Istanbul Political Philosophy Conference: Day 2

Primary version of this post available at Barry Stocker’s Weblog, with scenic picture of the campus used!

Day two of a political philosophy event at Boğaziçi (Bosphorus) University south campus (pictured above), partly focused on Kant’s essay ‘Perpetual Peace’.

Harry Lesser of the University of Manchester began the day with a talk on ‘Machiavelli and Kant’. He argued that Kant disputes the idea of a political morality distinct from normal morality, unlike Machiavelli though Machiavelli’s intentions are moral in the long run in the sense he believe non-moral actions by normal standards can bring public benefits. Lesser avoided the more superficial representations of Machiavelli as simply immoral by suggesting that he is a virtue ethicist like Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas. At one level Kant agrees with Machiavelli in his more cynical remarks about human nature, as can be seen in his idea of radical evil (radical in the sense of deeply rooted and a deeply rooted tendency to act from impure motives rather than a tendency towards acts of radical evil).

Humans need morality because they are not moral. Nevertheless, according to Kant advance towards a higher moral state is possible, in which there is perpetual peace. Machiavelli assumes war is normal

For Kant, morality in the form of justice is necessary to politics and there are moral politician who respects human rights. They respect the importance of promise keeping and following universal maxims. The discussion which followed included points about how far Abraham Lincoln can be regarded as a Machiavellian leader, and how far Machiavelli recommends immorality to the Prince, rather than virtuous prudence.

Lesset was followed by Andrew Norris of the University of California Santa Barbara who presented a paper on, ‘Rousseau on Political Self-Assertion and Otherness’ Norris compared Rousseau’s account of ‘man everywhere in chains’ (in The Social Contract) with Aristotle’s account of the slave as an incomplete human being. We are in slaves as we are in a state of alienation from ourselves, we do not feel that we are natural real selves. Rousseau’s solution is a the social contract, in which thete is total alienation from ourselves in joining a general will (the will representing the rational moral position for all in the community, which they may or many not work out. We legislate for ourselves through the general will, and we escape the feeling that out life is all outside the present moment, in the past or future, by living in the present, through the general will. In his way there is a relation of the activity and passivity in ourselves through Rousseau’s will, and this is what enable the movement from animal desire to human. We have responsibility for a nation whether or not you like that identity or agree with the acts of that state, because of the way we joined together in the social contract. The discussion which followed included points about why we should accept a general social contract rather than the series of smaller social unions to which we belong; Rousseau’s ideal of small self sufficient communities in relation to his articulation of larger communities with more complex structures.

Lunch followed and the first afternoon speaker was Jon Mahoney of Kansas State University, who presented, ‘An Argument against Religious Exemption’. Mahoney looked at a US court case concerning Old Order Amish who do not believe their religion allows children to be educated beyond the age of 14, though education is compulsory until 16 in the US. Mahoney used egalitarian liberal approach in which he argued that equality does not allow parents to deny education to their children, though he thinks religious exceptions from the law are allowable where no basic right is eroded. The argument was partly that equality is a better foundation for egalitarian liberalism that individual autonomy. The discussion covered the Muslim head scarf in Turkey and France, different definitions of liberalism, and how far it is possible to go in allowing religious exceptions.

The next speaker was Sergueï Spetschinsky of the Free University of Brussels, a main instigator of the series of conferences on Philosophy of Peace, to which this event belongs. His paper had the title, ‘Illegitimate Peace: On the Antinomy of Mastery’. He looked at the paradox that peace can only be enforced through the threat of violence,. He related the structure of the higher instance which enforces peace on lower instances in relation to Kant’s discussion of the relation between ‘superior’ and ‘inferior’ university faculties in ‘Contest (Conflict) of Faculties)’. The solution offered to the paradox was the role of the citizen as philosopher who resists the violent aspects of the institutions which enforce peace. The discussion covered the role of constitutional checks and balances in controlling the state that enforces peace, the relation to Foucault’s thoughts on the role of violence in sovereignty, the way that Kant rests os a natural law tradition to justify the state as non-violent.

The last paper of the day was given by Carlota Moiso of Italy’ who paper had the title ‘About Dynamic Identity’. Moiso looked at Said’s theory of Orientalist misrepresentations of the ‘east’ in relation to ways in which European writers have engaged more fully with the ‘east’ and what can be taken from the religious and spiritual traditions of the ‘;east’.

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