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Classical Virtue, Postmodern Practice

Edited by Robert Hariman

Publication Year: 2004

This excellent collection of essays appears at just the right moment. During the past two decades, interest in prudence has quickened and intensified in the humanities and qualitative social sciences, but previously we have had no systematic effort to deal with the topic on an interdisciplinary level. This collection fills the void and provides a valuable guide to the history of prudence and to its current status in a variety of academic disciplines.-Michael C. Leff, Northwestern UniversityRealizing that a world remade by techno-science and global capital stands in great need of practical wisdom as an antidote to various forms of modern hubris, scholars across the human sciences have taken a renewed interest in exploring how the classical virtue of prudence can be reformulated as a guide for postmodern practice.This volume brings together scholars in classics, political philosophy, and rhetoric to analyze prudence as a distinctive and vital form of political intelligence. Through case studies from each of the major periods in the history of prudence, the authors identify neglected resources for political judgment in today's conditions of pluralism and interdependency.Three assumptions inform these essays: the many dimensions of prudence cannot be adequately represented in the lexicon of any single discipline; the Aristotelian focus on prudence as rational calculation needs to be balanced by the Ciceronian emphasis on prudence as discursive performance embedded in familiar social practices; and understanding prudence requires attention to how it operates through the communicative media and public discourses that constitute the political community. Contributors, besides the editor, are Stephen H. Browne, Robert W. Cape Jr., Maurice Charland, Peter J. Diamond, Eugene Garver, James Jasinski, John S. Nelson, and Christine L. Oravec.

Published by: Penn State University Press

Front Cover

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Copyright Page

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pp. iv


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-ix

But certainly nothing to get excited about. It is a convention of the modern literature on prudence to begin by apologizing for the concept’s stodginess. Such reticence is not surprising, for this antique term does not fit well with the boundless initiative and astonishing rates of change in modern life, much less the personal freedom and self-expression of liberal...

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pp. xi

An edited volume makes manifest what is true of all scholarship: that it is deeply collaborative. Whatever the limitations of this collection, they do not include lack of support from my colleagues. I’m embarrassed to say that it has taken so long to complete that I can no longer reliably list the many readers and others who have discussed the work with me along the way. If half of...

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1 Theory Without Modernity

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pp. 1-32

So we live after virtue. Good thing, too, many of us would agree. No more “good Christian gentlemen” with all their exclusions, expropriations, and private realms of violence. No more wise old men running the state into the ground. Nor do women have to be hemmed in by such names as Chastity or Prudence. You can still say, “Neither a borrower nor lender be,” but you will...

I. Conceptual Frameworks

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2 Cicero and the Development of Prudential Practice at Rome

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pp. 35-65

The modern revival of interest in prudence in the practical spheres of politics, ethics, and rhetoric shows an abiding—and appropriate—regard for the historical development of the concept and its application to civic life. Quite naturally, the European Renaissance roots of modern prudence have received considerable attention, for they show a vibrant intellectual, rhetorical...

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3 After Virt

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pp. 67-97

The appearance of Machiavelli’s Prince and his Discourses on Livy is a fundamental event in the history of prudence and the development of pluralism. Since we read history backwards, we can see, as Berlin has taught us to see, in Machiavelli the origins of a pluralism he himself could not have recognized.1 Looking back, we see that earlier versions of morality and humanity...

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4 The “Enlightenment Project” Revisited: Common Sense as Prudence in the Philosophy of Thomas Reid

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pp. 99-123

This chapter is a response to the often encountered claim that modern political theory continues to be fuddled by the metaphysical illusions of the Enlightenment, and has yet to grasp adequately the artful, organized, inventive elements of ordinary political practice. The most damaging of these illusions—it is said—is that of a self-transparent and self-grounding faculty of...

II. Rhetorical Structures

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5 Edmund Burke’s Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol and the Texture of Prudence

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pp. 127-144

The problem with prudence, as Emerson understood, is that it can raise questions not easily answered. “What right have I,” he asked, “to write on Prudence, whereof I have little, and that of the negative sort?”1 The same sort of question might be asked of those who would link that concept withthe name of Edmund Burke, whose virtues are not ordinarily associated with...

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6 Idioms of Prudence in Three Antebellum Controversies: Revolution, Constitution, and Slavery

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pp. 145-188

Recent studies by Eugene Garver, Victoria Kahn, Michael Leff, and others suggest that a richer understanding of, and a renewed appreciation for, the possibilities of both rhetorical practice and prudential action can be developed by engaging practical discursive performances through a particular method of interpretive analysis. Dilip Gaonkar summarizes this hermeneutic...

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7 Fanny Wright and the Enforcing of Prudence: Women, Propriety, and Transgression in Nineteenth-Century Public Oratory of the United States

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pp. 189-225

As evidenced throughout this volume, the concept of prudence is experiencing an enthusiastic revival. After many years of neglect and distortion, the term is recovering some of its more useful and relevant connotations through the work of postmodern scholars. These connotations—of reasonableness, civic virtue, and practicality—were originally bestowed upon prudence by...

III. Provisional Networks

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8 Prudence as Republican Politics in American Popular Culture

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pp. 229-257

As a tradition, prudence needs practical substance. Hence it needs specific theories far more than it needs abstract philosophies or epistemic metatheories. Prudential judgment must stay sensitive to the vagaries of particular, changing situations. The challenge for theorists is to provide general yet substantive accounts. Thus late-modern theorists of prudence react against...

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9 Lyotard’s Postmodern Prudence

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pp. 259-285

While there might be considerable disagreement regarding the validity of claims regarding the “postmodern” character of the contemporary age, one cannot doubt that there is a growing disenchantment within both philosophy and contemporary culture with modernity and its legacy. We find ourselves with reason and freedom, but without a basis for practical life. The current...

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10 Prudence in the Twenty-First Century

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pp. 287-321

Like other large-scale modernist projects—the Soviet Union, Los Angeles, agribusiness—the human sciences now face the possibility of systemic collapse. Likewise, they are threatened not by other large-scale competitors but by smaller yet pervasive changes in the social environment. Big science is no threat, while cell phones and laser eye surgery lead the way to a cyborg...


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pp. 323-324


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pp. 325-337

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780271052793
E-ISBN-10: 0271052791
Print-ISBN-13: 9780271025278
Print-ISBN-10: 0271025271

Page Count: 352
Publication Year: 2004