Roberts Lecture ‘22 with Agnes Callard

Greg Kintzele ‘25, Guest Writer

Agnes Callard delivered the annual Christopher Roberts Lecture where the Classics department brings in a scholar of Classics to talk about their research. Her two lectures on Friday, September 23 and Saturday, Sept. 24 were titled “What is Free Speech?” and “Socratic Love.” Callard is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Chicago and it was hinted that the talks are part of a book project on which she is working

The first lecture was focused on free speech in the most defined sense. Callard’s talk took an one article from the New York Times titled “I Came To College Eager to Debate, All I Found was Self-Censorship” as the going off point. Her augment and analysis of what is needed to fix freedom of speech was a novel account of what is necessary to be able to actually speak one’s mind, which is difficult with the current level of politicization. Agnes used the article to demonstrate this politicization, arguing that there is a symbolic structure behind people when they argue for or against a particular topic that makes a comment on one topic a move in a second conversation. 

Callard argued that contemporary political disagreement often involves bullying and antagonism because of the degree of politicization. Callard’s contrasted this with an alternative of the Socratic method, where the object is refutation. She argued that to have true freedom of speech, we all must take a more Socratic approach which is not to be nasty or to bully a person, but to show that their position does not adequately answer the question they sought to answer.

Callard wants us to critique an argument, not the person. She said we must respect the person, be civil and remove ourselves from the symbolic structure which is beyond the literal meanings of ideas. She finished off her lecture with a slide that read: “Freedom of Speech = Refutation.”

The second lecture was about the idea of Socratic Love. This discussion was more focused on the ancient sources about Socrates and analyzing what Socrates believed love was, in contrast to modern solutions to the problem of love. The problem of love, as Callard presented it, is the expectation that people and thing are only worth loving if they are good, but are also expected to be loved without conditions, for instance, even if people are to lose the beauty which previously made them worth loving.

Socrates’ argument, in short, was that love is instead for the aspirations of a person and what they want to be. “Nobody is good and worth your love. Being with someone brings you closer to the good,” Callard said. This was something that caused a lot of issues for those in love with Socrates, especially with his lover Alcibiades. 

Many of the people in his day saw him as ironic. Socratic Irony is defined as questioning someone to show their ignorance, therefore pushing that person to become better and ascend to a higher level of intelligence. That is what love is to Socrates: philosophy. This philosophical, and often ironic, approach to love made Socrates’ lovers, friends and interlocutors accuse him of being ironic. This made him unlovable and unfavorable among his peers, since irony is an unfavorable trait in classical Athens. This talk was very focused on the fact that we don’t look for the traits in a person to find a lover but for the one who will bring us closer to the abstract philosophical concept of “the good.”