Istanbul Political Philosophy Conference: Day 3

Primary version of this post available at Barry Stocker’s Weblog, picture included!

Yesterday was the last day of the Philosophical Perspectives on Peace III Conference at Boğaziçi (Bosphorus) University (south campus where the conference was held pictured above). As I attended the social evening after the conference I was not able to report yesterday. The social side of the conference was very good, I couldn’t find the energy to go to the evening social events on the previous days, but by all accounts these were great evenings in local restaurants.

The conference day began with Ulrich Steinvorth of Bilkent Univeristy, who presented a paper on

‘Formal and Material Liberalism and Globalization’. Steinvorth distinguished between formal liberalism as the aspect of liberalism which guarantees general rights, and the material aspect of liberalism which pursues a vision of the good life. Steinvorth argued that material liberalism is more important because it is dealing with the reality of social life, and focuses on developing individual capacities. Steinvorth illustrated this with reference to the debate in Turkey about permitting the headscarf in universities. He explained that he had changed his mind about this while teaching in Turkey, because of all the female students who had told him that families oppress daughters by making them wear the headscarf. In this argument, there is a gain for freedom in forbidding the headscarf in the university because it counteracts the oppression of young women by their families. Steinvorth went on to identify what he regards as the destructive consequences of unrestrained markets, in that easier production of basic needs leads to great unemployment instead of the redeployment of worker into more creative and interesting ways of working. In the discussion, members of the audience suggested that: there is anti-perfectionist element in Kant contrary to Steinvorth’s suggestion that Kant provides an alternative to a purely rights based value neutral liberalism; there are problems in deciding what is the best way of developing capacities for children since they are limited in the right to make choices; in Mill, formal liberalism is a pretext for material liberalism, and in general all liberal thinkers have been concerned with ‘material liberalism’ questions of what promotes human flourishing.

Thomas Baum of Flemish Peace Institute in Brussels presented his paper, ‘Checking the Promise of the Democratic Peace: Perspectives on Critical Peace and the Liberal Orthodoxy’. Baum recognised the difficulty of giving a single definition of liberalism but concentrated on Benthamite Utiliarianism because it strongly anticipates the kind of rational expectations model used by most practitioners of International Relations Democratic Peace Theory. He claims that in this field most practitioners are looking at a very narrow set of date and a very narrow set of examples, with the result that it is a very weak field. The effect of this is to exclude those stated which are not ‘mature’ democracies, with the possible consequence that the other states will not be given full rights in the international system, and force might be used against them. Audience discussion included the question of whether the exclusion of some nations is just an empirical fact or is a constitutive aspect of Democratic Peace Theory.

Yodenis Guirola, a Cuban currently resident in Barcelona who is researching international relations presented on ‘Peace as a Problem: Perpetual Peace between Philosophy and Practice’. His analysis of the current global system is that includes: dominant free market fundamentalism, domination of stronger countries, subordination of human values and public right to economic interests.

Audience discussion referred to how the global system could be improved and how far state actions on behalf of economic interests can be regarded as ‘market fundamentalism’.

Arthur Kok of Tilburg University spoke on ‘How Philosophy Contributes to Peace in Practice’

He started with the dichotomy between social order and natural (individual) right in Kant’s view of freedom. He looked at the struggle between these principles through a discussion of Hegel’s analysis of Sophocles’ play Antigone as a representation of the death of the Greek polis. That shows a conflict between individual rights and state authority which Hegel resolves through towards modern civil society as a third sphere between state and individual, which creates a non-political free sphere. Hegel sees labour at the centre of civil society. but has a more expanded view in the Phenomenology. Audience reaction focused on the accuracy of Hegel’s reading of Sophocles and his account of the Ancient Greek world.

The final speaker was Fülya Özlem, a doctoral student at Berlin Technical University, who had a paper with the title, ‘Travelling as a Condition of Peace’. This was an account of the philosophy of translation and language interpretation in Davidson’s theory of communicability and shared concepts, Wittgenstein’s theory of language games, life forms, and rule following, and Quine’s theory of translation. All three positions look at questions of language understanding in the frame of someone dealing with a new language or learning language, which brings in the traveller going to a new language community. Audience discussion was largely about how this model could be applied to ancient languages which are no longer in use.

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