Honors | Wise Men Speak and Fools Decide
H204 | 0015 | Andrews, J


The legendary Scythian Prince Anacharsis is often depicted as taking a
somewhat cynical view of Greek culture.  In his life of Solon, Plutarch
has the shrewd Anacharsis observe that, "In Greece wise men speak and
fools decide."  In public controversy in a democratic culture, those who
speak may or may not be very wise and those who decide may or may not be
fools-but certainly foolish decisions can be made.  How is one to judge
the quality of public argument? How does one make up her or his own mind
about what cause to support, how to vote, what personal actions to take?
The central, deceptively simple, question is: How does one determine what
a "good" argument is? This course is about trying to establish criteria by
which we can make "wise" decisions, how we can evaluate for ourselves what
constitutes an argument worthy of prompting action.  A "good" argument is
not determined by simply applying certain logical rules. We all react to
arguments on the basis of a wide spectrum of cultural norms and practices
that establish the values we live by and act on. The fundamental goals of
the course are: to help students understand the cultural praxis out of
which public argument is formed, to sharpen students' analytical skills,
to help students hone their critical/interpretive powers, and to help
students develop and improve their ability to conduct library research and
to enhance their writing skills.

The organization of the course will approximate the three goals of the
course. Part 1 will focus largely on theoretical underpinnings of argument
and culture. In Part 2, students will read assigned texts to investigate
the ways in which cultural dimensions of argument operate. And, in Part 3,
students will examine case studies of contemporary public controversies in
order to interpret and apply evaluative standards.

Class discussions and short papers will be based on the assigned readings
(such as Andrews, Leff and Terrill, Reading Rhetorical Texts: An
Introduction to Criticism, Jill Lapore, The Name of War: King Philip's War
and the Origins of American Identity, Richard Johannesen, Ethics in Human
Communication, Jamieson and Campbell, The Interplay of Influence: Mass
Media and Their Publics in News, Advertising, Politics, Carol Gelderman,
All the President's Words, Celeste Michelle Condit, Decoding Abortion
Rhetoric: Communicaitng Social Change and J. Michael Hogan, The Nuclear
Freeze Campaign: Rhetoric and Foreign Policy: in the Telepolitical Age)
and films/documentaries/political video ads (such as "Twelve Angry Men,"
an episode from the documentary Eves on the Prize, political convention
videos "Morning in America" (Reagan) and "A Town Called Hope" (Clinton).

Students will study a selected issue of public controversy and prepare a
report that outlines the basic contours of argument, explains the values,
beliefs, practices, etc. that undergird argument, and propose a set of
evaluative standards that they would bring to bear in resolving the
conflict.
A final examination will be based on a case the class will be given in
advance. Students will be asked to write an essay that specifically
explains a theoretical perspective, analyzes the case from that
perspective, and defends the resolution of the controversy that the
student would propose.