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According to the standards of today, all philosophic and political writing is expected to be clear and unambiguous. Writers are told to be absolutely open about their suppositions and opinions—to lay all their cards on the table. In this Conversation with Bill Kristol, Michigan State political scientist Arthur Melzer reminds us that this was not always the case. Drawing on his recent book Philosophy Between the Lines, Melzer demonstrates that, from antiquity to the end of the Enlightenment, philosophers, theologians, and political thinkers practiced the art of esoteric writing. Esoteric writing is an elliptical mode of writing that employs rhetorical devices such as allusions, riddles, hints, repetitions, and contradictions that conceals the true thought of a great thinker from everyone except the most careful readers. In his research, Melzer has presented an impressive amount of evidence of the ubiquity of the practice among writers in world history. In this Conversation, he highlights some of the evidence and discloses (in a very forthright fashion) the series of motives that led writers to philosophize between the lines. Finally, Melzer and Kristol discuss why the practice largely disappeared from the nineteenth century onward, and what the phenomenon has to teach us about key themes in the history of philosophy and politics.
You can also watch this conversation at ConversationsWithBillKr
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