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Research at St Andrews

Jon Hesk


Research overview

My research interests are wide: Homeric epic; Greek tragedy and comedy; Thucydides; Athenian oratory and Greek rhetorical theory; ancient democracy and its modern legacy; the application of political science and psychology to the texts and culture of Athenian democracy; the influence of ancient drama on contemporary British theatre. I have even written about the creative 'reception' of Homer and early Greek philosophy in Terrence Malick's subversive war film The Thin Red Line.  I have published two books: Deception and Democracy in Classical Athens (Cambridge 2000) and Sophocles Ajax (London 2003). I have also published over twenty peer-reviewed journal articles and chapters in edited volumes.

Alongside a number of in-progess chapter-length projects, I am currently writing a big book called Deliberation and Decision-making from Homer to Aristotle. The book will uncover a contradiction at the heart of the Greek city-state’s approach to public and private deliberation: on the one hand, the polis prized creative, entertaining and devastating performances in verbal contests, often conflating the form of an argument with its substance; on the other, the city’s various written and performed genres exhibit the worry that insults, biased and pathological thinking, entertaining rhetoric and appeals to emotion are usurping evidence-based proof, good advice and well-reasoned argument. This ‘performance/evidence tension’ drives a cross-generic interest in what counts as intellectual virtue and responsible debate, and what are the characteristics of sound practical decision-making.  The essential thesis of the book is that internal and external challenges to the survival and success of Greek city-states gave rise to a sophisticated and varied range of reflections and analyses on the subject of deliberation and decision-making. These discussions arose in all the main genres of writing and performance associated with the archaic and classical polis. My approach promises a comprehensive account which will not be preoccupied with certain domains or types of deliberation or only one or two genres of writing.  I also argue that the ancient Greek material can both illuminate, and be illuminated by, research areas which lie beyond the disciplines of Classics and Ancient History (e.g. political psychology and 'behavioural economics'; normative accounts of deliberative democracy and agonistic democracy; virtue ethics and virtue epistemology).




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