This week’s PTRG session discussed ‘The Tory Consequences of Whig Foundations’ by Chandran Kukathas. In this paper, Chandran defends David Hume’s critique of social contract theory and demonstrates the broader implications this has for certain strands of liberalism today. He begins with a historical account of the emergence of the modern nation state before discussing attempts at its justification by social contract theorists. What unites the disparate theories provided by thinkers such as Thomas Hobbes, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Immanuel Kant is the idea that the legitimacy of the state comes from its embodying the abstract, collective will of the citizens who comprise it. Chandran contrasts this with the approach taken by Hume who rejects the idea of such a will and bases the endurance of the state on its ability to satisfy particular interests. This latter perspective is beneficial in outlining a more realist account of politics which acknowledges the sectional nature of society as a contest between competing interests. In attempting to justify the state in terms of the collective will of the governed, social contract theory can serve to obscure the particular interests which underpin the governance and institutions of the state. Continue reading
This week the PTRG welcomed Anca Gheaus from Universitat Pompeu Fabra. In her paper, ‘The Best Available Parent’, Anca argues against the widely-held assumption that children’s biological parents have an automatic moral right to
exercise exclusive parental control over their children. Her argument rests on the liberal assumption that it is only justifiable to exert control over another individual when that individual has given their consent or, if consent cannot be given, when it is in the controlled individual’s best interests. Given that children fall into the latter category it is necessary that any controlling action is conducted in their best interests, which entails giving parental control to the best available parents.
On the 13th of January 2017, doctoral students from Edinburgh and St Andrews Universities met in Edinburgh University’s School of Social and Political Science for the day-long collaborative PhD Political Theory Workshop. We covered a wide range of issues in political theory including genealogy, intellectual history, gender and moral agency, methodology of political theory, global justice and responsibility, caring cosmopolitanism and narratives, issues in liberalism, and rights theory. Continue reading
PTRG seminar series: 14 Dec 2016
The last Political Theory Research Group seminar of 2016 brings Nicola Perugini and Neve Gordon’s interesting paper The Apparatus of Distinction and the Ethics of Violence into discussion. At the very beginning of the paper, the authors quote that “Enemy Leaders look like everyone else. Enemy combatants look like everyone else” and it is this new reality of modern wars that challenges the notion that we are able to make distinctions between combatant and non-combatant, and military and civilian sites. In this paper, they argue that, due to the introduction of the new technology, a status of liminal subjects and spaces is created to legitimize the violence in war. Continue reading
On 18 November 2016, the Just World Institute (with the support of Edinburgh University’s Social Responsibility and Sustainability) organised an Ethics Forum with the title ‘Should universities restrict civil disobedience and student activism?’.
Read our report below.
Universities are often a central place for student activism. In recent years, the University of Edinburgh has seen occupations, campaigns, and actions that have put students in confrontation with University management. Across the UK, there have been cases of students being arrested, prosecuted, and suspended for disobedience and activism on their campuses. How tolerant should universities be towards student activism and disobedience? What role does protest serve in higher education institutions? Continue reading
Political Theory Reading Group
Over the past academic year, some of the staff and students working in political theory have held a regular reading group, initiated by Mihaela Mihai. Continue reading
Political Theory Research Group seminar series: 15 Jun 2016
Ancient Greek ethicists assumed that human beings have a single overarching supreme good, which is eudaimonia, or ‘happiness’, and that this is the final end of every human action. On the Epicurean view, eudaimonia, or in Latin felicitas, or in English ‘felicity’, consists in the state of being free from pain and a life of pleasure.
Political Theory Research Group seminar series: 11 May 2016
In “Hunger’s Unwitting Executioners”, Elizabeth Ashford argues that the persistence of severe poverty should be understood as a structural human rights violation, and that defending this thesis does not require defending the more contentious claims of theorists such as Thomas Pogge. On her analysis, the persistence of severe poverty is a predictable, avoidable, and unjustifiable infliction of severe harm, caused by ongoing patterns of behaviour at a global level. Crucially, she does not target responsibility exclusively on existing coercive social institutions, but rather identifies a ‘shared duty to prevent structural human rights violations’ that is held by individuals born in affluent countries, wherein each is partially responsible for its fulfilment. This duty can be discharged by taking action for structural reform. Continue reading
Political Theory Research Group seminar series: 4 May 2016
Will we have a global parliament or another way to address the global challenges that we are faced with today, such as climate change, social inequalities and wars? What will the future of the global governance system look like? These questions are very challenging to tackle, but Markus Fraundorfer’s fascinating paper ‘Democratising global governance’ aims to answer them. Continue reading