Reason and Persuasion Now Available In Many Fine Formats

by John Holbo on January 22, 2016

As promised!

I finally managed to publish the silly fine thing! Reason and Persuasion, the 4th edition. It is currently available on Amazon. And I made a nice iBooks edition. (Fixed layout. Crisp look. Can read it even on an iPhone 6. I’m still working on the reflowable Kindle version.)

And never forget that cheap good people can get all the PDF’s for free at the book site.

Tell me what you think! Praise and criticize. Tell all your friends. Hunt typos. (I’ve found three. Minor ones.)

I’m downright pleased. That old 3rd edition had lots of nice bits; but this is what it was meant to be. (Also: too many typos before. Shudder.)

I remain distinctly proud of having produced something so unconventional. And it only got uniquer the thicker I laid on the illustrations. Not that cartoons are everything. But it took a certain independence of design spirit to see this thing through. (Another interpretation: one day I started doodling and then, at a certain point, that flipped over into the fallacy of sunk costs. But if it weren’t for the fallacy of sunk costs, how many really good, long books would get finished, eh? Who’s up for that grief unless they’re making a mistake, probably?)

Not to downplay dear Belle’s role as translator. Quite readable, her stuff. I’m sure most people who read this book will mostly be in it for the Plato, so they’ll be reading her stuff. Thanks to her, it’s good stuff. But it was my weird dream, the book as a whole; and it’s come true, all weird and nice, like I wanted. (Calls down the hall: I couldn’t have done it without you, honey!)

So let’s chat about Plato. Just a bit. In my last thread someone asked what’s my take on good bad old Thrasymachus. For starters, I drew something clever.

“The sophist got a wonderful, awful idea.”

You can read all about it in Chapter 9: the trickiness of keeping up that bad-is-good schtick. But here’s a question for you (to get me off the hook of talking more. I’ve written enough already.) Thrasymachus is fun, sure. But it’s notable that he’s not really a romantic villain. He’s got no Nietzschean flair, no Faustian pathos, no Mephistophelian whiff of Hades. He’s not one of those exciting Hollywood psychos, with the nifty knots and twists. He wants to jack peoples’ stuff. Also, he’s no confabulatory apologist. I didn’t draw a gorgon-as-Gecko: “Greed is good.” He doesn’t tell some story about how it’s best for everyone in the polis for the polis to have its tyrant, to protect it from other tyrants! (Set a thief to catch a thief!) Plus: now the kids will have lots of good jobs in the disinformation economy, calling injustice ‘justice’. (You want kids to have opportunities, don’t you, Socrates?)

Thrasymachus is concerned with PR and polish, sure. But we don’t see him talking himself into that.

In short, Thrasymachus is a bully. A belly, in Platonic terms. An appetite. Do you think that’s a literary design flaw in Republic? A cheat, to make Thrasymachus seem cheaper? Or does it show us that something we expect from a villain – bit of that old beyond-good-and-evil – wasn’t on the ancient Greek radar. Surely Pericles’ funeral oration shows the way, so he can hardly have lacked followers:

The admiration of the present and succeeding ages will be ours, since we have not left our power without witness, but have shown it by mighty proofs; and far from needing a Homer for our panegyrist, or other of his craft whose verses might charm for the moment only for the impression which they gave to melt at the touch of fact, we have forced every sea and land to be the highway of our daring, and everywhere, whether for evil or for good [kakōn te kagathōn], have left imperishable monuments behind us.

It might be kind of fun to propose that as an epigraph for a volume on American Exceptionalism. “And when we were good, we were very very good …”

I’d like to think that about my book. In my modest way.



Bruce Wilder 01.22.16 at 5:11 pm

The problem of persuasion divorced from reason — ah, a book about American political campaigns, then. How timely.


Bill Benzon 01.22.16 at 6:20 pm

FWIW, John, a recent study of over a million syllabuses says The Republic is the 2nd most frequently assigned text. Strunk and White, The Elements of Style, is #1.


John Holbo 01.23.16 at 1:25 am

Strunk and White, after all these years?


MM9U 01.23.16 at 12:02 pm

Strunk and White, Always.


LFC 01.23.16 at 8:02 pm

I recently ran across in a bookstore, and bought, the late Bernard Williams’s Essays and Reviews 1959-2002 (Princeton U. Press, paperback, 2015) — the title perhaps a tad misleading since the majority of the pieces appear to be not essays (though there are some) but book reviews he published in a variety of venues, many dealing with Anglophone philosophy books by ‘big names’ (Rawls, Nozick, Rorty, Nussbaum, Ryle, Austin, Taylor, and the list goes on).

Anyway, the first review in the collection (which I’ve read, partly b.c it’s quite short and looked sort of inviting) is of the 1959 revised edition of R.H.S. Crossman’s Plato Today, originally published in 1937. For J. Holbo’s — is ‘amusement’ the right word? — here’s a snippet from Williams’s review, which originally appeared in Spectator on July 31, 1959:

The oddest thing about the once popular view of Plato [specifically of his political ideas, Williams means] is that anyone should have believed it…. [I]t needed only a reading of the Republic itself, or so one would have thought, to recognise the political system recommended there as a sclerotic monstrosity, high-principled in intent, but ultimately — and explicitly — based on oligarchic deceit and a contempt for much legitimate aspiration and human diversity. That well-informed and humane persons should have mistaken this either for an ideal embodiment of the principles of the Periclean Funeral Speech, or for a decent form of human life, is surprising.


js. 01.23.16 at 8:13 pm

Contrats, Holbo!


LFC 01.23.16 at 8:19 pm

oh yeah, what js. said too ;)


John Holbo 01.24.16 at 12:07 am

Thank you kindly, everyone. And thanks for that quote, LFC. I didn’t know that one. Williams was still at Berkeley when I was there, so I can kind of see him saying it. I like that sort of thing.


LFC 01.24.16 at 1:05 am

Glad you liked the quote.
(There appears to be a fair amt of good, well written stuff in that collection of his reviews, esp. for the proverbial ‘general reader’ w relevant interests, which in this context I am. Don’t want to sound too much like a blurb, so I’ll leave it at that.)


kingless 01.24.16 at 9:47 am

Looking at its page in iBooks on my phone, I see it’s Published on Nov 1, 2016 so I bought it just in case it says how close the election will be and who’ll be running. :)


John Holbo 01.24.16 at 11:37 am

“Looking at its page in iBooks on my phone, I see it’s Published on Nov 1, 2016 so I bought it just in case it says how close the election will be and who’ll be running. :)”

I was going to make a joke about that! That very joke! I got the months and days reversed. It was supposed to be January 11! I have uploaded a corrected version but it doesn’t seem to be showing yet. Alas.

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