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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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Promises Unspoken

A Wittgensteinian Response to the Very Idea of a Social Contract

Anthony Holiday

In the ordinary way, we all know very well what a contract is. It is a mutual undertaking or promise by two or more parties to do or refrain from doing something or another. Such promises may be made verbally, by means of gestures, or expressed in writing, but they must be expressed or else the contract is not merely null and void, but nonexistent. There is no such thing as an inaudible and invisible contract. To think otherwise is to mistake metaphorical for literal language. Yet the history of political philosophy from the 17th century until the present day has been dominated by the idea of a contract to which no persons living or dead ever affixed a signature or so much as nodded assent; a promise binding on the whole of civilised humankind, on which are thought to rest the complementary edifices of civil society and the state.

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Darrel Moellendorf

It is a great honour to have Cosmopolitan Justice reviewed in the pages of this journal. Indeed, the range and quality of the reviews are terrific, in the multiple senses of that word. I regret that I do not have the opportunity to respond fully to any of the reviews. Nonetheless, I shall try to do justice to the most serious issues raised. The next section, the most abstract of five, addresses challenges to the constructivist justification in Cosmopolitan Justice as well as the nature of duties of justice in the absence of a legal framework. Although this section may be particularly interesting to students of philosophy, those whose interests are relatively more applied can skip ahead. Section III takes up the issues of sovereignty and intervention; Section IV addresses matters of distributive justice.

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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.

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This edition of Theoria brings contributions that engage, provocatively, with an unusually wide range of issues. They include reflections on Wittgenstein’s Lecture on Ethics, an exploration of the concept of trust in Locke’s thought, an account of Ellen Meiksins Wood’s pioneering contribution to the recasting of political thought, and an essay concerned to revisit and re-assert the importance of Noam Chomsky’s thought with respect to the articulation of a principled socialist politics. They include, too, reflections on J.M. Coetzee’s Life and Times of Michael K and Chinua Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah, a critical examination of aspects of Nancy Cartwright’s seminal contributions to the philosophy of science, and conclude with a critique of the case made for ‘illiberal democracy’ in the context of economic modernisation.

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Racial or Spatial Categorisations?

A Focus on the French Setting

Magali Bessone

The hypothesis developed in the paper is that the relation between race and space, under-explored in philosophy, is a powerful theoretical instrument for understanding racial injustices and can be used to renew racial categorisation in a more critical, transformative manner. It argues that only constructivism, in its 'interactive constructionism' version (Hacking 1999), can make sense of both concepts in a relevant way for political theory, and provide a general critical frame to study the relation between both concepts, thereby replying to the powerful arguments of racial scepticism. After specifying what such a position entails for the 'race' concept, the paper argues that 'space', itself conceived in a constructionist perspective, is a core element of current referents of 'race' in our folk conceptions. It shows that France, despite its pretence of racial blindness, is not a counter-example, but rather reinforces the hypothesis. Hence, space should be more thoroughly reinvestigated at an epistemological and theoretical level in exploring our racial thinking.

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Democracy and the Multitude

Spinoza against Negri

Sandra Field

Negri celebrates a conception of democracy in which the concrete powers of individual humans are not alienated away, but rather are added together: this is a democracy of the multitude. But how can the multitude act without alienating anyone's power? To answer this difficulty, Negri explicitly appeals to Spinoza. Nonetheless, in this paper, I argue that Spinoza's philosophy does not support Negri's project. I argue that the Spinozist multitude avoids internal hierarchy through the mediation of political institutions and not in spite of them; nor do these institutions merely emanate from the multitude as it is, but rather they structure, restrain and channel its passions. In particular, the required institutions are not those of a simple direct democracy. There may be other non-Spinozist arguments on which Negri can ground his theory, but he cannot legitimately defend his conception of the democratic multitude by appeal to Spinoza.

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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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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.