PHIL Seminar: “Layered Irony in Sor Juana and Hume’s Compositions on Skepticism”, Charles Goldhaber, 3:30PM February 15 2024 (EN)

Title: Layered Irony in Sor Juana and Hume’s Compositions on Skepticism by Charles Goldhaber (Haverford College, Philosophy)

Date: Thursday, February 15, 2024
Time: 1530-1700
Room: H232

Abstract: I compare a 1689 poetic ballad by the Mexican Hieronymite nun Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, “Let us pretend I am happy,” with David Hume’s 1742 essay, “The Sceptic.” I argue that each composition conveys several competing messages within it. At the surface level, both compositions employ skeptical reasoning to argue against the usefulness of learning for attaining happiness. But, in addition to this, both compositions invite ironic readings on which learning is a primary source of joy and orientation to those inclined to it—a point both philosophers emphasize in their other writings, including Sor Juana’s letters defending women’s right to study. Ultimately, I argue, both Sor Juana and Hume hold an intermediary position between the surface-level pessimism and ironic optimism. By their own lights, this middle position is more properly skeptical than the others, insofar as skepticism should moderate our confidence in even skeptical conclusions. Moreover, as I explain, layered irony is a fitting device for producing the intermediary position, and so is a welcome element in creative compositions on skepticism.

About the speaker: Charles Haber received his PhD in Philosophy from the University of Pittsburgh and is currently visiting assistant professor at Haverford College. His research is primarily focused on early modern philosophy, especially Hume and Kant. He has published in journals such as Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Journal of the History of Philosophy, Ergo, History of Philosophy Quarterly, and Synthese.