Brian Leiter contra Straussians

2 posts

Bob Dylan Roof

Brian Leiter, law professor and "philosopher" at the University of Chicago, is always on the lookout for fringe academic movements that dare to develop a standard of scholarship apart from the university industrial complex groupthink. Objectivists and Straussians are two of his favorite hobbyhorses, and I imagine the Austrian school will be next on the list with the looming popularity of Ron Paul. (While I hate to come to the defense of Objectivism, Leiter's criticisms almost always miss the mark and usually consist of snarky liberal-nerd remarks that presuppose the illegitimacy of Objectivism. For worthwhile criticisms of Objectivism, see The Maverick Philosopher ).

In his latest attack on Straussians, Leiter writes,

Why would the NY Times invite an actual Aristotle scholar to review a new edition of the "Nicomachean Ethics" when it can get a card-carrying member of the Strauss cult to do it ? As one would expect, it's all pretense and bluster, without any serious engagement with the philosophical issues raised by Aristotle. The best "the less they know, the less they know it" line from the review: "Unfortunately, what has been called philosophy for more than a century has virtually destroyed any belief in the possibility of objective truth, and with it the possibility of philosophy."

UPDATE: A philosophy graduate student writes: "Perhaps it's worth pointing out on your recent post regarding Jaffa's review of Collins & Bartlett that the translation is by two Straussians, presumably for exclusively Straussian consumption. It's dishonest of Jaffa not to mention the scholarly context. After all, one of the most important tasks of a reviewer of such a book is to explain why a new translation now when there are a number of celebrated equivalents that have come out in the last twelve years (Irwin, 2nd edition, 1999; Crisp, 2000; Broadie/Rowe, 2002)." Link ‚Äč

I agree with Leiter that there is some obviously questionable scholarship in the "Straussian" exegesis performed by Strauss epigones like Jaffa, but this omits the legitimate Straussian preference for literal translation. In this sense, I see no reason to juxtapose the Anglo-analytical translations presented by the "graduate student" above. Having read both the Irwin and Broadie/Rowe editions, I can attest to the presence of radically differing structures and content between the two: contrasts that could easily be complimented by an evil Straussian translation. I can also attest to the completely useless commentary adduced by Sarah Broadie, and the analytically superb, but controversial, commentary of Irwin (Irwin uses the apocryphal Magna Moralia to elucidate Aristotle's discussion of friendship, for example). Why can't we also accept controversial exegesis from the Straussian camp?

Leiter also links to the sometimes-lucid Alan Gilbert, who has a post on Jaffa's "Homophobic Aristotle" here .
Bronze Age Pervert

I reply later, but Gilbert is mentally ill.