Panayiotis Kanelos: The Importance of Learning to Argue

Carter-Ford debate, September 23, 1976

Heterodox Academy: “On the Importance of Learning to Argue: From Ancient Greece Through the Present”

By Panayiotis Kanelos


“Commentators from across the political spectrum decry the corrosion of conversation, the disintegration of dialogue, the barometric pressure of hostility that seems to rise ever more precipitously with each news cycle. We have lost, they declaim, the capacity for civil discourse.

They are not wrong to do so. We have become a society hobbled by antipathy. We huddle like troops in trenches, eyeing one another circumspectly across a heavily-mined no-man’s land, knowing that to venture forth is to put oneself in peril. It is better to keep one’s head down.

Civility is indeed radically important. We need to be civil so that, in an immensely variegated society, we can live beside one another. But living beside one another is not the end of society. The end, the telos, of society is to flourish (eudaimonia). A truce might allow us to live in proximity to one another. It will not allow us to thrive, however.

In order to flourish, we must engage in truly civil discourse.  We must learn to argue…”

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Panayiotis KanelosPanayiotis Kanelos is the 24th President of St. John’s College, Annapolis. He previously taught at Stanford University, the University of San Diego, and Loyola University Chicago. President Kanelos served most recently as dean of Christ College, the Honors College of Valparaiso University, and served on the Executive Board of the Board of Trustees for Hellenic College/Holy Cross, where he oversaw the institution’s financial operations and chaired the Academic Affairs Committee.

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Heterodox Academy is a non-partisan collaborative of more than 2,500 professors, administrators, and graduate students committed to enhancing the quality and impact of research – and improving education – by promoting open inquiry, viewpoint diversity, and constructive disagreement in institutions of higher learning. The Heterodox Academy core team includes PhDs in social and political psychology with expertise in empirical research, higher ed administration, and teaching.

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