Agonistic Orientations: Sequences of Competing Essays

In the spirit of the ancient Greek “agon,” our genre of “Agonistic Orientations” is designed to spark philosophical competition among the different authors and their essays focusing on a specific philosophical theme. Readers are likewise welcome to partake in this competition by submitting their essays of similar length (4,000-8,000 words) to The best essays will also be printed in special issues by the Orientations Press.

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February 2020

Agonism – From the Ancient Greek Agon to Today’s Competitiveness

By Enrico Mueller

This essay centers on the cultural experience that the Greeks had to face again and again in ever-new circumstances: agonistic orientation. Ancient Greek culture was highly competitive. There was hardly an area of life that wasn’t shaped by competitive thinking. On the one hand, the ethos of competition united all of Greece and separated it from other cultures. On the other hand, this ethos also divided them as individuals from each other within their own culture, being under the persistent pressure to distinguish themselves.…

May 2020

Enrico Mueller, Contests, and Kairos

By Carlin Romano

The impulse to reduce life, the world, or a particular culture to a single principle appeals to many thinkers. It’s natural. The actual world, actual life, and every culture prove astonishingly complex, detailed, and difficult to fathom. It takes an ordinary person, let alone a philosopher, enormous attention to detail to succeed in any real-life, day-to-day situation. It’s therefore an intellectual relief to believe you can thumbnail any of these large phenomena quickly…

August 2020

Kairos and Agon: A Critical Response to Carlin Romano

By Enrico Mueller

The relationship between orientation and competition is appealing in the sense that it can be approached in two ways. One can scrutinize the participants of an agon regarding their differences, thereby outlining a sharp contrast, in order to eventually take a position for one of the two sides. By taking a position, one ensures the clarity of orientation in the competition. Both the democratic discourse of party-democracies and the scientific one of arguments can in this sense be understood as an agon of competing and at the same time justified opinions…

October 2020

Plato: A Philosopher, Not a Dramatist — A Second Reply to Enrico Mueller

By Carlin Romano

The virtue of an agonistic pas de deux is that both parties get a chance to reflect on their beliefs and arguments and decide which positions make sense. I understand and respect that Enrico Mueller, in celebrating the spirit of agon in ancient Greece in his opening essay, honors the tradition of Jacob Burkhardt in his History of Greek Culture, the view that, as Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht put it, “in certain historical moments individuals have a greater tendency to compete and strive for excellence than in some others.”

I’m nonetheless happy to see that Mueller, in his latest contribution to our back-and-forth, acknowledges a fundamental balance in ancient Greek culture between competition and cooperation. He writes now, “Every form of human coexistence and thus every culture of course depends on cooperation.” He says that what he described in his opening essay is a “cooperative agon.” If I’ve managed to nudge Mueller toward that somewhat oxymoronic conception of ancient Greek culture, I’m content.