Archive for November, 2013

Matthew Sharpe “A Question of Two Truths?”

November 29, 2013 Leave a comment

Sharpe, Matthew 2007. A Question of Two Truths? Remarks on Parrhesia and the ‘Political-Philosophical’ Difference. Parrhesia 2: 89-108.

Although one may profess one’s convictions sincerely before an assembled body, for example, the ‘threshold’ of parrhesiawill be crossed at the point where these true beliefs concern, or aim to correct, the interests or perceived shortcomings of one’s addressee[s]. (90)

Philosophy features in his account as one part of a wider ‘proto-Hellenistic’ context wherein parrhesia‘moves beyond being considered primarily as a political act’ to becoming something else. (91)

The highest political potentiality of philosophy Plato instead envisages in the letters (one which he had tried, but failed, to institute in the court of Dionysius) is to act as private counselor, or even – as he characteristically puts it – a ‘physician’ to the bearers of absolute power. (92)

First: the question of the relation between truth and politics presents itself to the citizen, as against the  philosopher,  as  a  question  concerning  specifically  factual  truths  about  the  passing  political matters of the day. The issue is whether some things that were said by politicians and advocates to have occurred or to have been the case in fact were not, and whether some things which have been publicly denied were truly so. (96)

What demarcates factual truths from the rational, scientific, transcendental or mathematical truths dear to the philosophers, as Arendt stresses, is that these truths have no immanent necessity about them. They concern acts, events, or states of affairs in the world that are only contingentlythe case, which means they could just as well have been otherwise, or not been the case at all. From a philosophical perspective, that is, the brute ‘that-ness’ or ‘just-being-the-case’ of historical occurrences means that their type of truth is the least substantial form of truth of all. (97)

By drawing on Arendt’s conception of the truth proper to the political realm, I want to argue that, much more troubling than the simple deceits or secrecy of politicians, is the increasing encroachment into the political realm today of claims—some the basis for the most grave actions (including  going  to  war,  revoking  citizens’  legal  protections  …)—which collapse  or  simply  fall outside  the  sphere  of  what  can  be  publicly  assessed  as  truthful  or mendacious.  Factual  truth  is to political action as rational truth is to philosophical reflection, Arendt claims schematically in ‘Politics and Truth’. Just as philosophy must ail if the possibility of rational truth is foreclosed, so  political  action  can  only  devolve  into  something  else—principally  forms  of techne and/or violence—when  the  claims  upon  which  it  is  based  become  by  their  nature  ‘above  and  beyond’ public scrutiny. (101)

In his final lectures, Foucault argued that parrhesia‘can no longer occur in our modern epistemological framework’. The reason is that the Cartesian conception of philosophy consecrates the final divorce of episteme from practices of ethical self-formation. After the epistemic shift initiated by Descartes, in principle anyone could now discover the scientific truth given only the very limited ‘askesis’ involved in following correct and repeatable procedures. Correlatively, the enunciation of scientific truth is in the modern conception an ideally wholly anonymous business. Just  as  anyone  can  (re-)discover  the  truth  of  scientific  hypotheses,  Foucault  means,  so  the  very meaning of modern scientific objectivity is that the enunciator’s public or symbolic identity is not on the line in this speech-act – outside of some very particular, unusual cases (the case of Galileo, for example). (101)


Peter Harrison “The Cultural Authority of Natural History in Early Modern Europe”

November 21, 2013 Leave a comment

Harrison, Peter 2010. The Cultural Authority of Natural History in Early Modern Europe. – Denis R. Alexander; Ronald L. Numbers (eds). Biology and Ideology from Descartes to Dawkins. Chicago; London: The University of Chicago Press, 11-35.

[…] Thomas Moffett (1553-1604), who had played a role in editing Gesner’s work on insects, declared ants to be „exemplary for their great piety, prudence, justice, valour, temperance, modesty, charity, friendship, frugality, perseverance, industry, and art.” (20)

Close observation of insect behavior not only might reinforce conventional virtues but also had the potential to assist in the adjudication of such questions as whether monarchy or democracy was the more natural form of government. In The Readie and Easie Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth (1660), the poet John Milton pointed to the organization of the ant colony as providing a clear sanction for parliamentary democracy. The polity of the „pismire” (ant), he declared: „evidently shews us, that they who think the nation undon wihtout a king, though they look grave and haughtie, have not so much true spirit and undestanding in them as a pismire: neither are these diligent creatures hence concluded to live in lawless anarchie, or that commended, but are set the examples to imprudent and ungoverned men, of a frugal and self-governing democratie or Commonwealth; safer and more thriving in the joint providence and counsel of many industrious equals, then under the single domination of one imperious Lord.” (21)

The fact is that the Cartesian hypothesis [of animals as non-sentient machines] was not widely accepted and, in any case, vivisectionists needed no dispensation from Descartes to sanction their activities. Many of those who subjected animals to unsavory procedures in vacuum chambers or on dissecting tables explicitly rejected the Cartesian view of animal insensitivity. (23)

[…] Descartes argued for a radical rupture in the hierarhy of being, positing a great gulf between human beings and all other earthly creatures – now imagined to be devoid of souls and sensations. He also rejected the idea that the behaviors of animals were analogous to our own and, indeed, attacked „reasoning by analogy” in the sciences more generally. (23)

[…] this element of Descartes’ thought is sometimes forgotten – body and soul in human beings were intimately conjoined. For this reason Descartes believed that investigation of the material and mechanical basis of animals’ inner drives – anger, aggression, fear, hunger, thirst, and so on – would lead to the discovery of therapeutic strategies that would assist human beings in the moral task of exerting control over the impulses and drives of their own mechanical bodies. (23)

„Pretext” is too strong a word, but perhaps the specter of infidelity and atheism provided a convenient way of justifying new ways of studying nature in the context of a social and intellectual climate that was not always hospitable toward novel scientific practices. […] Nieuwntijt’s emphasis on the use of exclusively modern sciences is intended to highlight the religious utility of those sciences in an era in which novelty and modernity were still not self-evidently positive qualities. (26)

The Cartesian philosopher Nicolas Malebranche observed that „one insect is more in touch with Divine wisdom than the whole of Greek and Roman history.” (26)

If the prevailing attitude toward learning in the early seventeenth century looked to promote self-knowledge and moral formation, proponents of the new sciences proposed the inclusion of additional goals, extending self-mastery to the mastery of nature, and insisting on the importance of practical applications of knowledge. Perhaps no seventeenth-century figure better exemplifies these tendencies that Francis Bacon (1561-1626) […]. Bacon insisted that „the improvement of man’s mind and the improvement of his lot are one and the same thing,” linking the accepted goal of learning – self improvement – with the broader goals that he had in mind for a reformed science of nature. (29)

Bacon believed that a systematic knowledge of the natural world would bring about „a restitution and reinvesting (in great part) of man to the sovereignty and power … which he had in his first state of creation.” Nature, he concluded, will be „at length and in some measure to the supplying of man with bread; that is, to the uses of human life.” (29)

Bacon’s insight that causal speculations and general conclusions must be grounded in large collections offacts was now widely acknowledged. If the natural sciences were to be grounded in systematic and objective observations of the world, natural history provided the first, and arguably most important, stage of the science of nature. Gradually this principle came to be enshrined in formal accounts  of the relationships among the natural sciences. The third edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1788-97) thus stated that „classification and arrangement is called NATURAL HISTORY, and must be considered as the only foundation of any extensive knowledge of nature.” (34)

Raivo Vetik “Statelessness, Citizenship and Belonging in Estonia”

November 20, 2013 Leave a comment

Vetik, Raivo 2011. Statelessness, Citizenship and Belonging in Estonia. – Brad K. Blitz; Maureen Lynch (eds). Statelessness and Citizenship: A Comparative Study on the Benefits of Nationality. Cheltenham; Northampton: Edward Elgar, 160-171.

After regaining independence in August 1991 and reintroducing the Citizenship Act of 1938 half a year later in February 1992, about one third of the population of Estonia became stateless. The 1992 law was based on the idea of the ‘legal continuity’ of the pre-war Estonian Republic, which means that only those persons who were citizens before Estonia’s incorporation into the Soviet Union in 1940 and their descendants were entitled to automatic citizenship. Migrants from the Soviet period and their descendants, by contrast, had to got through the process of naturalization. (160)

Compared to other countries, the naturalization requirements in Estonia can be regarded as rather liberal. However, what makes the Estonian citizenship law exceptional is that at the moment it was brought into force, it left a considerable part of the population without citizenship. (162)

The law [1993 Law on Aliens] refers to both citizens of foreign states and stateless persons as ‘aliens’. The Estonian legislation makes no distinction between these two categories of non-citizens. In general, non-citizens in Estonia enjoy the same rights and free access to social protection as citizens. (162)

A study of ethnic Russians conducted in April 2008 offered four explanations for the persistent and widespread statelessness among Estonian Russians. These include: (1) difficulties in learning the Estonian language and passing the citizenship test; (2) emotional aversion to applying for citizenship related to the fact that many Estonian Russians feel that, similarly to ethnic Estonians, they should have been granted citizenship automatically after independence was restored in Estonia; (3) preferring Russian citizenship due to better travel and other opportunities; and (4) lack of Estonian citizenship does not affect a person’s daily life. (163)

[M, 41y, Jõhvi]: “I have already applied for Russian citizenship, for I will no doubt receive it without problems, just like that. I actually do not care which citizenship I receive. If I had lived in the USA or England for a long time, I could have already become an American or Englishman. But out situation with these ‘wolf’ passports is atrocious. They have already made such a big deal out of their nationality that we are like flies to them with these gray passports. We were simply segregated from the very start.” (164)

In 2000, the preference for Estonian citizenship was on the rise, reaching its highest point in 2005 (at 74 per cent), but by 2008 the number of those who desired Estonian citizenship dropped to half (51 per cent). During the same period, the desirability of Russian citizenship increased steadily from just 5 per cent in 2000 to 11 per cent in 2005 and to 19 per cent in 2008. These changes suggest a new protest identity among Estonian Russians, which has notably increased in recent years. (167)

Laura van Waas “Nationality and Rights”

November 20, 2013 Leave a comment

Van Waas, Laura 2011. Nationality and Rights. – Brad K. Blitz; Maureen Lynch (eds). Statelessness and Citizenship: A Comparative Study on the Benefits of Nationality. Cheltenham; Northampton: Edward Elgar, 23-44.

[…] in the contemporary human rights environment, to what extent is nationality still relevant to the enjoyment of rights? (23)

The [Universal] Declaration [of Human Rights] opens with the important proclamation that ‘all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.’ (24)

[…] the development of human rights law heralded both a move towards universally recognized rights as well as the possible denationalization of rights. […] The advent of human rights law initiated an uncoupling of nationality and rights. Instead of citizenship being the basis for the enjoyment of rights, ‘the principles of human rights would maintain that being human is the right to have human rights.’ (25)

There are, in fact, still a number of citizens rights dressed up as human rights:

1)      The first and most evident example of this phenomenon is the right to participate in government. For instance, in Article 21 of the Universal Declaration, this political right […] is formulated as follows: ‘everyone has the right to take part in the government of his own country.’ (26)

2)      The human rights regime admits a similar limitation of the enjoyment of rights by the stateless in relation to freedom of movement, which includes the right to leave, the right to enter/re-enter and the right to remain in a state. (26)

3)      A third area in which human rights law plainly allows for restrictions to be placed on the enjoyment of rights is that comprised of ‘economic rights’. (27)

In particular, the situation of the stateless, the lack of bond of nationality with any state, places some doubt on the inclusiveness of the term ‘human’ in human rights. Interestingly, the human rights framework itself recognizes this apparent flaw and attempts to remedy it by promulgating, among the rights to be enjoyed by everyone, the right to a nationality. […] Thus, the acquisition/reacquisition of a nationality, putting an end to their actual statelessness, may indeed be the only real remedy to their vulnerability. (28)

Indeed, not only were the rights relating directly to participation in government absent from the draft [of the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons], but all attempts to codify even the freedom of opinion and expression or the freedom of political assembly – rights that can be exercised to the benefit of political activity in the broadest sense and are critical to individual empowerment – were also beaten back. States were indeed keen to retain the right to restrict the political activity of stateless persons. (32)

Stateless persons may be unable to go to school or university, work legally, own property, get married or travel. They might find it difficult to enter hospital, impossible to open a bank account and have no chance of receiving a pension. If someone robs them or rapes them, they may find they cannot lodge a complaint because legally they do not exist, and the police require proof that they do before they can open an investigation. They are extremely vulnerable to exploitation as cheap or bonded labour, especially in societies where they cannot work legally. (36-37)

In order to establish that an individual is stateless, it is necessary to substantiate that he does not possess any nationality. He must, in effect, prove a negative. (37)

[…] stateless persons are, by definition, unable to enjoy those rights that are presently accorded only in relation to the country of nationality, such as key political rights and the right to enter/re-enter and reside in a state. Moreover, although citizenship is no longer a precondition for the attribution of most human rights, in practice it is often still a practical requirement for the exercise of such rights, for example, due to the lack of any official ‘home country’ in which residence rights are guaranteed or as a result of problems relating to an overall lack of documentation. Thus, where states are failing either individually or collectively to ensure that everyone enjoys the bond of citizenship somewhere, the human rights regime’s assertion of universality of begins to crumble unless special provision is made for those persons who find themselves excluded by the system: the stateless. (41)

Michael Frede “A Notion of a Person in Epictetus”

November 20, 2013 Leave a comment

Frede, Michael 2007. A Notion of a Person in Epictetus. – Theodore Scaltsas; Andrew S. Mason (eds). Philosophy of Epictetus. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 153-168.

The point Epictetus wants to make is this. People, in what they are doing, in thinking about what they ought to do, should always keep in mind who they are, the person they are, to make sure that what they do fits them, accords with the person they are. To be able to do this one has to know oneself, and one has to practise taking oneself into account in doing what one does. People, though, often are oblivious to themselves, to who they are, to their own person (I.2.14). (154)

As I have already indicated, a person, both in the ordinary and in the reflective, philosophical sense we are familiar with, is something such that it always is the same person. But this does not hold for Epictetus’ use. As we just saw, Helvidius Priscus, if he were struck from the rolls of the senate, would no longer be the same person, but a different person. And the same holds for our use of ‘the person somebody is’. (156)

When we talk of the person, or the sort of person, somebody is, we mainly think of the character or the personality-traits of somebody. This certainly is not what Epictetus primarily is thinking of. This is why I earlier was objecting to the translation of ‘pros¯opon’ in the title of I.2 as ‘character’. When Helvidius Priscus no longer is a senator, he is a different person, but his character will not have changed one iota. (156)

It is an obvious fact, but one little attention has been paid to, that down to the end of the fourth century BC nobody in extant Greek literature talks of human beings as ‘persons’. Neither Plato nor Aristotle in their voluminous works ever speak of human beings as ‘persons’ in any sense of the word, let alone in our ordinary or our philosophical sense of the word. The first time we clearly and unambiguously find something like the absolute,  reflective use of the word with which we are familiar from modern philosophy is in Boethius. In Contra Eutychen et Nestorium, ch. 3, Boethius defines a person as ‘an individual substance of such a nature as to be rational’. (157-158)

‘Pros¯opon’ originally means ‘face’, more precisely the face as you offer it to the sight of somebody who looks at you (cf. the formation of the German word ‘Antlitz’). It, on the basis of this, develops a number of secondary meanings, like ‘mien’ or ‘countenance’, but also ‘front’ or ‘fac¸ade’, ‘the part of something facing something else’. But the most important of these secondary meanings is that of ‘mask’, the mask worn by actors in a drama representing the characteristic features and mien of the character played. (158)

The crucial step was to extend the use of the word to the role a real human being plays in real life or to the person or the sort of person somebody is, for instance ‘the person of King Eumenes’ (Polyb., 27.7.4) or ‘the person of a beggar’ (Teles, VI.52.3 Hense). (159)

To begin with, ‘person’ is never, even nowadays in its ordinary use, just another word for ‘human being’. Moreover, if one looks at Gaius’ Law of Persons, what he is actually discussing are the various status of human beings under Roman law and what the conditions for change of status are. So personae are sorts of persons, that is human beings as they are sorted into different categories for the purposes of Roman law. (159)

But however this may be, it should be clear, given the original use of both words, ‘pros¯opon’ and ‘persona’, that the word ‘person’, in some sense or other of ‘person’, is borrowed from the theatre, that its use for actual human beings is a metaphorical use. (160)

The idea rather seems to be this. We are like actors (rather than the dramatis personae) in a drama. Actors have been given a certain dramatic part or role to play, and what matters is not the role they have been given, but that they play it well. Similarly we in real life have acquired a certain role to play, and what matters is not the role we have acquired, but that we play it well. It is clear from a number of passages that this is how Epictetus thinks of the metaphor (cf. e.g.Diss. I.29.45; frg. XI). (160)

„Remember that you are an actor in a drama. It is the teacher who gives you whichever role he wants to give you…whether he wants you to play a beggar, so that you also play a beggar well, or a lame man, or a ruler, or somebody without office. It is your part to act the given role well. To choose your role is somebody else’s matter.” (Epictetus, Encheiridion; 160)

A good or wise person is one who will play any role he is given well. (162)

Thus the way the notion of a person seems to enter philosophy is as the notion of the sort of person one is by playing a certain role in life. It is a normative notion. It is part of the very notion that the role you play in life as such does not matter. It thus makes the worthiness of human beings independent of the role they play in life. But it also is part of the notion that whatever role you play carries with it certain demands. And we judge you, not by your role, but by whether you live up to the demands of your role. (162)

Popular judgement as to the worth of a human being, and hence what we might call popular morality, is largely determined by two factors, by a ranking of people according to their roles and by how well somebody plays his role. Those who introduce the notion of a person clearly are revisionist in that they reject the ranking by roles. (162)

There is a metaphysical doctrine, which also plays a role in Stoic epistemology, namely the view that any particular or individual of any kind is a member of this kind by sharing a common quality (koin¯e poiot¯ es) with the other members of this kind, but is the particular individual it is by a quality peculiar to it (idia poiot¯ es)which distinguishes it qualitatively from all other members of the same kind (cf. SimpliciusIn Cat. 48.15). So any human being qualitatively differs from all other human beings. Here the uniqueness and individuality of a human being for the first time is given a metaphysical status. (165)

One ought to do things, or try to do things, which are suitable for the particular human being one is, for instance eat the food appropriate for one, pursue things which one has a particular talent for. By contrast, one should avoid things not suitable for the particular human being one is. For not to do so would be to be unreasonable. I already briefly have talked about the third and the fourth type of role, or of sort of person, Panaetius distinguishes. (166)

It is an important part of Epictetus’ thought about persons, which unfortunately I have no time to address, that various roles or sorts of person do not mix (IV.2.10). You cannot, he says, be pleasant to be with in a company of people given to heavy drinking and at the same time modest, orderly, decent (IV.2.6–10). (167)

So Epictetus is concerned with what we might call an integrated, coherent personality. This is what he praises about Socrates (I.25.31:hen ech¯on pros¯opon aei dietelei; cf. III.5.16). It is in this way that Epictetus in some places, like in I.2 or IV.3.3, comes to talk about the person one is. (167)

For it is only by being rational [human vs animal, not rational vs irrational], that we can be any sort of person at all. And it is on this basis that we think we are justified in expecting a certain kind of behaviour from human beings. We call them ‘persons’ in this sense to mark the fact that, given that they are rational, we regard certain forms of behaviour as appropriate and others as inappropriate for them. (168)

Jacqueline Berman “The ‘Vital Core'”

November 19, 2013 Leave a comment

Berman, Jacqueline 2007. The ‘Vital Core’: from Bare Life to the Biopolitics of Human Security. – Giorgio Shani, Makoto Sato, Mustapha Kamal Pasha (eds). Protecting Human Security in a Post 9/11 World: Critical and Global Insights. Basingstoke; New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 30-49.

[…] human security discourse seeks to move the debate away from national sovereignty and towards individual survival – towards security as a matter of adequate food, water, shelter, work, a clean environment, individual and public health, freedom of religion and human dignity. (30)

That is to say that subjecting biological life to ‘security talk’ reconstructs the link between personal and national security and reinvests the state with the authority/purpose of providing security not just to the state but of human life itself. (31)

In human security discourse, the state is put in charge of the bodily security of the citizen and the meaning (if not the structure) of sacrifice is reconfigured. Placed in charge of biological life, the state can no longer be constructed through individual sacrifice; it must instead become party to ensuring sufficient food, shelter and freedom for the individual to survive. (31)

Among the effects of human security’s extended purview over biological life is the encroachment of the state on the human body, giving the state a greater stake in and control over that body. The body becomes both individualized and massified, singled out and aggregated as the needs of the state and global capital demand (and upon which, they depend). (32)

Rather than a goal or a pursuit, it is now possible to interrogate security as ‘a principle of formation that does things’ – as a discourse of Western modernity that deploys danger, violence and fear to control what can be imagined as the political but never finally ascends to any fixity (Dillon 1996: 16). Security is not a final moment, but a final moment that never comes, a modern technology of political practice. (35)

The oft-cited 1994 UNDP Human Development Reportdefines human security in relation to seven dimensions: economic, food, health, environmental, personal, community and political security. Its main focus is on a globalized vision of ‘freedom from fear’ and ‘freedom from want’, where the state serves as only one means by which to provide individual security. More specifically, the report refers to human security as (a) ‘safety from such chronic threats as hunger, disease and repression’; and (b) ‘protection from sudden and hurtful disruptions in the patterns of daily life – whether in homes, in jobs or in communities’ (UNDP 1994). That is to say that among human security’s most immediate concerns are the ‘basic needs (i.e. sustenance, protection)’ of individuals, needs that engage fundamental ethical and moral questions (Graham and Poku 2000: 17). (37-38)

Human security is about the ‘lives of human beings – longevity, education, opportunities for participation’, about ‘the conditions that menace survival, the continuation of daily life’ (CHS 2003: 10). In other words, human security concerns itself, first and foremost, with basic human survival and bare life. (39)

Human security relies upon a similar juxtaposition of secure/insecure or security/threat, locating ‘otherness’ at the site of the state which it simultaneously and contradictorily relies upon to provide, at least in part, that security. (41)

From this perspective, it would seem that human security, a concept designed to diminishthe centrality of the state, functions as a form of biopolitics. It does so by positioning human bodies and populations as central to the question of security, thus rendering human bodies a central component of and resource for security, even as it seeks to save them. (42)

Because it focuses on biological life, human security as a discourse delivers the bare life of the citizen and the death of others to national security’s disciplining dominion; it functions as a technology of access, measurement and control over biological life itself, placing ‘basic material needs’ and biological human survival at the centre of ‘security talk’. (43)

To consider ‘bare life’ a subject of security is to subject it to the state’s security demands. It does not remove the state from the calculus but in fact positions the state ever closer to ‘the patterns of daily life’ and thus better able to designate life and death in terms commensurate with the productivity of the state. Rather than liberating security discourse from national priorities, human security inextricably links and thus subjects food, health, shelter, work, etc. to them. In the end, human security can function to reinforce rather than disrupt the centrality of the state and as such, reinforce a national focus for security. (44)

[…] human security’s focus on the individual cannot overcome the limitations of an oppositional discursive structure. (47)

As a form of biopolitics, human security puts security discourse in immanent relation to biological life such that these realms once considered beyond or irrelevant to the machinations of the state become security’s central focus. In an era of a ‘war on terror’, biological life as a security concern subjects individual bodies to the demands of state security, to be carefully controlled and regulated less they become bodies out of control, bodies of insecurity. From this perspective, only the state remains equipped to provide the security necessary to fend off fears of encroachment and penetration. And bare life becomes a vital core of national security’s eternal return. (48)