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Freedom, without Power

Christopher Allsobrook

This article attributes the conception of 'freedom-without-power' which dominates contemporary Western political philosophy to a reification of social agency that mystifies contexts of human capacities and achievements. It suggests that Plato's analogy between the structure of the soul and the polis shows how freedom is a consequence, rather than a condition, of political relations, mediated by inter-subjective contestation. From this basis, the article draws on the work of Raymond Geuss to argue against pre-political ethical frameworks in political philosophy, in favour of a more contextually sensitive, self-critical approach to ethics. Such reciprocal ethical-political integration addresses problems of ideological complicity that may arise if freedom is discretely abstracted from history and power in political philosophy. Finally, the article roughly reconstructs a critical account of African identity from writings of Steven Biko to illuminate symptoms of 'meritocratic apartheid' in South Africa today which Thad Metz's influential pre-political conception of ubuntu obscures, by abstracting the figure of African personhood from politically significant historical conditions.

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De Beauvoir, Existentialism and Marx

A Dialectic on Freedom

Angela Shepherd

In this article, I focus on de Beauvoir’s view and argue that, alongside an original account of existential freedom, she utilises a Marxist-inspired historical materialism as a methodological tool with which to analyse the social position of women. First, I discuss existential freedom and highlight de Beauvoir’s introduction of gender, whereby the concepts of material, social and situational conditions cohere to restrict the possibility of freedom and agency for women. Next, I explore Marx’s view on freedom and de Beauvoir’s endorsement that in order to promote human flourishing, structural and material change is required. Although some tensions prevail, I conclude that by weaving together existentialism, phenomenology and Marxism in her unique way, Simone de Beauvoir offers a complex and nuanced approach to human freedom.

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Democratic Theory

The South African Crucible

Lawrence Hamilton

South Africa's post-apartheid context and a mix of African and non-mainstream Western political theory is felicitous for a positive critique of the two now predominant Western accounts of democracy. The context highlights how deliberative and aggregative accounts of democracy fall short in their attempts to make universal claims regarding democracy; and it provides the theoretical basis for an account of political democracy that better associates democracy with freedom, power, representation, and domination. The article argues that freedom is power through political representation, and freedom obtains if and only if the existing forms of representation manage power relations in order to minimize domination and enhance political judgement amongst representatives and represented. The article submit that, unless radical institutional change is carried out, South Africa will not rid itself of the legacies of these Western models and will be unable to generate the freedom and democracy its attainment of political freedom has now long promised.

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Hans Herlof Grelland

Human existence implies a variety of activities. We perceive, we act, we communicate with others, we feel, we think, we imagine. How much of this activity is determined by given conditions, be it permanent traits of character or external physical or social conditions, and how much is an expression of freedom? What do we choose, for what can we be considered responsible? When I sit and let my thoughts wander freely, one after another emerges. Is it I who choose which thoughts I think? Could I have chosen to think other thoughts? Am I responsible for the fact that this thought and not another emerges? If I am not responsible, will there be any responsibility left at all? Is it not possible to trace also the deliberate and reflected choices that I make back to an origin of thoughts which spontaneously occur?

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Liberty, Law and Leviathan

Of Being Free from Impediments by Artifice

Lena Halldenius

The argument in this article is that Hobbes' theory of freedom in Leviathan allows for four ways of being free to act - corporal freedom by nature, freedom from obligation by nature, the freedom to disobey and the freedom of no-rule - each corresponding to a particular absence, some of which make sense only in the civil state. Contrary to what some have claimed, this complexity does not commit Hobbes to an unarticulated definition of freedom in tension with the only one that he explicitly offers, which is that freedom consists of nothing other than the absence of external impediments of motion. To be free from obligation is to be free from impediments. As a political subject in the state, the power that is blocked or compelled by law is a person's power to perform artificial acts as her will directs. Laws and prior commitments are external impediments that block or compel making an artificial, institution-dependent act either impossible or unavoidable. The bonds of law bind artificially yet corporally, given that the power that makes them is, quite literally, an external body that moves at will.

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Against Liberty

Adorno, Levinas and the Pathologies of Freedom

Eric S. Nelson

Adorno and Levinas argue from distinct yet intersecting perspectives that there are pathological forms of freedom, formed by systems of power and economic exchange, which legitimate the neglect, exploitation and domination of others. In this paper, I examine how the works of Adorno and Levinas assist in diagnosing the aporias of liberty in contemporary capitalist societies by providing critical models and strategies for confronting present discourses and systems of freedom that perpetuate unfreedom such as those ideologically expressed in possessive individualist and libertarian conceptions of freedom.

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Ajume H. Wingo

Conceiving of the problems of African colonialism in geopolitical terms offers an incomplete and ultimately misleading view of the significance of the African colonial experience on the present character of African politics. Unhappily, the track record of much of ‘independent’ Africa suggests that the colonisation of Africa was not so much the cause of Africans’ lack of freedom as a manifestation of the lack of freedom, without which Africans were unable to defend themselves. Colonialism is a force that probes for a certain type of weakness or limitations in a population. Colonialism seeks out certain ‘freedom voids’ – populations that lack the qualities of a free citizenry. I argue that Africans would do better to focus instead on the more general political problem of how any state, regardless of its experience with colonialism, must create and sustain the institutions that support the security and freedom of its citizens.

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David Detmer

For the one hundredth anniversary of Sartre's birth it is fitting to consider some of the ways in which his thought remains relevant to our present concerns and to those of the foreseeable future. In this age of terrorism, most people would perhaps think first of Sartre's writings on political violence. Analytical philosophers, on the other hand, might be more inclined to cite Sartre's early works on such "hot" topics as the emotions and the imagination, not to mention consciousness more generally. And historians of philosophy, mindful of the cyclical nature of philosophical fashions and enthusiasms, might well point to a developing resurgence of interest in phenomenology, and to Sartre's distinctive contributions to that philosophical movement. Indeed, given the astonishing range of Sartre's writings, on everything from art to biography to history to psychology to literary criticism, it is impossible in one short essay to identify every contribution of enduring (or perhaps even permanent) value. Accordingly, I will focus here on just two topics: freedom and education.

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'Master, Slave and Merciless Struggle'

Sin and Lovelessness in Sartre's Saint Genet

Kate Kirkpatrick

In his biography of Jean Genet, Sartre says his aim is ‘to demonstrate that freedom alone can account for a person in his totality’. Building on my reading of Being and Nothingness in Sartre on Sin, I examine the compatibility of Sartrean freedom and love in Saint Genet. Sartre’s account of Genet’s person is largely a loveless one in which there is no reciprocity, others are ‘empty shells’ and love is ‘only the lofty name which [Genet] gives to onanism’. I use Saint Genet to suggest Genet’s lovelessness is the direct result of locating the totality of personhood in freedom. This location results in a lonely experience of subjectivity as ‘master, slave and merciless struggle’ – never lover or beloved, whether on the divine plane or the human.

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Counter-Violence and Islamic Terrorism

Is Liberation without Freedom Possible?

Maria Russo

One of the biggest threats in the contemporary world is the phenomenon of Islamic terrorism, which is increasingly becoming a facet of everyday life in Europe. In this article, I question whether it is possible to define Islamic terrorism as a form of counter-violence, according to how Jean-Paul Sartre presented this concept in Notebooks for an Ethics, and, as a consequence, whether it can be legitimized or justified. According to this argument, the freedoms that perceive themselves as oppressed can try to liberate themselves through violence, given certain conditions. However, with terrorism we do not simply face the paradox inherent to counter-violence. The key point, which clearly distinguishes Islamic terrorism from counter-violence, is the fact that behind this nihilistic fury there is no concept of freedom to be liberated.