Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Philosophy and Dinner Parties

I was prompted to think about the topic of this posting by a conjunction of two events, one concerning activities common to the season and the other the recent re-reading of a passage in the Doctrine of Virtue. Let's take the two in turn.

Firstly, this is a season for inviting people round to dinner and being invited by others. On such occasions, conversation is a principal activity and such conversation includes general topics of interest. There are two notable features of such conversations. The first is that topics that win general favour include politics (despite or perhaps because of the controversy they bring), relationships and topics of local interest and, in addition, references to mutual acquaintances and their goings-on. What is generally absent from such discussions is any explicit mention of philosophy. This doesn't entail, however, that there is no philosophical content to the conversations in question. There frequently is such content and it comes in two general forms. One of the forms is an implied reference where beliefs that are sincerely held are defended and elaborated in more or less sweeping ways and often involving detailed statements of quasi-religious sort that verge on the metaphysical. The other form, perhaps more frequent but certainly less entertaining, are the implied references to logical or general principles to sustain, underpin or often undermine, the views of others. The second type of reference is much more covert than the first and less intriguing to examine.

So let's take the first type of reference. This is activated usually when the fundamentals really do, in some form, come up. References to such verities as "human nature" are invariably involved in such instances and such references have, of late, been given renewed support by environmental crisis which apparently permits the vocabulary of original sin to get a new outing. In addition to these appeals to the role of "human nature" we can also find on such occasions a general appeal to principles that are of real or ultimate importance with such quasi-Feuerbachian claims as the generic appeal to love or such neo-Platonist conceptions as a visible incarnation of goodness having a real role in history occasionally surfacing. This occurs, naturally, when conversing with the most idealistic of one's associates. By contrast, the more cynically minded can compete by making the "human nature" appeal count in a different direction such that the original sin contention serves to undermine the idealism of the other party. The striking element involved in such conversations remains however the lack of appeal to any general standards of evidence in argument and the instant dismissal of any attempt at sustained serious enquiry as not remotely relevant.

This brings me to the second element of my posting, the recent re-reading of a section of the Doctrine of Virtue. This is where Kant is discussing the question of stupefying oneself by excessive use of food or drink. Whilst the general considerations given here aren't immensely interesting the casuistical questions that are posed in regard to the topic are. Here Kant talks about how the use of wine "enlivens conversation" and allows people to speak more freely though he does go on to point out the problem with measuring when someone have themselves become incapable of carrying out any measurement! So the use of drink poses a moral problem since use of it does further the end of the occasion but over-use undercuts it. How to square such a problem?

The second element of Kant's casuistical questions concerns the way that banquets aim at a moral end since they bring people together for the sake of conversation. However, the number of guests should not, as Kant, following Chesterfield, puts it, exceed the number of the muses since otherwise the arrangement of the guests will then allow for only a little conversation. There is a further problem in the very nature of such occasions since they do tend to promote intemperance, something itself immoral. Such are the fine calculations that philosophically need to be considered in relation to dinner parties. Oddly enough, whilst giving these philosophical reflections on the dinner party Kant says little, as I have above, about the extent to which philosophy itself appears in the conversation at these parties. Perhaps the parties he attended involved less philosophically inclined guests than those I am encountering at present?

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Seasonal Appeal: Camfed International

Whilst the point of this blog is not mainly to endorse charities it is, I think, worth taking advantage of the Christmas period to endorse an international charity that has a very specific and important mission. The charity in question is Camfed International. Camfed was founded in 1993 by Ann Cotton with a general and particularly laudable aim, namely, to improve the chances for girls' education in Africa. Camfed stands for the Campaign for Female Education and its focus is important for a number of reasons. Firstly, the main reason why girls are not educated is due to poverty with families choosing to educate boys first due to the latter's greater chance of employment later. To even the chances for girls, outside action is needed.

Not only is this so but also the economic advantages of girls' education is enormous. Girls are much more likely to invest income earned directly into their family and income is much more likely to be earned if they are educated. Educated girls are much less likely to contract HIV, not least because they are more informed when engaging in sexual relations. Educated girls will have fewer children when they grow older and those they have will be proportionately much more likely to survive infancy. General focus on girls' emancipation, particularly in Africa, is crucial to development as it doubles the work-force and ensures greater opportunities for more equitable relations. Click on the link to Camfed and donate something and support educating a girl because, when you educate a girl, everything changes!

Up-Date on Guinea Massacre

The massacre carried out in Guinea on September 28th this year, which was discussed in an earlier posting, has now been covered in a United Nations investigation. The report has found that 156 people were killed in the massacre by army and members of government militia and that an additional 109 girls and women were subjected to rape, sexual mutilation and sequestration for repeated rape. Hundreds of others were tortured and abused. The massacre was a response to a demonstration against the military ruler President Moussa Dadis Camara who was subjected to an assassination attempt on December 3rd.

Camara is currently in Morocco where he is being treated for wounds suffered after the attack of December 3rd. The UN commission of enquiry into the massacre of September 28th has concluded that there is sufficient evidence to believe he was personally responsible for the massacre and that he should be tried by the International Criminal Court.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

International Relations in the First Decade of the 21st Century

As we approach the completion of the first decade of this century it is worth looking at what it brought us in terms of developments in international relations. There have been three major stories during this decade, the first concerning the relationship between the US and the Middle East, the second the expansion of the European Union and the third the rise of China and India.

Taking these topics in turn the US's role in world affairs has been subject to considerable controversy, particularly around the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but more generally with regard to policies that concern Israel and Palestine. The wars in the area have been consistently framed, not least by critics of the US, in relation to the continued failure of any momentum towards peace between Israel and the Palestinians. In some respects the Israeli policies in this decade have been surprising since Ariel Sharon, whose name was hardly a synonym for peace, proclaimed a unilateral withdrawal from parts of the occupied territories, a withdrawal that, in its turn, precipitated a split within the Palestinians that led to a resurgence of support for Hamas. Israel also launched a war in the Lebanon in response to shelling from Hezbollah, a war that, at the time, was widely regarded as ending in a loss for the Israelis but which has produced the outcome they desired (cessation of the shelling). There have been no substantive moves towards peace with either the Palestinians or any of their neighbours during this decade.

It is true that the failure of movements towards peace by the Israelis is something that has been underpinned by a continued record of pretty uncritical support from the US. The majority of the decade saw the US governed by President Bush Jr and, despite being the first President to unequivocally state support for a Palestinian state, Bush effectively did nothing to bolster the Palestinian leadership and has to be regarded as at fault for the rise of Hamas. Bush also launched the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that Obama is now left with. The war in Iraq, whatever else one might say about it, was handled catastrophically badly with the immediate aftermath of the invasion handled in a lamentably poor way. The Obama administration unfortunately has as little appetite for nation-building as the Bush one did with the result that the long-term prospects for Afghanistan are far from rosy. Obama has noted the need for integrated policy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan, something evident given the continued links between the Pakistani government and many of the Taliban in Afghanistan. The failure, however, to motivate a responsible civil society in Pakistan to take seriously the notion that other factors than India may be of concern in the area continues to resound as a serious failure in Western policy.

The wider Middle East remains an area that is fraught with instability. The regimes in Saudi Arabia and Egypt that have been taken to be allies of the US both have severe faults. Saudi Arabia was widely understood to be an incubator for Al-Qaeda and the conditions that permitted this have scarcely been reformed. Similarly, the major opposition force in Egypt is the Muslim Brotherhood, a force that has emerged as such a force in lieu of any serious secular movement, the latter having all suffered repression. Since these are the countries to which Western countries look when thinking of allies in the region it is hardly surprising that the rest of the region looks bleak. From Algeria to Syria there is a general pattern of dictatorship, repression, human rights abuse and failure of serious development.

By contrast the European Union's expansion is a hopeful sign at least in the sense that it has helped to motivate the countries of Eastern Europe to set about economic and social developments that advance the area in general. The incorporation of these countries is hopeful for the security and prosperity of all the people of Europe with countries such as the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary, all set to be able to take advantage of these new opportunities. Other countries have, however, fared less well with Romania and Bulgaria still seeming fixed in corruption and having only dubiously democratic institutions. The EU generally seems set on rejecting Turkey, a mistake whose proportions will take a long time measuring since this will ensure that Turkey will seek allies elsewhere and be more likely to move away from the path of attempted reconciliation of Islam and modernity that the AKP promised. The EU generally also appears singularly unsuited at developing as a serious force in world politics, riven as it is by national disputes and having at its heart institutions that have little normative validity.

The rise of China and India are phenomena of many sides. China's rise is generally understood to be more considerable than that of India and during the course of this year reached such an extent that talk of a G2 in the world began to be generally discussed. The economic strides made by China should not conceal the fact that it is the largest dictatorship in the world, governed by a party that has no commitment to even transition towards democratic institutions and which has only a very partial commitment to even the outline of the idea of the rule of law. Due to this the economic development in China remains unstable as it is riven by regional and national disputes that, combined with the demands of a newly emergent civil society, ensure that its rulers have no appetite for looking outwards at the world. China's engagement in Africa, amongst other places, has at present no enlightened element to it, supporting as it does, despotisms and local rulers.

India's rise, whilst less dramatic than that of China, is nonetheless, in its way, more encouraging. India, despite facing immense problems, is a society with constitutional elements and a basic commitment to working with moves towards openness. India still faces a hostile and suspicious Pakistan however, something reinforced by India's moves into Afghanistan. India also will have to face difficult questions as it balances its relations with the US with those it will have to cope with in relation to Russia and, indeed, China. Leadership in India is perhaps more sorely needed than anywhere in the world, except, naturally, in the US.

Less central than any of these trends but not something that can be ignored is the role of Russia. Since Putin replaced Yeltsin as President the basic trajectory of the country has been back towards dictatorial measures and the construction of an effective corporatist state with large areas of economic life managed either by the state directly or via arrangements with gangster elements. Effectively this makes Russia a very frightening place internally and helps to produce an unpredictable foreign policy, as, for example, when this year it emerged as effectively a cheer-leader for the repressive regime in Iran. The difficulty of engagement with Russia is pronounced since the governing class there is imbued with cynicism and is inherently turned towards violent solutions to its problems as was witnessed with the war in Georgia last year. As with the Chinese, the Russians have little interest in engaging in any normatively serious way with world affairs ensuring that they play a role of destabilisation, something serious in view of their holdings of energy supplies. In other respects the Russians have however entered a phase of continued decline and are far less likely to have serious impact on world affairs than any of the other groups mentioned here.

A word on one particularly significant event this year: the upsurge of protest in Iran. Given that the Iranian regime is threatening with regard to development of nuclear power and its links with the newly powerful Shiite tendencies in Iraq, the emergence of serious opposition opens out the prospect for a movement that could re-shape the Middle East. Watching developments there will continue to be very important.

These trends when put together suggest a very difficult decade ahead, one in which there will constantly be posed as a vital matter how the development of China and India will effect world affairs. Those concerned with international analysis should be as engaged with these countries and their influence as with that of the US, something that requires ceasing to always regard the US as either the most important benevolent or maleficent force and taking a more general view of what and how the forces that can bring openness and enlightenment can be supported in the years to come.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

The Archbishop, Religion and the Public Sphere

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the official head of the world-wide Anglican Communion, has provided some thoughts in an interview given yesterday to the Daily Telegraph. The interview provides some gems, not least the one concerning "faith initiatives" tending to treat followers of Christianity and other religions as "oddballs" who, for some incomprehensible reason, are viewed generally as being "a problem". During the course of the interview itself, however, the Archbishop is reported as stating some things that might well lead one to view both himself and the Communion he heads as being, indeed, problematic.

Questioned concerning the recent initiative in Uganda to pass a bill that would have led to death penalties being enforced for homosexuals in some instances the Archbishop, who has been very vocal about the decisions of the American Episcopal Church to promote homosexual people to the level of bishop, was noticeably more reticent about this bill that threatens to end a number of homosexual lives. Mentioning that the Archbishop of Uganda, Henry Orombi, has "not taken a position on the bill", Archbishop Williams does not follow up this observation with the kind of rounded condemnation of Orombi that he was not afraid to make of Gene Robinson. Could it be that Archbishop Williams is less bothered by the passage of this bill than by the promotion of equal rights for gay people?

Not only is Archbishop Williams, in this bizarre failure to make the key issue one of homosexuals being viciously attacked by the Ugandan government, out of step with general opinion in the UK, but he is also apparently surprised by the nature of the Roman Catholic Church. When questioned about the recent attempt of the Pope to run off with members of the Anglican Communion who are unable to accept such heresies as gay and women bishops, Archbishop Williams mentions surprise about the way he was wasn't consulted and laments that: "The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the whole doesn't go in for much consultation".

As is made clear by the Vatican itself, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is what, in less polite times, was known as the Inquisition so, no, it would follow that such a body isn't really a consultative one, more, shall we say, directorial in its view of the world. In its constitution (article 51, sub-section 1) it makes quite clear that it sees its competence to include examination of "books and writings" in order (article 51, sub-section 2) to "reprove" those thought to contravene Church doctrine. It is, in other words, as it always was, the censorial arm of the Church, the one that spreads universal love by means of as harsh repressive apparatus as it is able to build in any given country.

The existence of such bodies as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and of such duplicitous people as the Archbishop of Canterbury are doubtless the reason why governments (and not just in the UK) have a tendency in the contemporary world to relate to certain manifestations of "faith" as indicative of an "oddball" mentality. Not only is this so but the formation of states that are in their general outlook, if not always in their constitutions, secular in character, is indicative of an acceptance that there are problems with viewing government and public policy as open to being shaped by the orientations of those of "faith".

It is often pointed out that there are contrary tendencies in most religions and that religious leaders are capable of mobilising the resources of their traditions in any number of ways. This is certainly true and it is beyond doubt that the Reverend Martin Luther King and such contemporary luminaries as Bishop Desmond Tutu, derive authority when opposing oppression (which Bishop Tutu extended, unlike Archbishop Williams, to opposing oppression of homosexuals) from their status as people of faith. On this basis it is then argued that there are good reasons to fear "privatization of faith". However, in response it has to be said that the general basis of intervention of religious leaders in politics has not been and is not likely to become, encouraging. The notion that there should need to be an appeal to doctrines that are said to rest upon historical revelations in order to condemn oppression is one that hardly merits examination and, noticeably, those religious leaders who do engage in such condemnation necessarily have to offer secular rationales for doing so, rationales that include accounts of the common good.

All debates that involve reasoned accounts of policy in the public sphere should be welcomed but there is no specifically privileged role that religious leaders have in such discussion and certainly no grounds for listening to them when they claim that oppressive laws are required because mandated by some obscure reference of ancient provenance in their sacred texts. Public discussion of policy in a contemporary society should not be grounded on texts that were produced in societies of quite a different sort to ours and whose moralities often do not bear critical examination.

Thursday, 10 December 2009


Intriguingly, given the recent developments in Iran as reported in my last posting, there has recently been formed an International Bureau for Laicite. It has taken its name from the French concept that was built into the law of the French Republic on 9th December 1905 which is understood here to mean "the total disinvestment of the state regarding religions" as opposed to the English "secularism" thought to entail equal tolerance towards all religions.

Whilst in many respects it is a good sign that people are willing to form new bodies that identify fundamentalist religion as a current and important threat to open societies and to positively argue for a view of the state that does not involve incorporation of religion there are still elements of the founding statement of the Bureau that bother me. Firstly, the general acceptance of the French republic as a model as indicated in the use of the concept of laicity is itself problematic. In France this concept is far from employed evenly. The recent ban on head-scarfs for Muslim girls was not one that applied reciprocally to other religions. For example the parallel drew with it for Christians was a ban on wearing "large" crosses and there was also no attempt on the part of the French authorities to deal with the meaning of the head-scarf as a symbol of modesty that is, in any case, only partially religious in nature. President Sarkozy also recently apparently welcomed the recent Swiss vote banning the construction of minarets and argued that members of religions should be "modest" in their demeanour but didn't follow his welcoming of the ban on minarets with an argument for banning construction of Catholic cathedrals or some form or other of "large" Christian symbol.

The truth is that the French view of laicity has consistently contained a preference for Catholicism over other forms of Christianity and for Christianity over non-Christian religions so I don't regard reference to it in the setting up of a secularist campaign as a particularly good sign. Secondly, the statement founding the group includes a vigorous denunciation, in all too French style, of "neo-liberalism" blaming this fictive creature for all the present ills of the world. It would be useful instead to look more closely at a number of elements that perpetuate injustice in the world including French support for protectionist measures for agriculture, measures that ensure that French products are given preferential treatment over those from much poorer countries. It might also be too much to expect that a campaign so correctly focused on secular principles would do much to demonstrate against the contraventions of such principles in France, Switzerland, the US and the UK. But perhaps that will come out of future work of the group.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Iranian Student Day

Yesterday's Student Day demonstrations in Iran occurred, according to what the world media has been able to discern, across a number of cities including Tehran, Kerman, Mashhad, Isfahan, Hamedan and Shiraz. Most importantly, the demonstrations yesterday included actions that directly targeted the notion of the "Islamic Republic". In Tehran there were reports of burnings of posters of Ayatollah Khomeini and marchers carrying flags from which the word "Allah" had been removed. At Sharif University protestors have been video-taped shouting: "Death to the oppressor, whether shah or supreme leader".

These actions show the protest movement in Iran is emerging in a direction that is flagrantly at odds with its official "insider" leadership. The movement to free Iran from "Islamic" dictatorship is central to the direction of the world today. If a secular, democratic, free and open Iran can emerge then the prospects for the Middle East will entirely alter. The success of this movement and its emergence as a force for secular democracy are key issues for anyone today concerned for a move towards open societies generally. Best wishes to the movement and to its increasingly secular direction and here's hoping for a leadership that catches up with the spontaneous movement against a regime led by clerics.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Commerce, Communication and Hospitality

In an article published in Politics and Ethics Review on the subject of colonialism and hospitality Peter Niesen makes some key claims concerning the interpretation of the meaning of hospitality in Kantian theory. In the discussion of the 3rd definitive article for perpetual peace where Kant limits cosmopolitan right to conditions of universal hospitality Niesen focuses specifically on a key aspect. Kant refers in this article on the right to be a guest and specifies this as the right "to present oneself for society" (Ak. 8: 358). Subsequently this presentation of oneself is further determined as "the conditions which make it possible to seek commerce with the old inhabitants" (Ak. 8: 358).

The seeking of commerce is clearly not equivalent to its attainment so Kant does not here speak of a right to commerce but only of a right to be able to attain it. Niesen understands this as "a communicative right", that is, a right to make "communicative offers". Somewhat oddly and partly by associating this with statements Kant makes at the conclusion of the Doctrine of Virtue concerning social intercourse (Ak. 6: 473) this communicative right is presented by Niesen in terms of a general right to free speech on Kant's part. More persuasive evidence for a connection between the statement in Perpetual Peace and a view of free speech rights are the references Niesen points to elsewhere in Kant's works. For example, in the introduction to the Doctrine of Right, in the context of discussing the "one innate right" to freedom Kant derives from it some authorizations which, he says, "are not really distinct from it" (Ak. 6: 237). Included amongst these are "such things as merely communicating his thoughts to them" (Ak. 6: 238).

As part of his concluding remarks concerning the relation of theory and practice in the right of a state Kant also arrives at the key importance of making publicly known one's opinions. Here Kant explicitly states that "freedom of the pen" is the sole means by which the people's right can be expressed in relation to a sovereign, an argument used there in response to Hobbes (Ak. 8: 304). Niesen lists these points alongside each other as part of a general argument in Kant for freedom of expression.

Without directly here attempting to engage Niesen's specific argument for a general argument for freedom of expression I did think it worth returning to the relationship between commerce and communication and what this might tell us about hospitality. If a right to seek commerce is to be understood in Niesen's sense, as a special kind of communicative right, then it follows that restriction on commerce is a form of restriction of communication. Despite this, it remains true that in the discussion of the third definitive article of perpetual peace that Kant remarks approvingly on the restrictions of commercial practice imposed on the Western powers by Japan and China. The reason for this is due to the colonialist policies of these powers, policies that Kant here clearly condemns.

The consideration of Kant's attitude towards these policies of China and Japan leads Niesen to argue for a distinction between commercial speech strictly speaking which covers "messages that are economic in intent" from a general commitment to free speech. So, despite the fact that Niesen initially interprets the reference to commerce in the treatment of the third definitive article as a communicative right he is nonetheless driven by the consideration of the examples of China and Japan to understand hospitality in such a way that restriction of commerce can be compatible with it even though commerce is the first referent Kant makes to help us understand hospitality.

Niesen is guided by the understanding that Kant is not committed in principle to unrestricted free trade and the approval voiced of the restrictive policies of Japan and China do make this clear. However it remains true on Niesen's account that we need to connect the treatment of commerce as a form of communication that is apparently open to restriction to two other elements of Kant's account. Firstly, to the provisional possession of the property of the earth (which should be, but is not by Niesen, connected to the state of nature between states) and to the injustice of colonialist adventures. If commerce as a communicative act is restricted by the latter it is nonetheless in some sense commended by the former. Further, someone who is washed up on the shores of a foreign place and not able to engage there in commerce due to restriction faces the prospect of death, the very prospect that should be ruled out by the right of hospitality. Niesen's restrictive understanding of commercial speech seems to raise serious problems for the consistency of Kant's view.

Without wishing to articulate a reading of hospitality that would commit Kant to a universal right of free trade it remains problematic in principle to endorse the restriction of trade Kant apparently allows when it is in conflict with a basic understanding of the right to hospitality. So a reading of the view of the trade policies of China and Japan that is not simply based, as Niesen's is, on a restrictive view of commercial speech, seems required.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Impact Assessment Up-Date

Sally Hunt, the general secretary of the main lecturers' union here in the UK, the University and Colleges Union has a piece in this week's copy of Times Higher Education. As she points out the campaign thus far against the notion of impact assessment has been very successful but with time running out for the gathering of responses to this idea it is all the more important that there is a last push against it. For the record, it remains true that acceding to it, in whatever small degree (and currently it is far from being a small degree taking up, as it will, 25% of the final score of a research assessment of any unit being assessed) is something that makes little, if any, sense in relation to philosophy in particular.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Citizenship and Religion

The recent referendum in Switzerland concerning the construction of minarets has provoked widespread debate and not a little condemnation of the Swiss electorate. Certainly the decision was part of a general campaign there that did not involve an inclusive view of citizenship. However, the debate and decision should not be viewed as isolated. There is also the ban on head-scarfs in France and periodic debate generally concerning the nature and point of religious symbols and their place in public life (particularly in the US).

The nub of the questions that arise here are, however, rarely unpicked from the general questions motivating particular discussions and decisions. What I mean here is that the nature of citizenship should be being discussed, not particular religions and certainly not religions that happen to be minorities in a given place. Citizenship of a country with a broadly republican (in the Kantian sense) notion of itself should not be being defined in terms of whether people are adherents of a particular religion or whether, as members of this religion, they decide to adopt particular types of clothes or worship in certain structures. It should rather concern living in a way that does not conflict with the normative structure of republican governance.

However, putting the point this way can, and often clearly does, cause confusion. In France, in particular, it appears that the notion of the republic is bound up with the celebration of distinct values (particularly, since the beginning of the 20th century, secular ones) that are thought to be violated by the adoption of certain styles of clothing in public or the wearing of certain religious symbols. This conception of republicanism is far removed from the Kantian one. Kant comprehends the style of life that a republic requires as living in accord with the supreme (or universal) principle of right, even without requiring that this principle be explicitly endorsed by anyone as part of their structure of maxims. Given that right is comprehended in relation to universal laws (and subsequently with an authorization of coercion) the basic structure of this republic has a formal and not a material pattern. Lack of recourse to a justification of this kind of republicanism can only lead to the pattern of thinking about republican citizenship in such a way that it leads to a "clash of cultures". In order to promote stepping back from this in such a way that we can consider again the point of republics I suggest thinking anew about the relationship between the principle of right and publicity. Expect more in further postings.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Publicity and Hate

The last posting referred to Jeremy Waldron's Holmes Lectures and I intend to respond again in this posting to one of them, focusing this time on the second one. I should first point out that they are all available and linked to both as papers and videos on the Political Theory - Habermas and Rawls blog and I would like to thank Tim Waligore for drawing these lectures to my attention.

In his second lecture Waldron makes two points that I wish to respond to here, the first concerns the relationship between hate and publicity and the second the relation between hate speech and hate crime. The connection between hate and publicity is powerfully made in the image of racist wolves calling out to each other over night. The main point Waldron brings up with regard to the question of the regulation of hate speech concerns the fact that such speech should not be seen as primarily private in nature but as public. The sense in which he presents it as public is in terms of its possessing an intention to summon up a certain kind of environment characterised by its own notion of a public good.

The way in which this idea makes sense is in terms of the point of such speech being to suggest, as Waldron puts it at one point, that the struggles of the past (including such things as segregation, the persecution of minority groups and slavery) are not over and can and should be re-opened. Along with this is the creation of points of solidarity between those who express such hate speech to encourage each to "come out" as haters and thereby to consolidate and confirm each other in this identity, an identity that forms part of the nucleus of the type of society the bearers of such attitudes would like to create.

This point about the inherent publicity of such hate speech is, in general, very well-made by Waldron and points to a further characteristic of the need to think publicity as a key value in political society. Previous postings discussed both the positive and negative accounts of publicity Kant provides in Perpetual Peace and what Waldron's discussion brings out well is the understanding that it is not just with regard to values that have a positive valence that such criteria have significance. The understanding of the action of hate speech as a public action that intends to orient general society in the direction of its aims is a sound one and explicates well why members of minority groups feel threat from the presence of such "speech" (in the circulation of writings, posters, marches and symbols).

A second important point that Waldron refers to in this second speech concerns the distinction between hate speech and hate crime. Whereas the former is evaluated in terms of intention but not motivation, the latter, he suggests, does require evidence of motivation. The intention in the former is like the intention at work in public reason generally (as indicated in my previous posting on intention not being understood as "private"). It does not require investigation of "motives" understood as inquiries into the mental states of someone. Hate crime, by contrast, he suggests does require understanding of motives. The suggestion that hate crime requires reference to motives is not as evident, however, as Waldron thinks. Surely it will be the case that such crime indicates that someone intended harm to another and that such harm was based on response to salient characteristics of another. However, the fact that the crime involves harm and intended harm does not distinguish it from hate speech. So it must rather be because the harm was intended due to the salient characteristics of the other that is thought to involve motivation. This need not follow since the identification of the salient characteristics as a ground for attack can be manifested without reference to the "inner" workings of the attacker. Shouting certain words or slogans for example could well be sufficient as could distribution of literature prior to the attack that showed the intent of hate speech. So whilst the argument in favour of seeing hate speech as public is a good one the distinction between hate crime and hate speech offered does not convince me.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Dignity and Status: Kant and Waldron

In the course of giving the first of his Holmes Lectures at the Harvard Law School Jeremy Waldron makes a distinction between two conceptions of dignity. He mentions on the one hand the Kantian view of dignity and on the other the one that is (or ought to be?) at issue in law and civil conduct. The distinction is presented as being that on Kant's philosophical view it follows that dignity is something inherent in each of us as human beings whilst in the law it is rather the case that dignity represents a common status that we possess but which is not merely inherent in us but rather indicative of a certain achievement.

Waldron's first lecture raises a number of important issues, too many to be addressed in this posting which is why I wish merely to raise a query concerning this distinction. It appears to be based on taking the Kantian conception of dignity to reside primarily in a general picture of practical reason whilst the legal view of it that is raised by contrast is rather one that defines and describes a social standing and is hence not encoded in a general picture of practical reason. In response to this I want to raise a substantive point concerning the conception of right that Kant himself worked with.

Waldron's general concern in the first lecture concerns a certain kind of defence of "hate speech" legislation on the grounds that what is at issue in it is not an "intention" in the private sense on the part of the speaker but rather an effect that is at work amongst those to whom such "speech" (normally a form of writing) is addressed. The effect that is at work is one of reducing the respect shown certain members of minority groups such that they will not be taken to have a legitimate right to equal citizenship rights. As such this kind of "speech" undercuts the sense that there is a social contract to which all have a general kind of connection with. Since this is the point of the "hate speech" in question it aims to undercut "public order" not necessarily in the sense of wishing to instigate violence but rather in that it suggests that some are not truly within the bounds of the order that has been specified as public or not there in a full sense.

Waldron's general defence of "hate speech" legislation in these terms has much to commend it but does not fit well with his designation of the Kantian view of dignity as something generically distinct from the legal notion of dignity as a status and achievement. It is correct that Kant speaks of dignity in terms of his general picture of practical reason and in those terms it is presented as something of incomparable worth that we are all possessed of. However Kant's general picture of practical reason has to be related to his view of right. When we look at his view of right we find a conception of it that shows that there is Kantian precedent for the "legal" conception of dignity that Waldron speaks of.

In Kant's discussion of the preliminary concepts of the "metaphysics of morals" there is a definition of personhood that determines a person as someone whose actions can be imputed to them which leads on to the sense of a person as someone subject to no other laws than those they give to themselves (autonomy). This notion is important in connection with Kant's subsequent notion of right though it is far from equivalent to it. When Kant turns to specifying the notion of right it is done in relation to a "universal law of freedom" which involves coexistence of each freedom with every other (in the universal or supreme principle of right: Ak. 6: 230). Since this coexistence requires that right be founded on mutual restraint that is based on the ground of each person's freedom then it follows that for a legal order to exist is for the status of personhood to have been given form in such an order. Hence, legal order is itself a general achievement.

Kant's fuller account determines this order through notions of equality, freedom and independence (e.g. Ak 8: 290). It is true that the view of the last of these notions is problematic (and alters between the essay on theory and practice and the Metaphysics of Morals) but the notion of equality involved, as distinct from that of the freedom, is grounded in the order of the law whilst the freedom (which is recognised universally in human beings) is something that the law "restricts and realises". If we see the law as that which gives freedom its substantive content but also as something that requires equality in its nature then it follows that the Kantian view of legal dignity is one that matches the achievement sense given to it by Waldron.

The "hate crime" problem that arises from being based on the attempt to either reduce the scope of public status given to a member of a group or to find a way of expelling them from that status as such does thus violate the sense of equality of each before the law. In this respect then there is congruence between the Kantian notion of dignity and the legal sense given to it by Waldron. I won't here expand further on the question of "hate crime" though the nature of it (particularly in genocide) is something that is worth consideration in terms of its boundary and limit since it does present itself as one of the ways the social contract can be breached.

Friday, 20 November 2009

European Union Presidency

Somewhat predictably the EU has appointed as President and Foreign Secretary two people who have virtually no international profile and the emergence of the names in question is reminiscent of the way the British Conservative Party used to operate up until the late sixties. The names came forward as a result of back-room dealing and pressure from the leaders of France and Germany. The prospects of a large candidate taking the position, that is, someone with high-profile internationally, were stalled early.

It is worth asking the question as to why it is that the leaders of the EU operate in a fashion that ensures that these newly created jobs have to be given to be people with such little profile and selected in such a secretive way? The former question relates to the whole problem of the lack of democratic legitimacy of the EU. It originated as a trade bloc and despite the accusations (common under the last Conservative government here in the UK) of a "federalist" agenda it has shown little appetite for becoming a coherent political bloc. The selection of people to fill the roles in question who have such little general international standing is reflective of the fact that these posts are filled in a way that itself lacks democratic legitimacy.

The EU is run by the Council of Ministers: a Council that operates by appointments from each of its constituent members. Effectively the real decisions are all made by the leaders of the big countries with France and Germany the twin motors of the organisation for many years. The European Parliament, the only pan-European body that has democratic standing, has been consistently side-lined although it is responsible for generation of legislation that does pass into domestic law in the constituent member countries. A high-profile European Parliament whose proceedings were broadcast on national TV and radio stations would be quite a creature that would have a basis for generation of pan-European politicians. This would, naturally, as a result give this body pre-eminence over national parliaments and this is why it is resisted by national governments.

In lieu of such an expanded profile and role for the European Parliament it remains the case that key decisions concerning positions such as that of the new Presidency will be taken in secret. This is a serious violation of the need for publicity and ensures a continued "democratic deficit" in the EU. Even were the "right" candidates chosen it could only be due to accidental convergence of interests between member countries. Without reform of the kind indicated here the role of the EU will not merely fail to match the democratic credentials of its constituent members but it will remain virtually impossible for it, as as body, to act coherently or with a general agreed purpose. This is good news for states such as Russia who operate by dividing the EU states from each other but very bad news for any one concerned that political mechanisms that reflect publicity should be allowed to grow.

Finally, for some reflections on reasons why the choice of the President is bad for Belgium see Crooked Timber.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

World Philosophy Day

Today is the fourth World Philosophy Day as announced and orchestrated by UNESCO. The events listed by UNESCO for today are centred on Russia though there is also included a list of colloquia throughout the world including a celebration of the 150th anniversary of the publication of John Stuart Mill's On Liberty and extensive discussions of the question of teaching philosophy to children. These events are welcome, as is the general intention of UNESCO to celebrate philosophy as a discipline and activity.

It is the case, however, that the fact of World Philosophy Day should also mark an occasion for philosophers to actively consider the question of what philosophy offers to the world and in what ways it can, has and will relate to the prospects of the world becoming, in some sense, a "better place". This is a topic to which I have personally devoted some thought and it is one of the bases of the formation of the series I am general editor for at Palgrave Macmillan: Renewing Philosophy.The series was and is intended to be a show-case for philosophical work that does one of two central things: 1) reflects in some critical and self-conscious way on the legacy of modernity; 2) demonstrates in some sense an engagement of philosophy with contemporaneity. 12 books have been published in the series since 2002 and a thirteenth is already cleared for publication next year (with two others currently close to also being cleared for next year). Since it is the only philosophy series dedicated to the pursuit of showing how philosophy can renew itself by means of contact with modernity/contemporaneity I urge all readers of this blog to check it out, think about looking over the books in question, borrowing them from libraries and maybe even purchasing them. Advert over.

Staying with the theme of such a relationship between philosophy and the world, the other significant question here, and one this blog is specifically aiming to try to address, concerns how philosophy can consider, in an increasingly globalised world, the condition of thinking in an international way. Obviously many types of response to this question are required but that the Kantian tradition of thought has a serious focus on the problem of international conditions should be evident enough as should the need for such a focus to include more specific thought concerning the nature of "public philosophy". By "public philosophy" I don't necessarily mean thoughts that are aimed at or could be understood by some presumed "general" public. I rather am thinking about a form of philosophy that can specify in various careful ways the nature and conditions of "publicity" itself. That this was one of the opening questions of this blog will be evident to regular readers. Expect more on it in future and don't forget the key motto: Sapere Aude!

Friday, 13 November 2009

Perfidious Gaul?

Reading through today's copy of the International Herald Tribune I came across the following article suggesting a continued pattern to French foreign policy in West Africa. The pattern is well put in a citation from the piece by Mamadou Diouf as indicating that the apparent champion of the rights of man practices a politics "absolutely contrary to its principles".

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Publicity and Intention: Kant and Pogge

In an article that has been printed in a number of places on the question of whether Kant's Rechtslehre is a comprehensive liberalism Thomas Pogge inserts a note that specifically addresses the question of the exclusion of "inner states" from the domain of right. In this note (note A) Pogge makes a number of assertions concerning this exclusion that strike me as not only false but as indicating a serious misunderstanding concerning the relationships between "inner states", intention and publicity. In this posting I want to outline a) the basic argument Pogge makes; b) the reasons why it is systematically misleading; c) the preferable way to understand the relationships in question.

A) In the second section of the "Introduction" to the RL Kant indicates that the concept of right, insofar as it is connected to an obligation, has to do first of all "only with the external and indeed practical relation of one person to another, insofar as their actions, as deeds, can have (direct or indirect) influence on each other" (Ak. 6: 230). Pogge initially presents this as concern with "possible conflicts among actions" and then inserts the note in which he presents "three interrelated mistakes" he takes Kant to make. These are detailed separately. The first "mistake" is to associate the claim given with a distinct one, namely that inner states "cannot" be made the object of external legislation. This is not, however, what Kant says and not, particularly, what he says in the passage Pogge refers to (which is Ak. 6:220). In that passage Kant says something quite different, namely: "Ethical lawgiving (even if the duties might be external) is that which cannot be external; judicial lawgiving is that which can also be external." (first italic in text, second added by me.) So the claim is not explicitly made with regard to "inner states" at all. Instead it is said that judicial lawgiving includes but is not only based on that which is external. Now, whilst this might appear to conflict with the first claim given in the previous paragraph it doesn't do so in the way Pogge has suggested. Pogge's first "objection" is raised in order to make room for laws that concern "findings of intent (mens rea)" . As I will show in (b) below Kant certainly thinks that this is included in his account of right.

Pogge next presents Kant's "second mistake" as to conflate the view concerning "the content of legal restrictions necessary for Recht" with a point concerning the "criteria involved in such restrictions". Apparently this claim is that whilst the content of the doctrine could well exclude "inner states", the criteria for its application could not and this is something Kant is said not to recognise. Again, as I will show in (b) this is false.

The final point is to the effect that there is a further claim made by Kant that legal restrictions and institutional mechanisms, in order to fall within right, are concerned only with securing mutually secure domains of external freedom. This is said to be distinct from the initial exclusion of "inner states" and yet to be conflated with that initial exclusion by Kant.

B) The points above are all problematic and work together to produce a confused account of Kant's view. The initial statement from Ak. 6: 230 concerns "deeds" and explicitly indicates that the interest in them includes both direct and indirect influence. This is the key to it, not an exclusion of "inner states" which are not here even referred to though it is true that Kant indicates he is interested only in "external" practical relations. The interpretation of how to connect this concern with such external relations to an interest in deeds is something we need to settle.

As mentioned above, the passages Pogge cites in support of his second point that Kant conflates the first point made at Ak. 6: 230 with a further, more exacting refusal to contemplate inner actions as even possibly the object of external legislation, is not (pace Pogge) made. Rather, Kant instead says that judicial lawmaking (Ak. 6: 220) can "also" be external whilst ethical lawgiving is something that cannot be external. So Kant does not claim, as Pogge says he does, that inner states are incapable of being an object of external legislation but that ethical lawgiving is not capable of being external. This is quite a different point and suggests a limitation on ethical lawgiving, not a limitation on right. Since it follows from this point that judicial lawgiving is something that is not only "external" then this passage raises a justifiable question concerning whether Pogge can possibly have understood Ak. 6: 230 correctly.

The second point Pogge makes is that Kant conflates the point about the content of legal restrictions with the criteria involved in making such restrictions. This points to an understanding of the criteria of them as ruling out any reference to "inner states" but seems to follow from the understanding Pogge has of Ak. 6: 230, an understanding we already have reason to question. In addition, with regard to the notion of "intent", it would be hard to make sense of the whole discussion of "contract" that Kant gives in his discussion of private right if we did not assume this notion as operative in Kant's analysis. So it is hard to see how it could possibly be correct to think that the criteria involved in right could ever have been conceived of by Kant in such a way as not to include it.

The third point Pogge makes suggests a conflation between the original point at Ak. 6: 230 and a further one of understanding something as within the province of right only due to the purpose of maintaining secure domains of external freedom. However the original point at Ak.6: 230 is made prior to any account having been given of securing domains of external freedom. This latter is given in accordance with the view that right is connected to an authorisation to use coercion (Ak. 6: 231) and it is only when this latter is given that Kant fully expounds right. Afterwards he does take there to be some connection with the view of right mentioned at Ak. 6: 230 but only on the ground that this connection has been made part of the argument and he does not simply assume that it follows from the account at Ak. 6: 230.

C) Given these misunderstandings on Pogge's part let's now try to clear up the confusions his account suggests between certain principles and their relationship. So, (i) what is going on at Ak. 6: 230 and what, if anything, does it have to do with 'inner states"? Here Kant is refining the concept of right and connecting it to obligation and the first step in doing so is to state that right concerns deeds that have direct and indirect influence. These deeds, as the later argument makes manifest, are ones that concern the limitation of the freedom of others and this is their connection to the later authorisation of coercion (Ak. 6: 231).
(ii) Ak. 6: 220 is where Kant explicitly includes promises as part of right as is necessary for his later treatment of contract. Since a promise is explicitly something that would fit the category of "intent (mens rea)" it is clear that Kant is here not making the point Pogge attributes to him. Kant is here arguing that ethics involves a claim without reference to coercive power. Someone can claim something as your duty even if there is no coercive way they can get you (or get others) to perform it. Such a relation to duty holds only with ethics and not right since right is a claim that requires reference to coercion. It is this necessary way that right relates to coercion that leads me to view the treatment of promising at Ak. 6: 220 as a first statement of the view of contract given later in the account of private right.
(iii) Finally, the reference to mutually secure domains of freedom is what is given by means of the authorisation to coercion. It is not that Kant takes this authorisation to follow directly from the claim to treat "deeds" that have direct and indirect influence. Rather, Kant first enunciates the universal (or supreme) principle of right and then arrives at the authorisation of coercion.

The fundamental problem with the reading Pogge gives concerns his conception of the domain of right as not being concerned with "inner states", a view that Pogge conflates with the argument that Kant cannot cover in his view of right such an area as "intent". In fact this is quite false as Kant refers to intent in various ways in the discussion of right, not least when treating contract. What is being ruled out of consideration from right is not the general and vague idea of "inner states" but rather reference to matters that are not capable of public attention. Right is concern with that which meets criteria of publicity: this is is what is key to it, not a dismissal of "inner states". Hence, when intent is measured by it, it is not understood in a way that requires simple reference to what is "in the head" but rather what can be shown to be the actions in question and where they were tending. So the notion of "intent" Kant is working with is one that would meet a Wittgensteinian understanding of "intent" not a Cartesian one such as Pogge seems to suggest is at issue. Intent has to be understood as that which is public and accessible by reference to evidence, not something only surmised on a "psychological" construal. This is key to seeing right as a public doctrine and failure to get this is at the root of Pogge's systematic misreading of Kant's notion of external legislation.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Moral Relativism and War Crimes (II)

For more details on the revisionist campaign with regard to Bosnia see the latest posting on David Campbell's site. In this piece the role of Noam Chomsky is detailed and cogent reasons given for why he should not be invited to give talks (as he has been twice) for Amnesty International are made clear. See the protest letter concerning the Amnesty invitation to Chomsky written by Ed Vulliamy. Finally, for an interview with Chomsky raising his stance on all this that was originally published in the Guardian but later removed from its website go here.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Research Excellence Framework and Impact (III)

The latest issue of Times Higher Education features an article indicating that managers and academics are at logger-heads over the notion of impact assessment with managers being apparently sold on the idea. However, no manager is willing to be quoted on the topic. See the article in question here. Meanwhile, the same issue of the newspaper in question includes two letters attacking the general way in which impact assessment is being used as a measure of research quality, letters mentioned in this article. The first is signed by 48 people, including 10 Nobel Laureates and 26 members of the Royal Society. The second, more pertinently for the readers of this blog, is signed by all except one of the members of the last RAE philosophy panel, including my colleague, Professor Joanna Hodge.

However, given the insight into the general opinion the government has into evidence-based research, as demonstrated in its handling of the recent case of Professor Nutt, it is fairly evident that none of this will matter. They'll simply proceed in any case since none of the above have any right to be taken at all seriously. All of which demonstrates well what kind of political calculations really underlie the support the government is offering to "scientific" education. This is clearly something that really means: listen to managers, ones, that is, we have ensured will dance to our tune by means of financial incentives and ignore anything said by anyone who might have some means of being able to make evidence-based claims on the area.

Friday, 6 November 2009

The Categorical Imperative and Public Right

The conclusion of the first part of the "Appendix" to Perpetual Peace moves on from the consideration of sophistical maxims to their basis. However, whilst the second part of the "Appendix" will lead to presenting public right in relation to the general principles of publicity (first presented negatively and subsequently positively) the first part of the "Appendix" concludes by relating the notion of public right to the categorical imperative. This part of Kant's argument tends to get overlooked and is particularly significant in relation to those commentators who present Kant's account of public right as constitutively separate from his general moral philosophy.

The presentation of the argument has the following form. Firstly, Kant presents the need to distinguish between formal and material principles of practical reason. In so doing he formal principle is stated as the categorical imperative (Ak. 8: 377). The formal principle is next, unsurprisingly, presented as taking precedence over the material principle. The standpoints of the political moralist and those of the moral politician are next distinguished with the concern of the former presented as technical whilst the latter is moral. The former's problem is one of political prudence and all the concerns connected with this concept are stated to be as uncertain as the concern with happiness in general practical reason. By contrast, the problem of the moral politician is presented as requiring a search for justice as the precondition for peace.

The division between the two approaches is also then indicated to be the root of the alleged conflict between politics and morals. The conflict is based on seeing politics in a material manner whilst a formal approach to it, concentrated on the notion of public right, will accord with the formal approach to morals in general. This gives strong support to the suggestion that the Doctrine of Right should not be regarded as completely distinct from the general moral philosophy but rather as in some sense emergent from it as is suggested by the concluding argument of the first part of the "Appendix" to Perpetual Peace.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Professor Nutt and Evidence-Based Policy

The UK government recently took a brave and difficult decision. When faced with an advisor on the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs who brazenly and openly dared to state that alcohol is a more dangerous drug than cannabis they took swift and decisive action. Abandoning all pretence of adhering to such a thing as "evidence-based policy" they proceeded to remove the only pharmacist on the Council thus ensuring that the Council no longer operates in accord with its statutory requirements. Faced with such decisive action taken in brazen disregard of evidence the opposition Conservative Party did the only acceptable thing: they spoke in favour of the government's action.

Incidentally subsequent to becoming involved in this incident another minister from the same government made a major speech on education policy. Disregarding the results of the last Research Assessment Exercise that demonstrated "pockets of excellence" across the whole sector this minister, Peter Mandelson, bravely followed the example of Alan Johnson (who was responsible for sacking Professor Nutt) and made clear that in future only the so-called "top" universities would be expected to engage seriously in research. By contrast, most other universities, and most particularly the "new" ones (at which there is most demonstrated evidence of value-added education) would, in future, be expected to concentrate primarily on sub-degree level education. This policy is not only developed in brave and principled opposition to the results of the last research exercise. It also ensures that most universities will be effectively penalised for any previous success whilst the "top" universities will be given further leeway to perpetuate present practices that resulted in their researchers last time being often deemed well below "excellent". Jolly good results all round and fair demonstration that the UK government is firmly committed to evidence-based policy and a scientific approach to decision making. And congratulations to the main opposition party in the UK for doing its job of agreeing wholeheartedly with the government on any subject where the evidence points clearly against their policy.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Sophistical Maxims

The next stage of Kant's argument in the "Appendix" to Perpetual Peace discusses the maxims that are adopted by those opposed to taking concepts of right seriously in politics. Kant reveals the conduct of these to be guided by three "sophistical" maxims. These are worth examining and listing in connection with the principles advanced by Kant himself.

The first is taking any opportunity to take possession without any sanction to do so. On these grounds the politicians in question can seize land from others and give justification for this afterwards. The key thing here is that the conduct is undertaken first and arguments advanced for it after. However, given that what Kant means here is that any argument is only allowed in the context of the facts having been first established in the way one wishes, what this really amounts to is a strategy of making the "facts on the ground" the basis for discussion independently of any analysis of the reason why the facts are what they are. Precedents for such a strategy are not difficult to find in the practice of states. The examples given here violate the 2nd preliminary article.

The second example is adopting the maxim of blaming the people for your own crimes or, alternatively, stating, as in the first case above, that human nature is to blame. The first strategy is calculated to either stir up rebellion in the people or instil despair whilst the second relies on the familiar "realist" view of humanity that denies the right of a transcendental perspective on humanity. Further, both are in violation of the positive principle of publicity.

The third example is one of adopting a general policy of divide and rule whether within your own state or in external states with the point being one of promoting power over right. This is clearly in violation of the positive principle of publicity though here Kant points out that it is only the failure of the maxims in question that really defeats those who adopt them.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

War Crimes and Moral Relativism

Last night I made the mistake of listening to BBC Radio 4's programme The Moral Maze. This was a mistake for a number of reasons. One of the key ones is that despite its apparent status as a programme that discusses "moral principles" it invariably is dominated by journalists, commentators and politicians who have the vaguest notion of what such things as moral principles are. The most striking example of this lack of sense of moral principle is certainly the Director of the Institute of Ideas Claire Fox. On last night's programme she advanced a view of international law and the notion of war crimes that amounted to the clearly relativist conception that it was intrinsically impossible to have agreement on what constituted "war crimes" so there was no point in trying.

Fox's concern with the issue of war crimes dates back to her previous role, highlighted on her personal description on the Institute of Idea's website with the magazine Living Marxism (later called LM). In her capacity of involvement with this magazine Fox was part of a campaign by this magazine in support of Republika Srpska's view of the internment camp at Trnopolje, principally by publishing in the February 1997 issue an article by Thomas Deichmann. Deichmann was a chief witness in the defence of Dusko Tadic at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in the Hague. Tadic was charged with a series of crimes against humanity in the ethnic cleansing of Muslims from northern Bosnia and was convicted and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment. Despite the fact that Deichmann's testimony was in defence of a man subsequently convicted of war crimes he was presented by LM primarily as an "expert witness" at a series of trials the jurisdiction of which they were in the process of contesting.

The article LM magazine published by Deichmann alleged that ITN journalists had substantially fabricated a report concerning the Serb camp at Trnopolje and led to a libel suit against the magazine filed by ITN. The magazine lost this case against ITN, had a substantial award made against it and subsequently folded as a result. At no point during Fox's presentation of an essentially relativist argument about war crimes during the Moral Maze programme were any of her background in being part of a magazine that engaged so directly in defence of Republika Srpska mentioned. Due to this her argument could have appeared no more than a wooly attack on the idea that there could be such a thing as "international law" or any notion of standards of international justice. Such a position is problematic enough in itself but, when aligned with a past as a revisionist concerning the substance of the issue of the programme itself she emerges as someone with little credit in terms of addressing substantial moral issues.

The defence that LM magazine made of its original article in the libel trial was seriously intellectually confused since, during the course of the trial, it was admitted by both the editor of the magazine, Mick Hume (who now runs Spiked On-Line) and Deichmann himself that the camp in question was indeed a brutal place at which rape, beatings and murders (aka "war crimes") were, indeed, taking place. The primary argument they apparently made in response to ITN was that the Serb camps should not be compared to Nazi-style concentration camps with the implied suggestion that only these could be classed as being legitimately ones to which the term "war crimes" could be attached (a rendition further of Fox's relativist argument as given in the Moral Maze). As Fox put this point on last night's show, any mention of war crimes in connection with the Bosnian conflict suggests a connection with the Holocaust, a connection that she takes to "belittle" the Holocaust itself. This elevation of the Holocaust to an absolute status underpins the generally relativist view of "war crimes" otherwise adopted by Fox, Hume and Deichmann.

The general problem with the arguments of Fox et al and their presentation on a show apparently concerned with "moral principles" is connected to a parallel failure to investigate what is meant by "war crimes" when such are alleged to have been carried out by President Bush and ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair in the Iraq War. On the one hand, there are those who articulate a position of "war crime" or "illegal war" on the absurd ground that a war has not been ratified by the UN and on the other hand there are those who deny that the term "war crime" has any meaning other than political except in a specially sanctified "absolute" case that renders all other judgments merely relativist in comparison. Both such positions merit resistance and indicate a substantial need for concern with the vocabulary of "war crime" including a return to investigation of its meaning prior to articulating its use. For a more extended comment on the background, history and nature of the case LM fought and lost with ITN and the reasons for viewing it as particularly important in this area see two articles by David Campbell here.

Friday, 30 October 2009

The Moral Politician

The next stage of Kant's discussion of the conflict between morals and politics in the appendix of Perpetual Peace is to invoke the idea of the "moral politician". Such a figure has as his mission the connection of principles of prudence with morals so that they can best coexist. So this person will think about the defects in constitutions in relation to the principles of natural right even though the latter are based fundamentally in ideas of reason. However, the principles of prudence will come in by reference to the need to keep maintained the bonds of civil and cosmopolitan union that already exist. Given this prudential disposition it would follow that this politician does not seek immediate remedy for all the defects found. This clearly reverts back again to the rationale for the division of the preliminary articles to the effect that not all principles that can be shown to be clearly right are, by virtue of that alone, to be the ground of political action in the interim.

An indication of the application of this notion of moral politicians follows. This concerns the fact that a state could have a republican mode of government despite the fact that its form of sovereignty (to use the distinctions made in the third definitive article) is despotic. The mismatch between the two could justifiably continue, suggests Kant, until the conception of the rule of law becomes popularly understood. In relation to the rights of states relative to each other this further supports the claim, made in the fifth preliminary article, that no state has a right to claim that another state change its constitution. However the basis of this specific claim is now tied to a condition which is that such a claim has no basis in right if enforcement of it would be prudentially bad (i.e. would lead to the collapse of the state).

This discussion next leads to a further footnote on permissive laws. In this footnote Kant now describes permissive laws as ones that allow a situation of public right that is afflicted with injustice to continue "until everything has either of itself become ripe for a complete overthrow or has been made almost ripe by peaceful means" (Ak. 8: 373n). Revolutions are subsequently referred to as like a "call of nature" that indicate a need for change.

The permissive law here refers us to the ripening of conditions for right. In so doing it adds a rightful point to the prudential one concerning the question of changing the constitution of other states. There is a prudential ban on altering externally someone's constitution if this would threaten the existence of their state as such. To it we now have added a condition of right in terms of allowing the other state to reach its own point of need for change whether this will arise for them either violently or peacefully. However, what is not addressed in these points is the claim made earlier in the 3rd definitive article that some states of themselves are more likely than others to produce war (republican peace thesis). Given this claim there are grounds in right to think that changes in constitutions of states would be beneficial and it is unclear how to reconcile this with the permissive law now set out that gives a ground in right that underpins the fifth preliminary article.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

The Antinomy of Politics and Morals

The "appendix" to Perpetual Peace is divided into two halves, the first part of which discusses the "disagreement" of politics and morals with a view to the idea of perpetual peace, the second half of which covers their "agreement". The "agreement" involves the account of the two principles of publicity covered in previous postings. I now wish to go back to reviewing the basis of the initial "disagreement".

Kant opens the discussion of this "disagreement" by reference to the point that morals is practical of itself, a contention that clearly refers back to the whole account of practical reason in The Critique of Practical Reason. In making this point Kant refers in passing to the general claim that "ought" implies "can". The point of these initial references is to make the claim (in contrast to some contemporary readings of Kant's practical philosophy) that morals and politics belong together as distinct parts, as he here puts it, of "doctrine of right" (Ak. 8: 370). Morals is now presented as the theoretical part of this doctrine with politics described as the doctrine of right put into practice. This does involve a distinction in some sense between what Kant will put out in the Doctrine of Right as a theory and politics as conventionally understood. So there is some form of relation that needs to be mapped (as is also apparent from Kant's essay on theory and practice).

The relationship that Kant maps between morals and politics thus understood is subsequently condensed into two statements. Politics is presented as based on the statement that we should be wise as serpents whilst morals is indicated to limit the application of this statement (thus in a sense to schematise it) by means of the condition that we be also as guileless as doves. Both need to be able to exist together if there is not to be a conflict between politics and morals.

The problem of the origin of the conflict is next traced to the attitude of the "practical man" who takes morals to be only theory. This person adopts the view that it is pointless to will the conditions of perpetual peace due to a claim concerning human nature. After a careful rendition of contractarian reasoning Kant points to the point that is at issue here which concerns the nature of power. The claim of the practical man is to the effect that the one who holds power will not let the prescription of laws be based on the ground of the social contract. Further, that states, once independent, will not be constrained by reference to other states. These claims rest on an appeal to political prudence and empirical principles of human nature. It is the combination of the "prudent" attitude and the purely empirical view of humanity that is the ground of this "realist" position, the same position still adopted in various guises in contemporary IR theory. Subsequent postings will trace further Kant's account of the problems he takes this view to have.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Research Excellence Framework and Impact

Since the last posting on this topic linking to the petition to the UK Prime Minister I have become aware of extensive discussion of this question to which I would like to draw readers' attention. In addition to the petition mentioned in the previous posting there is also a separate one launched by the University and College Union, which is the main lecturers' union here in the UK. Their petition is slightly differently worded and is available here.

There has been some disquiet indicated concerning the wording of the original petition linked to in the previous posting which has prompted a certain amount of debate over at Leiter Reports. There is also a serious discussion being conducted concerning the notion of "impact" assessment over at Crooked Timber.

By contrast the Arts and Humanities Research Council contains a number of pages on its site that discuss ways of applying the notion of impact within the area of humanities research which you can find here. The basic justification of inclusion of the notion of impact is also set out by the Higher Education Funding Council for England on its site here.

The question also arises as to whether the opposition parties here in the UK have different views on this from the present governing Labour Party who, in their website statement of policies on education, make no mention of the Research Excellence Framework or the policy on "impact".