Irrational Politics, Unreasonable Culture: Justin Smith and Jessica Riskin

Please note, this event has expired.

Presented by Commonwealth Club at The Outdoor Art Club, Mill Valley CA

Jan 29 2020
Irrational Politics, Unreasonable Culture: Justin Smith and Jessica Riskin

Two experts in the history of science and philosophy address today’s mad cacophony

Shouting and shaming, lying and trolling: How did we ever learn to speak to one another the way we do now?

In matters political and cultural, public and private, on social media and in major newsrooms, it seems as though over the past few years a bizarre and frightening irrationality has taken hold of our discourse.

But what is irrationality, and what is that thing—reason—with which we oppose it?

The historical period known as the Enlightenment represented a triumph of reason over the dark forces of irrationality and superstition. And yet some of today’s most ardent defenders of the Enlightenment’s legacy—from scientists to artists, from atheists to political theorists—express themselves in ways that often seem suited to zealots and dogmatists.

Reasoned political debate has been supplanted by trolling, with the occupants of some of the highest offices in the world reflecting and at times encouraging such discourse.

In this conversation at the very beginning of the century’s third decade, on the eve of Brexit and the first presidential primaries if one of America’s most important presidential elections, two experts in the history of modern science and philosophy will apply their work to the mad cacophony of the present moment.

How can the intellectual history of the past few centuries help us in our effort to reinvigorate reasoned political and cultural debate?

Join them at The Commonwealth Club for an evening that will celebrate and encourage the life of the mind and the power of thinking.


Justin E. H. Smith
University Professor of Philosophy, the University of Paris 7—Denis Diderot; 2019–20 John and Constance Birkelund Fellow, the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers of the New York Public Library; Author, Irrationality: A History of the Dark Side of Reason

Jessica Riskin
Professor of History, Stanford University; Jean-Paul Gimon Director of the France-Stanford Center for Interdisciplinary Studies; Author, The Restless Clock: A History of the Centuries-Long Argument over What Makes Living Things Tick


General Admission:
Member – $20
Nonmember – $25

Premium (seating in the first few rows):
Member – $30
Nonmember – $35

Student – $10

Book (Irrationality: A History of the Dark Side of Reason) – $30

Plus fees

Contact: 415-381-5204

    Official Website

Additional time info:

7:00 pm – Check-in and reception
7:30 pm – Program
8:30 pm – Book signing


The Outdoor Art Club

One West Blithedale, Mill Valley, CA 94941

Google Map of One West Blithedale, Mill Valley, CA 94941

See what's near this venue

CONNECT WITH Commonwealth Club


Follow us on Facebook

MarinArts is made possible with support from:

MarinArts Sponsors:

Artsopolis Network Members: Akron OH | Austin TX | Bainbridge Island WA | Birmingham AL | Boston MA | Cape Cod MA | Cincinnati OH | Cleveland OH | Colorado Springs CO | Columbia SC | DuPage County IL | Durham NC | Essex County MA | Flagstaff AZ | Flint MI | Fort Lauderdale FL | Indianapolis IN | Kalamazoo MI | Kansas City MO | KeepMovingOKC | Macon GA | Main Line Area PA | Marin County CA | Marquette County MI | Mendocino County CA | Middlesex County NJ | Milwaukee WI | Montgomery County MD | Napa Valley CA | Nashville TN | Niagara County NY | Oklahoma City OK | Orange County CA | Orlando FL | Ottawa IL | Panama City FL | Pittsburgh PA | Providence RI | Quito, Ecuador | Richardson TX | Sacramento CA | San Antonio TX | St. Cloud MN | St. Croix Valley MN/WI | St. Johns County FL | Stillwater MN | Tallahassee FL | Tampa Bay FL | Utah | Ventura CA | York County PA