Current Debates in Social and Political Philosophy (PHIL*4230) | College of Arts

Current Debates in Social and Political Philosophy (PHIL*4230)

Code and section: PHIL*4230*01

Term: Fall 2018

Instructor: Casey Ford


This course will focus on two concepts that are central to both contemporary political philosophy and the political realities of modern life: the political and crisis. What is the sphere that we call the “political”? What makes it a space of human action distinct from, for instance, economics or medicine? Alternatively, how far does the domain of the political extend in relation to these other practices, knowledges, and systems? We will closely study a discourse amongst philosophers concerned about the general crisis developing in the political domain. This crisis concerns not merely concrete political instabilities (for instance, which show themselves in protests, rebellions, or periods of economic crises). Rather, these thinkers are concerned with a crisis in the very concept of the political itself, of what it has meant historically and the way it has changed. We will think seriously about issues like political governance, the public realm, the diverse modes of power that control human life, sovereignty and the state, war, and resistance.

John Dewey’s work draws our attention to the disparity that has developed in the West between the public and the political realms, offering a critique of the state-form and a defense of collective democratic ideals. Following from Dewey, Hannah Arendt takes up the importance of political stability for modern democracies while also reserving the space for change. We will then critically evaluate Carl Schmitt’s perspective on political sovereignty that critiques the values of liberal democracy in favor a state power defined by inclusion and exclusion. We will conclude with Giorgio Agamben’s engagement with and critique of Schmitt’s thought. We will focus specifically on how Agamben sees this distinction between including the citizen and excluding the other as both a constitutive element of the concept of the political in the West, and also an immanent source of democratic crises and forms of oppression. Our goal will be to develop an understanding of these concepts and problems and to employ them regularly through political examples such as immigration, imprisonment, war, protest, and violence.

Course Outline