Interview with Dr. John Pascarella

Interview with Dr. John Pascarella, 2018-2019 Hayek Visiting Scholar

We are are excited to announce the appointment of our 2018-2019 Hayek Visiting Scholar, Dr. John Pascarella. We sat down with Dr. Pascarella and asked him about his background and what he is working on here at the Institute.

CISC: Where are you from?

JP: I’m from an Air Force family, so this is always a tough question. I was born in Italy, but grew up mostly in Georgia.

CISC: What did you study and where?

JP: I did my undergraduate work at Mercer University, where I majored in Political Science and Philosophy, and I was a student in their Great Books program. I did my graduate work at the University of North Texas, where I studied Political Theory and International Relations.

CISC: What did you write your dissertation on?

JP: My dissertation is on the centrality of friendship in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. Specifically, I looked at how the account of friendship in Books VIII and IX shows politics’ need to be guided by an idea of the good and the limits of politics in advancing the good.

CISC: What did you find fascinating about the topic?

JP: Ever since I read Aristotle’s account of friendship as a freshman at Mercer, I couldn’t stop digging into the Nicomachean Ethics. We’re all naturally drawn to friendship, and it’s impossible to form friendships without thinking about what good we expect from them. Aristotle recognizes and appeals to this natural desire for friendship to help us think seriously about what the best human life is.

While Aristotle’s inquiry into friendship is fascinating in its own right, I also wanted to study it more closely because friendship is a central theme in Ancient political thought that is almost entirely absent from Modern political thought. I think this absence is deliberate, especially if you look at Thomas Hobbes, Aristotle’s harshest Modern critic. Hobbes goes to great lengths to conceal his fundamental moral teaching that pleasure is the good. Aristotle, on the other hand, uses friendship to help us see how pleasure – while still a good thing – is not the good itself. If we want to understand what sets the Ancients apart from the Moderns, their disparate moral teachings are a good place to look.

CISC: What are you working on now?

JP: I’m currently working on two projects. The first is a book on Aristotle’s economic teaching titled “Economics and the Public Good: The End of Desire”. While the amount of text Aristotle dedicates to what we today call “economics” is quite small, if you look closely at his account of the money-making art in Book I of the Politics, he points to moral questions that he addresses in the Nicomachean Ethics and the Politics. “Economics” is not a self-sufficient science for Aristotle. Like all things in his political philosophy, it must answer a question about the good at which it aims, and this good necessarily interacts with the good of political communities. This raises questions about justice and how economics affects politics, particularly with regards to the distribution of wealth in a regime. With the human good as the central focus of his political philosophy, the problem of desire and the need to direct it towards better ends in politics and economics is a persistent theme, one that raises questions about the limits of legal or market forces to rein in human beings’ natural tendencies.

The second project is a book chapter I’m preparing for a forthcoming edited volume on Classical Liberalism. The chapter’s title is “The Assault on Speech in Hobbes’s Leviathan”, and it explores the logic for restricting speech in that work. I became interested in the topic given recent debates about “hate speech” and the harm it poses. While it seems like this is a new debate, the rationale for restricting speech today is no different than Hobbes’s approach to it in his most famous work, which is one of the foundational texts in Classical Liberalism. Ironically, his teaching is ultimately illiberal, and I argue this is because he misunderstands the inherently free role of speech in political life by making all things dependent upon a Leviathan for the sake of peace.

CISC: What are you teaching this semester?

JP: I’m teaching two sections of Introduction to Political Theory.

CISC: What has your experience thus far been teaching Clemson students?

JP: We’ve been working on Plato for the past couple of weeks and are about to start Aristotle. For most of my students, this is their first encounter with Political Theory, so it’s all Greek to them (pun always intended). So far, they’ve been eager to dig into the moral questions these texts offer.