03 March 2005

Should Lectures Be Abandoned?

If we're interested in truth, and lectures or 'presented papers' are not the best way to arrive at truth, then should lectures be abandoned--and replaced by 'public disputations', for instance?

Ideally, it seems, a philosophy paper should already incorporate the features of 'disputation': a marshalling of the arguments on both sides of a question; a resolution; and an account of how the resolution explains why the faulty arguments seemed convincing. And then anything that still needs to be said against what the lecturer claims can be attended to in the ensuing discussion. Sometimes also someone is appointed a 'commentator', precisely to probe for and raise objections.

But in truth few papers are written in the way described. And the hearers of a lecture, typically not experts or as familiar with the issues, are not in a position to advocate the case against. And even if there is a commentator--that the commentator has less time, and is replying rather than advocating as well, tips the scales in one direction, apparently arbitrarily.

These thoughts were suggested by my dissatisfaction with J-F Pradeau's lecture (not the lecture, so much as the circumstances of the lecture) in BACAP, and Victor Caston's comment, only half-joking I suspect:

In fact, I would go further and suggest they be organized the old-fashioned way, publishing the results in Latin, as Quaestiones disputatae. (They really knew to do things then!)

The event should have been a disputation. Give Pradeau an hour to make the case for the view that Plato's concept of law is constant. Give Bobonich or a scholar who thinks similarly, and is well-matched with Pradeau, an hour to make the contrary case. Perhaps allow some time for cross examination. One might dispense with the 'Master' who gives a resolution--the listeners can style themselves 'masters'. (Although I'm not sure about this: perhaps a senior faculty member in the relevant discipline at the host institution should serve as the 'Master'.)

If we wanted to discover the truth, isn't this what we'd do?


Anonymous said...

Brevity is a lost art. Most cannot lecture for long without erring, masking their assertions in jargon, or digressing. Aquinas never needed tens of pages to take up a particular question! The solution would be to limit the length of lectures.

-Eric Maurer

Steve said...

Dear Dr. Pakaluk,

I very much appreciated your comments on what an ideal philosophy paper should consist of - specifically, the "explanation of how the resolution explains why the faulty arguments seemed convincing." I can't recall having run across that in the (admittedly limited) reading I've done, but I can see the value of it. Can you recommend a paper that does this particularly well?