Seven books for philosophical perspectives on politics

2020 has come to be defined by widespread human tragedy, economic uncertainty, and increased public discourse surrounding how to address systemic racism. With such important issues at stake, political leadership has been under enormous scrutiny. For some countries, this has coincided with their election season: Jacinda Ardern has just won her second term in office and the 2020 US presidential election will take place on Tuesday 3 November.

As the US election approaches, we’re featuring a selection of important books exploring politics from different philosophical perspectives, ranging from interrogating the moral duty to vote, to how grandstanding impacts public discourse.

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Posted in Philosophy, Politics | Tagged ,

Social networks as inauthentic sociality

This article argues that social networks constitute an inauthentic form of sociality. The two component concepts of this claim, inauthenticity and sociality, are explored in order to avoid some widespread misinterpretations. Inauthenticity is examined on the basis of the relevant sections in Heidegger’s ‘Being and Time’, first with respect to its main characteristics, then in terms of what motivates it and its benefits, and finally with respect to its status as a non-normative concept. The second part of the paper explores sociality. Here, a main emphasis is the way in which my body imposes constraints on my social relations in the here and now, which virtuality appears to overcome. Yet such an escape from corporeality is not ultimately possible. The third and final part takes the analysis to the wider level of world, that is, our current historical world which has given rise to such an understanding of sociality.

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Reinventing Philosophy, Rethinking Art & Politics

Interventions in Contemporary Thought: History, Politics, Aesthetics covers a variegated terrain and engages with a number of debates and thinkers. Two guiding threads nonetheless unite these forays into contemporary critical theory in the broad sense of the term. One is methodological or hermeneutic, and the other is thematic. Regarding the former, the book is concerned with the very practice of philosophy, meaning what it is that we are trained to do as philosophers and how it impacts—often implicitly and unconsciously—our ways of thinking. More specifically, it concentrates on a particular mode of philosophical reflection that consists in reading and interpreting an established canon of works (which is dominated by white, male, bourgeois, European thinkers). The book highlights the extreme limitations of what it calls exegetical thinking, meaning a form of philosophical thought that can only articulate itself in the interstices of a time-honored textual apparatus. It also proposes alternative modes of intellectual engagement, both hermeneutically and more generally. In this regard, it is explicitly dedicated to the reinvention of what is called, for better or worse, ‘continental philosophy.’ This includes, as will become clear below, a profound rethinking of its history (and an implicit reworking of its relation to so-called analytic philosophy).

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A Neurophilosophy of global trans-cultural understanding

Philosophy of culture has a long history of reifying culture(s) in opposition to nature. This goes a long way back to the Greek Sophists. Hippias, one of the most famous representatives of the Sophist movement described human institutions and customs as forcing us to go against nature. The Cynics further emphasized this divide and longed for a return to the simplicity of primitive existence.

The relationship between ‘culture’ and ‘natural’ was complicated, of course, much more especially by the rise of nationalistic literature in the 19th century (and notably by German romanticists such as A. Muller) and by the ascent of anthropology as a distinct discipline. Furthermore, some of the extreme ideologies of the 20th century pushed the analogy between cultural evolution and biological evolution to abhorrent and radical levels – this made it very difficult for any arguments rooted in bio-sciences to be accepted in the field of political philosophy for a long time. “Anti-naturalistic thought” prevailed for several decades after WWII, until around the mid 1970s, when new disciplines emerged which contributed to the shift to more interdisciplinary dialogue. Molecular biology, behavioral genetics and neurocognitive sciences were prominent contributors to this biological turn. The “biophobia” that previously created a rigid division between sociology and biological sciences gave way for more favorable exchanges. At the same time, the efforts to conceptualize what it meant to be human started to undergo a transformation as well. Again, as a result of inputs from neuroscience.

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Understanding the Present through Interdisciplinary Study

As Max Horkheimer argued in “Traditional and Critical Theory,” critical thinking is the function “neither of the isolated individual nor of a sum-total of individuals.” In opposition to the tendency towards specialization within the academy, the Frankfurt School began as an attempt to develop critical theory as an inter-disciplinary research program. Bringing together philosophers, sociologists, economists, and psychoanalysts, the Institute of Social Research began as a rich and collaborative intellectual safe haven for critics of modern society. In addition to funding independent research, the Institute’s major publication—the Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung—disseminated the works of figures such as Theodor W. Adorno, Walter Benjamin, Franz Neumann, Herbert Marcuse, and countless others. Ranging from Marxian critiques of political economy to far-reaching aesthetic and cultural debates during the 1930s, the Frankfurt School established critical theory as a preeminently collaborative project which rejected traditional divisions of academic labor and objects of research.

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Negativity and Democracy: Marxism and the Critical Theory Tradition

Despite the crisis and the fact that many people regard bourgeois parliamentary democracy as a system that does not and cannot express their needs, the same model persists. People have become even more shackled within its intellectual framework and look for parties or politicians that will act as saviors and alter the current political situation. Instead of debunking the philosophical anthropology, the values that are adopted by those who occupy the state and by those who support the bourgeois form of democracy, people continue to embrace and reiterate their faith in these very values – growth, interpreted as the perpetual accumulation of wealth, competition and hard work – and seek politicians who will more effectively implement them for the common good. Different parties occupy states all the time yet the logic according to which we are supposed to live remains the same. To what extent is the irrational rationality of capitalism, which evaluates everything in terms of money multiplication, being produced by ordinary people who only attempt to fulfill a decent livelihood?

Through exploring and elaborating on the critical theory of the early Frankfurt School, my book, Negativity and Democracy: Marxism and the Critical Theory Tradition, challenges the view that democracy should be understood as a call for a more effective domination of the people, as another kind of power or as a demand for the replacement of the elite that currently holds power, even by a party that claims to be socialist or Marxist.

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What is Critical Theory’s Role Today?

The recent rise of Right-wing extremism has left critical theory disoriented. Beneath the numerous accounts of “what happened,” counsels about what to do next, and warnings about what the future may bring, we can perceive a sense of desperation, perhaps even panic. The triumph of the Right, coupled with the relatively emaciated status of the Left, may appear to confirm what we have long suspected but dared not admit: that history has passed us by, that the attempt to critique contemporary society at its most fundamental levels has become obsolete and archaic. In the face of seemingly overwhelming defeat, we are beginning to wonder if our work is still relevant. We have the awful feeling that Marcus Aurelius was right when he said: “Even if you burst with indignation, they will still carry on regardless.”

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Influence of Cognitive Neuroscience on Contemporary Philosophy of Science

The study of contemporary philosophy of science based on cognitive neuroscience has strongly promoted the philosophy study of brain cognitive problems. It has pointed out the research direction for human to explore the relationship between the traditional mind and brain while systematically reflecting and investigating the theoretical basis and research method of cognitive neuroscience. Therefore, this study explores the influence and the significance of cognitive neuroscience on contemporary philosophy of science.

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The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous

A bold, epic account of how the co-evolution of psychology and culture created the peculiar Western mind that has profoundly shaped the modern world. Perhaps you are WEIRD: raised in a society that is Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic. If so, you’re rather psychologically peculiar. Unlike much of the world today, and most people who have ever lived, WEIRD people are highly individualistic, self-obsessed, control-oriented, nonconformist, and analytical. They focus on themselves—their attributes, accomplishments, and aspirations—over their relationships and social roles. How did WEIRD populations become so psychologically distinct? What role did these psychological differences play in the industrial revolution and the global expansion of Europe during the last few centuries? In The WEIRDest People in the World, Joseph Henrich draws on cutting-edge research in anthropology, psychology, economics, and evolutionary biology to explore these questions and more. He illuminates the origins and evolution of family structures, marriage, and religion, and the profound impact these cultural transformations had on human psychology. Mapping these shifts through ancient history and late antiquity, Henrich reveals that the most fundamental institutions of kinship and marriage changed dramatically under pressure from the Roman Catholic Church. It was these changes that gave rise to the WEIRD psychology that would coevolve with impersonal markets, occupational specialization, and free competition—laying the foundation for the modern world. Provocative and engaging in both its broad scope and its surprising details, The WEIRDest People in the World explores how culture, institutions, and psychology shape one another, and explains what this means for both our most personal sense of who we are as individuals and also the large-scale social, political, and economic forces that drive human history. Include black-and-white illustrations.

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Posted in Culture, evolution, Evolutionary Biology, psychology | Tagged , , ,

On becoming a person

How does an entity become a person? Forty years ago Carl Rogers answered this question by suggesting that human beings become persons through a process of personal growth and self-discovery. In the present paper I provide six different answers to this question, which form a hierarchy of empirical projects and associated criteria that can be used to understand human personhood. They are: (1) persons are constructed out of natural but organic materials; (2) persons emerge as a form of adaptation through the process of evolution; (3) persons develop ontogenetically; (4) persons are created through the unifying activity of self-narrative ; (5) persons are constituted through socio-historical and cultural processes; and (6) the concept of person is a normative ideal . I suggest that it is important to consider all of these projects and related criteria in order to appreciate fully how an entity becomes a human person.

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