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Robert B. Talisse

Robert B. Talisse

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Background Information

Robert B. Talisse (born 1970) is Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University
Vanderbilt University
Vanderbilt University is a private research university located in Nashville, Tennessee, United States. Founded in 1873, the university is named for shipping and rail magnate "Commodore" Cornelius Vanderbilt, who provided Vanderbilt its initial $1 million endowment despite having never been to the...

 in Nashville, Tennessee
Nashville, Tennessee
Nashville is the capital of the U.S. state of Tennessee and the county seat of Davidson County. It is located on the Cumberland River in Davidson County, in the north-central part of the state. The city is a center for the health care, publishing, banking and transportation industries, and is home...

. He is also a Professor in Vanderbilt's Political Science Department. Talisse is the editor of the academic journal Public Affairs Quarterly
Public Affairs Quarterly
Public Affairs Quarterly is an academic journal that publishes academic articles relating to political philosophy....

, and a regular contributor to the blog 3 Quarks Daily, where he posts a monthly column with his frequent co-author and fellow Vanderbilt philosopher Scott F. Aikin. For the academic year 2004-2005 Talisse was a research fellow at the Murphy Institute
Murphy Institute
The Murphy Institute is a research and educational center that supports a number of academic programs in the fields of political economy and ethics at Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana, United States.-The Murphy Institute:...

 Center for Ethics and Public Affairs at Tulane University
Tulane University
Tulane University is a private, nonsectarian research university located in New Orleans, Louisiana, United States...

. He earned his PhD in Philosophy from the City University of New York
City University of New York
The City University of New York is the public university system of New York City, with its administrative offices in Yorkville in Manhattan. It is the largest urban university in the United States, consisting of 23 institutions: 11 senior colleges, six community colleges, the William E...

 in 2001. His principal area of research is political philosophy
Political philosophy
Political philosophy is the study of such topics as liberty, justice, property, rights, law, and the enforcement of a legal code by authority: what they are, why they are needed, what, if anything, makes a government legitimate, what rights and freedoms it should protect and why, what form it...

, with an emphasis on democratic theory
Democracy is generally defined as a form of government in which all adult citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Ideally, this includes equal participation in the proposal, development and passage of legislation into law...

 and liberalism
Liberalism is the belief in the importance of liberty and equal rights. Liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but generally, liberals support ideas such as constitutionalism, liberal democracy, free and fair elections, human rights,...


Field of Research

Talisse's philosophical work tends to employ the idiom of pragmatism
Pragmatism is a philosophical tradition centered on the linking of practice and theory. It describes a process where theory is extracted from practice, and applied back to practice to form what is called intelligent practice...

, though his recent writings seem aimed at criticizing much of that tradition, and Talisse is especially keen to object to the political philosophies of John Dewey
John Dewey
John Dewey was an American philosopher, psychologist and educational reformer whose ideas have been influential in education and social reform. Dewey was an important early developer of the philosophy of pragmatism and one of the founders of functional psychology...

, Richard Rorty
Richard Rorty
Richard McKay Rorty was an American philosopher. He had a long and diverse academic career, including positions as Stuart Professor of Philosophy at Princeton, Kenan Professor of Humanities at the University of Virginia, and Professor of Comparative Literature at Stanford University...

, and Richard Posner
Richard Posner
Richard Allen Posner is an American jurist, legal theorist, and economist who is currently a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago and a Senior Lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School...

. Talisse's 2007 book, A Pragmatist Philosophy of Democracy, is in large part a criticism of Deweyan Democracy. As Dewey is often regarded as the most important pragmatist philosopher, the book and related articles have proven controversial, stimulating several critical replies and a symposium issue of the leading journal in pragmatist philosophy, Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society. Talisse's contention is that Deweyan Democracy is incompatible with a due recognition of what John Rawls
John Rawls
John Bordley Rawls was an American philosopher and a leading figure in moral and political philosophy. He held the James Bryant Conant University Professorship at Harvard University....

 called "the fact of reasonable pluralism," which is the fact that several different views of the good life exist and persist among free persons. Deweyan Democracy, Talisse contends, is based on the idea that all social institutions should be designed to realize but one conception of the good life; Deweyan Democracy is consequently unfit as a model of modern democracy. In place of Deweyan Democracy, Talisse presents a view he allies with Charles Sanders Peirce according to which the epistemic processes of inquiry and reasoning supply sufficient grounds for democracy. Talisse's view is hence properly regarded as a species of deliberative democracy
Deliberative democracy
Deliberative democracy is a form of democracy in which public deliberation is central to legitimate lawmaking. It adopts elements of both consensus decision-making and majority rule. Deliberative democracy differs from traditional democratic theory in that authentic deliberation, not mere...

. In drawing on Peirce, Talisse is allied with Cheryl Misak of the University of Toronto, who argues for a similar view. Talisse and Misak are commonly discussed and criticized together, as proposing a single kind of view generally known as "Peircean Democracy." The view proposed by Talisse and Misak is also sometimes called "pragmatist political liberalism." Talisse is additionally known as a proponent of epistemic democracy, the view according to which part of the justification for democracy lies in its ability to produce collective decisions that are in some sense true or correct. He has also published several articles criticizing the value pluralism associated with Isaiah Berlin
Isaiah Berlin
Sir Isaiah Berlin OM, FBA was a British social and political theorist, philosopher and historian of ideas of Russian-Jewish origin, regarded as one of the leading thinkers of the twentieth century and a dominant liberal scholar of his generation...

, William Galston
William Galston
William Galston is a political theorist. He is the Saul I Stern Professor of Civic Engagement and the director of the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy at the School of Public Policy of University of Maryland, College Park. In addition, he is a Senior Fellow of Governance at the Brookings...

, and John Gray
John Gray
-Born 18th century:*John Gray , member of the North Carolina General Assembly*John Gray , president of the Bank of Montreal...


In his most recent writing, Talisse has downplayed the pragmatist roots of his views, and instead attempted to devise a deliberative democratic theory from what he calls "folk epistemology". The idea is that there are epistemic norms which govern epistemic agents simply in virtue of the fact that they hold beliefs. Talisse argues that once these norms are identified they can be seen to provide compelling reasons for epistemic agents to uphold the social and political norms of democracy. Talisse's surprising conclusion is that our most basic reasons to be democrats, it seems, are epistemological and not moral. In a recent review of Talisse's 2009 book in which this view is presented, Democracy and Moral Conflict, the political scientist Terrence Ball claimed that Talisse had formulated a "genuinely novel defense of democracy." Given the epistemological nature of Talisse's democratic theory, his work tends to engage questions about public discourse, argumentation, the media, and public ignorance.

Talisse has also contributed to contemporary discussions in informal logic
Informal logic
Informal logic, intuitively, refers to the principles of logic and logical thought outside of a formal setting. However, perhaps because of the informal in the title, the precise definition of informal logic is matters of some dispute. Ralph H. Johnson and J...

. In a paper published in 2006 titled "Two Forms of the Straw Man", Talisse and Aikin proposed an original analysis of a new form of the Straw Man Fallacy
Straw man
A straw man is a component of an argument and is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent's position, twisting his words or by means of [false] assumptions...

, what they called The Weak Man Fallacy. In the traditional Straw Man, one misconstrues one's interlocutor's argument in a way that makes it especially weak, and then refutes it. In the Weak Man version, one selects an especially weak rendition of the opposing view, treats it as representative of the opposition as such, and refutes it, leaving one's audience with the impression that the opposition has thereby been refuted when in fact only the most vulnerable version of the opposing view has been addressed. Talisse and Aikin have also published a paper about the rhetorical strategy of repeating one's interlocutor's position in a dismissive or mocking tone of voice, which is titled "Modus Tonens". Talisse and Aikin have written a book together about atheism
Atheism is, in a broad sense, the rejection of belief in the existence of deities. In a narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities...

 that is forthcoming from Prometheus Books
Prometheus Books
Prometheus Books is a publishing company founded in August 1969 by Paul Kurtz, who also founded the Council for Secular Humanism and co-founded the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. He is currently the chairman of all three organizations. Prometheus Books publishes a range of books, including many...

 titled Reasonable Atheism.

In 2002, Talisse co-organized a conference marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of the pragmatist philosopher and public intellectual Sidney Hook
Sidney Hook
Sidney Hook was an American pragmatic philosopher known for his contributions to public debates.A student of John Dewey, Hook continued to examine the philosophy of history, of education, politics, and of ethics. After embracing Marxism in his youth, Hook was known for his criticisms of...

. The conference provoked some controversy when several neo-conservatives, including Irving Kristol
Irving Kristol
Irving Kristol was an American columnist, journalist, and writer who was dubbed the "godfather of neoconservatism"...

, Gertrude Himmelfarb, and Hilton Kramer
Hilton Kramer
Hilton Kramer is a U.S. art critic and cultural commentator.Kramer was educated at Syracuse University, Columbia University, Harvard University, Indiana University and the New School for Social Research. He worked as the editor of Arts Magazine, art critic for The Nation, and from 1965 to 1982,...

, who had been invited to speak at the conference withdrew upon learning that the pragmatist philosopher Cornel West
Cornel West
Cornel Ronald West is an American philosopher, author, critic, actor, civil rights activist and prominent member of the Democratic Socialists of America....

 had also been invited. According to Talisse, some of those who withdrew threatened to also attempt to convince those who had provided funding for the event to withdraw. Despite the protests, the conference was held at the City University of New York Graduate Center in October 2002, with West as a participant.

In February 2010 Talisse appeared on the popular podcast Philosophy Bites where he was interviewed by Nigel Warburton
Nigel Warburton
Nigel Warburton is a philosopher, currently Senior Lecturer at the Open University. He is best known as a populariser of philosophy, being author of a number of books of this genre, but he has also written academic works in esthetics and applied ethics.-Education:Warburton received a BA from the...

 about pragmatism
Pragmatism is a philosophical tradition centered on the linking of practice and theory. It describes a process where theory is extracted from practice, and applied back to practice to form what is called intelligent practice...

 and American philosophy
American philosophy
American philosophy is the philosophical activity or output of Americans, both within the United States and abroad. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy notes that while American philosophy lacks a "core of defining features, American Philosophy can nevertheless be seen as both reflecting and...


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