry (234 approx. - 305), the author of Katà tôn Christianôn (Against the Christians). It was the latter who seminally attempted to make explicit the important relationship between faith (the religion) and reason (the state). In particular he warned that Christians have to obey God firstly, and only then the emperor: “But Peter and the apostles answered, «We must obey God rather than men»” (Acts 5, 29).


4 Beware of Those Who Think they Possess the Truth!

In reality, for the sake of completeness, the relationship between the Christians and the temporal power, both in Roman times and in successive ages, has never been easy to analyse and it cannot certainly be summarised through the above quotation from the Acts of the Apostles. Here we can recall the writings in Paul’s Epistle to Titus: “Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men” (Tt 3, 1-2). However, things are not that easy, for “rulers and authorities” must be recognised by God (or someone on God’s behalf), as Paul makes clear in his Epistle to the Romans: “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves” (Rm 13, 1-2). Evidently, there are some problems here: one has to obey God; but, in secular issues, one has to obey the civil authority (“He said to them, «Then give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's. »", Luke, 20, 25). On the other hand, as noted, the civil authority has to be “approved” by God, otherwise one is not bound in obedience to it. This intricate relationship begets some difficulties, as emblematically Henry IV would experience in the 11th Century. Pope Gregory VII excommunicated him, thereby freeing his subjects from obedience to him. Henry IV then had to go, with his wife Bertha, to Canossa to ask for pardon in order to settle the situation. Among other things, it may be helpful to mention an issue that may seem a mere subtlety; yet, as the wiser man knows, it is upon subtleties that the world is built. We should distinguish, as some authors do (others do not, see Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, II-II, qu. 2, art. 2), among 1) credere in Deum, which entails one’s openness towards the mistery of Christian religion; 2) credere Deo, which entails the acceptance of what is affirmed by God; and 3) credere Deum, which entails conviction in the existence of God. Thus, faith concerns credere in Deum, which is an open mind towards the transcendental dimension and, of course, credere Deum, otherwise, it would be an empty faith. Instead, belief regards the systematisation of God’s word made by people; this systematisation would be the proper formulation of the credere Deo. In the Catholic case, this is expressed, as recalled several times, by the Magisterium and is synthesized in the ‘Creed’ (in its Niceno–Constantinopolitan version, whose features are too long to discuss here, so they are left to the reader’s curiosity): We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible; And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-begotten, Begotten of the Father before all ages, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, Begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made: Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and was made man; And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried; And the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; And ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father; And He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, Whose kingdom shall have no end. And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, and Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father, Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, Who spoke by the

4.2 Symmachus or Ambrose?


Prophets; And we believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins. We look for the Resurrection of the dead, And the Life of the age to come. Amen.

Going back to the problem I started with, this is certainly not the place to tackle the historically complex problem concerning why the Romans, who had been extremely tolerant towards all religions, became intolerant with the spread of Christianity. However, even if I do not go into the historical complexity of the problem, which is better handed over to professional historians, I would be inclined to support the thesis that such intolerance stemmed from the attitude that the Christians had before the power of the empire and their full subjection to the power of their God: a hierarchy obviously not beloved of Roman emperors. I also do not touch on the issue of whether Christians were really considered as daily food for lions (“Christianos ad leonem”), as they are described in certain books and movies (just think of the 1896 Quo vadis? by Henryk Sienkiewicz, which inspired at least 6 movies, the most famous of which was directed in 1951 by Mervyn LeRoy with a wonderful Peter Alexander von Ustinov (wearing blusher) in the role of Nero). Instead, I would like to focus on what happened after Christianity became the religion of the empire, a religion that, as seen, could admit only one Truth. In 382 the emperor Gratian, who was a Christian, gave orders to eliminate the Altar of Victory from the Roman Curia, which was set there in 29 B.C. by Octavian Augustus to celebrate the 31 B.C. victory against Mark Antony and Cleopatra at Actium. The altar was with a golden statue of Victory, a winged goddess complete with the palm and the crown of laurel (taken by the Romans to the Tarantini when these decided to ally with Pyrrhus and lost the war in 272 B.C.). Unfortunately both the palm and the crown were considered symbols of paganism. Probably, our good and conscientious Gratian imagined that “by eliminating the pagan symbols, we could more easily obscure the pagan roots of Roman (and European) history”. Not everyone shared his ideas, though. In 384, Quintus Aurelius Symmachus, who was then Praefectus urbis Romae, decided to write to the new emperor, the 12-year-old Valentinian II, asking to reinstate the Altar. It was centred on one argument: “Uno itinere non potest perveniri ad tam grande secretum” (“Not by only one avenue [that is, Christianity] can we arrive at so tremendous a secret [the secret of religious Truth]”). Obviously, those who believed they possessed the one Truth and the right way to uphold it could not accept such an argument: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life”, Jesus says in the Gospel of John (14,6). And so it was; immediately Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, replied to Symmachus, who evidently did not take into account that his audience was quite impermeable to any doubt or reason and, thus, made a gross mistake. For Ambrose addressed two fiery letters against Symmachus to Valentinian II, the Epistle XVII and the Epistle XVIII. Ambrose’s approach was along the lines of the Gospel of John in that he stated that the claims of the Praefectus were a form of unacceptable relativism and that he did not comprehend the basic point: such an inability to find the Truth was a problem for pagans but not for Christians who knew very well what Truth was and how it could be found.


4 Beware of Those Who Think they Possess the Truth!

The emperor sided with Ambrose and Symmachus’ plea had no effect. Teodosius I, who succeeded Valentinian II, made things even worse. In 391, he decided to prohibit any form of devotion towards pagan statues, which could not even be looked at. The rather foolhardy and stubborn man of Symmachus did not understand that there was no room for rational dialogue with those who proclaim to possess the Truth and, in 402, he made a second plea for the restoration of the Altar. Again he was totally disregarded. As if that were not enough, the idea of destroying the Altar was entertained: get rid of the cause, get rid of the problem! It is dangerous to live alongside those who believe they possess the Truth and have the power and malevolence to enforce it on everybody else by humiliating, killing and torturing. Thus, Christians, who were initially victims of persecution, started to persecute pagans as well as Christians “different from them”. In fact, as soon as different interpretations of Christianity started taking shape, the different factions began to kill each other in the name of the correct interpretation of God’s word, in the name of the Truth, the one Truth, that each of them claimed to possess. We could ask the exact time in which Christians started dividing among themselves, killing each other in the most brutal ways in the name of the same God, viewed differently. As always, to indicate a precise date is difficult but it would be pretty safe to say that it began with the persecution campaign against the Donatists. Who were they? They were the followers of Donatus of Casae Nigrae (named after the place he was presumably born, Casae Nigrae, in 270 approx.). They constituted a movement after which Diocletian, in 303, imposed that sacred books had to be given to authorities and destroyed. Many bishops preferred to give the books to the magistrates rather than undergo corporal punishment (a good deal, after all). However, not everyone accepted the arrangement (to hand over the sacred books in order not to receive corporal punishment). The bravest people converged on Donatism and started to call traditores (traitors) those who gave the books to the authorities, because they had made a traditio, a ‘delivery’. They even proposed that such people no longer deserved to administer the sacraments. This was a key idea of Donatism; sacraments are of no value per se but they are valuable in virtue of the dignity of those who administer them. This position, however plausible, was strenuously opposed by Augustine. Donatism was eventually defeated by the decisions taken in 411 at the Council of Carthage and by the decree of emperor Honorio in 412. It is not easy to summarise the relationship between Augustine and the Donatists (see Catapano 2010, pp. 141-157). Nor can we just draw a line between the “bad guys” (Augustine and his fellows) and the “good guys” (the Donatists). Furthermore, in that same time there was a sect very close to the Donatism movement, or perhaps a sect of Donatism itself – if you like -, whose members were called Circumcellions or Agonisticis. They were not what we would call good people (I would even say that they were not sane, given their love of suicide and violence). In this regard, some of you may remember that the Circumcellions became famous some years ago, when mentioned by the fictional character Jorge from Burgos, the dogmatic, blind former librarian in the Abbey where William of Baskerville makes his investigations in The name of the rose by Umberto Eco.

4.2 Symmachus or Ambrose?


In any event, it is of great interest to read an excerpt from Letter 185, written by Augustine in 417 and entitled: De correctione donatistarum liber (A Treatise Concerning the Correction of the Donatists). Here the bishop of Hippo proposes a subtle distinction between just persecutions (those carried out by his own faction’s Christians) and unjust persecutions (those by others, in other Christian factions): But this, I say, I forbear to urge. Yet one point I must press: If the true Church is the one which actually suffers persecution, not the one which inflicts it, let them ask the apostle of what Church Sarah was a type, when she inflicted persecution on her hand-maid. For he declares that the free mother of us all, the heavenly Jerusalem, that is to say, the true Church of God, was prefigured in that woman who cruelly entreated her hand-maid. But if we investigate the story further, we shall find that the handmaid rather persecuted Sarah by her haughtiness, than Sarah the handmaid by her severity: for the handmaid was doing wrong to her mistress; the mistress only imposed on her a proper discipline in her haughtiness. Again I ask, if good and holy men never inflict persecution upon any one, but only suffer it, whose words they think that those are in the psalm where we read, "I have pursued mine enemies, and overtaken them; neither did I turn again till they were consumed?" If, therefore, we wish either to declare or to recognize the truth, there is a persecution of unrighteousness, which the impious inflict upon the Church of Christ; and there is a righteous persecution, which the Church of Christ inflicts upon the impious. (Si ergo verum dicere vel agnoscere volumus, est persecutio iniusta, quam faciunt impii Ecclesiae Christi; et est iusta persecutio, quam faciunt impiis Ecclesiae Christi). She therefore is blessed in suffering persecution for righteousness' sake; but they are miserable, suffering persecution for unrighteousness. Moreover, she persecutes in the spirit of love, they in the spirit of wrath; she that she may correct, they that they may overthrow: she that she may recall from error, they that they may drive headlong into error. Finally, she persecutes her enemies and arrests them, until they become weary in their vain opinions, so that they should make advance in the truth; (Proinde ista persequitur diligendo, illi saeviendo; ista ut corrigat, illi ut evertant; ista ut revocet ab errore, illi ut praecipitent in errorem: denique ista persequitur inimicos et comprehendit, donec deficiant in vanitate, ut in veritate proficiant); but they, returning evil for good, because we take measures for their good, to secure their eternal salvation, endeavour even to strip us of our temporal safety, being so in love with murder, that they commit it on their own persons, when they cannot find victims in any others. For in proportion as the Christian charity of the Church endeavours to deliver them from that destruction, so that none of them should die, so their madness endeavours either to slay us, that they may feed the lust of their own cruelty, or even to kill themselves, that they may not seem to have lost the power of putting men to death. (Letter 185, 2, 11).

Wonderful: I am extremely happy to know that I could be persecuted for good reason! However, there are two readings of this. Firstly, the persecutions made by the Church against the others are just, while those made by the others against the Church are unjust. Secondly Augustine could be anticipating John Locke’s teaching (which we will see in a while), according to which we must always be intolerant with intolerants (the Donatists, in this case). The second reading could hold true, however, I would then ask its supporters: “Are we sure that persecution is the right way to stop intolerance? Do we really have the right to persecute in God’s name, or in the name of some interpretation of what God supposedly said?” (As far as I am concerned, I just hope never to meet any zealous believer who wants to save my soul by dint of blows). Moreover, it is hard to distinguish the


4 Beware of Those Who Think they Possess the Truth!

heretic from the orthodox believer. Who upholds the True faith? How can this True faith be distinguished from other one? If you want to know more about the history of heresies, then you may want to have a look at the classic, though partisan (so to speak), 1772 work by Alfonso Maria de Liguori or you could go for a more succinct, contemporary work such as Théron (2005). However, for movie lovers (or lovers tout court), I recommend the amazing compendium made in 1969 by Luis Buñuel Portolés and entitled La voie lactée (‘The Milky Way’). Two wanderers, Jean and Pierre, a young atheist the former, an old believer the latter, are travelling the road to Santiago de Compostela. In a surrealist crescendo, they meet and debate with embodiments of the most important movements in the history of heresy. Real intellectual entertainment!

4.3 Cuius Regio, Eius Religio The history of heresy is that of the different interpretations of the dictates of the same God. The history of the inquisition (or of the inquisitions, as there have been different types) is the history of the institution that was established to investigate, even through torture, and then punish, with the most painful death, those who were considered to hold theories not coherent with orthodoxy. Finally, the history of the religious wars that broke out in Europe during the 16th Century is the history of different Christian confessions massacring each other in the name of the possession of the True interpretation of Christianity. All this was done in the name of Truth, which is perhaps the most bloody and painful word in the whole dictionary. It is not pleasant to disclose these issues, but recounting this horror honours and preserves the memory of those who died in pain because of blind and dogmatic madness. Thus I cannot skip the advice given by the Dominican Nicolau Eymerich in his 1376 vademecum for inquisitors (Directorium Inquisitorum): Can the inquisitor and the Bishop torture someone? If so, under which conditions? And can the Bishop torture someone? If so, under which conditions? They can make use of torture according to the decrees by Clement V (Council of di Vienne), as long as both the inquisitor and the Bishop agree on this. There are no precise rules that dictate in which cases torture may be admitted […]. As precise jurisdiction is lacking, here are seven rules to be followed. 1. The accused person is tortured when vacillating before answering; saying one thing, then the opposite and rejecting the most important allegations. In this case, we can presume that the accused is hiding the truth and, under the pressure of interrogation, is saying contradictory things. If the accused initially denies their misdemeanour, then confesses and eventually repents, then the accused can no longer be considered as “vacillating” but rather as “a repented heretic” and should be condemned. 2. Any defamed person will be tortured with only one witness against them. In fact, public reputation together with a witness constitute half the evidence, as would be expected by everyone, given that one single witness is already a clue. One may say testis unus, testis nullus. But this is true of sentence and not of presumption of guilt. One single witness against is enough, then. I must agree that the witness of a single person does not carry the same strength as a civil judgement.

4.3 Cuius Regio, Eius Religio


3. The defamed against whom there is more than one indication of guilt must be tortured. Defamation plus indications are sufficient. In the case of priests, defamation is enough (however, only infamous priests are to be tortured). […] 4. In matters of heresy, anyone with a witness against them and some violent and strong indications of guilt, will be tortured. 5. Anyone with several violent and strong indications of guilt will be tortured, even in absence of witnesses against these allegations. 6. It follows that torture must obviously be used against anyone who is in a situation similar to the previous case and also has one witness against them. 7. Defamation, one witness or one indication alone against one person does not imply torture: each of these conditions is not sufficient by itself to justify torture.

We could admit that the inquisition did not use torture lightly (wow!); the inquisition used to follow a very precise protocol (but does responsibility vanish if one makes use of torture only after a long precise protocol?). For example, the inquisitor had to ask the local bishop before torturing a person, but typically the bishop was not reluctant to grant permission. What I perceive as really perverted in all of this is that the torturer could not be the priest-judge himself, as ecclesia abhorret a sanguine (the Church abhors bloodshed). The torturer was then a nonpriest, a layman. The Church did not want to get its hands dirty, even if it was the instigator of torture. Were they all crazy? Were they all convinced that they possessed the Truth and of the necessity of killing and torturing in its name? Note that this is not valid only for the past, even in our times there are intolerant people who kill other people in the name of their Truth. Furthermore, if we go to Facebook, we can find a group called ‘Comitato per la difesa della Santa Inquisizione’ (‘Committee for the defence of the Saint Inquisition’) whose aim is stated In favour of the historical truth and in defence of the spiritual aims of the work of the Inquisition. Against the atheist, pagan-minded, and materialistic drift of Europe, which is taking over the West and the world.

The motto of the webpage is the following: If you think about the severity of Torquemada, without considering all that he avoided, you cease reasoning.

The original French sentence (“Si vous pensez aux sévérités de Torquemada sans songer à tout ce qu’elles prévinrent vous cessez de raisonner”) comes from Lettres à un gentilhomme russe, sur l'Inquisition espagnole by Joseph de Maistre (17531821). This “guy” was one the most fierce supporters of the post-Napoleonic Restoration and certainly not a great advocate of liberty and tolerance. Torquemada may have avoided something dangerous, as the members of the Facebook group say – with probably unconscious self-irony. For, they warn: “CAUTION: This is not a group of pranksters”. Unfortunately, we will never be able to say which dangerous events Torquemada succeeded in avoiding, because we cannot rewrite history. We know, however, who Torquemada was: a Dominican friar from the


4 Beware of Those Who Think they Possess the Truth!

monastery of Santa Cruz at Segovia who became famous as a Great Inquisitor (Inquisitor generalis) between 1483 and 1492 during the Spanish inquisition. He was absolutely diligent in persecuting all deviant Catholics, the marranos (the Sephardic Jewish people living in Spain forced by threats to embrace Catholicism) and the moriscos (the Spanish Muslims who were threatened if they did not accept the Catholic version of Christianity). For sure, Torquemada inflicted terrible pains on other men, be they Catholics, Jews, marranos, Muslims or moriscos. Is this justifiable? Who can justify this? Of course, there are those who argue that the inquisition, in particular the Spanish inquisition, was not as terrible as it has been described. These revisionists claim that the historical facts have been distorted to create the “black legend of the inquisition” (see Peters, 1988; Kamen, 1997). Can this be a justification? Not at all. Even if just one single person had suffered in the name of a Truth alien to them, their torturers would be deplorable and condemnable. For the sake of truth (always the truth!), I would be wrong if I claimed that all believers (all Christians or Catholics, or Muslims, or whoever) have been intolerant. It would be a hasty generalisation and, as Mark Twain ironically remarked (1835-1910): “All generalizations are false, including this one”. In reality, particularly during the European wars of religion, there were many voices in favour of tolerance towards different Christian creeds or, sometimes, of different religious creeds like Islam and Judaism or even towards atheism, although this was less likely. Nevertheless, if it was difficult to tolerate a Christian of a different confession it was even more difficult was to tolerate a non-Christian believer or a non-believer like an atheist. Among the voices in defence of tolerance, I would like to recall one at least. His story is emblematic of how things can go in life. I have in mind Balthasar Hübmaier (1480-1528), an Anabaptist. In 1524, he wrote a small book with an eloquent title: Von Ketzern und ihren Verbrennern (Heretics and Those Who Burn Them), where he argued that to burn heretics implied to reject Jesus, because Jesus did not come to condemn and physically eliminate those who were in error (they were in ‘error’, indeed!), but he came to persuade them of the Truth (yes, he does mention the ‘truth’!). Unfortunately, neither Balthasar nor his wife met with a happy end. He was arrested in Vienna and tortured as a heretic through the method of stretching out on a rack (not pleasant, as you may imagine) and then burned. Three days after, his wife was caught and thrown into the Danube with a stone tied to her neck. This is how things happen! However, even if Anabaptists (they were called this by their opponents because of their habit of having a new baptism, while the name they used to refer to each other was Brothers of Christ) rejected any form of violence, they were not immune to committing terrible crimes, as the chronicle of their 1534 conquest of Münster demonstrates. All sects committed horrible crimes, although not all the members of such sects actively collaborated in or supported such crimes. Again, if we want to save these facts from oblivion, it is worth remembering the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre (23rd – 24th August 1572), when the Catholics followed the order of King Charles IX of Valois (who was actually instigated by his mother Catherine de’ Medici) and slaughtered the French

4.3 Cuius Regio, Eius Religio


Calvinists, the Huguenots. Reactions to this mass murder differed greatly according to the nature of the people in question: Pope Gregory XIII ordered a Te Deum laudamus to be sung, which, as Catholics know well, is a thanksgiving hymn to God. He also coined a medal with his portrait and a representation of the massacre. Moreover, he commissioned a pictorial cycle that can still be admired in the Sala Regia of the Vatican Palaces. Instead Philip II of Spain could not contain himself, claiming that it was the most wonderful day of his life. Fortunately, Elizabeth I of England went into mourning. We must recall, however, that, on the 24th August 1997, John Paul II apologised for this event on occasion of his visit to France. Is this act so remarkable for the thousands of slaughtered men, women and children? By the way, where did they go after death? To Heaven? To Purgatory or to Hell, as they were heretics? And what about their murderers? Hell or Purgatory? Or did they go to Heaven, as they had upheld the one Truth? There are many ways to end a war. For example, one can exterminate all of the enemies or one can make a peace treatise in which, the winners impose their own conditions on the losers, who must accept them. The wars of religion, or to be precise the massacres and mass murders that disfigured Europe, stopped for a while in 1555. In that year a meeting took place at Augsburg in Bavaria to see whether it was better to halt the mutual massacres. Actually, an exit strategy was found under Charles V’s guidance, a strategy that was confirmed by his brother Ferdinand I of the Habsburgs who succeeded him. I must say that it was quite a bizarre exit strategy, which was based on the widespread idea among Lutherans that cuius regio, eius religio; that is to say, the official religion of a reign has to be the sovereign’s religion. If he or she was Catholic, so was the religion of the realm; if the sovereign was Lutheran, so was the religion of the realm and so on. What about those who were living in a kingdom where the religion was different from their own? Easy, they just had to move to some other land! I really find this solution amazing for the implicit irony it contains: “You are totally free to practice the religion you like … as long as you live in the right country”. If you think about it, this is not so different from what happens today. If you live in a country in which human-embryonic stem cell research is banned because the ruling majority is Catholic (or of some persuasion of Catholicism!), you can move to another country in which the ruling majority is less conservative. However, even today in many countries, the religious practices of the ruling majority are de facto the most accepted, although this is not stated formally. Hence, we are before a sort of cuius maior numerus, eius religio. In short, the Peace of Ausburg gave legal status to the possibility of having the sovereign’s religion instead of the state religion! This is a very different idea from that supported by the king of Poland, Stephen Báthory (1533-1586), who used to say: “I rule over people not over their conscience”, thereby admitting freedom of conscience. Let us move ahead almost three centuries. In 1832 (August 15), in his encyclical Mirari vos, Gregory XVI had the bright idea of equating freedom of conscience with delusion (deliramentum). His proposal encountered great success, as in 1864, Pius IX made the same point in his encyclical Quanta cura within the Syllabus complectens praecipuos nostrae aetatis errores, which lists the 80 gravest errors of “our time”:


4 Beware of Those Who Think they Possess the Truth!

But, although we have not omitted often to proscribe and reprobate the chief errors of this kind, yet the cause of the Catholic Church, and the salvation of souls entrusted to us by God, and the welfare of human society itself, altogether demand that we again stir up your pastoral solicitude to exterminate other evil opinions, which spring forth from the said errors as from a fountain. Which false and perverse opinions are on that ground the more to be detested, because they chiefly tend to this, that that salutary influence be impeded and (even) removed, which the Catholic Church, according to the institution and command of her Divine Author, should freely exercise even to the end of the world -- not only over private individuals, but over nations, peoples, and their sovereign princes; and (tend also) to take away that mutual fellowship and concord of counsels between Church and State which has ever proved itself propitious and salutary, both for religious and civil interests. For you well know, venerable brethren, that at this time men are found not a few who, applying to civil society the impious and absurd principle of "naturalism," as they call it, dare to teach that "the best constitution of public society and (also) civil progress altogether require that human society be conducted and governed without regard being had to religion any more than if it did not exist; or, at least, without any distinction being made between the true religion and false ones." And, against the doctrine of Scripture, of the Church, and of the Holy Fathers, they do not hesitate to assert that "that is the best condition of civil society, in which no duty is recognized, as attached to the civil power, of restraining by enacted penalties, offenders against the Catholic religion, except so far as public peace may require." From which totally false idea of social government they do not fear to foster that erroneous opinion, most fatal in its effects on the Catholic Church and the salvation of souls, called by Our Predecessor, Gregory XVI, an "insanity," viz., that "liberty of conscience and worship is each man's personal right, which ought to be legally proclaimed and asserted in every rightly constituted society; and that a right resides in the citizens to an absolute liberty, which should be restrained by no authority whether ecclesiastical or civil, whereby they may be able openly and publicly to manifest and declare any of their ideas whatever, either by word of mouth, by the press, or in any other way." But, while they rashly affirm this, they do not think and consider that they are preaching "liberty of perdition;" and that "if human arguments are always allowed free room for discussion, there will never be wanting men who will dare to resist truth, and to trust in the flowing speech of human wisdom; whereas we know, from the very teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ, how carefully Christian faith and wisdom should avoid this most injurious babbling. (Syllabus).

Let me recall some passages from the Mirari vos, again, lest they be forgot. 1) Condemnation of the idea that the Catholic religion is not the only way to the Truth: Now we consider another abundant source of the evils with which the Church is afflicted at present: indifferentism. This perverse opinion is spread on all sides by the fraud of the wicked who claim that it is possible to obtain the eternal salvation of the soul by the profession of any kind of religion, as long as morality is maintained. […] With the admonition of the apostle that "there is one God, one faith, one baptism" (Ef 4,5) may those fear who contrive the notion that the safe harbour of salvation is open to persons of any religion whatever. They should consider the testimony of Christ Himself that "those who are not with Christ are against Him," (Lc 11,23) and that they disperse unhappily who does not gather with Him. Therefore "without a doubt, they will perish forever, unless they hold the Catholic faith whole and inviolate." [Symbol. S. Athanasii].

4.4 Let Us Follow Locke and Be Intolerant of the Intolerant!


2) Condemnation of freedom of conscience and opinion: This shameful font of indifferentism gives rise to that absurd and erroneous proposition which claims that liberty of conscience must be maintained for everyone. It spreads ruin in sacred and civil affairs, though some repeat over and over again with the greatest impudence that some advantage accrues to religion from it. "But the death of the soul is worse than freedom of error," as Augustine was wont to say. [Ep. 166].

3) Condemnation of the freedom of thought and the press: […] harmful and never sufficiently denounced freedom to publish any writings whatever and disseminate them to the people, which some dare to demand and promote with so great a clamour. We are horrified to see what monstrous doctrines and prodigious errors are disseminated far and wide in countless books, pamphlets, and other writings which, though small in weight, are very great in malice. We are in tears at the abuse which proceeds from them over the face of the earth.

4) Condemnation of the separation between the Church and the state Nor can We predict happier times for religion and government from the plans of those who desire vehemently to separate the Church from the state, and to break the mutual concord between temporal authority and the priesthood. It is certain that that concord which always was favourable and beneficial for the sacred and the civil order is feared by the shameless lovers of liberty.

5) Apology for the instrumental use of the state: May Our dear sons in Christ, the princes, support these Our desires for the welfare of Church and State with their resources and authority. May they understand that they received their authority not only for the government of the world, but especially for the defence of the Church. They should diligently consider that whatever work they do for the welfare of the Church accrues to their rule and peace. Indeed let them persuade themselves that they owe more to the cause of the faith than to their kingdom.

“Charitable” and eloquent, indeed!

4.4 Let Us Follow Locke and Be Intolerant of the Intolerant! On the one hand, we have expressions of great intolerance that are exemplified by Gregory XVI and Pius IX’s dictates. On the other hand, luckily, we also have great manifestations of tolerance like A Letter Concerning Toleration written by John Locke in 1685 and published in Holland in 1689. This is an important letter for the shaping of European civilisation and its democratic basis. However, such importance does not derive from any original contribution it might contain. Actually it comes from the synthesis of a tradition of tolerance that, over the centuries, had striven to oppose the dogmatics and the Truth-mongers. It is noted, however, that such a tradition had not always been successful, as seen above.


4 Beware of Those Who Think they Possess the Truth!

We should immediately admit that, in truth (always the ‘truth’!), Locke does not preach tolerance of everybody. He makes some exceptions. In particular, he argues that we should not tolerate 1) the sects that want to subvert society; 2) the atheists; 3) those members of a sect who are at the service of a prince different from the one who rules their state. As we may grasp, these are exceptions of a different nature. The first concerns what is perhaps erroneously called the paradox of tolerance, which according to some authors was first stated by Popper in his 1945 The Open Society and Its Enemies: The so-called paradox of freedom is the argument that freedom in the sense of absence of any constraining control must lead to very great restraint, since it makes the bully free to enslave the meek. The idea is, in a slightly different form, and with very different tendency, clearly expressed in Plato. Less well known is the paradox of tolerance: Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. — In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal. (Popper, 1945, I, p. 360).

Yes, Popper. In reality, as we have seen, Locke expressed the same point of view, although it is plausible to hypothesize that many others before him held the same opinion. For it is rather intuitive that we cannot be tolerant towards the intolerant, unless we admit them passively, thereby condemning tolerance to disappear. In short, intolerance of the intolerant should be a constitutive principle rather than a paradox and without such a principle, tolerance cannot live. In fact, the dogmatic upholder of Truth is the fiercest enemy of tolerance and an archenemy of deliberation. Therefore, if we do not want debate to cease, the intolerant and paranoid upholders of Truth should not be allowed in deliberation. The second limitation stated by Locke might be seen as odd coming from a tolerance supporter like him, it concerns the idea that we should tolerate believers in all faiths but not atheists: Lastly, those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the being of a God. Promises, covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist. The taking away of God, though but even in thought, dissolves all; besides also, those that by their atheism undermine and destroy all religion, can have no pretence of religion whereupon to challenge the privilege of a toleration. (Locke, 1667, pp. 45-46).

4.4 Let Us Follow Locke and Be Intolerant of the Intolerant!


He had a strange idea of ethics, as if believing in God were a necessary condition for praiseworthy behaviour. If this were the case, then no atheist could ever have behaved morally. Yet it is quite difficult to argue in favour of this! Under closer scrutiny, in the Letter, there is no strong argument in favour of this thesis concerning the non-toleration of atheists. In particular, from the fact that we must be intolerant of the intolerant it does not follow that we have to be intolerant of atheists, since not all atheists are intolerant. Of course, some atheists might be intolerant but this is a different issue. The existence of some intolerant atheists (here the quantifier is existential and the statement may be true) is totally different from claiming that all atheists are intolerant (here the quantifier is universal and the statement is false. I myself know dozens of atheists who are tolerant). Locke’s position is not well justified, since it lacks good reasons to support it; it is just a prejudice made public and not an argued viewpoint. We should be totally uninterested in a non-rationally justified prejudice, at least when it is used in the public arena. Needless to say, in your own home you can have all the non-rationally justified prejudices you want, but not in a public debate. The third Lockean limitation is a corollary of the first (stating that we ought not to be tolerant towards the intolerant). It says that if we want to maintain the social peace, we should not admit those sects (in particular, according to him, religious sects) whose members want to undermine the foundations of the state. This seems fully legitimate. However, one of the central points in the Letter is the plea for the separation of the role of the state and the role of the religious community. The state is “a society of men constituted only for the procuring, preserving, and advancing their own civil interests. Civil interests I call life, liberty, health, and indolency of body; and the possession of outward things, such as money, lands, houses, furniture, and the like.” (ibid., p. 8). The religious community, the Church, is “a voluntary society of men, joining themselves together of their own accord in order to the public worshipping of God in such manner as they judge acceptable to Him, and effectual to the salvation of their souls” (ibid., p. 11). Locke’s key idea, which is repeatedly stated in the work, is that nobody, even the state or the Church, can force a person to accept a given religion. Before seeing the implications of this thesis, I would like to recall some passages that may be useful as a textual introduction: Now that the whole jurisdiction of the magistrate reaches only to these civil concernments, and that all civil power, right and dominion, is bounded and confined to the only care of promoting these things; and that it neither can nor ought in any manner to be extended to the salvation of souls, these following considerations seem unto me abundantly to demonstrate (ibid., p. 9). [T]he care of souls is not committed to the civil magistrate, any more than to other men. It is not committed unto him, I say, by God; because it appears not that God has ever given any such authority to one man over another as to compel anyone to his religion. Nor can any such power be vested in the magistrate by the consent of the people, because no man can so far abandon the care of his own salvation as blindly to leave to the choice of any other, whether prince or subject, to prescribe to him what faith or worship he shall embrace. For no man can, if he would, conform his faith to the dictates of another. All the life and power of true religion consist in the inward and full persuasion of the mind (ibid.).


4 Beware of Those Who Think they Possess the Truth!

[T]he care of souls cannot belong to the civil magistrate, because his power consists only in outward force; but true and saving religion consists in the inward persuasion of the mind, without which nothing can be acceptable to God. And such is the nature of the understanding, that it cannot be compelled to the belief of anything by outward force. (ivi, p. 10). Neither the profession of any articles of faith, nor the conformity to any outward form of worship (as has been already said), can be available to the salvation of souls, unless the truth of the one and the acceptableness of the other unto God be thoroughly believed by those that so profess and practise. But penalties are no way capable to produce such belief. (ivi, pp. 10-11). For there being but one truth, one way to heaven, what hope is there that more men would be led into it if they had no rule but the religion of the court and were put under the necessity to quit the light of their own reason, and oppose the dictates of their own consciences, and blindly to resign themselves up to the will of their governors and to the religion which either ignorance, ambition, or superstition had chanced to establish in the countries where they were born? In the variety and contradiction of opinions in religion, wherein the princes of the world are as much divided as in their secular interests, the narrow way would be much straitened; one country alone would be in the right, and all the rest of the world put under an obligation of following their princes in the ways that lead to destruction; and that which heightens the absurdity, and very ill suits the notion of a Deity, men would owe their eternal happiness or misery to the places of their nativity (ibid., 11). [N]o church is bound, by the duty of toleration, to retain any such person in her bosom as, after admonition, continues obstinately to offend against the laws of the society. For, these being the condition of communion and the bond of the society, if the breach of them were permitted without any animadversion the society would immediately be thereby dissolved. But, nevertheless, in all such cases care is to be taken that the sentence of excommunication, and the execution thereof, carry with it no rough usage of word or action whereby the ejected person may any wise be damnified in body or estate. For all force (as has often been said) belongs only to the magistrate, nor ought any private persons at any time to use force, unless it be in self-defence against unjust violence. (ibid., p. 15). For every church is orthodox to itself; to others, erroneous or heretical. For whatsoever any church believes, it believes to be true and the contrary unto those things it pronounce; to be error. So that the controversy between these churches about the truth of their doctrines and the purity of their worship is on both sides equal; nor is there any judge […]The decision of that question belongs only to the Supreme judge of all men, to whom also alone belongs the punishment of the erroneous. (ibid., p. 17). if it could be manifest which of these two dissenting churches were in the right, there would not accrue thereby unto the orthodox any right of destroying the other. For churches have neither any jurisdiction in worldly matters, nor are fire and sword any proper instruments wherewith to convince men's minds of error, and inform them of the truth. (ibidem, p. 18). [W]hencesoever their authority be sprung, since it is ecclesiastical, it ought to be confined within the bounds of the Church, nor can it in any manner be extended to civil affairs, because the Church itself is a thing absolutely separate and distinct from the commonwealth. The boundaries on both sides are fixed and immovable. He jumbles heaven and earth together, the things most remote and opposite, who mixes these two societies, which are in their original, end, business, and in everything perfectly distinct and infinitely different from each other. (ibid., p. 19). In private domestic affairs, in the management of estates, in the conservation of bodily health, every man may consider what suits his own convenience and follow what course he likes best (ibid., p. 21). No man can be forced to be rich or healthful whether he will or no. Nay, God Himself will not save men against their wills. (ibid., p. 22).

4.5 Between Passive Disobedience and Active Tolerance


[T]here are a thousand ways to wealth, but one only way to heaven. (ivi, p. 23). And further, things never so indifferent in their own nature, when they are brought into the Church and worship of God, are removed out of the reach of the magistrate's jurisdiction, because in that use they have no connection at all with civil affairs. The only business of the Church is the salvation of souls, and it no way concerns the commonwealth, or any member of it, that this or the other ceremony be there made use of (ibid., pp. 29-30). The part of the magistrate is only to take care that the commonwealth receive no prejudice, and that there be no injury done to any man, either in life or estate (ibid. p. 32). [N]o opinions contrary to human society, or to those moral rules which are necessary to the preservation of civil society, are to be tolerated by the magistrate (ivi, p. 43).

We can extract four thematic lines from these Lockean quotations: 1) there is no passage in the Old or New Testament that suggests that the argumentum ad baculum, i.e. coercion, may be a valid tool to ensure the salvation of men’s souls; 2) civil power cannot have a role in soul salvation, God has not bestowed any such power to the civil society, and citizens cannot authorize such power; 3) civil power cannot have a role in the persuasion of citizens to embrace the True religion, as no one can be forced to believe something; 4) even if civil power has the ability to force people to embrace the religious creed that it deems to be True, this would not imply by any means that such a creed is True.

4.5 Between Passive Disobedience and Active Tolerance Before examining the four themes just outlined, I would like to recall a couple of hints contained in another of Locke’s writings: the 1667 An Essay Concerning Toleration: For however the magistrate be persuaded in himself of the reasonableness or absurdity, necessity or unlawfulness of any of them, and is possibly in the right, yet whilst he acknowledges himself not infallible, he ought to regard them in making of his laws, no otherwise, than as things indifferent, except only as that being enjoined, tolerated, or forbidden, they carry with them the civil good and welfare of the people. Though at the same time he be obliged strictly to suit his personal actions to the dictates of his own conscience and persuasion in these very opinions. For not being made infallible in reference to others, by being made a governor over them, he shall hereafter be accountable to God for his actions as a man, according as they are suited to his own conscience and persuasion; but shall be accountable for his laws and administration as a magistrate (Locke 1667 b, p. 71) That if the magistrate in these opinions or actions by laws and impositions endeavour to restrain, or compel men, contrary to the sincere persuasions of their own consciences; they ought to do what their consciences require of them, as far as without violence they can; but withal are bound at the same time quietly to submit to the penalties the law inflicts on such disobedience. For by this means they secure to themselves their grand concernment in another world, and disturb not the peace of this; offend not against their allegiance either to God or the king but give both their due, the interest of the magistrate and their own being both safe (ivi, p. 73).

Here we can see that the role of the believing magistrate and of what we now call passive disobedience are discussed.


4 Beware of Those Who Think they Possess the Truth!

Consider the magistrate, first, who like anybody else with a role within state institutions, can be a believer. There is (or should be) no problem with this. However, this belief belongs to the magistrate as a “private actor”, while they retain an institutional role as a “public actor”. In other words, the magistrate’s qua private figure is different from the magistrate’s qua public figure. This means that their private beliefs, even those of a religious nature, should never influence their public acts. If such beliefs influenced public acts, there would be an incorrect intrusion of private viewpoints into public life. Consequently the basic point of tolerance, according to which the state and the public officials cannot give any preference to one religion over another, would be violated. Of course, as Locke emphasises, it may happen that a magistrate, or some other public official, finds a state law unacceptable from their religious viewpoint. In this case, they could resign from their role. It should be noticed that Locke does not contemplate conscientious objection before a state law in the name of a religious belief: this would imply that the law and its application are not equal for everyone. Instead he follows a totally different line of thinking, since law is equal for everyone, so it should be as regards its application. This rule has no exception, especially for those who have a public role. Of course, there may be cases in which a law conflicts with a citizen’s religious belief, but if the citizen has a public role, either they must resign or maintain the role implementing that law. They cannot invoke conscientious objection, because not doing what is expected from a public point of view would be against other citizens’ interests; citizens who may not find the law incompatibile with their religious creed (or lack of it). The underlying idea is that the public actor invoking conscientious objection is actually asking both for a legal permit to violate a law and to retain public office at the same time, and this, according to Locke, is not plausible. On the other hand, what could the citizen do if the state promulgates a law that goes against their religious (or a-religious) creed? The Lockean solution (if the citizen decides not to accept the law) is passive disobedience. This implies taking responsibility for the fact that their creed infringes the law and calmly and peacefully accepting the punishment that disobedience to the law entails. It is too easy to invoke conscientious objection without any repayment. The more difficult, yet much more commendable way is to practice passive disobedience in the name of your conscience. Let us go back now to the four thematic lines around tolerance. Consider the first. If we read it again (there is no passage in the Old or New Testament suggesting that the argumentum ad baculum, i.e. coercion, may be a valid means to ensure the salvation of men’s souls), we understand that Locke starts from a precise religious assumption. He thinks of Christianity (in some of its versions), as he speaks of the Bible. Here we have an immediate problem: although we may assume that in the Bible there is no favourable suggestion regarding the use of the argumentum ad baculum, this does not imply that there are no other sacred texts of different religions in which this persuasive method is supported. It follows that the validity of Locke’s first argument is limited to those who take the Bible as their sacred text. Hence, the argument is valid for Christians only.

4.5 Between Passive Disobedience and Active Tolerance


There is a second issue: is it really true that there is no suggestion in the Bible concerning an incitation to the argumentum ad baculum as a tool of persuasion regarding the greatness of the Christian religion? Perhaps, in no passage it is argued that the use of brute force to persuade followers is correct from a rational and argumentative point of view. Perhaps, in no passage it is said that being beaten up, or the fear of violence, may be an effective means to make up your mind in religious matters. However, I have serious doubts that there is no passage in the Bible in which the use of the baculum is not exalted (do you remember Elias in the first book of Kings quoted in the previous chapter?)! The second Lockean thematic line regards the possibility that God – in particular, the Bible’s God - could have appointed somebody as entitled to use force to save others’ souls. Here, I am sceptical about the absence of any reference to such a possibility, at least if we look at some passages of the Bible. Let us move to the much more interesting last two issues. They can be reformulated as follows: 1) force cannot change someone’s belief and, therefore, it is useless that the state, or anybody on its behalf, exerts such a coercion; 2) unless we have found the way to identify the True religion, the state cannot privilege one religion at the expense of others. Consider the first issue. As soon as the Anglican priest Jonas Proast (1640 approx. -1710) read the English translation of the Epistola de tolerantia, he realized he did not agree about the uselessness of the stick as a tool of persuasion. Thus, he decided to write a reply that was published anonymously in 1690 with the title The argument of the Letter concerning toleration, briefly consider’d and answer’d. Here the idea he argued concerned the fact that a moderate (in which sense, please?) use of force in religious matters is not outlandish. This idea was justified on the basis of an argument that was (is) not at all foolish, that is, even if coercion cannot directly induce any change in (or acceptance of) a religious belief, it may nonetheless force people to consider positions and arguments in favour of the enforced belief that would otherwise be neglected or ignored. In the same way, coercion can also impede certain hostile positions and the arguments in favour of them from circulation, for example, by impeding the diffusion and reading of “dangerous” texts. Locke replied to this letter with the nom de plume of Philanthropus. There was a brief correspondence between the two that ceased with Locke’s death in 1704 (see Vernon, 1991; Horton, Mendus, 1991). In the end, neither did Locke give up his idea about the total uselessness of force, nor did Proast abandon his view that force could at least indirectly have some positive impact. Their dispute started a small debate that is still alive today. There are Locke supporters and Proast supporters. Among the latter, Waldron (1993) argues that Proast was not wrong at all and that, even if it is uncontroversial that force can act upon will and not upon belief, it is also uncontroversial that religious persecution may have positive effects, even if these may not be connected with religious conversion but with, for example, social peace. In particular, religious persecution may pose a violent limit to those religious groups that can undermine social peace. Among Locke’s supporters, like Susan Mendus and Paul Bou Habib, the prominent idea is that there is no genuine change in opinion, be this directly or indirectly induced by force.


4 Beware of Those Who Think they Possess the Truth!

Although two different factions have taken shape, I do not believe there is any real contradiction between them, for they both agree on one fact: coercion is unable to change your religious belief. However, it seems fully plausible to argue that coercion can be used to provide new information or to limit the access to information. Given that an increase in information can lead to belief revision, while a limitation in the incoming information can imply the adoption of the default belief, I would take as legitimate the view that coercion (for however indirectly) may lead to a change in belief or to belief inertia, when new information is enforced or hidden, respectively. Moreover, it is also true that coercion can limit religious groups that are dangerous for social peace. However, Locke would have agreed with this, which is one possible reading of his constitutive principle of tolerance: if a religious group is a threat to tolerance in a society, “a call to calm” by force is fully legitimate. Finally, it seems rather trivial regarding the non-genuine acceptance of an enforced belief. We can easily conjecture that Galileo Galilei’s admission before the inquisitors about the incorrectness of his view on the solar system structure was not really heartfelt. Similarly, it appears obvious to hypothesize that, after several hours- or days-of torture, any man or woman may not be fully sincere in their acceptance of the version of Christianity held by their torturers. Let us consider the second point. By reading Locke’s letter, we may get the impression that he argues for a separation between the church and the state and hopes the latter to be fully neutral about matters of the former on the basis of sceptical considerations, in fact, as no religion can be proved true, the state cannot intervene in religious matters. However, this is not exact. First of all, Locke does not write that citizens cannot profess their own religion. If he had claimed this, then he would have contradicted his own tolerant view (please note, however, that he does hold an intolerant attitude towards atheists). On the contrary, the citizens must be granted the right to profess any faith they like, without implying any right as regards the imposition of this faith on anybody else, of course. However, people professing a faith are (usually) convinced of its truth. And it would be really unjust (as far as freedom of expression is concerned) if they had no opportunity of demonstrating the truth of their faith. If we consider this and the fact that, according to Locke, there is one True religion (as we have seen, Locke thinks that an atheist cannot be right; hence, at least one religion must be True), then the state should not remain neutral. Differently it should encourage the search for the True religion. Therefore, Locke does not argue for tolerance among religions on a sceptical basis, thereby invoking neutrality by the state. Instead, he assumes that there exists one True religion; even if we do not know which it is. It follows that he does not suggest that the state should be neutral; he rather suggests that the state should encourage all efforts to look for the Truth. Thus the Lockean idea appears to be that of active tolerance (one ought to be tolerant towards all religions and the state ought to foster the search for the True religion, which is still unknown, but in the meantime, the state should not commit itself to any specific religion, as it may be false). Locke’s idea is not one of passive tolerance (the state has to be tolerant towards all religions, because none can be proved true and, therefore, it ought not to interfere in religious issues).



I find this Lockean idea of active tolerance very intriguing, in particular if we expand its scope to include atheism. The idea could be reformulated: the state encourages the search for the truth in matters of religion by including all religions and atheism; but as long as no position has been found true, the state should not commit itself to any view. This means that it should not promulgate laws that are supporting any specific interpretation of the transcendence, because it could be false. Vice versa, it should not even be averse to any interpretation of the transcendence, because it could be true. References

4.6 Things to Reflect Upon At this point, I might recall the three points to which we all should pay attention, even if some may not like them and prefer a demagogic idea of democracy. One. If we really want to have a good deliberative debate, then we should not allow dogmatic believers in one Truth into the debate. Their intolerance of critical thinking and of revision of their Truth should not be tolerated; otherwise, we would be sacrificing the debate. Two. With regard to the believers, they ought to be admitted solely on the condition that they accept the idea that the debate they are about to engage with aims at finding a consensus or an agreement (the debate does not necessarily look for the truth or for an agreement about what the truth is). If they do not accept such a condition, they ought not to be admitted into the debate. That is easy. Three. In any event, we should not fear faith (or some interpretation of it). We should rather fear those who are irrationally and dogmatically convinced that they possess the one True faith. We should always remember what Oliver Cromwell said to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in the August of 1650: “Is it therefore infallibly agreeable to the Word of God, all that you say?, I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken”.

References Aristotle: Topics., Lawrence, KS (2006) Catapano, G.: Agostino. Carocci Editore, Roma (2010) De’ Liguori, A.M.: Trionfo della Chiesa ossia Istoria delle Eresie colle loro confutazioni. Paci, Napoli (1772) Horton, J., Mendus, S. (eds.): John Locke: A Letter Concerning Toleration in Focus. Routledge, New York (1991) Kamen, H.: The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London (1997) Kamen, N.: The Rise of Toleration. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London (1967) Kant, I.: Critique of Pure reason. Littlehampton Book Services Ltd., London (17872/1979) Locke, J.: Essay concerning Toleration. In: Milton, J.R., Philip, M. (eds.) John Locke: An Essay Concerning Toleration: and Other Writings on Law and Politics, 1667-1683, Oxford University Press, Oxford (2006) Peters, E.: Inquisition. The Free Press, New York (1988)


4 Beware of Those Who Think they Possess the Truth!

Popper, K.R.: The Open Society and Its Enemies. Routledge, London (1945) Théron, M.: Petit lexique des hérésies chrétiennes. Albin-Michel, Paris (2005) Vernon, R.: The Career of Toleration: John Locke, Jonas Proast, and After. McGill-Queens University Press, Montreal (1997) Waldron, J.: Locke, Toleration, and the Rationality of Persecution. In: Liberal Rights: Collected Papers 1981-1991, pp. 88–114. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (1991)

Websites The text of Augustine of Hippo’s Letter 185: The text of Symmachus’ letter: The text of Ambrose’s Epistle XVII: The text of Ambrose’s Epistle XVIII: The text of N. Eyymerich, Directorium Inquisitorum:;idno=wit045 The text of S. Bradshaw’s article on Guardian: The text of the Bible: The text of the Summa Theologiae by Thomas Aquinas: The text of A.M. de’ Liguori, Trionfo della Chiesa ossia Istoria delle Eresie colle loro confutazioni: The texts of the Pontifical Magisterium:

Chapter 5

Let Us Learn How to Deliberate before Deliberating! Between Ethics and Biomedicine Let Us Learn How to Deliberate before Deliberating !

We take stock of the discussion and have fun with some examples that should not be followed. Here we state once again that before celebrating deliberation we should celebrate the teaching of how to deliberate.

5.1 What a Good Deliberator Does Not Do 5.1.1 Parrhesiasts of the World, Unite! On the 19th of February 2004, the Italian Parliament passed Law 40 with the title ‘Norme in materia di procreazione medicalmente assistita’ [‘Norms concerning medically-assisted reproduction’]. This law was a source of conflict due to the way in which it was imposed, the reactions it sparked after its publication, and the ethical and religious implications of the extremely problematic matter it was meant to regulate. Most of the debate focused on article 13 of the law, which prohibited any experimentation on human embryos, and article 14, which made illegal 1) the cryoconservation and suppression of human embryos, and 2) the production of more than three embryos with the obligation of implanting all of them. Just to give a more complete picture of the general situation, I wish to tell you immediately how this story ended: the Constitutional Court returned verdict n. 151 on the 1st of April 2009 with which it denied legal status to some of the most controversial paragraphs of article 14. In particular, this decision impacted on paragraph 2, concerning the number of embryos produced and the obligation of their implantation, and paragraph 3, which was considered to value the embryos to be implanted more highly than the health of the woman undergoing the procedure. If we put aside this “last minute” salvation of reasoning and freedom, the events occurring in between the approval of the law and the Court verdict were far from being exemplary, as I will explain later. If we were to use such events as indicators of the functioning of Italian democracy, we would inevitably reach quite pessimistic conclusions. Law 40 hindered scientific research in general terms, it did not only put very strict and unreasonable limits both on assisted reproduction (Why only three G. Boniolo: The Art of Deliberating, SAPERE 6, pp. 147–178, 2012. © Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012


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embryos? Why should we not make pre-implantation diagnosis for genetic diseases when Law 194 of the 22nd of May 1978 grants the right to abortion in the case of a diseased foetus?), and on research on embryos and human embryonic stem cells. I do not want to go into the discussion of whether there are more ethically plausible alternatives based on molecular and cellular techniques. Whether such techniques exist is not relevant here. It is not interesting to discuss the possibility of reprogramming adult cells into stem cells, as occurs for the so called induced Pluripotent Stem Cells, where there are no embryos involved and thus all the correlated ethical implications can be avoided. The issue here is that there was a law that obstructed certain research on the basis of religious beliefs held by a fraction of the population. Impeding scientific research means hindering enjoyment of the positive consequences it can have on knowledge and health for the whole population (including those who are against such research). From this point of view, the argument of those who claimed that research was not entirely hindered is very weak. Obviously, we can carry out research without human embryonic stem cells; however, the real issue is that there is prohibition of research on such cells. Yet, let us go back to those dark days. The Italian Radical Party interpreted the discontent of many Italians, some even of the Catholic religion (whose interpretation of Catholicism was evidently different from those who were against Law 40), who considered Law 40 to be too severe a limitation to individual freedom and to freedom of research. In 2004, the Radical Party filed a request of referendum for the abrogation of the law at the Corte di Cassazione (the highest Italian court of law). As I mentioned in the first chapter, the referendum is one of the few genuine instruments of direct (but not deliberative) citizens’ participation within representative democracy. However, in 2005, the Constitutional Court ruled against one of the referendum questions, the one dealing with the total abrogation of the law. The motivation given was that such law was “constitutionally necessary”, as it was the first systematic attempt to legislate on the matter of assisted reproduction. Nevertheless, the Constitutional Court ruled in favour of those referendum questions that did not undermine the general structure of the law but that concerned individual choices that could not be ruled upon, that is, 1) the prohibition of research on embryos and, therefore, on embryonic stem cells; 2) the limit of three embryos and the obligation of implanting them all; 3) the attribution to the embryo of the same legal status as the mother (this was the content of the paragraph 1 of article 1); 4) the prohibition of heterologous fertilisation (this was the content of the paragraph 3 of article 4). At this point the fun began! Of the 49,794,704 citizens who had the right to vote, almost none of them wanted to vote on the 12th and 13th of June 2005. Only 25% of them went to the polling stations and the referendum failed because of lack of quorum. Was it because 75% of those with the right to vote were anarchists? I do not think so. Was Cardinal Ruini right in his interview on the Vatican Radio (14th of June 2005), when he proclaimed that abstention was the “result of the maturity of the Italian people, who refused to give an opinion on such overly complex and technical issues, having a profound love for life as well as diffidence towards any science that wants to manipulate life”? I do not think he is right (even if I appreciate his sense of humour!).

5.1 What a Good Deliberator Does Not Do


In reality, there was a deliberately insane campaign both in favour of and against the referendum in general and the referendum questions. Consequently, it was not bizarre that only 25% of the citizens decided to vote. Some people (like Cardinal Ruini) took this disastrous result as a consequence of the inability of the average Italian to understand the complexity of the issue: of course a ridiculous explanation with offensive implications regarding the intelligence of Italian citizens. Moreover, the referendum issue involved only elementary notions of human embryology that any decent scientific communication should have clarified in full. Instead, communication about the issue was far from excellent, to put it euphemistically. There were scientists who started to discuss subjects they had little knowledge of, venturing arrogantly and egotistically into the fields of ontology and ethics. Thus, on the one hand, they gave an example of that selftransmigration of authority that I deplored in previous chapters; on the other hand, they created philosophical monsters with which they fed the collective imagination. Philosophers, or better would-be-philosophers, did not want to be left behind in the creation of monsters that would have horrified the great philosophers of the past that they continuously mentioned as their masters. In particular, many of them confused philosophy with history of philosophy and produced fully useless, misleading and out context confabulations on the basis of interpretations of what Plato and Aristotle wrote two thousand years ago. Others talked gibberish about scientific entities and processes they knew little of, with the conviction that they had the right to pontificate about contemporary molecular biology without the need to study it. Finally, all of them, both scientists and would-be-philosophers of either secular or religious inspiration, decided independently, or maybe in a moment of collective delusion, that it was nice to mix up bits of molecular biology, fragments of ethics, portions of ontology and abundant chunks of religion to produce an infernal bolus. Such a bolus, even if covered with honey – as veterinarians do with animals to persuade them to swallow medicine –, would never have been of any use to a human citizen, unless he or she had extraordinary analytical and critical abilities. The most startling aspect of that crazy debate was that nobody tried to make clear the important distinction between a moral prejudice and an ethical stance. Some might ask: “What are you talking about? What important distinction do you mean?” The answer is easy: an ethical stance is a view on human behaviour that allows expression of judgment on whether behaviour is good or bad on the basis of good reasons. In the absence of justificatory good reasons, we only have a moral prejudice and not an ethical stance. Of course, we can enjoy all the moral prejudices we want in our own homes, but this is not the issue. The real problem is that if someone wants to participate in a public discussion, then they cannot simply say that a given behaviour is good or bad. As I have repeatedly stated, the fulcrum of any ethical stance lies in its justification. Offering a justification for an ethical judgement on a given behaviour means offering plausible and sharable reasons upon which such a judgement can be grounded. If we keep this in mind, those who propose a real ethical stance rarely try to place it in full opposition to different stances and, even less, to supporters of different stances. On the contrary, by providing reasons that anyone can share and


5 Let Us Learn How to Deliberate before Deliberating!

find plausible, they try to find an ethical agreement on a rational basis. In other words, they do not only offer a judgment; they offer an argument in support of a judgement. If the argument is sound, that is, if other people are unable to show that it is weak or wrong, then it should be accepted along with the moral judgement it supports. Likewise, it should not be a problem if the argument is not sound, that is, if someone has shown that it is fallacious or weak: it should just be abandoned like the moral judgement it supported. This is not the case with moral prejudices, which live in an argumentative vacuum: “This is what I think, just take it as such (because this is God’s will; because this is my party’s will; because this is my ideology’s will)”. Unfortunately, such prejudices are of scarce ethical interest. Ethics is not just the expression of one’s will, desire, intuition or gut feeling about the acceptability (or not) of a given behaviour. Examples of such intolerable confusion between moral prejudice and ethical stance can be found everywhere. Evidence for this is the judgement expressed in an essay published in ‘New Republic’ by Leon Richard Kass. He is a Catholic and controversial bioethicist. Between 2001 and 2005 he chaired The President's Council on Bioethics established by George Walker Bush in substitution of the National Bioethics Advisory Commission appointed by William Jefferson Clinton in 1996. In that article – which had a journalistic rather than philosophical profile Kass stated his opposition against cloning without offering the reader any argument that could render it an ethical stance. He just uttered his repugnance and disgust towards such a technique. Fortunately, many dissenting voices censored him severely and restored the argumentative ground; for example, this is what John Harris did in 1998 (see his Clones, Genes, and Immortality: Ethics and the Genetic Revolution) and Martha Nussbaum in her 2004 Hiding From Humanity: Disgust, Shame, and the Law. Let us go back to our problem. The period (some months) in which Law 40 was discussed was dark for anyone who believed in the possibility of expressing a correct ethical stance. It was also a barbarous period because of the dirty clash between supporters of contrary moral prejudices. Almost everyone took up the sword and the helmet and started a harsh fight to be awarded the supreme ability of scarce reasoning and confused thinking. Many were desperately trying to make the case for their own existence through the uttering of their opinions (“If I shout my prejudice, then I exist!”). Scientists with no philosophical competence, wouldbe-scientists, former scientists, popularisers, journalists, dogmatic believers, would-be-philosophers, philosophers with no scientific expertise, pettifoggers and good-time girls (there are plenty of good-time girls here in Italy at any TV debate) … everyone was fighting everyone else in a confused and disorganised shouting match, thereby conflating isegoria and parrhesia. Almost nobody wanted to understand or accept that a moral prejudice is not an ethical stance; that it can lead us to take an ethical or political position, but it cannot be a justification for such a position; that the possibility of studying the relevant matter before discussion cannot be overlooked. No Venus could come about from that boiling magma of unjustified humours in which only pestilential dogmatisms could survive. The result was the failure of the

5.1 What a Good Deliberator Does Not Do


referendum. “Well – some Catholics claimed – we have won anyway”. “But – I would reply – there are different ways of winning and it is not aesthetically satisfactory and democratically praiseworthy if we rely on the ignorance of citizens or even work to foster this lack of real knowledge.” Some may object that I am overcritical and that the situation was much better than reported here. I may well be overcritical, but I do have my reasons. Just to mention some of them, in the next section 5.1 would like to recall a particularly “surreal” stage of that rhetorically terrible debate. Thus, I hope, no one could be entitled to consider precipitous and non-benevolent my judgement on it. Moreover, from what I will narrate, we could also gain a concrete perception of what we should never do when we deliberate or debate.

5.1.2 “A Conclusive ‘Argument’ Never Considered before” There were different claims in favour of or against the referendum for the abrogation of parts of Law 40. The readers of the ‘Corriere della Sera’ (one of the most sold Italian newspapers) found one such claim exposed in an article by Emanuele Severino on the 1st of December 2004: ‘L’embrione e il paradosso di Aristotele’ [‘The Embryo and Aristotle’s paradox’]. We could foresee from the very title what uncommon philosophical beauty and depth it could contain. Many claim that the embryo is a human being. However, aside from their intentions, their logic – if it wants to be coherent with their principles – leads them to say that the embryo is not a human being. This can be grasped through a decisive “argument”, which has never been considered before and that I will expose here for the first time in the hope it is understood. It is commonly believed that humans and nature are capable of making infinite things and doing infinite work. […] With Aristotle, the principle according to which the capability exists before being actualized or implemented has become evident. […] Aristotle called such a capability “power”, and he said that everything capable to be or to do something is “in potency” in being or doing. […] It is a principle, accepted both by those who claim that the embryo is already a human being and by those who claim that the embryo is not already a human being, that the embryo, coming about from the man’s sperm and the woman’s egg, is a human being “in potency” – that is, something that in “normal” conditions would have the ability of becoming a human being –. The two opposite parties clash upon an additional feature of “potency”. The first party (e.g., the Catholics) considers the embryo as an already-human-being, in particular in being it is already in “potency”. The second party, instead, considers the embryo, although being “in potency” a human, as not-being-already-human. […] The embryo – it is affirmed – is in potency an-alreadybeing-human. But, as we have seen, exactly because “in potency” human, the embryo is in potency non-human as well. Therefore, it is in potency a being-already-non-human as well. It is already human and already non-human as well. In the embryo, these two opposites are necessarily joined together. Exactly because of this, the embryo is not a human. Indeed – even for those who think in the light of the idea of “potency” – the authentic human is human, and is not non-human as well. If a colour is both red and non-red, such a (monstrous) colour is not red. Analogously, if the embryo, in potency, is that being already human necessarily joined together with that being already non-human, it follows that the embryo is not already human.


5 Let Us Learn How to Deliberate before Deliberating!

Alas, my limited mind is so confused by all these ‘nots’, hyphens and ‘alreadys’. Will I ever “understand” the “decisive ‘argument’ never considered before” that is exposed here “for the first time”? God knows! First of all, let me ask a possibly naïve question: why should someone who asserts to have found for the first time a final argument about a complex philosophical issue that has been debated worldwide write an article for an Italian newspaper and not submit an essay to some peer-reviewed international philosophical journal? God knows! I have a really hard time trying to understand this. It is as if someone who thinks they have found a treatment for cancer not submitting it to ‘Nature’ and the international community of his peer scholars, but to sending it to an Italian newspaper. The scope of a newspaper is different as it is not to convey important and decisive breakthroughs in science and culture, but rather to provide information, also about scientific discoveries and humanistic novelties, via a language understandable to its average public. If someone is believed to be a great thinker or to have a great idea that is possibly “decisive” and “never conceived before”, then the first step would be to submit the idea to the judgement of the international community that works with that topic. This is the only way in which the thinker can have feedback about the validity of the proposal. If the judgements are positive, then the work will be published in the correct forum; otherwise, it will receive criticism and it will be rejected. Let us come back to that article. Which epistemological level is the author considering? Is he speaking of entities? Is he speaking of concepts that represent entities? Or of statements containing concepts that refer to entities? Where is the contradiction he has discovered located? Are the entities, the concepts or the statements contradictory? If we do not clear up this confusion, the average reader will hardly benefit from reading his article, as anyone may easily understand. What is his audience? For sure, the language is not apt (and transparent) to the average reader of ‘Corriere della Sera’, as it is convoluted and confused (did the author believe that the average reader of the ‘Corriere della Sera’ thinks that the more an article is convoluted and confused the deeper it is?). For sure, the article is not easy to digest for those contemporary philosophers who study the issue of potency in a far clearer and more refined way (did the author want to caricature the “obscurely metaphysical” bad philosopher stigmatised by the Neo-positivists from Vienna and Berlin in the Thirties?). Furthermore, we should not forget that philosophy has advanced very much from Aristotle’s time both in terms of analytic techniques and in terms of new ideas. The same notion of potency (also in its Aristotelian meaning) has been the object of very refined and extremely formal reflections that have no resemblance whatsoever with the content and the style of the article. Moreover, (unless a miracle occurs) if the dad (the father’s sperm) is Homo sapiens and so is the mum (the mother’s egg), then the resulting zygote and the successive stages (morula, blastula, … foetus) is Homo sapiens. In short, a zygote is human, if the sperm and the egg that begets it derive from human beings. No way: potency, act, Aristotle and the like have nothing to do with this. However, as we are good people, even in the face of deliriant claims, let us be tolerant with the manifest state of lack of grace the author was in while writing his bizarre article.

5.1 What a Good Deliberator Does Not Do


Perhaps, he did not have in mind the ‘human being’ in the sense of a member of the species Homo sapiens, but something else. Who knows exactly what. Besides this point, we are still left with many perplexities. With his usual abuse of negations and hyphens, the author writes: “If a colour is both red and non-red, such a (monstrous) colour is not red. Analogously, if the embryo, in potency, is that being already human necessarily joined together with being already nonhuman, it follows that the embryo is not already human”. This is very obscure, to say the least. First of all, it is obvious that if something is in potency (i.e., capable to become) both A and not-A, then it is neither A nor not-A (and not just not-A, as the author claims with a strange interpretation of the classical principle of contradiction). If this is the very kernel of the “decisive argument never considered before”, then perhaps we are very close to the discovery that heated water may be warm. To conclude, we have the true pearl: the colour that is both red and not-red. Here, we are not speaking of something that can become red and not-red, here we have something that “is both red and non-red”; that is, something that is in act. Hence, the author is introducing an analogy that has no relevance with his supposed thesis. Of course, we may be charitable towards this reasoning mistake, even if Plato, as we have seen in the previous chapters, would not have been so. You might think that everything ended with the valuable offering of this “decisive argument never considered before”. In reality, this was not the case. For, the most sophisticated readers of ‘Corriere della Sera’ had a further opportunity to fuel the playful side of their intellect. Indeed, on the 6th of January 2005, they found a gift: an article by Giovanni Reale entitled ‘L'embrione va difeso, è vita. Lo ha spiegato anche Aristotele’ (‘The embryo ought to be defended: it is life. Even Aristotle says it’). And we read: Emanuele Severino published in this journal an article entitled ‘L'embrione e il paradosso di Aristotele’ where he discussed philosophically the problem of the use of stem cells and its implications and consequences for metaphysics and morality. The article gained huge attention, but at the same time it raised strong perplexities and, indeed, requires a number of things to be made more precise. Severino’s reasoning hinges on the famous Aristotelian doctrine of “potency” and “act”. […] He is partially right, but the kernel of his argument is fallacious, as we shall see. He is right in considering it wrong to state – as some do – that the embryo is a human (or person, indeed) already in act, while the different features of a human that will be disclosed in development are in potency. In fact, in the embryo only the structure - and, therefore, the formal plan - appears to be in act; a structure that still needs to be ontologically implemented. Hence, the embryo is a human “in potency” – even in the strong meaning of this – yet “not-already-in-act”. If we say that the embryo is already human in act, then we would be turning one the foundational structures of Aristotelian metaphysics upside down. […] Severino is wrong, instead (from the standpoint of the true Aristotelian doctrine of potency and act), when he says that «if the embryo can become a human in act, then, exactly since it “can become” (without necessarily becoming it), it can also become not human, i.e., something that a human would not be». In reality, to claim that, in the embryo, there is both the possibility of being a “human” and the possibility of being a “non-human” goes against the Stagirite’s thought. […] To justify his thesis, Severino invokes Aristotle’s claim according to which «every potency is at one and the same time a potency of the opposite». But, with this claim, Aristotle makes reference to features that are accidental and not essential; not to the substance or substrate, but to


5 Let Us Learn How to Deliberate before Deliberating!

features that concern, or anyhow make reference to, the substance […]. As a consequence, the following conclusion drawn by Severino does not hold: «Thus, we cannot say that we kill a human by killing an embryo». In fact, by killing the embryo, we would eliminate the possibility that the potential being a human that is found in the embryo could be implemented. In my view, we should make one thing precise, however: what I just said is of particular value for the embryo that is already positioned. Aristotle himself makes his idea about this very clear: «And in all cases where the generative principle is contained in the thing itself, one thing is potentially another when, if nothing external hinders, it will of itself become the other. E.g., the semen is not yet potentially a man; for it must further undergo a change in some other medium. But when, by its own generative principle, it has already come to have the necessary attributes, in this state it is now potentially a man».

This is an odd reply: it seems that here it is ignored, again, that if mum and dad are humans, and they have sex to procreate (and everything goes well), then the embryo is human. Again, the principle of non-contradiction appears to be misunderstood. But the true philosophical nonsense occurs when it is stated that Severino is wrong because he did not get the right interpretation of the Aristotelian texts! Trying to solve an ontological and ethical issue on the basis of the exegesis of a 2400-year-old text is really astonishing. But why should we appeal to Aristotle and not to Plato, Kant, Kierkegaard, Hegel or Nietzsche? God knows! Alas, the naïve author of this reply thought he had a compelling argumentum ad auctoritatem, while he only had an ineffective argumentum ad verecundiam. By the way, do the authors of these would-be philosophical texts know what an embryo is? Was this the end of the debate? Unfortunately not! The philosophical pièce continued. On the 6th of January 2005, Severino wrote his reply with the title ‘No, secondo il pensiero occidentale definirlo così è contraddittorio’ (‘No, according to Western thought, such a definition is contradictory’), where the author makes again the case for his “decisive argument that has never been considered before”: Is the embryo a human being? My article in the ‘Corriere’ did NOT want to show how my philosophical discourse can answer this question. (I have repeatedly written that anybody ending a human life is a murder). What did I want to show then with that article? 1) That, beyond the intentions of those who accept the Aristotelian concept of «potency», such a concept forces us to deny that an embryo is a human being, even potentially; 2) That such forced entailment holds because the very concept of «potency» is contradictory and absurd. This thesis is far from being familiar (obviously, at first sight, one may not understand it or may even reject it) and it has broad consequences, because Greek philosophical thought is the environment in which the whole history of the Western culture (including Christianity) has grown up in and, in fact, right at the centre of this, is Aristotle’s reflection upon the meaning of «potency». Hence, an enormous incoherence drives our civilisation, which, however, does not need either truth or coherence to be powerful. This has not been understood by many.

Indeed, many (including me) did not get it. In particular, I did not get why “the very concept of «potency» is contradictory and absurd”. It does not seem to me that clear and compelling arguments have been offered in favour of the thesis, rather bizarre in truth, according to which potency would be contradictory and absurd.

5.2 Shall We Deliberate?


However, we may still have learned something useful from this surreal debate: never follow the example of these two authors. This is the only moral we can draw from such sad story. From what is argued in the previous chapters, it is clear that it does not make sense to speak of deliberation or of deliberative democracy, if nobody knows how to deliberate and all we have got is a bunch of parrhesiasts. It follows that one of the main tasks, actually the first one, that falls to supporters of deliberation should be to teach how to deliberate, that is, to teach both the methodological canon of good deliberation and how to offer correct and rational arguments and counterarguments. Thus, all those who participate in debates with dogmatic arrogance or argumentative fallacies should be stigmatized and, then, banned them from the debate. As it has been repeatedly stated: if we really want to have a good deliberative debate, then we ought to impede the participation to those who are unable or unwilling to debate correctly. Is this blameworthy? Is this an antidemocratic behaviour? The answers to such questions are not really important. It is far more important to understand that this is the only way of producing a good deliberative situation. If you are unable to play tennis, just do not play it. If you cannot ride a horse, just do not ride it. It would be different, if you wished to learn how to do these things. For, once you have learnt how to play tennis, then you will be entitled to play it. Once you have learnt how to ride a horse, then you will be entitled to ride it. Once you learn how to deliberate, then you will be entitled to deliberate. We cannot just praise deliberation in ethics and politics (see Gracia, 2003; Parker, 2005), we should also strive to make it really effective.

5.2 Shall We Deliberate? Take one community, Europe, and then take two countries within that community: Italy and the UK. What we have got is two different methods of putting together ethics and biomedicine: on the one hand, public engagement in the decisional process, on the other hand “Gather the experts. Close the door. Design a policy. Roll it out. Reject criticism”: a motto that synthesizes a method employed both by George W. Bush to decide upon the war against Iraq and by William J. Clinton to formulate his public health policies (see Ober, 2008). Let us look at these two ways of implementing policies.

5.2.1 Long Life to Cybrids In November 2006, two research groups (one leaded by Stephen Minger at King’s College London, and the other by Lyle Armstrong at the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne) asked the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) the permit to make use of a cell biology technique, called interspecies Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (iSCNT).


5 Let Us Learn How to Deliberate before Deliberating!

The HFEA is a British agency associated with the Department of Health and established in 1991 in compliance with the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act promulgated by the Parliament in 1990. This Act gave both the guidelines for the legal use of human gametes and embryos, and bestowed on the agency the power of regulating any new situation concerning this field. By the way, the regulation of the HFEA says that only half of its members must have specific knowledge of human embryology and genetics, the other half, including its president, have to come from “different walks of life”. Moreover any appointed member has to become a civil servant; that is, a citizen working in, and for, a public institution, that is, “at the service of” other citizens. Thus, they have to accept ‘The seven principles underpinning public life’ contained in the ‘Guidance for members concerning conflicts of interest’ of HFEA: 1.







Selflessness. Holders of public office should take decisions solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or other friends. Integrity. Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might influence them in the performance of their official duties. Objectivity. In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit. Accountability. Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office. Openness. Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands. Honesty. Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest. Leadership. Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.

Let us go back to our problem. Interspecies Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer is a technique that allows transfer of a somatic cell nucleus into another somatic cell of a different species that has been previously deprived of its nucleus. The result is a cybrid, a word resulting from the contraction of ‘cytoplasmatic hybrid’. The obtained cybrid is not a genuine hybrid, because in biology a hybrid is a living being derived from the union of a sperm of a given species and an egg of a different species. This is the case when we cross species such as Equus asinus and Equus caballus. We obtain either a mule (the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse) or a hinny (the offspring of a female donkey and a male horse). The cybrid is not even a chimera, as in biology this is a living being composed by two or more cell populations that are genetically distinct and derive from distinct zygotes.

5.2 Shall We Deliberate?


The subject of the query to the HFEA concerned the permit of producing cybrids by using enucleated egg cells of non-human animals in which a somatic human cell nucleus would be inserted. Such a cybrid would be developed to the stage of blastocyst in order to obtain embryonic stem cells that, through this technique, would be human. Such stem cells could then be used for research purposes. Ideally, in the future they could also be employed for therapeutic purposes, since these stem cells have the same genetic information of the human being from which the nucleus of the original somatic cell was taken. Therefore, the iSCNT is a technique that allows us to obtain human embryonic stem cells from hybrid cytoplasmic embryos, i.e. cybrids, without ever touching a single human embryo. Needless to add, the iSCNT produces neither transgenic human embryos, that is, human embryos with non-human genes, nor transgenic animal embryos, that is, non-human animal embryos with human genes. This technique had already been discussed in international journals. In 2003, a Chinese research team used rabbit egg cells as recipients. In 2006, an American research team made use of cow egg cells. Of course, it raises scientific problems (for example, in the cybrid non-human mitochondria are present with their own genes) as well as ontological problems (for example, is the cybrid human or nonhuman?) and ethical problems (for example, is it morally legitimate to fuse human material with non-human material? Is this a violation of human dignity? Is this a first step towards the creation of possible monsters in the lab “by putting together” different species? And so on.). What was the reaction of the HFEA upon receiving this query from the two research groups? On the one hand, the HFEA could have elicited a debate in the ‘Times’ or ‘Sun’, or could have started a series of TV talk shows with goodlooking starlets; on the other hand, it could have taken its decision independently of the citizens’ opinions. Instead, the HFEA decided to put in place something totally different that has become an example of public engagement in decision making. The idea was to get citizens involved in the decisional process. To this end, HFEA started a number of consultations on many aspects of the issue (between the 27th of April and 20th of July 2007). In this way, HFEA’s answer to the problem incorporated public opinion and the debate of public ethics. The consultation was divided into two parts: one had the aim of understanding what the citizens inclination was; the other aimed at understanding the orientation of the scientific community. In any event, the first act was the preparation of a very clear document in which, without any ambiguity, the relevant science of iSCNT and related techniques were fully explained, thereby providing people with the minimal biological basis to give an informed judgement. Moreover, in the document, it was made clear and unambiguous which ethical problems such a technique would entail, the possible solutions to these problems and the possible arguments that could have been offered in favour of or against each solution were also set out. In short, this very well structured document gave the citizens the opportunity to understand the issue and all its scientific, ethical and social implications. The document also contained a questionnaire that could be filled in online.


5 Let Us Learn How to Deliberate before Deliberating!

Immediately we realize that the HFEA considered British citizens capable of understanding the issue, contrary to what occurred in Italy regarding Law 40 where many (like Cardinal Ruini) expressed quite negative judgements about their fellow citizens’ capacity of understanding. Of course, it could also be possible that the average British citizen is smarter than the average Italian citizen! Perhaps, Italians, being Mediterranean and therefore more exposed to the sunlight, could really have less ability to understand “such overly complex and technical issues” (I love Cardinal Ruini’s sense of humour!). The HFEA scheduled three types of additional consultations: a deliberative meeting, an opinion poll and a public debate. The HFEA thought that, through the use of different methods and involving different social strata, the attitude of the British citizens could be better understood. For the deliberative meeting, a sample of 104 people was chosen and the issue was explained to them in detail. Then, their ideas were registered. 44 of them were sub-sampled for a one-day meeting, where they had the opportunity to discuss among themselves and with experts and, at the end, to express their own opinion. This meeting was recorded and the video is available on the website of the HFEA. The opinion poll was conducted by involving a statistically significant sample of the population (2000 residents in Great Britain and 60 residents in Northern Ireland). In the end, at the public debates 153 persons attended voluntarily. These meetings were recorded as well and the recording can be found on the website of the HFEA. As mentioned before, the consultation with citizens was coupled with an extremely accurate analysis of the scientific literature on the subject and with the hearing of expert counsellors. Only at the end of this multifaceted process, the HFEA decided that, even if not all citizens would agree with it, there was no strong reason to ban this kind of research and therefore it could be carried out (even if under appropriate control).

5.2.2 “Gather the Experts. Close the Door. Design a Policy. Roll It Out. Reject Criticism” Let us consider an Italian case, now. Have you ever heard of forensic biobanks? We are accustomed to watching TV series such as C.S.I. Crime Scene Investigation (in its different versions set in Las Vegas, Miami and New York) or Bones, and we might think that the storing of genetic fingerprints in biobanks is unproblematic. But is this really so? On the 27th of May 2005, in Prüm (Germany), a treaty was signed by Belgium, Germany, Spain, France, Luxemburg, Holland and Austria. It was a treaty concerning “the stepping up of cross-border co-operation” between police forces to combat “terrorism, cross-border crime and illegal migration”. This treaty, even if it was signed by a number of the countries in the European Union, did not have any communitarian juridical basis. Actually this was missing until February 2007, when it was enforced into European legislation. The treaty also established that the exchange of information and the creation of DNA biobanks was necessary. The aim was to make possible the cross-comparison of genetic profiles obtained

5.2 Shall We Deliberate?


from people who already stood trial for some criminal activity with the genetic profiles obtained from biological samples found at the crime scene or from human remains found after accidents or natural catastrophes. It should be noted that what the Prüm Treaty established was perfectly coherent with a recommendation by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe already made on the 10th of February 1992 (nr. R(92)1) concerning the usage of DNA analysis for criminal jurisdiction. Moreover, on the 30th of November 2009 (2009/C 296/01), this recommendation was then maintained by the Council of the European Union in its resolution concerning the exchange of results on DNA analysis. In Italy a Gruppo di lavoro sulla Biosicurezza (Working Group on Biosecurity) was created within the Comitato Nazionale per la Biosicurezza, le Biotecnologie e le Scienze per la Vita (National Committee For Biosecurity, Biotechnology And The Life Sciences). It had the mandate to formulate a draft law on the ‘Norms for the institution of a central archive of DNA and for the technical-scientific Supervisory Committee’. The work of this group ended on the 14th of April 2005. However, the Italian Council of Ministers and Parliament did not succeed in going through the lawmaking process. Actually this process begun again in the following parliamentary term (in 2007), when the Presidency of the Council of Ministers asked the Garante per la Protezione dei Dati Personali (Authority for the Protection of Personal Data) for an opinion on the draft law formulated in the previous parliamentary term. The new lawmaking ended on 30th of June 2009, when the Parliament approved Law 85, which officially ruled the establishment of the biobank. Among the many aspects of the law, it is worth focusing on article 11 for a while. This states that the standard DNA analysis and typing, which – according to art. 6 – is “the complex of technical lab procedures that lead to the production of a DNA profile”, are those that are suggested by the European Network of Forensic Science Institutes (ENFSI), whose “mission” is “sharing knowledge, exchanging experiences and coming to mutual agreements in the field of forensic science”. In April 2009, the DNA working group of the ENFSI released a document concerning “DNA-Database Management. Review and Recommendations”. In this document, the supposedly best scientific basis for a correct DNA typing was suggested. By the way, the above-mentioned resolution by the Council of the European Union of the 30th of November 2009 on the exchange of DNA analysis results was based on that document. In the Appendix, the genetic markers that had to be used for identification were indicated. It should be recalled that, as section 5.1 of the resolution affirms, “"DNA marker" means the locus in a molecule [that is, a small bit of chromosome] which typically contains different information as regards different individuals”. The chosen set of markers was called the ‘European Standard Set’ (ESS) and it was only slightly different from the one adopted by the FBI: the Combined DNA Index System, CODIS (see figure below were the markers are shown).


5 Let Us Learn How to Deliberate before Deliberating!

We may wonder, just out of curiosity, whether the taking of a biological sample could be compulsory, i.e. made against the persons’ will. Yes, in fact the procedure is compulsory, as stated by articles 24, 25 and 29. At this point what I wish to emphasize should be evident: differently from what occurred in the UK for the cybrids, which was decided upon through a real process of citizen engagement, in the Italian case the full process took place independently of citizens. Yet again, were Italian citizens not smart enough to understand “overly complex and technical issues”? However, the Italian governors, on behalf of the Italian people they represent and get paid by, preferred to 1) Gather the experts: gathering a number of experts of their choice (the Working Group on Biosecurity of the National Committee For Biosecurity, Biotechnology And The Life Sciences); 2) Close the door: removing the decisional process from the sight of the citizens and locking it into private rooms accessible only to selected people; 3) Design a policy: writing down a draft law; 4) Roll it out: to promulgate it as a state law; 5) Reject criticism: actually, rather than actually rejecting criticism, they just prepared themselves to reject possible criticisms, as the Italian citizens did not appear to be worried by this law or by the way in which it was brought about. In short, long live deliberation and long live public engagement in the decisional process. But should we wish long life to those who want to deprive the citizens of the right to express their will?

5.2 Shall We Deliberate?


5.2.3 Cybrids Forever In the previous paragraph, I mentioned the Italian National Committee For Biosecurity, Biotechnology And The Life Sciences. It was established in 1999 by the Presidency of the Council of Ministers with the task of “supporting the Government in the adoption of scientific, economic and social policies” concerning biotechnologies and the life sciences. But this is not the only official institution that Italy has adopted in this field. There is also the Comitato Nazionale per la Bioetica (National Bioethics Committee), the CNB, whose effectiveness is much debated. It was founded in 1990 “with the task of expressing opinions, and also for the purpose of preparing legislative acts, to address the ethical and legal problems that may arise as a result of progress in scientific research and technological applications on life.” Apparently, the CNB looked like a good and just institution. Apparently, of course! We should not forget that in Italy institutional appointments are almost never politically neutral. If the government is conservative, so is the CNB; if the government is progressive, so is the CNB. In short, the CNB is always coherent with the standing government. Because of this, it may be surprising for some that some members of the CBN have succeeded to survive all governments and keep their appointment. Perhaps, this is just the distinctive sign of their immortal, irreplaceable competence and wisdom! Whatever the sociological or psychological cause behind their ability to preserve a life-long appointment at CNB is, I wish to recall the opinion expressed by the CNB on the 26th of June 2009 entitled: ‘Chimeras and hybrids. With a specific consideration for cytoplasmic hybrids’. Cybrids, then! “In Italy, too – some may conclude – there was a serious debate”. Not at all: actually there was no debate! You may think, therefore, that in the case of cybrids the motto seen before was adopted: “Gather the experts. Close the door. Design a policy. Roll it out. Reject criticism”. But this was not the case. Probably under the inspiration of that song entitled ‘We Are the Champions’ (written in 1977 by Farrokh Bulsara, aka Freddie Mercury) the members of the CNB decided that they were the experts. Thus, they “locked” themselves in their rooms to deliver an opinion on the moral legitimacy of cybrid experimentation. Since, naturally by a mere and bizarre coincidence, the majority of the members of the CNB has a strong propensity to accept the viewpoint of the standing government and the minority that of the parliamentary opposition, the CNB has the habit of expressing two-sided opinions containing the point of view of the majority and the point of view of the minority. Aren’t we living in a democracy? Then, we must have democracy in ethics as well! Are you claiming that in ethics votes do not matter? You are seriously out of touch! Thus, even in the case of cybrids the CNB successfully produced a document in which some members (the majority) declared to be against, while the remaining part (the minority) declared to be in favour of cybrids. After all, the document dates to the time in which the Italian government was proclaiming itself to be rightist and certainly obedient to the dictates of the Roman Catholic Church, which in that period had a rather conservative view on ethics.


5 Let Us Learn How to Deliberate before Deliberating!

However, I do not want to go into a detailed analysis of the arguments proposed in that document. Partially, because I am not so sure they could be qualified as arguments at all, as they all closely follow this scheme: “Action A is good/bad as it is coherent/incoherent with principle X”. In other words, it is not a masterpiece of argumentation. Besides this not insignificant point, I want to focus very briefly on another aspect of the CNB document. I have to say that the document is well structured: there is an exposition of the science involved; the relevant ontological issue (what a cybrid is) is addressed; and an ethical judgement is expressed (even if not so cogently justified, as said!). But let us stay with the ontological part. What could we say after having read it? Embarrassing! The problem at stake is the identity of the cybrid: Is it human? Is it animal? Is it something different? This is a real problem. Some members of the CNB, perhaps with the intention of eliciting amusement in the reader, spoke of “uncertain identity”, very much like paternity in certain cases (mater certa est, pater numquam). Yet philosophers have been speaking about identity for the last 2000 years and, apparently, some of their conclusions have been accepted; though, these conclusions seem not to have reached the rooms of the CNB yet. First of all, any discussion about identity requires understanding, given two entities X and Y, what the properties PX of X and the properties PY of Y are such that their identity is a necessary and sufficient condition for the identity of X and Y. In short, X is identical to Y if and only if PX are identical to PY. The necessary condition is rather trivial, because it says that if X and Y are identical, then their properties are also (this is the principle of indiscernibility of identicals). The sufficient condition is more interesting: if PX are identical to PY, then X and Y are identical (this is the principle of the identity of indiscernibles). Here we have the true problem: what are the properties PX and PY, such that their identity implies the identity of the entities to which they belong? At this point, the philosophical problem of identity divides in two. On the one hand, we have the problem of identity at a given time; on the other hand, we have the problem of identity over different times. The former, given two entities X and Y, concerns the determination, of the properties PX and PY such that, if identical, would permit to conclude that we actually have only one entity. Instead, the latter concerns the determination of the properties PX and PY whose identity through time would allow us to state that we are considering a single entity through time. To exemplify, what are the properties whose identity through time permit us to establish that this foetus and that 50-year-old adult are the same individual? Needless to say, the problem of identity, either at a given time or at different times, is totally different from both the problem of identification and the problem of membership. The problem of identification has to do with those properties that allow identification of an entity as such. As you may have guessed, this is the typical problem of forensic medicine and police investigation. To possess certain fingerprints, certain somatic traits, a certain genetic profile, as we have seen above with the forensics biobanks, gives the possibility of identifying a given human individual. But these properties do not permit us to establish its identity at a given time or at different times.

5.2 Shall We Deliberate?


The problem of membership concerns those properties that an entity has to possess to be considered as an element of a given set. For example, to be an element of the set “bachelor” you have to be male, adult and unmarried; to belong to the set “incompetent in field W”, you have to lack the appropriate knowledge of W. Not all issues of membership are that easy to solve, but this is not the place to consider this problem. In any event, if we want to solve the problem of membership, we should go through some steps. For example, one possible way is to give an intensional definition of a certain set; that is, we can indicate the properties that must be possessed by any element of that set. Then, for any given entity, one checks whether it possesses such properties. If it possesses them, then it is an element of the set; otherwise, it is not. In our case, the members of the CNB (by the way, it would be interesting to investigate what properties an Italian citizen should posses in order to be an element of the CNB!) appear to have faced the problem of whether the cybrid is human. Aside from the fact that I do not understand whether there is a problem here at all (obviously, the cybrid is not human, as it is a cytoplasmic hybrid!), members of the CNB addressed the wrong problem in the wrong way. Of course, identification is not the problem. I think no one is interested in the issue of how to identify a particular cybrid as such. Is identity the problem at stake? I do not think so. For sure, identity at different times is not the problem. It is not interesting whether a given cybrid at time t is the same as this other cybrid at a later time t’. Nor do I believe identity at a given time is involved here; that is, determining the identical properties between two cybrids that would entail their being the same cybrid. Instead, I have the impression that the members of the CNB wanted to examine the potential membership of the cybrid to a given set; in particular, to the set called ‘Homo sapiens’. However, in order to do so, they should have indicated the properties that allow us to consider an individual as a member of such a set. Then, they should have indicated the properties possessed by the cybrid and, at the end, after comparing the two sets, they should conclude about the membership. Apparently, this is not what they did. Actually, I dare to say that they caused philosophical confusion, as many first-year students do when they erroneously believe that, since the language of philosophy resembles natural language, it is sufficient to master natural language to talk philosophy. Unfortunately, this is not the case: the language of philosophy is technical and one has to study hard to master it; otherwise, one runs the risk of producing misunderstandings like those we have just seen about identity, identification and membership. One last remark about this sad story concerning the Italian CNB and the cybrids affair. Do you wish to know what was the principle that some members of the CNB invoked against experimentation on cybrids? They made use of the argument from repugnance: The third ethical reason in favour of illegitimacy concerns the possible instinctive feeling of ‘repugnance’ before experimentations that put at risk the identity of the human species itself. It is an argument that goes “beyond reason”, as it is not rationally structured but based on gut reactions, feelings and emotions, yet these are not denied wisdom, judiciousness and ethical worth (one may think of the repugnance we feel before incest or cannibalism)


5 Let Us Learn How to Deliberate before Deliberating!

It seems that these advocates of repugnance fully ignored the existing arguments against repugnance and, on top, they overlooked that their acceptance of repugnance as a good tool implies that they cannot contrast the repugnance one might feel at their acts.

5.3 Perspective Theories against Method Theories At this point, I would like to go back to the first chapter, where I distinguished between perspective theories and method theories. There, I was speaking, for example, of ethical conflicts and I suggested that, while perspective theories attempt to solve them from a given ethical point of view (i.e. utilitarian, Kantian, liberal, communitarian, etc.), method theories attempt to solve them on the grounds of a decisional procedure that is ethically neutral, even if participants may well have a precise ethical view. As argued, deliberation is one of the best examples of method theories. To have a deeper understanding of this, I shall make some examples in order to clarify the subject further. Before doing this I wish to touch upon some aspects that are worth keeping in mind. The moral conflict surrounding a given matter, in particular a biomedical result or technique, should not be seen as threatening. It just means that there are different ethical views on the scenario. This is all normal and plausible. Pathology begins when disagreement is channelled through ideological and dogmatic directions coloured by a-rationality or irrationality. In this case, the conflict can no longer be solved unless one accepts compromises that could be unsatisfactory for one or all parties involved. It should be noticed that such a negative outcome may result from the presence of rhetorically bad participants as well as from the reduction of the ethical conflict to a conflict of untouchable principles and beliefs. Furthermore, we should acknowledge the idea that the deliberative debate is not simply aimed at the acceptance of a given position. Instead it is aimed at the acceptance of the underpinning argument. It is important that a deliberator persuades you of the validity of his or her arguments rather than of the truth of his or her position. It might not be easy to digest this shift from the centrality of the position to the centrality of the supporting argument. Yet, it has to be done: if the argument is compelling, which means it is found to be neither faulty nor weak, then it ought to be accepted. Such an acceptance may be provisional or limited to a given case, but it implies the acceptance of the supported position as well. If, on the contrary, the argument is wrong or not compelling, then one ought not to accept it, which implies one ought not to accept the position it was meant to support. This is the core of the deliberative “game”: you work on the soundness of the arguments, independently of any ethical perspective, and, obviously, you should not accept “players” that do not know the rules (i.e. they do not know how to deliberate).

5.3 Perspective Theories against Method Theories


A few years ago, in 2006, Jonathan Baron published a book with an intriguing title: Against bioethics. The book was a partial j’accuse against the bioethics of prattle, so to say, and in favour of a bioethics based on the utilitarian method focusing on rigorous analysis of consequences. I do not want to go into the analysis of Baron’s arguments. I just want to understand whether a perspective approach, like the utilitarian one, is really able to solve ethical conflicts. To see whether this is the case, I will use the famous Prisoner’s Dilemma. It goes as follows. There are two suspects under arrest for a crime; however, the police do not have evidence against any of them, although it is known that (at least) one of them is guilty and that both are acquainted with the crime details. Thus, the detective decides to interrogate the two separately and make a plea bargain with them upon full confession. The detective prospects the following possibilities: 1.

If one confesses and the other does not, the confessor is set free while the other is sentenced to 10 years in prison; If both do not confess, they are sentenced to 1 year in prison; If both confess, they are sentenced to 5 years in prison.

2. 3.

The problem – i.e. the dilemma – consists in trying to understand what decision the suspects should take. To have a better idea of the possible decisions that can be taken and their consequences, we may look at the following scheme.

Suspect B's viewpoint

Suspect A's viewpoint

If B confesses

If A confesses

If B does not confess

If A does not confess

and I confess

and I do not confess

and I confess

and I do not confess

and I confess

and I do not confess

and I confess

and I do not confess

I am sentenced to 5 years in prison

I am sentenced to 10 years in prison

I am set free

I am sentenced to 1 year in prison

I am sentenced to 5 years in prison

I am sentenced to 10 years in prison

I am set free

I am sentenced to 1 year in prison

As you may have guessed, it is not easy for either suspect to make their choice, because much, if not everything, depends on the other suspect’s choice. As the two suspects are mathematicians – such a coincidence! -, they decide to apply the utilitarian perspective structured in a formalism they know well: game theory. Moreover, this perspective allows them to satisfy their personal inclination towards calculation, as it permits the precise and unambiguous mathematical modelling of the situation and its solution on the basis of the increase of what is called ‘individual utility’. By ‘individual utility’ we mean the quantity of individual “happiness” or satisfaction that an agent obtains by deciding to act (and therefore acting) in a certain way. As we are dealing with a mathematical theory, individual utility is associated with a function (the ‘utility function’), which


5 Let Us Learn How to Deliberate before Deliberating!

associates each possible choice with its payoff. At this point, it is “sufficient” to elaborate the required formalism and then find the best solution that establishes the appropriate proportions of individual utilities. I do not want to get into the mathematical technicalities, which are rather amusing for anyone who has the appropriate background and is lucky enough to venture in mathematics. It is interesting to recall here that many have faced this problem formally. The first of them was the Hungarian János Neumann, who later took the name of John von Neumann. He was one of the greatest mathematicians and mathematical physicists of the past century (1903-1957) and he successfully worked in a number of different fields, such as quantum physics, computer science, abstract algebra, set theory and game theory. With reference to this latter, he published important results as single author (von Neumann, 1928) and as coauthor with the economist Oskar Morgenstern (in 1944 they wrote the seminal Theory of Games and Economic Behavior). These pioneering works opened up an entire research field that is still very lively and has received contributions from outstanding mathematicians like John Forbes Nash Jr. (Nash, 1950). It could be interesting to recall that Nash and another great Hungarian talent, that is, János Károly Harsányi (the English version of his name is John Charles Harsanyi; see Harsanyi, 1974) received the Nobel prize in economics together in 1994. In fact, in that period, Hungary gave rise to a generation of great minds: not only von Neumann and Harsanyi but also Pál Jenő Wigner, whose English name was Eugene Paul Wigner (a mathematical physicist), Pál (Paul) Erdős (a mathematician), Edward Teller (a physicist) and Leó Szilárd (a physicist). We do not have to go into great depth. It is enough, for us, to touch upon some points, in particular the minimax theorem, where ‘minimax’ means the possibility of minimising the maximum possible loss. This theorem, which was proved by von Neumann in 1928, establishes that for any two given agents (two players or, in our case, two suspects), A and B, if the situation is such that the gain (or the loss) of one agent is balanced by the gain (or the loss) of the other agent (therefore, the total resources are stable), if the number of possible decisional strategies is finite, and if each player can access total information on the situation (including the opponent’s strategy), then a value V exists and a strategy for each agent such that 1) the best result for A is V, given B’s strategy, and 2) the best result for B is –V, given A’s strategy. This means that there is a strategy common to both agents that allows them to minimise their maximum loss. At this stage, under the above scenario and the assumption that each agent/player/suspect acts by minimising the maximum loss in the best way, it follows that the best strategy will be that one in which both A and B confess. In this case, they are both sentenced to 5 years in prison. This is all good, but it requires the assumption that the choice made by each of the two suspects complies with the minimax theorem. What would occur if this assumption was dropped; i.e. if one adopted a non-utilitarian perspective? Needless to say, results would be dramatically different. To see why, we shall consider the case when suspects are Confucians and Kantians. The Confucian decides and acts on the basis of the golden rule: “You should treat others as you would like others to treat yourself”. The situation would be interpreted totally differently by two Confucian suspects:

5.3 Perspective Theories against Method Theories

Confucian suspect A's viewpoint


Confucian suspect B's viewpoint

I do not confess

I do not confess

if B confesses

if B does not confess

if A confesses

if A does not confess

then I am sentence to 10 years in prison

then I am sentenced to 1 year in prison

then I am sentence to 10 years in prison

then I am sentenced to 1 year in prison

As A is Confucian and knows for sure that B is Confucian and the same holds for B, neither confesses, because each of them behaves as he or she would like the other to behave. Hence, they are both sentenced to 1 year in prison. It should be noticed here that I am not considering the possibility that one of them mendaciously professes to be Confucian in order to cheat the other player and then take a different course of action. In short, cheating is not contemplated in this game; otherwise, the complexity of the issue would increase. Now suppose that both suspects are Kantian and aware of their both being Kantian. They take decisions (and act) in compliance with the meta-rule: “Only act according to a rule that can be universalised”. This case is still different and the above scenario would change as follows:

Kantian suspect A's viewpoint I must confess, therefore, I confess

Kantian suspect B's viewpoint I must confess, therefore, I confess

if B confesses

If B does not confess

if A confesses

If A does not confess

then I am sentenced to 5 years in prison

then I am set free

then I am sentenced to 5 years in prison

then I am set free


5 Let Us Learn How to Deliberate before Deliberating!

The moral law is an imperative for the Kantian; therefore, he or she has to confess independently of what the other suspect does. As both suspects are Kantian, they both confess and will be sentenced to 5 years in prison. The problem is solved nicely if agents are both utilitarian, both Confucian, or both Kantian. But what would have happened in the game with different ethical perspectives? Let consider the case of a Confucian against a Kantian. The scenario would be:

Confucian suspect A's viewpoint

Kantian suspect B's viewpoint I must confess, therefore, I confess

I do not confess

if B confesses

if B does not confess

then I am sentence to 10 years in prison

then I am sentenced to 1 year in prison

if A confesses

If A does not confess

then I am sentenced to 5 years in prison

then I am set free

Both the Confucian A and the Kantian B are aware of the ethical perspective of the opponent, yet they act independently of this and only in function of their own ethical perspective. This implies that B will confess, while A will not. As a consequence, the Confucian gets the poorest outcome, as he or she is sentenced to 10 years, while the Kantian will be set free. Reflecting upon this model, for however rough and hyper-simplified it may be, we could conclude that is always better (from the point of view of the number of years in prison, at least) to have a shared decisional strategy in conformity with a single perspective. What would happen, instead, if decisional strategies were not shared because of different initial perspectives, in particular ethical perspectives? Unavoidably, there will be someone who will get the worst of it. We have seen what would be the result of attempting to solve a moral conflict starting from pre-established ethical perspectives. The entire matter would be entirely different if the conflict had been approached through the deliberative method. In this case, even if there we could not predict the final outcome because everything depends on how deliberation develops, there would not be any conflict among perspectives but just a discussion on the tenability of the arguments proposed for or against a position.

5.4 On Good Manners and the Deliberative Canon


5.4 On Good Manners and the Deliberative Canon If everyone had received a good upbringing and acted accordingly, there would not be people around who spit on the street, laugh coarsely and shout in restaurants, queue jump or throw garbage out of the car window and so on. Unfortunately, it seems that few have received much instruction in good manners and fewer put anything they may have learnt into practice. Just looking at our daily life, we see how little etiquette is respected. Obviously, etiquette is fully conventional. It has nothing to do with morality (the person who does not behave politely should not be equated with the “bad” person) or with the law (the person who does not behave politely should not be equated with the criminal). Instead, good manners have everything to do with social harmony, or rather, with the right of expression without prejudicing others’ rights. Certainly these rights are of a lower level than human rights, but they are still rights: I have the right not to walk on your spit, I have the right to eat without listening to you coarsely laughing and shouting, I have the right not to get the garbage you just threw out of the window in my face, etc. It is an agreement that has been reached over the centuries. The agreement has been made in the name of mutual respect. However, there is not only an etiquette about social behaviour, but also about deliberative or debating behaviour. Let me dare to lay down some rules, with the caveat that any rule should be suitably flexible to be contextually implemented. •

• • • •

• • • •

Every deliberant should be free to participate and express his or her own opinion (this is the isegoria mentioned in the first chapter), independently of his or her religious, political, philosophical (and ethical, a fortiori) view. All the deliberants should be considered equal. Each individual contribution to deliberation should be coherent with the aim of the discussion itself, that is, to reach a consensus, and be consistent with the subject matter. Every deliberant should consider the other participants’ level, in order not to propose too basic or too complex justifications. For justifications can work only if those they are addressed to can appreciate them. Every deliberant should try to understand what the other deliberants are saying in the most accurate possible way; hopefully, each deliberant should strive to understand the assumptions and reasoning behind other positions. Every deliberant should make use of non-ambiguous and non-obscure language as well as offering clarification, if requested to do so. Every deliberant should speak only within the allotted time, and he or she should be listening when not speaking. No deliberant should impede other participants’ expression with interruptions. Every deliberant should be responsible for offering arguments in favour of his or her thesis or in support of his or her criticisms.


5 Let Us Learn How to Deliberate before Deliberating!

Every deliberant should accept that 1) if a view has not been defended compellingly, then its proponent ought to retract it; 2) if a view has been defended compellingly, then its opponents have to halt hostilities against it. Every deliberator should remember that discussions are not made for the sake of discussion or to show one’s skills, but discussions are made to reach a position shared by all the participants and, possibly, one shareable even by those who have not participated. Every deliberator should try to minimise the disagreement by appealing to aspects that are shareable by most or all the deliberative assembly.

Now we have the rules of deliberative etiquette. We still have to write down a simple scheme that can guide us in the correct rhetorical exposition of our position. To this aim, we can avail ourselves of what was said in the previous chapters and try to provide a canon of correct reasoning (in particular, of correct deliberative reasoning). Of course, such a canon may then be modified by every deliberant according to the style he or she likes the most. Note that such a canon is nothing but the possible set of procedural rules, or principles, we were speaking about in the first chapter. First of all, one should expose the status quaestionis. In other words, for a given problem to be solved, the deliberant, or anyone who would like to offer an argued solution, ought to 1. 2.

3. 4.



outline the relevant cultural and scientific context. In this way, one can give an overall picture to situate the problem to be addressed. briefly state the problem to be addressed. This is done in order to put emphasis on the issue and to show that the subject matter under discussion has been well understood. define the terms to be used. This is done to avoid any possible source of ambiguity or confusion. let others understand why the problem is of relevance and its solution may have an impact. This is done to underline that no irrelevant issue is addressed. expose solutions that are alternative to the one offered (which, however, has not been disclosed yet) and show, through rational criticisms, why these solutions are not acceptable. This is because it does not make sense to offer a new solution without taking into account the solutions proposed by others, as it is pointless to propose it if one is unable to show whether existing proposals are incorrect or argumentatively flawed. finally, formulate the solution.

It is at this stage that the game becomes intriguing; that is, when one has to argue in favour of his or her proposed solution. This is when rhetorical and philosophical abilities come into play.

5.5 An Example of How the Canon Is Implemented


Hence, there are two necessary steps: exposition of the status quaestionis and exposition of the justification. No good participation in a debate may exist without these two steps. Of course, one can expose the status quaestionis following a different order or missing some step out, in particular when the debate is in media res and the overall scientific and cultural picture has already been clarified, or alternative solutions have already been discussed. But the status quaestionis of the problem and the justification of the offered solution must be present. Moving to the canon according to which criticism should be addressed, it is pretty intuitive that it could be in two main directions: either attacking the status quaestionis or attacking the justification of the solution. If one prefers the former, there are five different options: one can argue that i) the problem is not well posed (against point 1 in the above list); ii) the terms are ambiguous or not well defined (against point 2); iii) the problem is irrelevant (against point 3); iv) the alternative solutions are actually better and have not been really disproved (against point 4); v) the proposed solution is not well structured (against point 5). If one prefers the latter, then one should focus on the justification showing its faultiness or weakness. Obviously, any criticism must be accompanied by a justification. We cannot just say that, for example, “The problem is irrelevant” or “The justification is wrong”. One has always to make clear why this is so. Otherwise, the objection would be rationally irrelevant. However, it should be noticed that before addressing a criticism one should always show that he or she has correctly understood what the problem is and what the solution to be criticised is. This entails that to begin by expressing one’s dissent is not rhetorical “good manners”. Initially, one should reformulate the problem and the solution one wants to challenge. In other words, even in this case “foreplay” is good!

5.5 An Example of How the Canon Is Implemented After speaking abstractly and normatively, let us have a look at how all these procedural rules can be put in practice. I shall do this by discussing the problem of whether or not one has the right not to know in the case of genetic testing. Status quaestionis 1. The scientific and cultural context Since human genome sequencing has been reached, it has become possible to perform single-patient or population-wide screenings to test for the disposition to develop genetic diseases. The test of interest here is based on the identification of single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP), which identifies variation of a single nucleotide within a given gene. We know that the nucleotides are the constituents of DNA and they are of four types (adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine). Each gene is made of a sequence of different lengths that combine these four molecules. The variation we are speaking of involves a sequence that is part of a particular “normal” gene: one nucleotide has been substituted by one of the other three, thereby mutating the gene. Typically, the mutated gene does not retain the function of the “normal” gene, but it may acquire a different one that may be lethal for the human carrier because it gives a predisposition to a certain genetic disease.


5 Let Us Learn How to Deliberate before Deliberating!

2. The problem As genetic tests are possible, there is the problem of whether it is always good for people to know whether or not they possess a certain mutation that can lead to a disease, whether they are healthy carriers of a mutated gene, or whether they have a predisposition to develop a multi-factorial genetic disease (that is a disease depending both on mutated genes and on environmental factors). In our case, the problem to be faced is this: do you have the right not to know the results of the genetic test you have already undergone? 3. Terms The term ‘right’ may give rise to some questions. Indeed, there are many conceptions of what a right is. To our aim, it is sufficient to think of a right as what allows us to claim for a given behaviour or for a treatment within the community we belong to or interact with. Some rights are granted by laws, some rights are due to ethics, and others come from conventions among members of a community. There are positive rights, which need the active intervention of a body (state, community etc.) to be implemented; and negative rights, where implementation merely depends on lack of intervention (on the part of the state, the community etc.). In our case, we are considering the negative right to abstain from informing somebody about his or her possible predisposition to develop a certain genetic disease. 4. Relevance Obviously, a positive result to a test, i.e. the discovery of being carriers of a mutation connected with a genetic disease, is of great relevance to a person’s life as well as to that of their relatives, who may (have) inherit(ed) the mutation. It is as medically relevant as it is psychologically relevant for the carrier, who may decide to inform his or her relatives. In this case, they would be in the position of undergoing the same test, if they so decide. 5. Solutions already proposed There are those who claim that there is a right not to know. It may be replied that you can certainly have the negative right not to undergo a genetic test; yet, once this has been done, the physician has the duty to communicate the result to the patient and, chiefly, to his or her relatives. Such a duty overrides any right not to know invoked by the patient. 6. Offered solution If someone undergoes a genetic test, then he or she cannot appeal to the right not to know the result of this. Justification It is fully irrational and represents a limitation of one’s autonomy to undergo a genetic test and then refuse to know the results. This may have a great impact on one’s life and, chiefly, on the life of one’s relatives, in particular on the life of one’s (potential) children. Moreover, there is no good justification for invoking a

5.5 An Example of How the Canon Is Implemented


right to protect people from knowledge, even if some knowledge may be unpleasant. Finally, the right not to know clashes with the medical duty to inform, which is overriding. Let us move now to the criticism. Criticism 1. Reformulation of the problem Assuming someone decided to undergo a genetic test; does he or she have the right not to know the result? 2. Criticised solution After genetic testing, a person does not have the right not to know the results. 3. Criticism (it is shown that the offered justification is invalid). It is wrong to deny the right not to know on the basis of non-rational considerations. The right not to know may be invoked at any time, before and after the test. Obviously, there is no limitation of autonomy. On the contrary, the will not to know is an exercise in autonomy. Moreover, to claim that the medical duty to inform is overriding is based on an untenable paternalistic view of medicine, according to which the physician knows better than the patient what the patient should know and do. In reality, it is precisely by an appeal to the patient’s autonomy that such a paternalistic position cannot hold. It may be counter-argued that the patient does not have the right not to know the results of the test because they may involve his or her relatives, in particular present or future children. However, this may not hold because 1) even if the patient came to know the results, such knowledge would not necessarily entail the duty to communicate the results to relatives; 2) if you deny the right not to know, then you should also accept the compulsoriness of genetic tests; if everyone has the right to know the results after the test, then everyone must have a duty to undergo the tests, because they provide these results. However, this appears to be a difficult position to uphold. It follows that the justification for the absence of a right not to know is very weak and this solution should be rejected. A couple of remarks on this. Of course, if someone decides to make use of his or her right not to know the results of a test he or she has taken and then has children, he or she will have to take full ethical, and possibly legal, responsibility for such a choice. The second note concerns a non-secondary aspect. James Watson, who in 1953 co-discovered with Francis Crick the double helix structure of DNA, decided to have his genome sequenced. However, he did not want to know anything about a possible mutation at the gene for apolipoprotein E, which is involved in the predisposition for Alzheimer’s. His wish not to know, limited to this gene, was respected. However, we should also take into account that the future respect for such a right may not be maintained. Suppose that, in the future, it is discovered that there is a correlation between another gene, whose mutated sequence Watson knows, and the same disease or between this gene and the


5 Let Us Learn How to Deliberate before Deliberating!

apolipoprotein E gene. In this case, Watson’s wish not to know about Alzheimer’s would not be respected, unless he succeeded in preventing himself from receiving any information about any such new discovery. But this would be virtually impossible, as it implies not reading scientific journals or not participating in scientific meetings and so on. Perhaps, in this case rather than the ‘right not to know’ it would be better to speak of the ‘wish not to know’; and we know that wishes are not always satisfied.

5.6 Has the Deliberative Canon Ever Been Implemented? One may wonder whether the deliberative canon as it has been presented here has ever been implemented. We cannot but smile at such a question, as the canon has (or should have) been at the heart of any philosophical and scientific formulation for the last 2400 years. Great thinkers have almost always presented the context to which they have contributed; they have always made precise the problem they wanted to address; they have clarified the relevant terms; they have shown the relevance of the problem; they have analysed alternative solutions; and finally they have offered their own solution. Then, they have shown their greatness in justifying this solution. Ultimately, it is not enough just to have a problem to solve to be a great thinker. Everyone has his or her own problems (psychoanalytic clinics are full of people with problems), yet not everyone is a great thinker. Nor does having a solution make you a great thinker. Almost everyone is able to find some form of solution to their problems (joining some religious sect may be enough), but this is still not sufficient to be classed as a great thinker. For to be such one needs to have an excellent justification for the solution to the problem at hand: this is true hallmark of a great thinker. Let us go back to our deliberative canon, or procedural rules. This is but a slight “modification” of a canon that, as we have seen, has always been present within Western thought, both in the humanities and in the sciences. The canon is present anywhere reasoning exists. This was very clear to those who founded the Medieval universities when they established courses in logic and rhetoric. It is a mystery why such a precious custom has then been lost. Hence, to ask whether such a canon has ever been implemented is somewhat foolish: it has been central to the whole of Western thought. Thus what I am proposing is not something new at all, but a reappraisal of what already exists in our culture, even if hidden and somewhat forgotten. I am just rescuing and dusting off that canon and then inviting people to make use of it. To conclude, I wish to mention that the canon above is at the basis of the Deliberative Ethics Guidelines promulgated by the Ifom-Ieo Campus: the institution where I work (see Boniolo, Di Fiore, 2010)1. 1

The Ifom-Ieo Campus is one of the foremost European centres devoted to the study of the molecular basis of cancer. It was founded a few years ago through the combined efforts of the IFOM (FIRC Institute of Molecular Oncology) and the Department of Experimental Oncology at the IEO (European Institute of Oncology).

5.7 Speaking of Expertise


Campus members have felt the need to discuss ethical issues concerning their research. Instead of simply producing some ethical regulations or establishing some ethical committee, they have decided to adopt guidelines for ethical deliberation, in accordance with the idea that it is important to stimulate the use of a good method of discussion, as there cannot be any good discussion or deliberation without good discussants (i.e. those who know how to discuss). Thus, after a couple of years of consultation at different levels, the Campus has adopted the Deliberative Ethics Guidelines in the hope of fostering quality in future debates and deliberations. These guidelines are based exactly on the canon proposed above. To understand the motivating force behind them, here are some introductory excerpts from the text: We do not wish to propose an ethical code. Such codes frequently lack effectiveness, and should not be elaborated by members of a scientific institution in isolation, but in conjunction with representatives of the numerous different viewpoints that are present in the society within which the institution acts. What we propose, instead, are guidelines on how to hold a correct public debate concerning the ethical evaluation of human actions regarding the production and use of biological and biomedical results. We, therefore, prefer not to start from a preconceived notion of what is morally good; rather, we offer a balanced methodology to structure the deliberative process on what should be permissible on the basis of it being morally sustainable, and on what should not be permissible, on the basis of it being morally unsustainable. We belive that we can justifiably take on this role, as the deliberative method presented herein is simply a generalization of the method that has permitted scientific progress, and is that which we adopt and implement on a daily basis in our scientific activity. Note that this is not an imposition of the scientific method on ethical practice. Rather, the scientific method represents a specific application of the method of reasoning that has characterized and permitted the development of western thought since antiquity, and that is exemplified in the following guidelines.

5.7 Speaking of Expertise Is it sufficient to follow a canon in order to deliberate correctly? No, it is not, of course. Method is important but it is not all that matters. Ultimately, I am very doubtful that the authors of the articles in the “Corriere della Sera” would have reached a better result by just following the canon. Together with the canon one also needs competence! In fact, to deliberate correctly in the ethics of biomedicine, for example, one should have competence in at least three different fields: 1) One should have sufficient scientific competence, that is, one should be acquainted with the science leading to the ethical implications under deliberation. It is ridiculous to have the pretension to declare one’s view on a given biomedical result, in ignorance of how such a result came about. Of course, it is not necessary to be as knowledgeable as a great expert in the field and this is not what I am proposing. However, it is necessary to be sufficiently acquainted with the subject


5 Let Us Learn How to Deliberate before Deliberating!

matter at the level required by the deliberation. Thus, one should understand if he or she is sufficiently knowledgeable or has to study in order to meet the threshold required for the discussion. If one cannot, or does not want to, gain sufficient knowledge, then one should admit his or her ignorance and not participate in the discussion (should somebody be unwilling to do so, the other discussants should induce him or her to step down). No one should be ashamed of not being knowledgeable enough of a given field. Nobody is omniscient, but when it comes to expressing a public opinion about something the alternative options are: i) you are knowledgeable about it and you speak; ii) you get informed about it and then you speak; iii) you remain silent. How many speak without knowledge, like the theologian we have taken up as our antihero, or the confreres of Nicholas Gallicus, or the two authors of the articles above? How many mendaciously proclaim to be competent, or boast about knowledge they do not have? On the opposite side, how many admit that they lack the proper competence and abandon the debate? There are thousands of fields in which each of us lacks the sufficient competence to withstand any debate of any higher level than a pub discussion. We should have the decency to admit our ignorance and the honesty not to accept invitations to participate in discussions about issues we are not acquainted with. Let us consider the evil we can produce in those who listen to us, or read our writings, and believe we are trustworthy and genuine experts just because we deliver our opinion from a lectern (university chair, newspaper, TV, pulpit, etc.). Just think of the bad consequences the two authors of the articles in ‘Corriere della Sera’ may have had on unsophisticated and naïve readers. We should always remember the motto of Salvator Rosa’s selfportrait at the National Gallery in London: “aut tace aut loquere meliora silentio” (Shut up, or say something useful). We should also recall another aphorism that may be ascribed to him: “The ignorant person never has an opinion”. Though I am not sure he is 100% right, because there are so many ignorant people contaminating debates with their outbursts. Actually, when it comes to the ethics of biomedicine, it seems that the more ignorant you are the more you feel the need to go to some TV show or to write for the newspapers. 2) One should have sufficient ethical competence. It may seem trivial to say that ethics, like any philosophical discipline, requires specific knowledge. Unfortunately, from the debates we attend it seems that such knowledge is not much valued. 3) One should have sufficient rhetorical competence. Yes, unfortunately, one also needs to be able to reason correctly. It is not enough to be knowledgeable of science and ethics, one should also know how to reason. I know, life is hard, but certain steps to ameliorate it should be taken! Hence, three separate competences are required to deliberate correctly. It is not enough to gather people deemed to be “good” or “wise” and to be confident that they will deliberate correctly in ethics. We need citizens possessing sufficient competence in three fields: science, ethics and rhetoric. Some could object that we expect too much, but soyons réalistes, exigeons l'impossible! In any event, we can try to educate people of this kind by giving them sufficient instruction in science, sufficient instruction in ethics and sufficient instruction in rhetoric.

5.8 Things to Reflect Upon


How many times has government had the wrong idea that to establish a panel of experts to solve the ethical implications of new biomedical results is easy? How many times has government had the wrong idea that a member of their party could be an excellent member of that panel? How many times has government had the wrong idea that everything can be solved implementing the motto “Gather the experts. Close the door. Design a policy. Roll it out. Reject criticism”? How many times has there been true deliberation by gathering competent deliberators? How many times have we had the idea, and fought for it, that competent deliberators have to be trained? How many times have we spoken of deliberative democracy and how many times have we put it into practice? How many times?

5.8 Things to Reflect Upon I conclude this chapter, as I did for the previous ones, by emphasising some points upon which I would like our intellect to rest for a while: One. In any deliberation or debate, one’s position is important; however, the justification supporting it is equally important. Two. A good deliberator ought to abandon his or her position if the supporting justification has been demolished. Moreover, he or she also ought to accept any position supported by a justification that is left intact after criticism. Three. Moral conflict should not be seen as threatening. Deliberation is meant to solve it. However, this is only possible if deliberation is not reduced to a conflict among untouchable principles or perspectives. Four. There is a deliberative etiquette, or rather good manners for deliberants. People who are not acquainted with this ought to be banned. Five. There is a deliberative canon, that is, a proper procedure to express one’s opinion correctly and exhaustively. Six. Good ethical or political deliberation on biomedical issues requires sufficient competence in ethics or political theory, as well as sufficient competence in biomedicine and rhetoric. If you realise that you lack any of these, then you should abstain from the debate or compensate by studying. If you realise that one of the discussants lacks any of these, you have the moral and rhetorical duty to urge him or her to abandon the debate or get better acquainted with the relevant subject, first.

References Baron, J.: Against bioethics. MIT Press, Cambridge (2006) Boniolo, G., Di Fiore, P.P.: Deliberative Ethics in a Biomedical Institution. An Example of Integration Between Science and Ethics. Journal of Medical Ethics 36(2010), 407–408 (2010) Camporesi, S., Boniolo, G.: Fearing a non existing Minotaur? The ethical challenges of research on cytoplasmatic hybrid embryos. Journal of Medical Ethics 34, 821–825 (2008)


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Harris, J.: Clones, Genes, and Immortality: Ethics and the Genetic Revolution. Oxford University Press, Oxford (1998) Harshanyi, J.: An equilibrium point interpretation of stable sets. Management Science 20, 1472–1495 (1974) Kass, L.R.: The Wisdom of Repugnance. New Republic, 216 (1997) Nash, J.: Equilibrium points in n-person games. PNAS 36, 48–49 (1950) Neumann, J.: Zur Theorie der Gesellschaftspiel. Mathematische Annalen 100, 295–320 (1928) Von Neumann, J., Morgenstern, O.: Theory of Games and Economic Behavior. Princeton University Press, Princeton (1944) Nussbaum, M.: Hiding From Humanity: Disgust, Shame, and the Law. Princeton University Press, Princeton (2004) Ober, J.: Democracy and Knowledge. Innovation and Learning in Classical Athens. Princeton University Press, Princeton (2008) Parker, M.: A Deliberative Approach to Clinical Bioethihcs. In: Viafora, C. (ed.) Clinical Bioethics. A Search for the Foundations, pp. 61–71. Springer, Dordrecht (2005)

Websites The text of the Human Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act del 1990: The text of the Prüm Treaty: The text of the reception of the Prüm Treaty by the Council of the European Union: it07.pdf The European Network of Forensic Science Institutes website: The website of Campus Ifom-Ieo: The Human Embryology and Fertilization Authority website, where documents about cybrids can be found The Italian bioethics Committee website: The website of the Italian National Committee For Biosecurity, Biotechnology And Life Sciences:

To Conclude

We have got to the end of our trip. Anyone who has been brave (or stoic) enough to get to this point should have grasped that, for how ever many attempts to divert from the main theme with anecdotes, tales, quips and jests, the entire path has been straight: from what deliberation is and where it can be implemented, to how it should be ruled. With irony, I have spoken of those forgetful people who believe that deliberation is a contemporary brand and, with irony that turns to sarcasm, I have spoken of those who believe that possessing well functioning vocal apparatus is sufficient to enter a debate. Moreover, I have expressed my severe perplexity as regards the possibility that those who do not want to call their own view into discussion really could fail to be dangerous and detrimental to a deliberative debate. The very fact of writing a book like the one you have just read (if you have) means that I –the author - dared to make a proposal. Actually I had the impression of having written something useful. But what is it useful for? Could it modify the usual habit of conducing decisional debates and discussions without the right competences related to both content and procedure? I hope so. I hope someone might pick up these proposals and try to change the current magma of decisional hypocrisy and demagogy, that which is wrongly trumpeted as competence and the absence of rhetorical skills. I would like decisional behaviour to be improved; I would like more awareness on the necessity of the knowledge concerning the topic under discussion. I would like everyone to possess the rhetorical skills indispensable to making decisions in the best possible way. I would like all this … but I know very well that wishing for something is not enough. Nevertheless, I am convinced that we should at least strive to have proper deliberative techniques restored in some (even in very few) enclaves. This would already be enough. We know that even the modest number of Medieval monasteries was sufficient to preserve knowledge and culture from the hordes that regarded them as something utterly useless or even worth being ridiculed, destroyed or simply ignored. So, come on; let us get to work and build up these precious enclaves of argumentative rationality and competence, leaving everything else to its poor destiny.




Abelard 96 Abu 'Abd AllƗh Muhammad 95 Achilles 77–79 Ackerman 9, 42 action 4, 7, 22, 24, 27, 32–34, 36, 37, 48, 52, 65, 67, 68, 70, 71, 77, 78, 81, 82, 100, 112, 115, 123, 126, 140, 141, 156, 162, 167, 175 Active Tolerance 123, 141, 144, 145 actus scholastici 98 Aeschylus 60 Agamemnon 77–79 agathoi 78 aggregative democracy 2–4, 18 al-'AbbƗs b. 'Abd al-Muttalib 95 Ambrose 126, 127, 129, 130, 146 anathema 106 Anscombe 34 Apel 97, 110 archon 48–50, 52 arengo 38, 39 argumentum ad baculum 5, 27, 124, 141–143 Aristotle 1, 10, 31–37, 40, 42, 47, 56, 57, 60, 74, 77, 79, 82, 85, 91, 95, 96, 108–113, 123, 124, 149, 151–154 Arius 127 Armstrong 155 ars sermocinalis 96 artes liberales 96, 97 artes serviles 97 as if 3, 76, 83, 90, 105, 106, 130, 139, 152 Athena 56, 60, 61, 65, 79 Athenagora 56, 61, 65 auctoritas 98 Augustine of Hippo 26, 96, 127, 146

Bannj Umayya 95 Barabbas 3, 8, 40, 126 Baron 82, 165 Barth 110 Báthory 135 Bazán 98 Bertha 128 Bianchi 92 Biomedicine 147, 155, 175, 176 Black 17, 30, 110, 134 blastocyst 100, 157 blastula 100, 102, 152 Boniolo 33, 64, 100, 101, 174 boulé 32, 38, 49, 50, 51, 54, 56 Bradshaw 125 Brahe 97 Brennan 8 Brook 48 Buffon 118 Bukowsky VII Buñuel 132 Burke 6, 7 Bush 80, 150, 155

C Camporesi X Camus VIII Canon 89, 108, 110, 111, 114, 115, 118, 119, 155, 169–171, 174, 175 Cantor 108 Capella 97 Carter 38 Cassiodorus 97 casus 98, 99 Catapano X, 130 Catherine de’ Medici 134

182 Catholic Church 103, 105, 107, 125, 136, 161 Celsus 127 ýernyševskij 46 Charles IX 134 Charles the Great 91 Charles V 135 Chryseis 78 Chryses 78 Chrysostom 13, 29 Cicero 109, 110 Cleisthenes 50–54, 57, 69 Cleon 66–68 Cleopatra 129 clerici vagantes 94 Clinton 150, 155 Comitium 38, 39 condoms 125 Confirmation 115 Confutation 115 Connors 110 Conrad 46 constant 76 constantine 127 Cooper VII Coppola X Corax 109 Corbett 110 cornificius 109, 110 credere Deo 128 credere Deum 128 credere in Deum 128 Creed 128, 141, 142 Crick 113, 173 Cybrids 155, 157, 160, 161, 163

D D’Este X Dahl 1, 48 Damonte X De Anna X, 33, 101 de Liguori 132 de Maistre 133 defendens 98 deliberation 1, 4–25, 27–32, 34, 37, 38, 42, 55, 58, 62, 65, 69, 75, 80, 81, 84, 85, 89, 119, 123, 126, 138, 147, 155, 160, 164, 168, 169, 175–177 deliberation day 38, 42 deliberative canon 169, 174, 177

Index deliberative democracy 1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 9, 14, 23, 24, 31, 32, 38, 39, 40, 42, 46, 59, 75, 80, 155, 177 deliberative discourse 112 deliberative polling 39, 40, 41 democracy VII, 1–7, 9, 14, 17, 18, 23, 24, 31, 32, 38–40, 42, 45–50, 53–55, 58, 59, 60, 61–67, 69, 71, 74–78, 80–85, 91, 145, 147, 148, 155, 161, 177 demos 1, 50, 61–63, 65–67, 69, 73, 75 demosthenes VIII determinatio 98, 107 Dewey 110, 113 d'Holbach VIII Di Cecco XI Di Fiore 100, 174 Diocletian 127, 130 Diodorus Siculus 47 Diodotus 66–68, 72 Dion 70 Dionysius 70 dispositio 111, 114–118 disputatio 92, 98, 99 dispute 22, 35, 36, 63, 67, 77, 92, 108, 143 Division 32, 49, 95, 115 Dokimasia 51, 56–58, 69, 80, 85 dominium 102 Donatus of Casae Nigrae 130 dunatoi 62, 65

E Eco 130 ekklesia 49–57, 61, 63, 67, 80, 81 Elias 89, 90, 143 Elite 46, 61, 62, 69, 80–82 Elizabeth I 135 elocutio 111, 118 Elster 9 embryo 99–102, 105, 106, 148, 151, 153, 154, 157 endoxa 10, 35–37 Enlightenment 96 epideictic discourse 112 Equus asinus 156 Equus caballus 156 Ethics 22, 24, 31, 32, 37, 85, 96, 110, 116, 126, 139, 147, 149, 150, 155, 157, 161, 172, 174, 175, 176, 177

Index Euripides 60 Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus 127 Exordium 114, 116, 118, 119 Expertise 29, 46, 54, 55, 69, 85, 91, 150, 175

F fallacy of hasty generalisation 89 Ferdinand I 135 Ferdinand II 95 Fermat 114 fictio juris 106 Finley 46 Fishkin 9, 39, 40, 42 foetus 102, 105, 148, 152, 162 forensic biobanks 158 forensic discourse 112 Foucault 29 Frankfurt 110 Fransen 98


H Habermas 9, 110 Habib 143 Hansen 6, 46, 48 Harris 150 Hector 77, 79 Hegel 77, 154 Henry IV 128 Herodotus 53 Hignett 46 Hippias 50 Hobbes 77 Homer 77–79 Homo sapiens 102, 116, 117, 152, 153, 163 homo viator 94 Honorio 130 Hübmaier 134 Hugh of Saint Victor 97

I G Gadamer 9 Galen 95 Galerius 127 Galilei 144 Gallup 39 Gastil 9, 38 Giaimo X, 100 Giorgini X Golding 48 Goodin 8 Gorgia 37, 72 Gorgias 71, 72, 73, 109, 110 Goya 94 Gracia 155 graphè paranomon 52, 53 Gratian 127, 129 Gregory I 127 Gregory VII 128 Gregory XIII 127, 135 Gregory XVI 135–137 Grice 110 Grootendorst 110 Gutmann 9, 14, 16

idiotai 55 inquisition 62, 94, 132–134 intellectual 12, 23, 42, 46, 58, 59, 82, 91, 93, 95, 96, 98, 119, 126, 132 inventio 111, 115, 118 Isabella I 95 Isegoria X, 15–18, 20, 29, 42, 53–58, 65, 69, 80, 84, 85, 150, 169 Itati VII

J Jacquart 98 Jesus 3, 8, 40, 103, 126–129, 134, 136 John Paul II 104, 125, 135 Jorge from Burgos 130 judicium ad populum 3 Justinian I 108

K kakoi 78 Kamen 126, 134



Kant 15, 64, 124, 154 Kass 150 Khayyâm XI Kierkegaard 154 Krabbe 110 Ksenija XI

Montesquieu 82 Monti X Morris 48 morula 100–102, 152 Mozart 13 Mussolini 82



Laborit 46 Law 194 148 Law 40 147, 148, 150, 151, 158 Lawn 98 Le Bon 83 lectio 92, 93, 98 lecture 29, 91–95, 98, 109, 113 legitimisation 25–28 Lenin 46 LeRoy 129 Levine 9, 38 libertarian municipalism 24 Locke 42, 101, 131, 137–139, 141–145 locus communis 111 Lopez Trujillo 125, 126 Lorenzen 110 Lycides 54, 56

Narration 114 Nicolau Eymerich 132 Nicolaus Gallicus 89, 90 Nietzsche 154 non-procedural principle 15, 17 Nussbaum 150

O Ober 46, 64, 81, 155, Octavian Augustus 129 Octavianus 38 Odysseus 78 Olbrechts-Tyteca 109, 110 Old Oligarch 61, 62, 66 opponens 98 Ostracism 56–58 Ostwald 77



Macedo 9, Machiavelli 77 Madison 83 magister 93, 98 Magisterium 103–107, 127, 128 Magnani XI Maierù 98 Makdisi 91 Maritain VII Mark Antony 129 Marsilius 6 memoria 111 Mencken VII Mendus 143 Menger 48 Mercury 161 Metastasio 13 method theories 5, 42, 164 Michels 81, 82 Mill 7, 82, 83 Minger 155 misthoforia 52, 54, 55, 80

Papinianus 108 Parker 155 Parrhesia X, 28, 29, 58, 80, 84, 107, 150 parrhesiast 29, 36 Pascal 83 Passive Disobedience 123, 141, 142 pater familias 102 Peisistratos 50 Perelman 109–111 Pericles 32, 47, 52, 55, 64–67, 74, 83 Peroration 111, 115 person 21, 24, 30, 32–34, 36, 51, 54, 57, 58, 65, 66, 74, 78, 80, 82, 85, 91, 97, 99, 101–103, 105–107, 110, 119, 123, 128, 131–134, 139, 140, 153, 158, 169, 173, 176 perspective theories 4, 5, 42, 164 Petalism 56, 57, 58 Peters 134 Petersen 77 Philip II 135

Index Philippus II of Macedon 60 Pilate 3, 8, 40, 126, 128 Pius IX 135, 137 Pius XII 104, 106 Plato 29, 31, 37, 45, 51, 58–60, 65, 67– 77, 80–83, 85, 91, 108, 109, 112, 123, 138, 149, 153, 154 Plotinus 95 Pohlenz 77 polis 32, 34, 37, 51, 52, 62, 69, 74, 80 politai 55 Pope 94 Popper 59, 81, 138 Porphyry 95, 127 principle of binding reciprocity 14, 16, 25, 43 principle of justificatory reciprocity 14, 16–18, 30, 42 Prisoner’s Dilemma 165 Proast 42, 143 problema 98 procedural principle 14,–17 Proclus 95 pronunciatio 111, 118 Pseudo-Xenophon 45, 58–62, 65, 69, 77, 83 punctatio librorum 95 Putin 114 Pyrrhus 129

Q Quadrivium 92 quaestio 98, 99, 108 Quintilianus 109

R Raaflaub 46, 79 Rawls 9 Reale 97, 153 Reconquista 95 respondens 98 rhetor 55, 109, 111, 123, 124 rhetoric 29, 37, 53, 54, 59, 60, 66, 71–75, 81, 85, 89, 92, 97, 107–111, 113, 119, 124, 174, 176, 177 Roosevelt 39 Rossiter VIII Rousseau 8, 9 Rüegg 91

185 Ruffini 83 Ruini 148, 179, 158

S Salisbury 96 Schumpeter 82 Scotus 94 Seneca 108 Severino 151, 153, 154 Sienkiewicz 129 Sinclair 46 Snell 77 Socrates 58, 70–74, 112, 113 Solon 49, 50, 52, 54, 69 solutio 98 status personarum 102 status quaestionis 170, 171 stem cell 12, 89, 99–101, 105–107, 115, 135, 148, 153, 157 strategoi 49 Sus domesticus 116, 117 Sweet X syllogism 34–37 Syme 82 Symmachus 126, 127, 129, 130

T Tallacchini XI Tarquinius 38 Testa 101 thema 98 Theodore of Chartres 97 Theodosius I 127 Théron 132 Thersites 78, 79 Thomas Aquinas 128 Thompson 9, 14, 16 Thrasybulus 47, 108 Thucydides 45, 47, 55, 56, 58–60, 62–68, 71, 72, 74, 75, 77, 78, 80, 83, 86 Tisias 109 Tocqueville 38, 83 tolerance 76, 123, 126, 127, 129, 131, 133, 134, 137, 138, 141, 142, 144, 145 Toleration 137, 138, 140, 141, 143 topos 111–113 Torquemada 133, 134

186 Toulmin 109, 110 town meeting 37–39, 58 traditores 130 translatio stud 93–95 translatio stultitiae 93, 94 Trivium 92, 93, 96, 108–110, 119 Truman 39 Truth 10, 11, 18, 20, 27, 28, 29, 31, 36, 37, 45, 47, 67, 68, 72–74, 98, 102, 104, 110, 123–126, 129–138, 140, 144, 145, 154, 164

U Ulpianus 108

V Valentinian II 127, 129, 130 van Eemeren 110 Varro 97 Vernant 77 Vidal VIII

Index Vincenti 101 von Hayek 48 von Mises 48 von Ustinov 129 von Wilamowitz 61 von Wright 34

W Waldron 143 Walton 110 warning out 56, 58 Watson 113, 173, 174 Weber 25–27, 82 Weijers 98 Whitehead 118 Wilde VII William of Baskerville 130 Wippel 98

Z zygote 100–102, 152, 156