19 March 2007

Monday Quote Frenzy - John Stuart Mill on Jury Duty

Mill is here reflecting on the classical Athenian custom of having all citizens serve both in the ecclesia (the legislative body) and the dicastery (commonly translated as jury, although it was the same group as the ecclesia acting in a judicial mode).
It is not sufficiently considered how little there is in most men’s ordinary life to give any largeness either to their conceptions or to their sentiments… in most cases the individual has no access to any person of cultivation much superior to his own. Giving him something to do for the public, supplies, in a measure, all these deficiencies. If circumstances allow the amount of public duty assigned to him to be considerable, it makes him an educated man. Notwithstanding the defects of the social system and moral ideas of antiquity, the practice of the dicastery and the ecclesia raised the intellectual standard of an average Athenian citizen far beyond anything of which there is yet an example in any other mass of men, ancient or modern. … He is called upon, while so engaged, to weigh interests not his own; to be guided, in case of conflicting claims, by another rule than his private partialities; to apply, at every turn, principles and maxims which have for their reason of existence the common good: and he usually finds associated with him in the same work minds more familiarized than his own with these ideas and operations, whose study it will be to supply reasons to his understanding, and stimulation to his feeling for the general interest.

This first appeared in Considerations on Representative Government, but was developed further in the first section of Mill’s review of Democracy in America, in the October 1840 Edinburgh Review, and reprinted in Dissertations and Discussions, London, 1859, vol. 2, pp. 1-83.

05 March 2007

Monday Quote Frenzy - Eco on Duty

Umberto Eco's essay "The Power of Falsehood" was originally delivered as the inaugural lecture for the academic year 1994-1995 at the University of Bologna. An expanded version was published in the collection On Literature, and was the source of the excerpt here:
In my essay on fakes and forgeries, written some years ago, I concluded that there certainly exist tools, either empirical or conjectural, to prove that something is a fake, but that every judgment on the question presupposes the existence of an original that is authentic and true, against which the forgery is compared; however, the real cognitive problem consists not only in proving that something is a forgery but in proving that the authentic object is just that: authentic.

And yet this obvious consideration must not lead us to conclude that there is no criterion of truth, and that stories said to be false are the same as those that we consider today to be true, just because both belong to the literary genre of narrative fiction. There is a practice of verification that is based on slow, collective, public work done by what Charles Sanders Peirce called the Community. It is through our human faith in the work of this community that we can say, with a certain degree of tranquility, that the Constitutum Constantini was a forgery, that the earth moves around the sun, and that Saint Thomas Aquinas at least knew that the earth was round. ...

Since for some people the suspicion that the sun does not go around the earth seemed at a certain moment in history just as foolish and execrable as the suspicion that the universe does not exist, it is useful to keep our mind free and fresh for the moment when the community of men of science decrees that the idea of the universe was an illusion, just like the flat earth and the Rosicrucians.

Deep down, the first duty of the Community is to be on the alert in order to be able to rewrite the encyclopedia every day.