charged with the task of visiting other cities

The word “theory” comes from the ancient Greek word theorein, meaning “to see.”

…Over time, it came to describe a special and intensified form of “seeing” in the Greek world. Certain designated city officials— theoroi—were charged with the task of visiting other cities, to “see” events such as religious or theatrical or athletic festivals, and to return to their home city, where they would then give an account of what they had seen. To “theorize” was to take part in a sacred journey, an encounter with the “other” in which the theorist would attempt to comprehend, assess, compare, and then, in the idiom of his own city, explain what had been seen to his fellow citizens. This encounter would inevitably raise questions about the customs or practices of the theorist’s own city. Why do we do things this way? Might there be a better way of organizing the regime? Might there be a best way of life that is not our way? This tension between the theorist’s role as critic and the city’s imperative to protect its way of life is deeply embedded in the history and the practice of political theory.

Patrick J. Deneen in “Patriotic Vision: At Home in a World Made Strange” from The Intercollegiate Review (Spring 2002), pp. 34-35.

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