Mark D. Jordan

American philosopher

Mark D. Jordan is a member of the Danforth Center on Religion and Politics and university professor of the humanities at Washington University in St. Louis.



Authority and persuasion in philosophy (1985)


Philosophy and Rhetoric, vol. 18, p. 74

  • Philosophy establishes itself as a discourse by opposition to the authority of received opinion, especially the opinions sedimented as cult and as law. Philosophy puts into question the authority of what has been handed down. It is not just that there is a critique of philosophic authorities; rather, philosophy appears to be characterized by rejection of intellectual authority as such. How is philosophy to distinguish, then, a permissible authority from those many impermissible authorities which it must reject if it is to survive?
    Perhaps it would be better to avoid the quandary altogether by dismissing authority in order to consider only the "content" of the claims under consideration, regardless of their pretensions. The dismissal fails for at least two reasons. The first is that there are no claims in philosophic texts that are wholly free at least from the implicit constructions of authority. If criticism takes only the content, then it ends up with something other than the texts that have constituted the discourse of philosophy. There is no Platonic "theory of Forms" dissociable from the Platonic pedagogy, that is, from the teaching authority of the Platonic Socrates. The second reason for not being able to dismiss authority altogether is that the very criticism that wants to look only at contents will impose itself as an authority in its choice of procedure. One will still have authority, but an authority that refuses to raise any question about authority.
    Perhaps the question about legitimate authority could be avoided, again, by replying that the obvious criterion for claims in philosophy is the truth. The assumption here is that access to the truth is had entirely apart from the authority of philosophical traditions. Yet it is a biographical fact that one is brought into philosophy by education. First principles are learned most often not by simple observation or by the natural light of reason, but under the tutelage of some authoritative tradition.
  • The end of philosophic education, on many ancient views, is not a body of propositions to be measured against an equally propositional and already apprehended truth. The end is, rather, the having (hexis, habitus) of abiding intellectual excellences, of a power (arete, virtus) to think truthfully.
  • Aristippus is credited with having said that those who stop short of philosophy in the preparatory studies are like Penelope's suitors: they marry the maids, but not the mistress.
  • Once one learns how to speak a language, the authority of the language has fulfilled its aim, but is not thereby overcome. Authority remains as the entry to the inquiry one has undertaken. It is not overcome or passed by so much as it is actualized, fulfilled. That is why philosophic reformations seem too often to be nested within what it is they seek to reform. Insofar as it begins from its predecessor, every attempted reformation is only the confession of the authority of its predecessor's discourse. The appearance of abrupt 'revolutions' in philosophy is produced only by ignoring, sometimes ingenuously, the authority of previous speech.
  • Historiography cannot, by itself, answer the question about the criterion for pedagogical authenticity. So much is obvious in the construction of the historical account, which must assume some principle of selection in order to produce a coherent narrative. That principle of selection will be a judgment either of correctness or of "importance." The former begs the question; the latter is either a concealed judgment of correctness or the reduction of philosophy to popularity. In Aristotle, the principle of selection is an otherwise established judgment of correctness. In much academic historiography, the principle often seems to be popularity. Neither provides an answer to the question about legitimate authority in philosophy.
  • The claim of philosophy to be about the whole can be secured only if the many "ordinary" languages in the whole can be taken over by an act of persuasion into a language about the whole.
  • Socratic trustworthiness depends upon devices of irony, both spoken and acted. … The irony of words prevents Socrates from being taken as the source of doctrines. The irony of actions prevents Socrates from being made into the literal founder of a philosophic school. … The ironic voice does not seek to possess the student, but directs him, lustlessly, to the desire of philosophy itself .
  • Porphyry is right to suggest that Plotinus' teaching "voice" has about it something particular (idios), speaking as if inspired and from his own experience rather than out of the tradition. The rhetorical character of the "voice" is precisely that of an autobiographical urgency in the attainment of the One: "Attempt to lead the god in you back to the godhead in the all."

Christian Rhetoric: Scraps for a Manifesto


Cross Currents, 56 (3), p. 328

  • Academic writing excuses itself from rhetorical care in the selfless service of some precise truth—and then deforms our only means for speaking truth.
  • One reason that Christian theology is so detached from larger intellectual or artistic movements is that it has not suffered consciously a crisis of its expressive forms. At a cultural moment when most humanistic disciplines—not to say, literature and all of the fine arts—have passed through several generations of radical formal innovation, theology is still written as if the conventional forms posed no problems.

Recruiting Young Love (2011)

  • In December 1976, the Dade County Metro Commission passed unanimously on first reading an ordinance banning discrimination on the basis of "affectional or sexual preference" in employment and housing. The commissioner proposing the ordinance was Ruth Shack, wife of one of Anita Bryant's booking agents. Indeed, Anita had recorded radio spots for Ruth's election campaign. After the resolution passed, a local attorney, Robert Brake, decided that because the nondiscrimination ordinance contained no religious exemptions, it would force local churches and their schools to hire avowed homosexuals. The fear from the first was about gay men, though television reporters would later explain, with the pedantry of new learning, that "by 'homosexual' we are referring to both men and women." Already an advocate for conservative causes, Brake began to use political and church networks to organize a petition drive that would force a popular referendum on the ordinance. It was no longer enough to declare religious space exempt from civil rights regulations. Religious values had to be proclaimed to the world- and imposed on it in the name of religious exemption.
    • p. 135