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Joshua Cherniss

Thanks very much for this engagement, Eric, from which I learned a lot, and with which I largely agree – including the mildly critical parts! (E.g. I certainly do think I could/should have said more about Berlin’s blind spots – or silences – on the political figures he discussed. I say a bit more in my chapter in the Cambridge Companion to IB, which covers that subject in a bit more detail – but still, not enough. Berlin was a bit more critical of Weizmann in private, but still, as you say, idolized Weizmann/used him as an “exemplar” of a kind of liberated Jewish personality in ways that led him away from a sober examination of the reality ….) I agree that Berlin’s claim that Israel was created in Weizmann’s image has aged badly! (And I think that by the end of his life Berlin recognized, and deplored, this)

I also think your distinction between an agent as an exemplary model to be imitated, and individuals as examples through which we can apprehend and learn from certain styles of agency is correct, and fruitful. How far, I wonder, does this reflect the difference between the ethical theories at work in Smith’s thought (and in earlier – classical and early modern – authors), and the value pluralism and (complicated) anti-perfectionism of Weber and the tempered liberals?

On some of the questions you raise: I don’t think Weber or Aron advocated, or practiced, exemplification exactly. But I do think that Weber is, in the “Vocation” lectures, seeking to model, both in his manner of intellectual engagement and the tone and rhetoric he adopts, the kind of ethos and poise that he is advocating – he is not just talking about what it means to have a vocation for science, or to conduct oneself in such a way as to be worthy of the task and rewards of politics; he is showing it. With Aron, I think it’s less a matter of conscious exemplification than a sense that he ought to practice what he preaches – live up to his own advice in his thinking and conduct; and again, the cultivation of a certain style and persona, at least in writing, that models responsibility, sobriety, rigor, prudence, irony, etc.

Finally, as I’ve remarked elsewhere, I think you hit the nail on the head in noting the lacuna concerning education. The various authors I discuss have some potentially fruitful things to say about education, but they don’t engage with it systematically (of course), and, sticking to their thought and concerns, I didn’t pursue this line of thought. I hope to some day (as part of a long list of future/spin-off projects …)


Hi Joshua,

Thank you for your generous response.

When I wrote this digression, I was pretty sure that the differences between Smith and the tempered four could be explained by the systematicity of Smith's thought (such that the education issue became very salient to me at once).

But in reflecting on your position and the questions in your remarks here, I do suspect the situation is much more complicated. So, first you may be right that anti-perfectionism and concern with pluralism of the tempered four may be a major source of difference. (I do happen to think Smith is at ease with a certain kind of pluralism, but not with non-perfectionism.)
Second, sociological circumstances have changed dramatically. By the time the tempered four have reached maturity, societies have urbanized, commercialized, and individualized alongside major shifts in political practices. So, the role(s) of models may have shifted along the way. Anyway, plenty of food for thought. Thank you.


"Nihilistic Times": Wendy Brown in conversation with Jana Bacevic

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Here's a link to my past blogging (and discussions involving me) at: New APPS.


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