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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

IAS Fellow's Public Lecture - Deliberation, decision-making and evidence in Classical Greece

2nd February 2016, 17:30 to 18:30, Sir James Knott Hall, Trevelyan College, Dr Jon Hesk, University of St Andrews

The surviving texts of Classical Athens show that its citizens prized creative, enjoyable and devastating performances of verbal contests, often conflating the form of an argument with its substance. On the other hand, this developing democracy worried that insults, entertaining rhetoric and certain kinds of emotional appeal were compromising its processes of deliberation and decision-making. So, the texts of the period also offer illustrations of the need for proper evidence-based proof and for slow, sober and careful reasoning. We have discussion of the dangers of arrogant thinking or hasty judgements in the face of contingency, ambiguity or uncertainty. We have reminders of the importance of the evidence of divine will provided by oracles and omens. This tension between ‘performance’ and ‘evidence’ manifests itself across a variety of genres which were fundamental to Athens’ social, moral, religious and political domains: tragedy, comedy and speeches from trials and political debates It is also confronted in the writings of the period’s great intellectuals (Thucydides, Xenophon, Plato and Aristotle…).

In his lecture, Dr Hesk will show how this performance/evidence tension shaped the classical Greek development and function of key genres and disciplines which we now take for granted: drama, rhetoric, historiography and philosophy. But he will also suggest that these Greek works offer a valuable model for our very current, modern situation . By underlining and exploring the difficulty of achieving virtuous and effective evidence-based decisions - whether collective or individual and whether in public or private domains - the classical Greek material can enrich public and academic debates about who decides what in our own societies. These ancient texts also speak to a key contemporary question: what is the best way to ensure that our deliberations and judgements are informed by relevant knowledge, evidence and testimony, whilst remaining faithful to democratic imperatives?

This lecture is free and open to all.


Details about Dr Jon Hesk

Directions to Sir James Knott Hall, Trevelyan College

Map - Trevelyan College is denoted as building No. 9

Contact for more information about this event.