A well-known aphorism by George Santayana says that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. Less well-known, though, is the sentence used to preface this aphorism, namely that “when experience is not retained […] infancy is perpetual”. While the former is often used to highlight the importance of learning from past mistakes, the latter underlines the importance of learning from the beneficial (albeit defunct) practices of the past. But can historical practices inform contemporary political philosophy? Anthoula Malkopoulou’s insightful analysis of the Athenian institution of ostracism suggests a positive response. On her view, we should understand ostracism as a mechanism of democratic self-defence, which could plausibly be revived in a modern version. In the following lines I will further explore this suggestion.
Category: Academia (Page 1 of 7)
In this guest post, Gottfried Schweiger (University of Salzburg) discusses the university as a political place and outlines four different kinds of political work that take place within it.
Political philosophy reflects on the big problems and injustices in the world and how they can be changed for the better. Political work and the specifics of the organization and social space that is the “university” are rarely explicitly reflected upon, yet political philosophy would have the tools to do so.
Shawn raises his hand and asks quietly: “Mr Warner?” […] Mr Warner does not hear Shawn or notice his raised hand. Instead, Mr Warner is fielding questions from a group of middle-class students […] Shawn sighs and puts his hand down (Calarco 2018: 164).
Post by Leonie Smith and Alfred Archer
When middle-class students are regularly heard in the classroom and working-class students, such as Shawn, are regularly not heard, and when news reporters consistently fail to seek out women experts to the same extent that they seek out men experts, something unjust is happening. In a recent paper, we argue that this something is an epistemic attention deficit.
Conservatives are the only people who believe in free speech nowadays. At any rate, that’s what many conservatives seem to think. Witness the wearying succession of anti-leftist think-pieces about how progressives have turned into authoritarian censors. Or notice the meteoric rise (and fall) of Parler, a social media site touting itself as a free-speech-friendly rival to censorious Silicon Valley tech giants. Or see the many comedians who, while mostly sharing the progressive sensibilities of coastal elites, bemoan the chilling of free speech at universities. Today, if you care about free speech and you’re looking for staunch allies, they’re more likely to be found in conservative circles.
Stating that it is difficult nowadays for a state to pursue ambitious redistributive policies through a highly progressive tax system: is it right-wing or simply realistic? Claiming that it will not be possible to fund a universal basic income sufficient to cover the basic needs of all citizens, or to open borders and offer quality social protection to everyone at the same time: are these instances of taking economic constraints seriously or defending the status quo?
Is realism right-wing?
On closer inspection, many political issues that tend to be placed on the left-right spectrum could be interpreted as opposing an idealistic and a realistic perspective. However, these two oppositions are not identical.
Philosophy as a method of study is perceived as detached from reality. When we think of a philosopher, we tend to imagine him (unfortunately, we usually imagine a man) with his books, locked in a room, roaming in a field alone with his thoughts. Traditionally, philosophy is considered as a detached exercise: it is a research process between me, my books and my thoughts; at best, it is considered as an exercise of Socratic dialogue with peers and colleagues. Even in more “engaged” philosophical subdisciplines (political, social, moral philosophy, or ethics), philosophers have tended to work in a vacuum; unencumbered by the contingencies and general messiness of everyday reality, they attempt to find absolute truths about justice, inequality, the good, or society, without looking out the window to see what justice, inequality, the good or society are in real life.
While there are, indeed, benefits to armchair philosophising, I want here to briefly explore its limitations, and to encourage the use of an alternative philosophical method, especially when working on topics or issues that are relevant to our society, our political system, and our understanding of justice. Namely, I want to encourage direct engagement with our subjects of research, not only as sources of information, but as structural contributors to the development of our research projects and its priorities.
Citizen Science is gaining popularity. The term refers to a form of scientific research that is carried out entirely or in part by citizens who are not professional scientists. These citizens contribute to research projects by, for example, reporting observations of plants and birds, by playing computer games or by measuring their own blood sugar level. “Citizen scientists” (also referred to as, for instance, “participants”, “volunteers”, “uncredentialed researchers”, or “community researchers”) can be involved in several ways and at any stage of a research project. They often collect data, for instance about air quality or water quality, and sometimes they are also involved in the analysis of those data. In some cases, citizens initiate and/or lead research projects, but in most of the projects we read about in academic journals, professional scientists take the lead and involve citizens at some stage(s) of the research. Some interpret the rise of citizen science as a development towards the democratisation of science and the empowerment of citizens. In this post, I address some ethical worries regarding citizen science initiatives, relate them to the choice of terminology and raise the question as to whether we need an ethical code for citizen science.
The debate on the role of academics in a democracy has intensified in recent years with the rise of worrying trends in global politics. The election of Donald Trump in the US, for instance, has escalated racial tensions, worsened treatment of refugees, etc. The President himself has repeatedly expressed support for Neo-Nazi and white supremacy groups. The ruling parties in Poland, Hungary and Turkey have consolidated their power and continued imposing rules and espousing rhetoric that are inherently inimical to an inclusive democracy. The question is this: what should academics do when witnessing these events? Should we take an ‘activist’ role, effectively becoming academic-activists? Or should we remain neutral out of respect for objectivity? This post makes a case for the former proposition, advancing the case for academic-activists. But first, let me engage with the latter proposition – the neutral option – and show why the criticism from the ‘neutralists’ misses its target.
While Justice Everywhere takes a break over the summer, we recall some of the most memorable posts from our 2019-2020 season. This post focuses on the successful launch of our Beyond the Ivory Tower interview series.
The Beyond the Ivory Tower series seeks to explore the relationship between academic political theory and ‘real politics’, by talking with figures who have – in the course of their careers – managed to bridge that divide. As stated in our introductory post, “their stories are interesting in their own right [but additionally they] help us to understand the position of political theory today, and how other political theorists might achieve wider impact.”
The series is comprised of four interviews so far:
- Baroness Onora O’Neill: Emeritus Honorary Professor at the University of Cambridge and cross-bench member of the British House of Lords.
- Professor Marc Stears: Director of the Sydney Policy Lab and previously Chief Speechwriter for the then-leader of the UK Labour Party, Ed Miliband.
- Professor Jonathan Wolff: Alfred Landecker Professor of Values and Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford.
- Rebecca Lowe: Founding director of FREER, a think tank dedicated to promoting social and economic liberalism, and doctoral student at King’s College London where she’s researching Lockean justifications of private property.
Stay tuned for more interviews in this ongoing series in our 2020/21 season!
Justice Everywhere will return in full swing on 7th September with fresh weekly posts by our cooperative of regular authors. If you have a suggestion for a topic or would like to contribute a guest post on a topical subject in political philosophy (broadly construed), please feel free to get in touch with us at email@example.com.