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Friday, August 5, 2016

Next talk: Politics in an age of technology: thinking with Jean-Luc Nancy, by Prof Joanna Hodge


Politics in an age of technology: reading Jean-Luc Nancy
Joanna Hodge
‘Ecotechnics damages, weakens and upsets the functioning of all sovereignties except those that in reality coincide with ecotechnical power.’ Nancy 1996/2000 p. 135-136  
There are three key terms to explore here: politics, community and world, out of which Jean-Luc Nancy’s distinctive notion of eco-technics arrives for inspection, as a challenge both to Heidegger’s notion of technology, and to the more current, more widely discussed notion of bio-power. Jean-Luc Nancy is an Emeritus Professor at the University of Strasbourg, France, where he worked for many years in close collaboration with Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe (1940-2007, and see Fynsk 2007). In the nineteen seventies they wrote together two significant books, delineating a set of shared concerns, The title of the letter: reading Lacan (1973) and The Literary Absolute: The Theory of Literature in German Romanticism (1978). In that same decade Nancy published three books, on Hegel (1973) on Kant (1976) and on Descartes (1979).
Jean-Luc Nancy and Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe organized the first major conference on the writings of Jacques Derrida, under the title The Ends of Man (1980), with its challenge to the three fold implication of ends as human purposes, ends as a finality of a perfectibility, pre-inscribed in a divine or natural teleology, and those ends, as figured in the writings of amongst others Michel Foucault, which chart a major modification in the thinking of any human essence. Out of this conference arose a collective research programme, under the title Centre for philosophical research on the political (1980-1984),which explored the double senses of politics as institutionally framed practice, and accompanying techniques,  (la politique) and ‘the political’ (le politique), the distributions of meanings and forces in which order and meaning consist. It also gave rise to the notion of a withdrawal of politics (le retrait du politique) giving way to another inauguration of meaning and order.  
In addition to this notion of a withdrawal of politics there are three further conceptions to introduce. Jean-Luc Nancy charts the emergence of radical politics out the epoch of competing socialist and anarchist commitments to notions of community and communism. In their place he introduces his account of an unworked, or an unworking of community (la communaute desoeuvree). This follows through an analysis of incompatibilities between the three notions of the ends of man, as previously outlined. The second notion is that of a sense, or creation of the world, which breaks with the horizons of a thinking of the world, fixed as either Kantian Ideal, or Husserlian horizon, and inaugurates a radically materialist account of meaning and identity. The third notion is that of a necessary and inevitable deconstruction of Christianity, with which Jean-Luc Nancy came into conflict with his old friend and colleague, Jacques Derrida. There are three dimensions to explore: there are the dynamics of friendship and of collective work in philosophy; there are the technical questions about the status and purpose of these innovatory terms; but lastly, and most significantly, there is the challenge to confront what is living and what is moribund in thought, with respect to a relation between philosophy and politics, in the two senses given above.

Preliminary Reading:
Christopher Fynsk: Obituary for Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe Radical Philosophy 144, July/August 2007
Marie-Eve Morin: Nancy (Cambridge: Polity 2014)
Jean-Luc Nancy:  Being Singular Plural (1996) translated by Robert D Richardson and Anne O’Byrne (Stanford CA: Stanford University Press 2000)  
Jean-Luc Nancy:  The Creation of the World or Globalization (2002) translated and introduced by Francois Raffoul and David Pettigrew (Albany NY: State University of New York Press 2007)
Daniele Rugo:  Jean-Luc Nancy and the thinking of otherness: philosophy and the powers of existence  (London: Bloomsbury 2013)

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Next talk: 'Philosophy and the Idea of European Union' by Prof Simon Glendinning 14 June 2016


Consider the following two political desires:
1. A desire for national self-determination, self-government, autonomy, independence, and sovereignty
2. A desire for union with other nations, and the at least partial sacrifice of all the above that this would entail.
It can be hard to imagine at first glance why one might affirm the second if one has already achieved the first; in fact, especially if one has achieved the first. So where does the second political desire come from? What sort of motivation could it possibly have for a sovereign nation-state? Taking the European Union and its member-states as my example, this talk will explore the reasons why "ever closer union among the people of Europe" might be a political desire worth having.

Simon Glendinning is Professor of European Philosophy in the European Institute at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Since 2007 he has been trying to work out what. if anything, philosophy can contribute to our understanding of Europe, its unity and disunity, its integration and its disintegration. He is currently half-way through writing a two-volume book on European identity, entitled "Europe's Promise".

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Next Talk: 'Jeremy Bentham and Sex' by Professor Paul Kelly on 10 May 2016

"​Throughout the nineteenth century Utilitarians such a John Stuart Mill had sought to rebut Carlyle's charge that psychological hedonism was no more than a philosophy for swine. Jeremy Bentham, JS Mill's intellectual godfather, was unconcerned by such high mindedness and in a series of unpublished works written between 1814-1817 he addressed the issue the regulation of sexual behaviour. My talk will address those works and set them in the context of Bentham's broader utilitarian philosophy and provide an assessment of whether the philosophy of swine criticism was merited. The talk will be of interest to those interested in ethics and moral philosophy, utilitarianism and the history of nineteenth century English philosophy. I cannot guarantee that it will be of great interest to those whose primary interest is sex! "

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Next talk is 'Liberty and Harm: can utilitarianism save us from each other?' Tuesday 12 April 2016

You can't keep all the people happy all the time, but it seems plausible to aim to keep as many people as happy as possible. From Epicurus through to Mill, many philosophers have identified "the good" as whatever causes pleasure, or reduces pain. But where does this leave justice and integrity, and can pleasure really be a noble enough foundation for our ethics and politics? 

I will explore various criticisms of utilitarianism - that it's impossible in practice, leads to absurd conclusions, fails to explain some fundamental aspects of human morality, and in some situations could even prove dangerous. As we seek to shore up and defend utilitarianism, it tends to retreat to the sidelines, providing less practical assistance than we might hope.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

'Friends and Friendship' - a talk by Dr Sean Cordell - Tuesday 8 March 2016

Two friends, Tina and Selina, have some obligations to each other that are not specified or agreed just by Tina or Selina themselves but also by the social structure, the institution, of friendship. That is, there is a sense in which ‘friend’ can be said to be a kind of social role: a set of expectations that pre-exist and endure particular individuals in particular relationships. Thus Tina’s angry rebuke to Selina “but I thought we were friends!” can make perfect sense without their having made any specific agreements about how they behave towards each other.

Or at least that’s what I think….Interestingly, philosophical accounts of friendship have tended to overlook, play down or in some cases explicitly doubt, this institutional dimension. Contrarily, I will argue that proper consideration should significantly inform our understanding of friendship, particularly in light of some longstanding arguments about friendship’s value and place in moral theory. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Philosopher Queens: On Being a Philosopher in Practical Politics" a talk by Prof Beverly Clack 9 February 2016, Bull's Head. Barnes, 7.30pm - 9pm

In the Republic, Plato suggests that the best ruler for his ideal society would be a philosopher: or, as countless translations have put it, he advocates placing power in the hands of the ‘Philosopher King’. In this talk, I will be examining his claim in two ways: both draw upon my experience of being a philosopher of religion who was elected in May 2012 as a City Councillor in Oxford.  First, I will consider the effect of my philosophical training on the experience of being a practical politician, as well as the effect being a practical politician had on my philosophical interests. Second, I will consider the experience of being a woman in practical politics.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

'Slavoj Zizek: the Elvis of Philosophy' a talk by Chris Bainbridge Tuesday 12 January 2016

"The Elvis of philosophers", "the Giant of Ljubljana", and "the thinker of choice for Europe's young intellectual vanguard" are just some of the descriptions of 66-year-old Slovenian-born philosopher Slavoj Zizek. "To witness Zizek in full flight is a dizzying and at times alarming experience, part philosophical tightrope walk, part performance-art marathon, part intellectual roller-coaster ride" (Sean O'Hagan, the Observer).

Zizek has published some 60 books in his lifetime, 6 in 2014 alone. You meet the same ideas and identical chunks of text in several of his works, but it's still a Stakhanovite feat. There is even an institute of Zizek studies.

He illustrates his points with an extremely wide range of cultural references, including Jane Austen, Alfred Hitchcock, Agatha Christie, G.K. Chesterton, Wagner, Eric Satie, and recent films such as  "Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Slayer" ( a lesser known aspect of the great US president's early career).

His great influences are Hegel, Marx, Christianity and the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. But does it all add up to a coherent philosophy? Some argue that beneath the firework displays of provocative jokes and unconventional use of language his thoughts are unoriginal and banal. Are they right? "


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Our Next talk is by Philip Collins, 'How Does the Philosophy of Politics Connect to the Practice?' on 10 November at 7.30 pm

The idea of the good society is a staple of political philosophy on the Left. It has taken many forms but it may in fact be more of a hindrance in the practice of politics than most people on the Left acknowledge. As someone who has been a political philosopher and a practitioner there has always seemed to be very little relation between the two disciplines. But what is political philosophy for if not to inform the conduct of politics? It is, to be sure, about imagination, critique and legitimation too. But in the end the point, as Marx said, "is to change the world".