Thursday, 25 June 2009

Istanbul Political Philosophy Conference: Day 1

Primary version of this post at Barry Stocker's Weblog. Include picture of the beautiful campus used for the conference!


South Campus of Boğaziçi (Bosphorus) University (Pictured above)

Today I’ve been attending the first day of a philosophy conference in Istanbul, largely taking Kant’s essay on ‘Perpetual Peace’, an essay on 1795 on the possibility of a peaceful world federation of republics. What Kant meant by a republic is essentially what we now call liberal democracy, representative, democracy, or constitutional democracy. The conference was hosted by the Boğaziçi Philosophy Department, and was largely organised by Lucas Thorpe who is teaching there over the Summer. I have know Lucas for some years in the Turkish philosophy scene. He has organised many international Kant events, and is himself a very good scholar of Kant, moral theory, and early modern philosophy.

The first speaker was Howard Williams of the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, editor of the Kantian Review and well known for his work on Kant’s political thought. His paper title was ‘Natural Right in Perpetual Peace’. Williams discussed the move in Kant from early modern theories of natural right to his own metaphysics of morals. Natural right, refers to those ideas of what is just that are so universal amongst humans that they can be said to be ideas of what is just by nature. Kant moves from ideas of what is right by nature, and is naturally know to be right by nature, to an abstract set of moral principles created by human intellect and clarified by philosophical inquiry. Williams looked at two problems in the theory of natural law: 1 the place of individual freedom. 2. the place of state sovereignty. Wiiliams identified Hobbes as someone whose solution was to subordinate individual freedom. This is based on Hobbes’ theory of authorisation, according to which if I accepted the law and order offered by a sovereign body, I have become the author of all its actions because I have consented to this sovereign. Hobbes made this a theory of the individual state only. He though that the ‘law of nations’ (law governing nations) is the same as the violent chaos of relations between humans in the time before sovereign governments are established. In Kant the state becomes like a moral person bound by law. Williams thinks there is a tension here here between the law that exists now guiding nations towards law governed peace in Kand the existence of peace in the future. Morality and natural providence (the way we behave by nature) combine to lead us to become aware of the moral and practical advantages of peace. In the discussion after the talk, Williams offered the following further explanations: the state is a moral person in relation to other states, not in relation to individuals in the state as this would destroy their status as free moral persons; unlike Locke (and more recently Nozick), Kant does not see rights as belonging to individuals ontologically (by virtue of existing as individuals) but through the moral development of civil society over history.

Lucas Thorpe was the next speaker, with the title ‘Perpetual Peace and Impossible Ideals’. He concentrated on the ideals of peace and the moral will needed to come closer to peace. Thorpe suggested that in Kant, perpetual peace may be impossible, but we should still will to achieve the necessary moral will in order to at least raise ourselves above our existing moral level.

Jacob Beck of Texas Tech University spoke on ‘The Roots of War: The Evolutionary and Cognitive Origins of Human Warmongering’. He discussed human tendencies to war from the point of view of anthropological and psychological evidence, including comparison with chimpanzees. Humans and chimpanzees are unique amongst all animal species in ‘lethal raiding’. That is males from one group murder males from other groups, and rape and kidnap females from other groups. This kind of activity in hunter gathered leads to a death rate amongst young males of 30%, much higher than in modern societies despite continuing wars. There is a genetic reason for such behaviour, as makes who do not die have more descendants. That genetic motive may be shared between humans and chimpanzees. However, Beck also discussed the possibility that ‘lethal raiding’ might be the accidental outcome of intelligence; and also discussed the difficulty of distinguishing generic determination from psychological adaptation.

Next, Bill Wringe of Bilkent University, Ankara (someone else I have known for several years in the Turkish philosophy scene) spoke on ‘Armed Humanitarian Intervention and the Duty to Promote Peace’. He discussed differences between the state of nature between individuals in Hobbes and his theory of international relations, there cannot be a complete correspondence though it might sometimes look as if Hobbes thinks there is. Wringe thinks it’s difficult to defend armed humanitarian intervention in other states (to prevent mass killing in particular), because Kant demands the renunciation of any future use of force. In the discussion, it was suggested that Kant might allow for intervention where state authority collapses because of civil war.

Keziban Der of UIC (University of Illinois at Chicago) finished the day with ‘Peace and Global Poverty’. This was an exposition and defence of Thomas Pogge’s view that poverty in low income countries is the result of an unjust world economic order, in which for example natural resources are extracted without full compensation for the local population. This is understood through ‘double effect’, the ways in which action with good intentions may have bad consequences. Der argued for bad consequences to be taken more fully into account and for the global poor to receive income transfers from the rich of the world. The discussion moved into the issue of whether inequality is necessarily the result of injustice. It was suggested from the audience that economic life must be competitive and it is not unfair for there to be a winner in any competition for an economic reward, and that national law income comes from poor governance. I presume that could be developed into the claim that competition generates wealth for everyone though in any individual competition there have to be losers as well as winners. The total effect of a series of competitions over time is to improves everyone’s welfare. It was also pointed out from the floor that Pogge is adotping an idea from Rawls, ‘the difference principle’ in which inequality within a nation is only justified if it benefits the poorest. Pogge tries to turn that it into a global principle, justifying global income transfers. It was also suggested that this would be very difficult to achieve and that in practice Pogge was arguing for a more limited income transfer than full application of the difference principle would suggest.

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