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Fall 2017 Seminar with José Eisenberg: “Under the spell of sympathy: forging concepts for a radical society”

This four-week sem­i­nar will meet on every Thurs­day, from Octo­ber 19th through Novem­ber 9th; 6:30–8:30pm. Loca­tions of the sem­i­nar will be post­ed on our Cal­en­dar of Events page.

Seminar Overview

One of the biggest chal­lenges in mod­ern eth­i­cal the­o­ry has been to find a lan­guage for pol­i­tics that can be eman­ci­pa­to­ry in its con­cepts and per­sua­sive in its capac­i­ty to fos­ter a rad­i­cal imagination.

This sem­i­nar will address four con­cepts that have been ambigu­ous­ly appro­pri­at­ed by the dis­course of the left in its cri­tique of cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety. Each in their own way has found a way of mit­i­gat­ing the pow­er of rad­i­cal politics.

Loy­al­ty, truth­ful­ness, reci­procity are amongst a series of val­ues derived from chival­ry in the mid­dle ages that have become part of the vocab­u­lary of the left. The first ses­sion will approach the medieval ori­gins of the state and how antag­o­nism in cap­i­tal­ist soci­eties left the left eth­i­cal­ly deprived of a lan­guage for speak­ing of the virtues of strug­gle and con­flict as means for achiev­ing fair­ness and equality.

The sec­ond ses­sion focus­es on the very nature of cap­i­tal­ist pro­duc­tion and its empha­sis of the pro­duc­tiv­i­ty of labor. While the cri­tique of polit­i­cal econ­o­my led to a new con­cep­tion of cap­i­tal­ism, the left has not found an ade­quate sub­sti­tute for the eth­i­cal val­ue placed on the pro­duc­tiv­i­ty of labor. In Weber­ian terms, the left remains protes­tant in this regard. 

Uni­ver­sal­ism is the cul­prit of the third eth­i­cal dilem­ma dis­cussed in this sem­i­nar. While human­ism has always been an inte­gral part of left ethics, the human­i­tar­i­an para­dox that under­lies a blind adher­ence to human­ism has impe­ri­al­is­tic out­comes. The eth­i­cal rea­son­ing ground­ed on sol­i­dar­i­ty that led the left to advo­cate human­i­tar­i­an inter­ven­tion in sov­er­eign nations for almost the entire twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry requires a revi­sion in light of the redesign of the rela­tion­ship between eco­nom­ic agents and nation­al enti­ties. 

Final­ly, the last ses­sion of this sem­i­nar will dis­cuss how com­mu­ni­tar­i­an dis­course has per­vad­ed pro­gres­sive ethics and con­vert­ed civic virtues into intrin­sic val­ues in the con­text of class strug­gle. The main con­se­quence of this com­mu­ni­tar­i­an bias has been a dimin­ish­ing role in rad­i­cal dis­course for civic val­ues based upon adver­sar­i­al, con­flict-ori­ent­ed and ulti­mate­ly dialec­tal premises.

Outline of Seminar Sessions and Readings

Ses­sion 1 — Loy­al­ty: chival­ry and the medieval ori­gins of the cap­i­tal­ist state

Ses­sion 2 — Pro­duc­tiv­i­ty: nei­ther homo lab­o­rans nor homo faber

  • Arendt, Han­nah, The Human Con­di­tion (Chica­go: Univ. of Chica­go Press, 1958), Parts 3 thru 6.

Ses­sion 3 — Sol­i­dar­i­ty: uni­ver­sal­ism and the human­i­tar­i­an paradox

Ses­sion 4 — Com­mu­ni­ty: civic virtues and class struggle

  • Dag­ger, Richard, Civic Virtues: rights, cit­i­zens, and repub­li­can lib­er­al­ism, (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1997), chap.4.
  • Held, Vir­ginia, “Moth­er­ing ver­sus Con­tract” in Mans­bridge, J. (ed), Beyond Self-Inter­est (Chica­go: Univ. of Chica­go Press, 1990)
  • Aronowitz, S. and H. Gaut­ney, Impli­cat­ing Empire: glob­al­iza­tion & resis­tance in the 21st cen­tu­ry world order (New York: Basic Books, 2003), select­ed chapters.

$40 for all ses­sions or $10 per indi­vid­ual sem­i­nar session

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Seminar Schedule and Details

march, 2021

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