requiem for certainty

Posts Tagged ‘political philosophy

Dewey on Method in Political Theory (1927)

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In his Public and Its Problems (1927) John Dewey adopts a four-component methodological strategy that is more or less implicit in his earlier broadly philosophical contributions, such as Reconstruction In Philosophy (1920) and Experience and Nature (1925).  Dewey often referred to this method as “instrumentalism” and as “historical-empiricism” but it’s probably best known these days as “pragmatism”.  The method, in short, involves four methodological distinctions, which Dewey lays out in Chapter One.  A proper understanding of his methodological apparatus prepares us to understand the way in which Dewey addresses himself to the pressing problem of pluralism that was his lifelong obsession with respect to liberal democratic theory (as argued in posts from the last two weeks here and here).  Herein a brief review of these four methodological decisions, followed by commentary.

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Written by Colin Koopman

April 26, 2011 at 3:27 am

Dewey on Society (from 1888 to 1916)

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Contemporary political theory is haunted by a pair of interwoven ambiguities between pluralism and monism on the one hand and proceduralism and moralism on the other.  I find a valuable early example of these ambiguities in the work of democratic theorist and pragmatist philosopher John Dewey.  What follows is a historical redescription of this ambiguity in Dewey as we chart the chronology of his democratic theory from his early Hegelian phase (in 1888) to his later explicitly pragmatist (but still ambiguous) philosophy (in 1916).

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Written by Colin Koopman

April 19, 2011 at 5:08 pm

Dewey on Publics and States (in 1920)

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One of John Dewey’s lifelong obsessions with respect to political theory concerned issues of the democratic qualities in virtue of which some publics become capable of self-regulation or, to put it differently, become capable of growth (which for Dewey is always a self-directed process).  This theme emerges most clearly in his 1927 The Public and Its Problems, a text that has obsessed many commentators.  Another location where we find anticipations of that discussion is in chapter 8 of his 1920 Reconstruction In Philosophy.  One can follow the thread of that text through three themes in order to shed some light on Dewey’s conception of the democratic organization of publics, a conception which arguably is the very center of his entire philosophic vision.

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Written by Colin Koopman

April 11, 2011 at 11:39 pm

Participation and Collaboration

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I recently attended a talk at UO by Gardner Campbell, who works on New Media, Lit, & Pedagogy (and more) at Baylor U..  The focus of the talk was why we as educators should take new media, digital technologies, and networking quite seriously.  I am sold, but of course I already bought in some time ago (to the extent that I, then a mere post-doc, and now a mere newly-minted t-t asst. has any purchasing power).

I also applaud Campbell for the way he brings new media tools and projects into his classes.  We are at the stage of initial inquiry with all this stuff.  This means that nobody knows and that it is time for experimentation.  So that’s great.  We need to learn from each other and, as Campbell points out, from our students, too.

Campbell really emphasized the ‘publish it to the web’ approach for harnessing the internet in his classes.  Students, I guess, publish their work to the web, even if just on a blog, etc..  This seems to me useful, but just the beginning.  The talk got me to thinking about what the specific diacritic of emerging internet technopractices might be.  Of course, that’s something I (like to) think about anyway.

But here is one thought.

The internet facilitates new forms of social interaction whereby political, educational, and otherwise social processes work well.  The forms that tend to work well in internetworking are not well-facilitated by traditional models of publication (the coffeehouse, newspaper, and broadcast models).

There is a broader context here in political theory.  At its best, a focus on publicness in terms of ‘publication’ (rather than ‘internetworking’) has historically tended to assume two valences in political theory.  One of those is participation (the ideal dream of democratic theory across the twentieth-century — be it deliberative participation or some other form), and the other is representation (which is a second-best when participation is not possible, or not desired).

My view (for today at least) is that democracy (et. al.) is now best facilitated not by forms of publication, but rather by way of forms of collaboration.  This is not a critique of participation or representation (and it need not be), but rather a claim on behalf of collaboration.

Collaboration may sound strange as a new procedural ideal for, say, democracy, but I believe we are in a position now to see its increasing importance.  Here is my (experimental) claim for today: Collaboration may lead us from the participatory-representative model to an innovative-connective model of politics, society, culture, &c..

Participation is the model of the citizen joining in the efforts of the public sphere.  But there is no public sphere, indeed no public, in internetworked contexts.  The public is no longer given.  Not in advance.  There is, rather, a plurality of publics.  Publics are made.  How to engage?  Not by ‘participating’ in something that is already there.  But rather by ‘innovation‘, which in a collaborative model sometimes (indeed often) means forming new publics.

Representation is what happens when interests need to be made public, yet there is no will (or practical means) to do so via participation.  So then our interests are represented, e.g. by our representatives.  This has long been a subject of severe critique in political theory.  I will not rehearse those critiques here (but nor do I presume them).  What’s new in the internetworked context?  Representation is more difficult than ever, and perhaps more useless.  Here again collaboration supplies a better conceptual model than publication, because the latter presumes a public up-and-running into which one’s interests are translated by a representative medium.  What form does collaboration take instead?  It takes the form of connection.  Interests are connected, not represented.  Mine and yours, and those as yet undreamt of, are woven together not only by us (which involves collaboration), but also by the technology itself and the entire knowledge ecology it sustains (which helps us in those instances where we have no will or means to collaborate).

So. To summarize….

From publication to collaboration.

From participation to innovation.

From representation to connection.

Therein you have a tidy little manifesto of sorts.  I undoubtedly will abandon the manifesto before you have read this.  I am just experimenting.  And where is the harm in that?  If you disagree, please do disagree out loud.  That is just what this medium is good for: collaborative disagreements in virtue of which we connect and may even together innovate.

Written by Colin Koopman

November 17, 2010 at 9:49 pm

Pluralism via Williams

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The first few draft paragraphs of a piece on Bernard Williams I am working on are below.  Also (just to self-advertise) my piece “Bernard Williams on Philosophy’s Need for History” just came out in the last issue of Review of Metaphysics (v64n1, Sept. 2010).

On pluralism and liberalism.  One of the most important, and indeed also most interesting, features of twentieth-century philosophical thinking about politics and morals concerns the increasing centrality of value pluralism for political philosophers working across a range of traditions: analytical, phenomenological, pragmatist, genealogical.  It is not entirely clear why value pluralism should have emerged as a topic of such concern at this time.  Of course, concern over pluralism had always been a feature of modern political philosophy.  But whereas canonical political philosophy in past centuries tends to sublimate pluralism in favor of a given philosophical conception of order or justice, the problem of pluralism itself became canonical over the course of the twentieth century, such that no serious political philosopher can today afford to ignore the problem, brush it aside, or dismiss it as either trivial or easily addressed as a purely practical matter.  But pluralism itself, deep conflict over values or ideals or interests as characteristic of both intercultural political life and intrapersonal moral life, has always been a feature of modern moral life.

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Written by Colin Koopman

November 7, 2010 at 4:00 am

A Pragmatist Response to the Current Economic Turmoil

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The following is based on a piece entitled “Morals and Markets” which will likely be published sometime in 2009 in the Journal of Speculative Philosophy.  I was asked by editors of the journal to conclude this piece with some reflections on the practical upshot of my discussion.  I took their useful advice of considering the current economic turmoil in light of my Dewey and Hayek inspired account of reconsidering the relations between morals and markets.  What follows, then, is drawn from the final pages of that piece.  The whole thing, in a previous iteration, is availble here:  There is still time for small revisions to this part of the paper so I appreciate any comments readers may have.

The thought with which the discussion excerpted here begins is the following:  Market-based opportunities for ethical innovation have been consistently ignored throughout the history of liberal democratic political theory and they are only just  now being taken seriously in contemporary liberal democratic practice.  Now is an ideal time for taking these opportunities seriously. The paper continues as follows (with slight modifications):

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Written by Colin Koopman

December 13, 2008 at 10:33 pm

Obama Meliorism and Obama Criticism

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Well what an exciting time!

Obama’s acceptance speech last night offered a true occasion for pause, reflection, and consideration.  I would like to do a much fuller analysis and thanks to some of my students this morning my wheels are really turning about this just now.  But until such time as I can find time to write more let me flag two themes:

“Unyielding hope” – Obama is a meliorist (even if he, knowledgeable as he is, may have to look that word up).  The meliorist is the one who holds dear the conviction that we can, through our own efforts, make better lives for our selves.  The meliorist is neither the pessimist who sees gloom nor the optimist who sees brightness as automatically given.  Betterment is our doing, our energy, our achievement: so says the meliorist.  That Obama is a meliorist makes him a pragmatist and an American of the best variety our history has to offer.  (If you want to see something like a scholarly argument for this last point see my article “Pragmatism as a Philosophy of Hope“, which is a shorter and earlier version of Chapter One of my forthcoming book.)

“This is your election” – Obama is pushing participatory democracy which is much welcome after the eight long dark years of elitist democracy as foisted on us by Bush et. al..  I keep coming back to something Cornel West said in, I believe, his appearance on Bill Maher with Mos Def (but it may have been elsewhere).  He said that he would celebrate all night when Obama was elected but the next day he would wake up and become his biggest critic.  This seems so valuable to me just now because one finally has the sense that the President will welcome that criticism.  Of course one should not expect that Obama himself would actively respond to all of his critics, though it is plausible that he may have some dialogue with West at some point.  What one should expect rather would be that Obama would welcome as vitally important for democracy the process of that criticism and its more extreme forms, such as civil disobedience.  This is in many ways an emphatic inspiration for amateur cultural critics like myself.

If there was one bit of rhetoric in the speech which I did not care for it was the worn-out gesture for something called “national unity” all wrapped up with the bow of a pretty reference to Lincoln.  That much unity is apolitical.  Politics requires a healthy exchange between consensus and dissent.  Let us not pretend that division and difference ever stands in the way of our better unyielding hopes.

Here is what I would like to learn to take away from this moment: For our democracy to work we all must contribute what we can.  For some of us this contribution will be a work that is simultaneously meliorative and critical, hopeful and unsettling, progressive and destabilizing.

Written by Colin Koopman

November 6, 2008 at 7:18 am

Political Theory Reporter on Quentin Skinner lecture

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I have a report on Quentin Skinner’s lecture at Berkeley from the other night over here at the new Political Theory Reporter blog.

While I’m at it: anyone interested in joining me over there? It’d be nice to have colleagues all around reporting on the wealth of intellectual scholarship in political theory (including of course political history, political anthropology, political sociology, legal theory, and political philosophy) currently taking place but unfortuantely not yet taking advantage of internet interconnectedness. The idea is to keep everyone up on the latest in political theory as it unfolds. It would be nice to eventually have reporters around the Bay Area, Cambridge, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and elsewhere both across the country and overseas. I’ll make a fuller push to recruit a fuller suite at some point. For now I’m just kicking this off.

Written by Colin Koopman

September 17, 2008 at 6:31 am

There is no such thing as The Internet

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The common tendency to refer to ‘the internet’ as a singular noun is entirely mistaken: there is no such thing as the internet, and there is only internetworking. There are billions of little boxes which use electromagnetic waves and extraordinarily complex mazes of cables of all variety to link together various other plastic boxes of indescribable diversity by means of a plurality of layered protocols operating on a wide range of hardware and software platforms, and all this for the sake of an immense array of purposes, programs, and projects whose complexity is so great that the merest glimpse at just a portion of it would spin the head of even the most learned polymaths. There is no such thing as the public sphere in internetworking, because there is a plurality of public spaces, evolving and expanding every single day by means of the thunderous energy of the trillions of keystrokes which we collectively depress over the course of a single rotation of our beloved earth on its axis… Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Colin Koopman

January 11, 2008 at 3:57 am

Dewey on Publics

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In his 1927 The Public and Its Problems John Dewey offered an argument concerning the relationship between publics and the state which is useful for thinking about the changing forms of public space and practice today, especially in the context of my current research on emerging internet practices. Although Dewey’s book is in my opinion needlessly difficult to follow (a common stylistic feature of Dewey’s labored prose), the core of the argument runs as follows. Dewey argues that public associations conceptually precede state associations such that states impress coherence upon publics. This, however, leads to a seeming paradox about contemporary political reality insofar as the state in Dewey’s day seemed very strong and efficient but the public it was supposed to organize was hardly perceptible. Had the state outgrown the public, thus becoming an empty husk of a political form? Dewey suggests that in response to this difficult problem we must work to reorganize the new public forms in which we find ourselves. Such reorganization, however, may require that we abandon the terms according to which the old public forms were organized. These terms were: organization shall take primarily on the basis of a liberal state which will proceed by way of instituting a distinction between public and private spheres. Dewey is not clear what new alternative terms are required but he does at least say this much: the new political organization shall be democratic and is likely to invoke democracy through a plurality of means including states, corporations, civic associations, and other public forms. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Colin Koopman

October 13, 2007 at 2:43 pm