Judgment, Pluralism, and Democracy: On the Desirability of Speaking with Others

Nicholas Dunn's picture
March 2, 2023 to March 3, 2023
New York, United States
Subject Fields: 
Communication, Cultural History / Studies, Humanities, Philosophy, Political Science

One of the latest features of the crisis of democratic culture is the problematization of free speech. The dysfunction of public discourse in democratic societies has sparked skepticism about the validity of the principle itself and concerns about its evident impracticability. This line of interrogation has targeted the grounds and scope of this putatively desirable freedom. For example, does Louis Brandeis’s idea that with “more speech…the truth will out” have any actual empirical validity? Or does the weaponizability of free speech in the age of the internet not call for modifying or restricting its legal protection?

This conference aims to expand the parameters of the current conversation by taking a step back from the desirability of unrestricted ‘freedom’ of expression and shifting critical attention to the desirability of ‘talking to others.’ For any case to be made in support or against free speech is, more fundamentally, a statement about whether the good of talking to others demands the protections that make it possible, be that demand conceived in moral, instrumental, or prudential terms.  We will launch the conversation by foregrounding the contributions of two figures who have explicitly and substantively defended the necessity of speaking to others who differ from and with us: Immanuel Kant, who first elaborated philosophical grounds for the idea, and Hannah Arendt, who critically revived the Kantian framework in the middle of the 20th century—at a historical juncture where she considered the defense of pluralism to be at risk. In his Critique of Judgment (1790), Kant famously puts forward the maxim to “think in the position of everybody else,” and characterizes judgments of taste as requiring that one “reflect on [their] own judgment from a universal standpoint” which entails “putting [one]self into the standpoint of others.” In fact, Kant further warns in his Anthropology (1798) of the dangers of “isolating ourselves with our own understanding and judging publicly with our private representations.” In her well-known Kant Lectures (Fall 1970), Arendt draws out the implications of Kant’s claim that to “restrain our understanding by the understanding of others” is, in fact, a “subjectively necessary touchstone of the correctness of our judgments generally.” Building on this, Arendt puts forward the related notions of ‘representative thinking’ and ‘enlarged mentality,’ which involve not only the idea that it is good to think from the standpoint of others and take their thoughts into account, but that “thinking...depends on others to be possible at all.” Whatever her differences with Kant, Arendt is to be credited for highlighting the radical force of Kant’s “belie[f] that the very faculty of thinking depends on its public use” because it was “not made ‘to isolate itself but to get into community with others’.” 

The aim of this conference is to curate an interdisciplinary conversation between scholars in the humanities and humanistic social sciences who are interested in critically exploring historical or theoretical accounts of the practice of talking to others in philosophy, political science, cultural studies, history, linguistics, or any related humanistic discipline.


Registration and Format

All participants and attendees must register, which includes uploading proof of covid vaccination. The event will take place in-person and will be free and open to the public.

We anticipate that this event will eventually lead to an edited volume on the conference theme. Speakers will have the opportunity to submit their full papers for consideration.



Thursday, March 2nd 

1:00 – 4:30 PM: Roundtable sessions - Bertelsmann Campus Center, Room 214

Session 1 (1:00 – 1:45 PM) 

Ian Rhoad (American University, Philosophy & Politics)  
“On the Power of Words”  
Jonathan Weid (Northwestern University, Philosophy) 
“Learning from Others: From the Interpersonal to the Institutional” 
Colin Marshall (University of Washington, Philosophy) 
“Respect and the Ethics of Persuasion”

Commentator: Yarran Hominh (Bard College, Philosophy)

Session 2 (1:45 – 2:30 PM) 

Rachel Wahl (University of Virginia, Education) 
“Getting the World in View: Instrumentality and Humility in Dialogue with Political  Others” 
Yasemin Sari (University of Northern Iowa, Philosophy)
“Arendt and Deliberative Democracy: Arendtian Deliberation as Transformative Politics”
Maria Robaszkiewicz (Paderborn University, Philosophy) & Michael Weinman (Bard College Berlin, Philosophy) 
Book presentation: Hannah Arendt and Politics (Edinburgh University Press, 2022) 

Commentator: Laurie Naranch (Siena College, Political Science)

Session 3 (3:00 – 3:45 PM)  

Martin Renz (Goethe University, American Studies) 
“The Crisis of Facticity: Factual Truth, Modern Authority, and Public Judgment in the  work of Hannah Arendt” 
Daniel Friedman (Stanford University, Philosophy) 
“Reasoning Together”  
Pinchas Huberman (Yale University, Law) 
“A Relational Theory of the Constitutional Concept of Free Speech” 

Commentator: Roger Berkowitz (Bard College, HAC/Politics)

Session 4 (3:45 PM – 4:30 PM) 

Mihaela Czobor-Lupp (Carleton College, Political Science) & Noah Rosenfield
“Hannah Arendt and Mihail Sebastian: On the Power of Oases in Dark Times” 
Nevena Krups (University of New South Wales, Philosophy) 
“Friendship: Preserving Humanness”  
Schuyler Playford (University of Toronto, Political Science)  
“Thinking and Plurality: Arendt’s Socrates as Thinker, Lover, Friend” 

Commentator: Jana Schmidt, Bard College, HAC

Evening session (5:15 – 7:00 PM) – Reem-Kayden Center, Laszlo S. Bito ‘60 Auditorium [Room 103]

Welcome & Opening Remarks 

Nicholas Dunn (Bard College, Philosophy/Politics/HAC) & 
Nirvana Tanoukhi (Dartmouth College, English) 

Keynote Lecture 

Linda Zerilli (The University of Chicago, Political Science) 
“Arendt and the Problem of Democratic Persuasion”

Chair: Nicholas Dunn (Bard College, Philosophy/Politics/HAC)


Friday, March 3rd 

9:00 AM – 5:30 PM: Paper sessions – Olin Humanities Building, Room 102

Session 1 (9:00 - 10:15 AM)

Ella Street (Cornell University, Government) 
“‘To Listen to Both Sides Equally’: Just Judgment in the Athenian Courts” 
Olof Pettersson (Uppsala University, Philosophy) 
“The Mirror of Society: Private and Public Dialogue in Plato’s Alcibiades I” 

Chair: Thomas Bartscherer (Bard College, Literature)

Session 2 (10:30 - 11:45 AM)

Julia Zaenker (University of Copenhagen, Communication) 
“Actual versus Imagined Others?: Iris Marion Young and the Phenomenology of  Communicating with Others” 
Atticus Carnell (Princeton University, Politics) 
“On the Value of Heeding” 

Chair: Mie Inouye (Bard College, Politics)

Session 3 (1:15 - 2:30 PM)

Nat Hansen (University of Reading, Philosophy) & Zed Adams (The New School for  Social Research, Philosophy) 
“The Hope of Agreement: Cavell on Aesthetic Judgment”
Natasha Hay (University of Toronto, Comparative Literature) 
“The Political Imaginary of Plurality: Sympathy and Separation in Hannah Arendt and  Stanley Cavell” 

Chair: Arata Hamawaki (Auburn University, Philosophy)

Session 4 (2:45 – 4:00 PM)

Maria Robaszkiewicz (Paderborn University, Philosophy) 
“The Others Speak to the Others: Speech and Speechless under the Conditions of  Unfamiliarity” 
Sam McChesney (Northwestern University, Political Science) 
“Discovering the Other’s Voice: Courage and World-Travelling” 

Chair: Lucas Pinheiro (Bard College, Politics)

Session 5 (4:15 – 5:30 PM)

Keren Gorodeisky (Auburn University, Philosophy) 
“Aesthetic (Universal) Affinities: A New Look at Kant’s Sociable Aesthetic Universality” 

Kenny Walden (Dartmouth College, Philosophy) 
“Reason, Respect, and Love”

Chair: Nirvana Tanoukhi (Dartmouth College, English) 

Contact Info: 

Nicholas Dunn

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