Deliberative democracy – Review essay

In Public Deliberation, James Bohman addresses a problem that has long shadowed normative democratic theory. The problem is that while normative theory formulates ideals of rational and just political order, it is often unclear how such ideals are to be achieved, or even whether they can be achieved, given the constraints of presently existing social realities. In other words, they typically exist a significant gap between the ideals of the theory and their realization in light of actual social conditions. In this book, Bohman seeks to combine the critical social theory of Jürgen Habermas with the pragmatism of John Dewey to construct a deliberative theory of democracy that is feasible within, and applicable to, modern societies.

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Between deliberative and participatory democracy: A contribution on Habermas

Deliberative democracy has assumed a central role in the debate about deepening democratic practices in complex contemporary societies. By acknowledging the citizens as the main actors in the political process, political deliberation entails a strong ideal of participation that has not, however, been properly clarified. The main purpose of this article is to discuss, through Jürgen Habermas’ analysis of modernity, reason and democracy, whether and to what extent deliberative democracy and participatory democracy are compatible and how they can, either separately or together, enhance democratic practices. Further exploration of this relationship will permit a better understanding of the possibilities and limits of institutionalizing both discourses, as well as of developing democracy in a more substantive dimension.

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Adorno, Foucault and critique

Adorno and Foucault are among the 20th century’s most renowned social critics but little work has been done to compare their ideas about the activity of critique. ‘Adorno, Foucault and Critique’ attempts to fill this lacuna. It takes as its starting point the Kantian legacy that informs Adorno’s and Foucault’s notions of critique, or their ‘ontologies of the present’, as Foucault calls them. Exploring the ontological foundations of critique, the article then addresses the principal objects of critique: domination and fascism. It ends with a comparative account of the central aims of Adorno’s and Foucault’s critiques of western societies.

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Deliberative democracy, the public sphere and the internet

The internet could be an efficient political instrument if it were seen as part of a democracy where free and open discourse within a vital public sphere plays a decisive role. The model of deliberative democracy, as developed by Jürgen Habermas and Seyla Benhabib, serves this concept of democracy best. The paper explores first the model of deliberative democracy as a ‘two-track model’ in which representative democracy is backed by the public sphere and developing civil society. Secondly, it outlines the normative concept of the public sphere and its basic ideas, namely the uncoerced communication of equal participants with equal access and equal rights to intervene or propose themes. The third part for discussion shows how the internet could fit into this concept of the public sphere and influence the quality of political debates, and emphasizes the important role it can play in the political process.

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Moral Relativism

Moral relativism is an important topic in metaethics. It is also widely discussed outside philosophy (for example, by political and religious leaders), and it is controversial among philosophers and nonphilosophers alike. This is perhaps not surprising in view of recent evidence that people’s intuitions about moral relativism vary widely. Though many philosophers are quite critical of moral relativism, there are several contemporary philosophers who defend forms of it. These include such prominent figures as Gilbert Harman, Jesse J. Prinz, J. David Velleman, and David B. Wong. The term ‘moral relativism’ is understood in a variety of ways. Most often it is associated with an empirical thesis that there are deep and widespread moral disagreements and a metaethical thesis that the truth or justification of moral judgments is not absolute, but relative to the moral standard of some person or group of persons. Sometimes ‘moral relativism’ is connected with a normative position about how we ought to think about or act towards those with whom we morally disagree, most commonly that we should tolerate them.

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Camus, absurdity, and revolt

Albert Camus (1913-1960) was a French writer and existentialist philosopher. He was born in Algeria, then a colony of France, which gave him a unique perspective on life as an outsider. Camus is widely acknowledged as the greatest of the philosophers of ‘the absurd’. His idea is simple: Human beings are caught in a constant attempt to derive meaning from a meaningless world. This is the ‘paradox of the absurd’. Camus’ novels The Outsider (1942), The Plague (1947), and The Fall (1956) are classics of existentialist fiction. His philosophical writings The Myth of Sisyphus (1942) and The Rebel (1951) are profound statements of position. Camus was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957. Unlike fellow existentialist, Jean-Paul Sartre, he accepted it.

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Read also: Camus in the Time of Drones

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Be a meaning maker: Sartre and existential freedom

Stevens is the narrator of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Booker prize-winning novel, The Remains of the Day (1989). Anthony Hopkins owned the role in the Academy Award-nominated film adaptation of 1993. The story begins in the 1950s, when Stevens receives a letter from an old employee, Miss Kenton, who was the housekeeper at Darlington Hall in the years before the War. The letter rewakens old feelings in Stevens and stirs a sense of loss. Miss Kenton (played in the film by Emma Thompson) was an exemplary housekeeper. She and Stevens had an excellent professional relationship. At a certain point, Stevens became aware that Miss Kenton would have liked their relationship to be more than this. Something almost happened between them. But Stevens couldn’t make it work. He was so caught up in the business of being a butler, and of maintaining a demenour of dignity and discipline, that he couldn’t figure out how to integrate love into his world.

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Question everything: scepticism as a way of life

In 155BC, Carneades the Sceptic travelled to Rome to give an important speech to the Roman Senate. Carneades was the head of the Athenian Academy and the most dignified philosopher of his day. He was known as a brillant speaker with a whip-sharp mind and a mastery of sceptical techniques that was second to none. In Rome, there were mixed feelings about Carneades’ speech. Some people were concerned about Carneades’ brand of sceptical philosophy and the effect it might have on the Roman youth. Others, however, were curious to learn what Carnaedes had to offer. Greek scepticism was a mystery to the Romans, yet to immigrate across the Ionian Sea. Carnaedes was an ambassador from the land of skeptikos. Was this a land worth visiting?

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Be with me: Heidegger in the age of the smartphone

It is early morning. A chorus of birds filters through an open window. A young woman lies in bed with her boyfriend. It is a quotidian scene, almost perfect, yet something is off. The boyfriend is checking his smartphone, a web-enabled device. In this moment, his attention is elsewhere. Cut to the outdoors: the couple are getting ready to go jogging. The boyfriend is still caught up with his phone. She waits while he chatters to a friend. Cut to the woman lunching with friends of her own. There is real social chemistry here, a buzz of laughter and conversation. But the others soon start thumbing through screens, engaging with their phones. The young woman has forgotten hers. Her expression, as she looks about the table, is worried as much as reproachful.

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Heidegger in Silicon Valley: technology and the hacker way

‘Software is eating the world!’ US tech investor Marc Andreessen claimed in 2011, on the eve of launching his venture capital firm, Andreessen-Horowitz. This extraordinary claim has become the mantra of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, codifying a new philosophy of tech entrepreneurialism and kickstarting a bold new era of creative destruction. Decoded it means: software engineers are world-builders – so look out! Bored with building apps, games, and websites, the latest generation of tech entrepreneurs are creating social operating systems for the societies and economies of the future. Reconfiguring the relationships between goods, consumers, and service providers, these new social operating systems are swallowing whole marketplaces at a time, eating up business that was previously enjoyed by recruiters, cab companies, hotel chains, and estate agents.

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