By Ankaret EL HAJ
At a time when English is spreading faster than ever, equality between languages has become a particularly pressing issue. Should one language have priority over another? Should we let minority languages die out? These are important questions and are often discussed in the field of interlinguistic justice. Further to this, Dr Helder De Schutter, an accomplished scholar of political philosophy from the Catholic University of Leuven, is working on the separate but connected issue of intralinguistic justice. This topic concerns the relationship between standard languages and dialects. In a paper he presented to our class on Contemporary Political Theory, he argues that while we consider the relative status of standard languages, we also need to consider the interface between the standard languages and the dialects over which they have, as an “internal monster,” gained political priority. Continue reading
This academic year, a collective of staff and students have continued the Political Theory Reading Group initiated by Mihaela Mihai. We have made good progress: Beginning with Antonio Negri’s early book Insurgencies, we then read Twenty Theses on Politics, one of the most important books by Latin American philosopher Enrique Dussel. This was followed by reading On the Postcolony by one of the most influential African and postcolonial philosophers, Achille Mbembe. We are currently reading a series of texts by Amy Allen, in preparation for her visit the University of Edinburgh in May. After this we will most likely read Friedrich Nietzsche.
This is a write-up of the meeting of the Political Theory Research Group, 15th March 2017.
(Photo: Zeinab Mohammed, CC-BY)
In what ways do theories of property and the social contract affect an individual’s freedom? Are members of a reasonably just society morally obliged to contribute to its economic system even in ways they might not want to, and within structures they might not agree with?
These are the questions that stand at the centre of Karl Widerquist’s exploration of freedom in capitalist societies, laid out in his book Independence, Propertylessness, and Basic Income – A Theory of Freedom as the Power to Say No. Continue reading
Statue of Hume on the Royal Mile, Edinburgh (Photo: Yukinori Iwaki)
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
Source: Vinoth Chandar (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
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.
A bas-relief of Persian soldiers, c.515 BC. Source: Aneta Ribarska
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
Photo: Moyan Brenn
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