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Agents, Spectators, and Social Hope

Richard Rorty and American Intellectuals

Marek Kwiek

Rorty wrote his Achieving Our Country as a philosopher, intellectual, academic and citizen, and each of these perspectives lead to a different emphasis in reading his book, and to a different story (and ‘storytelling’ is one of the themes of the book). The emergent pictures vary: the philosopher tells a story of the growing isolation and cultural sterility of analytic philosophy in the United States of America after the Second World War; the intellectual tells a story of the political bareness and practical uselessness of (the majority of) American leftist intellectuals in the context of the emerging new global order at the turn of the 21st century; the academic tells the story about humanities’ departments at American universities, especially departments of literature and cultural studies, and their students, and contrasts their possible future fate with the past fate of departments of analytical philosophy and their students; and, finally, the citizen tells a story about the nationhood, politics, patriotism, reformism (as well as the inherent dangers and opportunities of globalization). Rorty plays the four descriptions off against one another perfectly and Achieving Our Country represents him at his very best: Rorty is passionate, inspiring, uncompromising, biting and very relevant to current public debates. Owing to the intelligent combination of the above perspectives, the clarity and elegance of his prose, and (although not revealed directly) the wide philosophical background provided by his new pragmatism, the book differs from a dozen others written in the 1990s about the American academy and American intellectuals. It also sheds new and interesting light on Rorty’s pragmatism, providing an excellent example of the application of his philosophical views. One has to note that, generally, it is almost impossible to think of any piece written by Rorty outside of the context of his philosophy, and Achieving Our Country is no exception to this rule.

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The Grammars of 'Power'

Between Contestation and Mediation

Mark Rigstad

In light of the pragmatic aspirations of ordinary language philosophy, this essay critically examines the competing grammatical strictures that are often set forth within the theoretical discourse of 'power'. It repudiates both categorically appraisive employments of 'power' and the antithetical urge to fully operationalize the concept. It offers an attenuated defense of the thesis that 'power' is an essentially contestable concept, but rejects the notion that this linguistic fact stems from conflict between antipodal ideological paradigms. Careful attention to the ordinary pragmatics of power-language evinces the prospects for integrating various context-specific aspects of power and mediating between traditionally divergent theoretical frameworks.

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Paul Voice

Political philosophy has been under the sway of a certain picture since Rawls’s A Theory of Justice was published in 1971. This picture combines the idea that the problem of justice should be approached from the direction of ideal normative theory, and that there are some anchoring ideas that secure the justificatory role of a hypothetical agreement. I think this picture and the hold it has over political philosophy is beginning to fragment. This fragmentation I think is most evident in the skepticism that has become a routine response to the Kantian idea that ‘we’ can ‘discover’ the terms of an agreement that has both a categorical force and a universal scope. But as the picture fragments we are still left with the framework and vocabulary of Rawls’s difficult and elaborate theory. The major difficulty confronting the Rawlsian project (the problem of pluralism as I will argue below) is itself defined in terms of Rawls’s conceptual language. And this serves only to obscure the real challenge and keep us ‘bewitched’ by Rawls’s narrow way of seeing issues. In being bewitched in this way we do not see that the problem of pluralism confronts Rawls’s project as a whole, rather than requiring adjustments and accommodations.

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Editorial

African Philosophy and Rights

Motsamai Molefe and Chris Allsobrook

A useful way to approach the discourse of rights in African philosophy is in terms of Kwasi Wiredu’s (1996) distinction between cultural particulars and universals. According to Wiredu, cultural particulars are contingent and context-dependent. They fail to hold in all circumstances and for everyone (Wiredu 2005). Cultural universals are transcultural or objective (Wiredu 2005). Examples of cultural particulars include dress styles, religious rituals, social etiquette and so on. One example of a cultural universal is the norm of truth. One may imagine a society with different methods of greeting, dress, and raising children, but one cannot imagine a robust society which rejects the norm of truth as the basis of social practices.

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Ethics in Context: The Art of Dealing with Serious Questions, by Gernot Böhme (transl. by Edmund Jephcott). Cambridge: Polity, 2001. Reviewed by Deane-Peter Baker

9-11, by Noam Chomsky. Johannesburg: M&G Books, 2001. Reviewed by Derek Hook

The Politics of Lying: Implications for Democracy, by Lionel Cliffe, Maureen Ramsay and David Bartlett. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2000. Reviewed by Ralph Lawrence

Feminism and Emotion: Readings in Moral and Political Philosophy, by Susan Mendus. London: Macmillan, 2000. Reviewed by Pamela Anderson

Stupidity, by Avital Ronell. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2002. Reviewed by Patrick Lenta

Norbert Elias and Modern Social Theory, by Dennis Smith. London: Sage, 2001. Reviewed by Volker Wedekind

The Fragile Absolute: Or, Why is the Christian Legacy Worth Fighting For?, by Slavoj Zizek. Verso Press, 2000. Reviewed by Clayton Crockett

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Andrew Nash

For most of its existence, the academic study of politics has been based on the reading of the texts of a recognised number of great thinkers from Greek and Roman antiquity through the European middle ages to modern Europe. In the English-speaking world, the example of ‘Greats’ at Oxford – and ‘Modern Greats’ (philosophy, politics and economics) after 1920 – has been crucial in establishing this approach. In 1928, in his inaugural lecture as Professor of Political Science at Cambridge, Ernest Barker (1930:204) still saw the central role of the history of political thought as uncontroversial: ‘The more the development of political ideas is studied, the richer will be the development of political theory’.

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The Art of Re-Interpretation

Michel de Certeau

Peter Burke

After a certain time-lag, the Jesuit Michel de Certeau (1925-86) has come to be recognized as one of the most creative cultural theorists of the late twentieth century, in the same class as his more celebrated contemporaries Pierre Bourdieu and Michel Foucault. The secondary literature on Certeau is increasing at a remarkable rate. A Certeau reader was published in 2000 and an intellectual biography in 2002.2 A remarkable polymath, Certeau practised at least nine disciplines (history, theology, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, linguistics, literature, geography and psychoanalysis), and he has been discussed from many points of view. All the same, as this article will attempt to show, one of the various contexts in which his thought developed has been relatively neglected

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Siseko H. Kumalo

The historical debate, in African philosophy, on personhood has been characterised by radical and moderate communitarianism seen through the scholarship of Menkiti (1984) and Gyekye (1997) and continues contemporarily with scholars considering its implications on contemporary conceptions of rights.

Responding to Chemhuru’s compatibilist view that, he maintains, safeguards and guarantees individual rights, I showcase how his conception of the community as prior to the individual betrays his project. Using the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights to contextualise rights discourse in Afro-communitarianism, Chemhuru avers that once collective rights have been gained, individuals can claim their rights. I critique this position to suggest that Chemhuru undermines his own project of compatibilism through placing the community prior to the individual. Using the Civil Union Act (2006) as a legislative framework that safeguards and guarantees individual human rights, I test Chemhuru’s compatibilist view. I conclude by highlighting the divergences between constitutionalism and Afro-communitarianism.

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Motsamai Molefe

In this article, I motivate for the view that the best account of the foundations of morality in the African tradition should be grounded on some relevant spiritual property – a view that I call 'ethical supernaturalism'. In contrast to this position, the literature has been dominated by humanism as the best interpretation of African ethics, which typically is accompanied by a direct rejection of 'ethical supernaturalism' and a veiled rejection of non-naturalism (Gyekye 1995: 129–43; Metz 2007: 328; Wiredu 1992: 194–6). Here primarily, by appeal to methods of analytic philosophy, which privileges analysis and (moral) argumentation, I set out to challenge and repudiate humanism as the best interpretation of African ethics; I leave it for a future project to develop a fully fledged African spiritual meta-ethical theory.

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The Common Good and a Teleological Conception of Rights

An Article on the African Philosophy of Rights

Sabelo Ndwandwe

A common communitarian criticism of rights discourse picks at the individualistic picture of rights which is said to presuppose a society where persons are conscious of their separateness. In contrast, an African communitarian society is said to put less emphasis on individual interests; it encourages harmony, not divergence of interests, competition, and conflict. Thus, preoccupation with rights would be incompatible with and even hostile to the possibility of community. This article argues the opposite; it submits that rights and community are mutually constitutive. To this end, I explore T. H. Green’s social recognition thesis which reconceptualises rights and obligations in a teleological framework. When conceived in this fashion, rights transcend antithetical relations between individuals and society as typified by classical natural rights thinkers. I argue that, considering a normative significance of the common good, a compelling account of rights in African philosophy is better conceived in a teleological framework.