Friday, January 30, 2009

Amartya Sen Defends the UN Declaration of Human Rights

n the most recent edition of The New Republic, Nobel Prize winning economist and philosopher Amartya Sen argues for upholding the importance of the UN Declaration of Human Rights sixty years after its signing.

Sen argues that:

1) the UNDHR makes an important contribution to ethics by establishing the priority of morality to law. Human rights do not depend on governments to establish laws to enshrine them--they apply to human beings as such regardless of their nationality.

2) the UNDHR empowers many different kinds of organizations, not just governments and law, to protect human rights, such as international non-governmental organizations (Amnesty International, etc)

3) the UNDHR goes beyond many of the great documents protecting rights (such as the American Bill of Rights or the French Rights of Man and Citizen) by making explicit mention of social, economic and cultural rights, and tying issues of wealth and poverty to political and civil liberties.

4) the UNDHR, again unlike other rights documents, is explicitly universal in scope, with the hope of including within the sphere of moral concern many different groups that have been marginalized throughout history.

You can read his powerful defense of the UNDHR here.

(Cross listed from the OSU Ideas Matter 2009 Blog)


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Carnival of Feminists # 71

The carnival of feminists #71 is now on line, with some of the best of feminist blogging on the web. Check out the Engage entry!


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Citizens Not Americans: Obama's Political Metaphysics on Power and Privilege

Philosopher Linda Hirshman argues that within the first few words of his inauguration speech on Tuesday, Obama changed the political metaphysics of the United States. He opened by calling out to his "fellow citizens" not "my fellow Americans."

Her view is that citizenship harkens back to ancient Greek ideals of someone (she acknowledges the gender and class bias in the ideal) who is prepared to engage in the work of the community--making laws in the Assembly or defending the homeland as a soldier. Citizenship involves an understanding of self that is involved and commitment to one's relations in the civic sphere.

American identity, on the other hand, is about individualism and isolation. It privileges being left alone by government, and by the community, in order to pursue one's one private goals.

For Hirshman then, Obama is calling us back to a more ancient sense of virtue and active participation in public matters. Citizens not Americans.

While Hirshman recognizes that the old Greek role of citizen was built on a foundation of sexism and slavery (free, propertied men had other people to do their work for them, enabling them to engage in all this civic virtue), she fails to recognize that there was another group in the ancient Athens she glorifies. This would be the metics, the resident non-Athenian aliens, who usually were merchants and could utilize some public services, but were not allowed in the law making roles of society. They were forced to accept laws not of their own choosing in exchange for the privilege to remain.

The idea of the metics is important to remember because American citizenship has usually meant something very different than the ancient Greek ideals. Judith Sklar, in American Citizenship: The Quest for Inclusion, points out that American citizenship was always a status role--it meant you were in, you were all right, and usually, you were all white. Groups fought for inclusion into citizenship, not because they wanted to get more involved in the public matters, but because they wanted to be on the inside of power and privilege.

Today in the United States, it is estimated that there are close to 16 million undocumented immigrants who perform many of the same services to the community that the metics did for ancient Athens. They have rights to some public services, but unlike some European nations, most immigrants have no way to influence public decision making. The longer they stay without a voice, the more they become second class members of society who serve the first class citizens. As Michael Walzer has said before in his book Spheres of Justice, such a condition is intolerable in a democratic society

In addressing himself to fellow citizens, is President Obama calling us to civic virtue, or is reminding the group with power and privilege, served by another class of people with neither of those goods, to continue to enjoy their hegemony?

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Perverts and the Examined Life: Philosopher's Guide to Movies

Two new films with philosophical subject matter coming out soon. The first is a documentary, Examined Life, that captures the peripatetic experience with deep thinkers such as Peter Singer, Cornel West, and Judith Butler.

The second film is a project of that philosophical wild man, Slovoj Zizek (who is also interviewed in Examined Life), that analyzes psychoanalytic themes in a variety of American classic films. The Pervert's Guide to Cinema seems worth it just to watch Zizek trying to pilot a small motorboat.


Monday, January 12, 2009

The Ethics of Polyamory and Relationship Diversity: The Complete Series

The final webisode of the interview with Christian Matheis is finally up. You can now listen to all four webisodes:

Webisode One: "What is Polyamory?" Definitions of Relationship Diversity

Webisode Two: "What is Polyamory?" Fairness and Jealousy in Polyamorous Relationships

Webisode Three: "What is Polyamory?" Polyamory and Patriarchy

Webisode Four: "What is Polyamory?" Final Thoughts--Caution and Human Potential in Relationship Diversity

The theme of relationship diversity has arisen in the popular press recently with the new book Opening Up (2008) by former Village Voice columnist Tristan Taormino.

And perhaps more than anything, polyamory is a movement that is spread over the internet. There are numerous sites and blogs devoted to the subject. For an interesting insight into the dynamics of such relationships, one can look to: The Journal of a Polyamorous Triad, (two men and woman sharing a house and raising children together) or for updates about polyamory worldwide, Polyamory in the News (which includes an interesting post as to whether we ought to read Sartre's No Exit as a fable about polyamory!)

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