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.
How are we to judge actions, inactions and rationalisations of people who find themselves in a murky grey zone of complicity with violence? What does ethics demand of us in dreadful, even impossible, situations? The film series explores cinematic depictions that bring the thorny issue of complicity to the fore, focusing on Nazi-occupied France, apartheid South Africa, Argentina’s Dirty War and Communist Romania. In selecting these four critically acclaimed films, we aim to provoke reflection on ambiguous aspects of violence and human rights abuses. A guiding premise of the event is that reckoning with such experiences is essential to learning from past atrocities and preventing future catastrophes.
Last week we had the pleasure of hosting Cian O’Driscoll from the University of Glasgow, presenting a draft of his latest intervention in just war theory. Below, I recollect the basic moves of his paper.
Cian O’Driscoll sets out to redress one of the dangers of locating oneself within the tradition of just war theory: of lapsing into a kind of traditionalism that contrives a fixed canon around which all debate must orbit. This is not only an artificial self-limitation, but one which can lead to a kind of intellectual conservatism. How do we preserve the wisdom congealed within the recognised tradition of just war theory, but avoid the pitfalls of traditionalism? O’Driscoll offers a simple solution: we must extend its ambit to include previously neglected thinkers. In this paper, he looks to the figure of Xenophon, with two key provisos. First, Xenophon did not write in the first-person. His writings offer a rich collection of observations of ancient Greek thought and practice. Second, clearly Xenophon antedates the actual ‘just war tradition’ – however fragile a historical basis that tradition has – and cannot be directly read through its categories. O’Driscoll reveals that Xenophon’s observations do, however, have a startling affinity with just war thinking. The one complements the other. We find in Xenophon a highly agonal conception of war that, in contrast to modern incarnations of just war theory, places especial weight on the restraint of force – not simply the enactment of justice.
Written by Louis Fletcher.
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
PTRG Programme Term II 2017
18 January, 3 pm, CMB 2.15
Chiming Zhong (PIR), On the Methodology of Rights Theory
25 January, 3 pm, CMB 2.15
Cian O’Driscoll (Glasgow), Victory in the Just War Tradition
1 February, 3 pm, CMB 2.15
Masa Mrovlje (PIR), Judging Violent Resistances
8 February, 3 pm, CMB 2.15
Anca Gheaus (Pompeu Fabra), The Best Available Parent
15 February, 3 pm, CMB 2.15
Kerri Woods (Leeds), TBA
1 March, 3 pm, CMB 2.15
Chandran Kukathas (LSE), TBA
8 March, 3 pm, CMB 2.15
Hugh McDonnell (PIR), TBA
15 March, 3 pm, CMB 2.15
Thomas Fossen (Leiden), Legitimacy, Judgment, and Utopia
22 March, 3 pm, CMB 2.15
Lorna Finlayson (Essex), False Consciousness and the Politics of Austerity
29 March, 3 pm, CMB 2.15
Joe Carens (Toronto), TBA
5 April, 3 pm, CMB 2.15
Matthew Festenstein (York), TBA
26 April, 3 pm, CMB 2.15
Raúl Madrid, (Pontifical Catholic University, Chile), Is academic freedom a relative notion?
3 May, 3 pm, CMB 2.15
Matthew Chrisman (Philosophy), The Speech Act of Protest
10 May, 3 pm, CMB 2.15
Tim Hayward (PIR), TBA
17 May,3 pm, CMB 2.15
Cormac Mac Amhlaigh, (Law), (Suprastate) Constitutionalism as Ideal Theory
22 May, time and location TBC
Amy Allen (Penn State), Joint lecture PTRG and GENDERPOL
24 May, 3 pm, CMB 2.15
Cat Wayland (PIR), TBA
31 May, 3 pm, CMB 2.15
Philip Cook (PIR), TBA
7th of June, 3 pm, CMB 2.15
Jill Poeggel, TBA
14 June, 3 pm, CMB 2.15
Monica Brito Vieira (York), TBA
21st of June, 3 pm, CMB 2.15
Kieran Oberman (PIR) TBA
5th of July, 3 pm, CMB 2.15
Alia Al-Saji (McGill University) Glued to the Image: A phenomenology of racialization through works of art (Joint event PTRG, Philosophy, Centre for Cultural Relations)
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
This is a write-up of the weekly meeting of the Political Theory Research Group, 19th October
Christina presented a draft of the final chapter of her PhD, ‘Need and the Demands of Justice’. What is need, and what kind of moral obligations does it place on us? Christina argues that agents with the ability to meliorate the existentially urgent needs of humans have a duty to help, up to the threshold of sacrificing things of significant cost to themselves. Even agents without that ability, however, have a duty to respond to the existentially urgent needs of others, such that they acknowledge the gravity of their plight. This chapter focuses upon the concrete nature and extent of those duties. In order for agents to effectively discharge their duties in the face of an immensely complicated picture of global suffering, Christina argues that agents have a duty of coordination. This permits the organisation of a division of labour according to a strategic plan that identifies high priority areas. In many ways, this is a vision with an affinity to the research and organisation of ‘effective altruism’, scaled-up to the level of global institutional coordination. Christina emphasises that responsive actions should be attentive to context, focus on net impact, and undergo iterative learning. She also defends a pro tanto duty of enforceability in which states are licensed to enforce a system of coordinated, global harm-reduction.
This is a write-up of the meeting of the Political Theory Research Group, 5th October 2016
For many, the modern predicament is defined by our epistemological inability to formulate absolutist ethical criteria, and our practical inability to bring about a political consensus in their absence. In this paper, Vogler contends that a suitably reflexive form of judgement, augmented in the social world that all humans share with one another, provides one compelling escape route. In making this argument, he calls for the improbable meeting of two disparate figures: Hannah Arendt and Margaret Archer. For Arendt, the traditions which once anchored judgement have fragmented, leaving a gaping lacuna into which the dehumanising tendencies of the first half of the twentieth century stepped. In this situation, our ‘common sense’ – the way in which judgement transcends individuals to find intersubjective validity, forming a shared universe through which politics can be negotiated – has to be resuscitated without succumbing to either thoughtlessness (Eichmann) or absolutism (Plato). The solution, Arendt argues, is to cultivate a reflexive way of thinking. First, through a disinterested perspective which enables us to consider issues independent of our immediate needs. Second, through enlarging our mentality, so that we are able to ‘go visiting’ and imagine the perspectives of others.