Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Onora O'Neill lecture on public reason

A lecture by professor Onora O'Neill on public reason is available as a podcast on the website of University of Oslo:

Making Reason Public:
Necessary Conditions for Dialogue and Discourse
[55 minutes]

The lecture was held on September 2, 2009, at "The Centre for Study of the Mind in Nature",
University of Oslo, Norway.

In her lecture, Onora O'Neill contrasts the leading conceptions of public reason of the late 20th century - Rawls and Habermas - with Kant's conception. She argues that Kant's "modal" conception of public reason - based on a distinction between private reasoning (addressing a limited audience) and public reasoning (addressing all citizens) - can give us a better understanding of the difference between quasi-communication and effective communication in modern democracies.

Professor Onora O'Neill is professor of philosophy at the University of Cambridge and a cross bench member of the British House of Lords. She was formerly president of the British Academy.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Symposium: Rawlsian Liberalism in Context(s)

Symposium: Rawlsian Liberalism in Context(s)
Engaging the Philosophical Foundations of Politics and Public Policy
at The University of Tennessee, Knoxville


Friday, February 26

David Reidy, Associate Professor of Philosophy, University of Tennessee
"John Rawls and 20th Century Analytic Philosophy"

Saturday, February 27

Paul Weithman, Professor of Philosophy, Notre Dame University
"John Rawls and Political Theology/Theological Ethics"

Jerry Gaus, James E. Rogers Professor of Philosophy, University of Arizona
"John Rawls and Political Economy/Economics In The 20th Century"

Richard Miller, Professor of Philosophy, Cornell University
"John Rawls and American Foreign Policy/International Relations"

Robert Talisse, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Political Science, Vanderbilt University
"John Rawls and American Pragmatism(s)"

Further information here.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

New collection of essays by Thomas Nagel

Secular Philosophy and the Religious Temperament

by Thomas Nagel

(Oxford University Press, 2010)

184 pages


This volume collects recent essays and reviews by Thomas Nagel in three subject areas. The first section, including the title essay, is concerned with religious belief and some of the philosophical questions connected with it, such as the relation between religion and evolutionary theory, the question of why there is something rather than nothing, and the significance for human life of our place in the cosmos. It includes a defense of the relevance of religion to science education. The second section concerns the interpretation of liberal political theory, especially in an international context. A substantial essay argues that the principles of distributive justice that apply within individual nation-states do not apply to the world as a whole. The third section discusses the distinctive contributions of four philosophers to our understanding of what it is to be human - the form of human consciousness and the source of human values.


Part I. Religion
1: Secular Philosophy and the Religious Temperament [paper]
2: Dawkins and Atheism
3: Why Is There Anything?
4: Nietzsche's Self-Creation
5: Public Education and Intelligent Design

Part II. Politics
6: The Problem of Global Justice
7: The Limits of International Law
8: Appiah's Rooted Cosmopolitanism
9: Sandel and the Paradox of Liberalism
10: MacKinnon on Sexual Domination

Part III. Humanity
11: Williams: The Value of Truth
12: Williams: Humanity and Philosophy
13: Wiggins on Human Solidarity
14: O'Shaughnessy on the Stream of Consciousness
15: Sartre: The Look and the Problem of Other Minds

The first essay has not been published before.

Thomas Nagel is University Professor, Professor of Philosophy, and Professor of Law at New York University. Among his books are The View from Nowhere (Oxford University Press, 1986), and Equality and Partiality (Oxford University Press, 1991).

Last month in Times Literary Supplement, Thomas Nagel recommended a book by the "intelligent design" apologist Stephen Meyer. See some reactions here, here and here. And Nagel's reply here.

Read David Gordon's review of Nagel's new book here at "The Mises Review".

Monday, December 21, 2009

Habermas's laudatio to Michael Tomasello

The American developmental psychologist Michael Tomasello received the Hegel Prize 2009, December 16, 2009, in Stuttgart, Germany.

The speeches are now available online:

1. Lord Mayor of Stuttgart Wolfgang Schuster: Text - Audio

2. Professor Jürgen Habermas: Text - Audio

3. Professor Michael Tomasello: Text - Audio

Excerpt from Tomasello's acceptance speech:
"And so the large scale and class-based stratification of modern societies, along with the fact that many different types of people from many different ethnic groups are all thrown together into one pot, creates new challenges for human cooperation. The question from the point of view of evolution is: will our evolved capacities for cooperation in small groups scale up successfully to large-scale modern civilization? The only answer from the point of view of evolution at the moment is: so far, so good. We are still here. But of course we are only a few nuclear bombs or a few more decades of rampant environmental degradation away from not being here. It is possible that our skills and motivations for cooperation in small homogeneous groups will not sustain cooperation in the large-scale complexities of the modern world. But there are many signs that we will be able to adjust. New prosocial norms for being careful with our environment and for recognizing the dignity and value of all peoples from all ethnic groups seem to be spreading in influence, not receding, and we are continually finding new ways for creating more cooperative and open arrangements for communication and coalition-building in large-scale societies, as Professor Habermas has argued. These new social norms and new forms of communication – in combination with our inherent prosocial tendencies - can only help us to overcome the difficulties of cooperating in large, heterogeneous groups and across societies. There is plenty of reason for both concern and optimism. Scientific research and evolutionary analyses do not, indeed cannot ever, provide direct answers for societal problems - this is clear. But they often provide useful information or new perspectives on things that can help us to make better decisions and to create better societal arrangements for fostering the kinds of cooperative and moral attitudes that will hopefully sustain us and help us to thrive in an uncertain future."

See my previous post on the event here.

Rüdiger Safranski on the Sloterdijk/Honneth debate

From the German radio station "Deutschlandsfunk" (December 20, 2009):

Interview with the German philosopher Rüdiger Safranski - "Zeiten-Wende im Diskurs? Die neue Sloterdijk-Debatte" [Audio, 23 minutes]

Links to the Sloterdijk/Honneth debate here.

Since 2002, Rüdiger Safranski hosted along with Peter Sloterdijk, the show "Philosophical Quartet" on the German television station ZDF.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Charles Beitz on "The Idea of Human Rights"

The Idea of Human Rights

by Charles R. Beitz

(Oxford University Press, 2009)

256 pages


The international doctrine of human rights is one of the most ambitious parts of the settlement of World War II. Since then, the language of human rights has become the common language of social criticism in global political life. This book is a theoretical examination of the central idea of that language, the idea of a human right. In contrast to more conventional philosophical studies, the author takes a practical approach, looking at the history and political practice of human rights for guidance in understanding the central idea. The author presents a model of human rights as matters of international concern whose violation by governments can justify international protective and restorative action ranging from intervention to assistance. He proposes a schema for justifying human rights and applies it to several controversial cases--rights against poverty, rights to democracy, and the human rights of women. Throughout, the book attends to some main reasons why people are skeptical about human rights, including the fear that human rights will be used by strong powers to advance their national interests. The book concludes by observing that contemporary human rights practice is vulnerable to several pathologies and argues the need for international collaboration to avoid them.


1. Introduction
2. The Practice
3. Naturalistic Theories
4. Agreement Theories
5. A Fresh Start
6. Normativity
7. International Concern
8. Conclusion

Charles R. Beitz is Edwards S. Sanford Professor of Politics at Princeton University and the Editor of Philosophy & Public Affairs.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Forthcoming books from Suhrkamp Verlag

From Suhrkamp Verlag's spring/summer 2010 catalog:

Jan-Werner Müller - Verfassungspatriotismus

Niklas Luhmann - Politische Soziologie

Luc Boltanski - Soziologie und Sozialkritik

Axel Honneth - Das Ich im Wir: Studien zur Anerkennungstheorie

Hans Blumenberg - Theorie der Lebenswelt

John Rawls - Über Sünde, Glaube und Religion

Rainer Forst - Kritik der Rechtfertigungsverhältnisse

Thomas Bedorf & Kurt Röttgers
(eds.) - Das Politische und
die Politik

Günter Frankenberg
- Staatstechnik

Christoph Broszies & Henning Hahn (eds.) - Globale Gerechtig-

Peter Sloterdijk
- Wissenschaft als Übung

Hans-Georg Gadamer - Über die Verborgenheit der Gesundheit

Michel Foucault - Der Mut zur Wahrheit

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Honneth talks about his controversy with Sloterdijk

In "Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger", December 17, 2009:

An interview with professor Axel Honneth on his controversy with Peter Sloterdijk.

"Ich bezweifle, dass Peter Sloterdijk mit seinen verqueren Überlegungen irgendwelche politische Absichten verfolgt hat - es hieße, seinen politischen Realitätssinn und Pragmatismus zu überschätzen, wollte man ihm derartige Strategien unterstellen. Ich glaube überhaupt nicht, dass er in politischen Lagerkategorien denkt, ihn interessiert der Überraschungs-, ja der Überrumpelungswert von Diagnosen, mögen sie schlechter oder besser begründet sein."

Links to the Sloterdijk/Honneth debate here.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Axel Honneth honors Amitai Etzioni

The American sociologist Amitai Etzioni received the Meister Eckhart Prize 2009 at the University of Cologne, December 9, 2009.

Professor Axel Honneth, Frankfurt University, gave the Laudatio. Read it here.

Amitai Etzioni spoke on "Diversity and Unity in the Development of Identity".

See Markus Schwering's report on the event is Frankfurter Rundschau.

Amitai Etzioni is Director of the Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies, George Washington University. His latest books are "From Empire to Community" (Palgrave, 2004) and "Security First: For a Muscular, Moral Foreign Policy" (Yale University Press, 2007). Etzioni was born in Cologne in 1929.

The Meister Eckhart Prize goes to individuals whose work “addresses existential questions of personal, social and intercultural identity and who through their work stimulate broad public and international discourse”. Past award winners are Richard Rorty, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Ernest Tugendhat, and Amartya Sen.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Moshe Halbertal reviews Amartya Sen's book on justice

Professor Moshe Halbertal reviews Amartya Sen's "The Idea of Justice" (Harvard University Press, 2009) in The New Republic:

"The Ideal and the Real"


"Following Sen, when we examine different grand theories we realize that each of them has a point, that there is an aspect - but no more than an aspect - of their respective claims that is convincing. Grand theories become perverse when they postulate themselves as exclusive, when they wish to solve all the complex issues with one decisive and final principle. Rights-based libertarians have a point, but their complete disregard of outcomes makes their position flawed. Utilitarians make an important contribution to the conversation, but their exclusive interest in outcomes is wrong. Egalitarians are deeply attractive for the principle that moves them, but their principle cannot withstand critical scrutiny when it is the only principle of justice there is." (.....)

"Sen’s range is amazing. His intimacy with the Hindu, Buddhist, and Muslim cultures of India, which is beautifully woven into the book, gives him access to a far greater range of argumentation and reasoning than is common among philosophers who were educated exclusively in the Western analytical tradition. His knowledge of this vast cultural history, and his profound respect for it, is an important source of Sen’s humility in recognizing the essential plurality of legitimate claims - in rejecting any sort of monism in the life of the mind. This larger scope, I should add, enables Sen to teach - by example: he is not a preacher of any kind - a more nuanced sense of the complexity and the richness of Eastern and Islamic cultures. Though Sen is steeped in other traditions (some of which are, of course, his own traditions), his syncretism carries no threat of a clash of civilizations. Nor does it propound any kind of superficial harmony. Instead his work - in its simultaneous affirmation of the universal and the particular - serves as an eloquent and humane testimony to the power of reason, which respects (when it is honest and attends to the integrity of its arguments) the multiplicity of voices and traditions."

Moshe Halbertal is Professor of Jewish Thought and Philosophy at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Michael Tomasello receives Hegel Prize 2009

On December 16, the American developmental psychologist Michael Tomasello receives the Hegel Prize 2009, awarded by the city of Stuttgart.

Jürgen Habermas will give the Laudatio.

The programme:

Teil I:
Wissenschaftliches Programm des Forschungsverbunds Sprachwissenschaft und Kognition der Universität Stuttgart
(Universität Stuttgart)

15:30-16:00 Uhr:
- Grußwort des Rektors Prof. Dr.-Ing. Wolfram Ressel
- Vorstellung des Forschungsverbunds und Einführung zum Werk von Prof. Dr. Tomasello durch Prof. Dr. Klaus von Heusinger

16:00-17:00 Uhr:
Vortrag Prof. Dr. Michael Tomasello: "Communication Before Language"

Teil II:
Feierliche Verleihung des Hegel-Preises 2009
(Rathaus der Stadt Stuttgart)

Ab 19:00 Uhr:
- Urkundenübergabe durch Oberbürgermeister Dr. Wolfgang Schuster
- Laudatio: Prof. Dr. Jürgen Habermas
- Dankesrede des Preisträgers
- Stehempfang

Past winners of the Hegel Prize include Jürgen Habermas, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Paul Ricoeur, Niklas Luhmann and Charles Taylor.

On November 20, 2009, Michael Tomasello received the Oswald Külpe Award at the University of Würzburg, Germany. Read Wolfgang Schneider's Laudatio here (in English).

See my previous posts on Michael Tomasello here, here and here.

Read reports from the event:
- in Stuttgarter Nachrichten, December 18, 2009.

- in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, December 18, 2009.

The speeches by
Wolfgang Schuster, Jürgen Habermas, and Michael Tomasello here.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Michael Tomasello: "Why We Cooperate"

Why We Cooperate

by Michael Tomasello

(MIT Press, 2009)

208 pages


In "Why We Cooperate", Tomasello's studies of young children and great apes help identify the underlying psychological processes that very likely supported humans' earliest forms of complex collaboration and, ultimately, our unique forms of cultural organization, from the evolution of tolerance and trust to the creation of such group-level structures as cultural norms and institutions.

Drop something in front of a two-year-old, and she's likely to pick it up for you. This is not a learned behavior, psychologist Michael Tomasello argues. Through observations of young children in experiments he himself has designed, Tomasello shows that children are naturally—and uniquely—cooperative. Put through similar experiments, for example, apes demonstrate the ability to work together and share, but choose not to.

As children grow, their almost reflexive desire to help—without expectation of reward—becomes shaped by culture. They become more aware of being a member of a group. Groups convey mutual expectations, and thus may either encourage or discourage altruism and collaboration. Either way, cooperation emerges as a distinctly human combination of innate and learned behavior.

Scholars Carol Dweck, Joan Silk, Brian Skyrms, and Elizabeth Spelke respond to Tomasello's findings and explore the implications.

Table of Contents


Why We Cooperate
1. Born (and Bred) to Help
2. From Social Interaction to Social Institutions
3. Where Biology and Culture Meet

1. Joan B. Silk
2. Carol S. Dweck
3. Brian Skyrms
4. Elizabeth S. Spelke

View inside the book here.

Reviewed by Nicholas Wade in New York Times, November 30.

Michael Tomasello is an American developmental psychologist, and since 1998 co-director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

Two recent papers by Tomasello et.al. [pdf files]:

Liszkowski, U., Schäfer, M., Carpenter, M., & Tomasello, M. (2009). Prelinguistic Infants, but not Chimpanzees, Communicate about Absent Entities. Psychological Science, 20(5), 654-660.

Vaish, A., Carpenter, M., & Tomasello, M. (2009). Sympathy Through Affective Perspective Taking and its Relation to Prosocial Behavior in Toddlers. Developmental Psychology, 45(2), 534–543.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Habermas reviews book by Tomasello

In this week's edition of "Die Zeit" (December 10, 2009), Jürgen Habermas reviews "Die Ursprünge der menschlichen Kommunikation" (Suhrkamp Verlag, 2009) by the American developmental psychologist Michael Tomasello.

It is a German translation of "Origins of Human Communication" (MIT Press, 2008).

Excerpt from the review:
"Mit dem sozialpragmatischen Ansatz lenkt Tomasello die Kognitionsforschung in eine andere Richtung, als es das heute vorherrschende Paradigma nahelegt. Er nimmt Wittgensteins Einsicht ernst, die Hilary Putnam auf den Punkt bringt, dass Bedeutungen nichts sind, was "in einem einzelnen Kopf steckt". Hingegen scheinen Schimpansen nicht aus den Schranken ihrer selbstbezogenen, von jeweils eigenen Interessen gesteuerten Sicht ausbrechen zu können. Sie sind zwar außergewöhnlich intelligent und können intentional handeln... Aber sie können keine interpersonale Beziehung mit einem anderen eingehen. Aus sozialpragmatischer Sicht besteht die entscheidende evolutionäre Errungenschaft in der komplexen Fähigkeit, sich auf einen Artgenossen so einzustellen, dass beide in der gestenvermittelten Bezugnahme auf objektive Gegebenheiten dieselben Ziele verfolgen, also kooperieren können."

On December 16, 2009, Michael Tomasello receives the 2009 Hegel Prize at a ceremony in Stuttgart. See more here.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Stephen E. Toulmin dies at 87

The University of Southern California informs:

Stephen Edelston Toulmin, University Professor Emeritus and one of the most influential ethical philosophers of the latter half of the 20th century, has died. He was 87.

Read the obituary in USC News here

Obituary in the New York Times here.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Reappraising Nozick's "Anarchy, State, and Utopia"

From The Brooks Blog:

Reappraising "Anarchy, State, and Utopia" conference

January 8-9, 2010, at King's College London.


(Titles to be confirmed)

Friday, January 8, 2010
Michael Otsuka (University College London) - `Nozickian Side-Constraints'
Peter Vallentyne (Missouri) - 'Liberty and Self-ownership'
Eric Mack (Tulane) - 'The Emergence of the State'
David Schmidtz (Arizona) - 'Entitlement and Desert'

Saturday, January 9, 2010
Barbara Fried (Stanford) - 'Nozick's Theory of Property'
John Meadowcroft (King's College London) - 'The Critique of Rawls'
Serena Olsaretti (Cambridge) - 'Equality and Arbitrariness'
Ralf Bader (St. Andrews) - 'The Framework for Utopia'
Chandran Kukathas (LSE) - 'Diversity and the Minimal State'

Attendance is free.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Book on Habermas's discourse theory on democracy

Der Sinn von Demokratie.
Die Diskurstheorie der Demokratie und die Debatte über die Legitimität der EU

by Daniel Gaus

(Campus Verlag, 2009)

[from here]

The discourse-theoretical argument on democracy is often criticised for being utopian, in that it provided a blueprint for a just political order and missed institutional reality in actual democracies. Daniel Gaus argues that this criticism is based on a misreading of Habermas’ theory. He argues that, contrary to some interpretation, discourse theory on democracy and law does not aim to normatively justify a certain model of a democratic society.

Instead, it seeks to describe and explain real-world political practice in modern democracies with a focus on a specific object of analysis: collective belief systems regarding the legitimacy of political rule. The main hypothesis of discourse theory is, that during a socio-historical learning process, the concept of the democratic constitutional state has evolved into the normative ideal of political order. Or, in other words, within the collective consciousness of modern societies, the concepts of democracy, statehood and law together cover the necessary conditions for legitimate political rule.

Seen as a contribution to a reconstructive sociology of democracy, Habermas’ discourse theory needs further elaboration to substantiate its central hypotheses. Gaus argues that European integration could be seen as a test case in this regard. However, the question, then, would not be whether or how the EU could or should become a constitutional state. Instead, empirical analysis of justificatory practices of political rule would be necessary to answer the question, whether the ideal of the democratic constitutional state actually orients legitimacy judgments – in the political practice of the nation-states as well as in the political practice of the European Union.



Die Habermassche Theorie

Exemplarische Analyse zweier Rechtfertigungen der Rechtsordnung
der Europäischen Union

Schlussbetrachtung und Ausblick

Daniel Gaus is Senior Researcher at ARENA, Centre for European Studies, University of Oslo, Norway.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Judith Butler and Cornel West in conversation

From the conference on "Rethinking Secularism: The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere" (New York University, October 22, 2009), a discussion between Judith Butler and Cornel West, in which they exchange thoughts on the ethics and limitations of citizenship, as well as temporality, memory, and the problematics of progress;

Audio and transcript here (at the blog "The Immanent Frame")

Listen to Butler's and West's paper presentations that preceded this discussion here.

From the same conference: Jürgen Habermas and Charles Taylor in conversation here.