Contemporary Political Thought (abstracts)

Political John Rawls‘ Phenomenology of the Human Person
John Rawls‘ later work is largely concerned with understanding how his theory of justice, justice as fairness, can be neutral towards the plurality of opinions and doctrines concerning the good life that characterize modern constitutional democracies.

His account is based on what he calls the ―political conception of person‖, which, by his definition, is a non-metaphysical understanding of the democratic citizen. By formulating a political idea of personhood that is detached from any religious, moral, or philosophic doctrine, he believes that his theory of justice can remain fair to individuals pursuing their distinct conceptions of the good life. My central proposal is that Rawls fails in his attempt to expunge significant metaphysical baggage from his account of the democratic citizen and, therefore, advocates a political arrangement that is essentially unfair.
Author: Joseph Lacey (PhD)

Argumentation Ethics and the Justification of Private Property

The ongoing economic crisis is often perceived as a crisis of capitalism and the political philosophy of liberalism. In this contribution we will investigate the philosophical solidity of one of the cornerstones of liberalism, namely the institution of private property. We will offer a constructive approach by trying to justify private property based on the normative characteristics that are present in any context of a sincere dialogue.

In the first part we will single out the normative primordiality of truth, and the fundamental equality between the participants, in a sincere dialogue. In the second part we will look at the aspects of rationality and normativity present in human action. In the third part we will investigate how the normative characteristics of the first part can be connected with the elements of human action discussed in the second part.
Author: Michaël Bauwens (MPhil)

Injustice Without Revolt: Honneth‘s Theory of Recognition in the Face of Consent with Suppression

In political liberalism, an important feature of the neutrality of the state is the absence of a conception of the good life in its theoretical justification. The state has to be concerned with questions of fairness and justice which are, according to liberal authors and most prominently John Rawls, merely political and do not involve any conception of what a good life consists in.

But is this distinction between the political and the ethical legitimate? Or does justice necessarily require a conception of the good life? In this paper I will address this question by means of Axel Honneth‘s theory of recognition, which functions as the normative ground of claims of justice and injustice. His thesis is that no conception of justice can do without a conception of the good life, which he formulates in terms of self-realization in relations of mutual recognition.
Author: Liesbeth Schoonheim (MPhil)

Biopolitics: What Foucault and Agamben Have to Say

The topic of my talk during the conference will be the concept of biopolitics as introduced by Foucault and Agamben. Foucault was the first to speak about it: he launched the whole debate. To go further, I will discuss Agamben‘s own interpretation of this notion.

Foucault started to speak about this when he discussed the origin of sexuality. In his opinion, human sexuality has become an object of knowledge under the influence of the human sciences. When he starts to investigate this, he sees that this comes essentially down to power. This, however, is not all: we care about our sexuality as well. This started a whole range of investigations, for instance those by Deleuze, Negri & Hardt, Virno, but also Agamben.

The position of Agamben is very specific; he makes use of the terms zoè and bios. With the concept of zoè, Agamben denotes life as ―naked life, whereas bios is the qualified life of the civilian. As Agamben shows, our lives are at stake. We are subjected to power at every moment. To prove his point, he focuses on extreme situations: homo sacer, the death camps, une biopolitique mineure. So in my presentation I want to explain the origin of biopolitics (Foucault) on the one hand, and a specific position (Agamben) on the other hand.
Author: Isabelle Deridder (MPhil)

The Great-Below: The Ambiguous Economy in Bataille‘s “Theory of Religion”

There is a constant problem posed by being a human being without being an object. While many thinkers attempt to distinguish the two, drawing, for example, lines of authenticity and subjectivity, Bataille understands the human being in his full ambiguity: as the subject/ object. It is within, through, and as, the economy of reason, that the subject/object is able to come to its full value. The economy of reason is the ultimate objectifier and it is here that the value of ambiguity screams forth.

Within the economy the human runs the risk of being lost entirely in objectification, yet, he cannot exist any other way. It therefore becomes of the greatest importance that we are able to exist within this economy without allowing our individuality to entirely disintegrate. This is the importance of ambiguity. In coming to understanding Bataille‘s economy of reason and the object self which exists within it, we will see the importance of searching for instances of the sacred, both around and within, the self.
Author: Dave (David) Tracey (MA)

Strauss and Skinner

Many commentators understand Leo Strauss‘s doctrine of esoteric writing as being something that can help to advance a hidden—usually unpalatable—political agenda. A closer consideration of what esoteric writing entails, however, reveals that it might not be as politically expedient a tool as so many people have made it out to be. With respect to this, I will suggest that at best, esoteric writing can be useful for expressing some political programme. For Strauss, this programme is a natural right doctrine.

This doctrine is a concept that Quentin Skinner rejects in favor of a form of historicism. At work in Skinner‘s historicism are ‗innovating ideologists,‘ or thinkers who change how various ideas are accepted. In this talk, I will examine the esoteric writer and the innovating ideologist, and suggest that these concepts might not be mutually exclusive. Ultimately, I want to consider what this might mean for the greater ‗Strauss-Skinner‘ debate.
Author: James Luke McInnis (MA)

There is No Political Meta-Language

In this paper I offer a critique of Carl Schmitt‘s theory of ‗the political‘ from a Marxian vantage point. After distinguishing Schmitt‘s account of singularity and the political from Antonio Gramsci‘s, it will be evident that Schmitt relies on a faulty supposition: that with regard to political phenomena, one can take the position of a global or universal theoretical perspective, from a third-person or external‘ viewpoint of the second-degree.

Schmitt offers a theory of theories, or concept of concepts, so as to judge whether a given theory or concept meets the criteria (conflict) he sets for the status political.‘ Though Schmitt himself knows a total politics to be impossible in practice, he is guilty of totalizing theoretically, as though such a perspective were possible. This means excepting his own concept or activity from the focus of theoretical scrutiny, attempting to render political language reducible to the same theoretical index, or ‘meta-language.‘ For Gramsci, the singularity of the political is precisely the irreducibility of political discourses to a common index, or political events to their agents.

The political is the resistance of perspectives to total perspectival integration, an occasionally explosive, irreducible blind-spot of political discourse. The specificity of the political lies precisely in this essential discrepancy of perspective. As one cannot examine society without being a part of it, my thesis is that there is no political meta-language or meta-theory, because there is no meta-perspective from which to articulate it. There is no theory of ‗the political,‘ but only political theories.
Author: Daniel Burnfin (MPhil)

For a Departure from Marx: Marx‘s Failure to Break with Political Economy

Classical Marxism remains intimately bound up with the very political economy that it seeks to transcend. Throughout Marx‘s oeuvre—from his definition of wealth to his understanding of revolutionary practice—the same problematic axiom of production that we find in political economy consistently corrupts Marx‘s metaphysics. This paper will demonstrate and engender the omnipresence of production within Marx‘s project and look to a theory of archaic forms of gift-giving in order to theorize how we might break with models of production and thereby push Marx further to the left.
Author: Conor B. Murphy (MA)

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