March 21-22, 2014 /  Keynote  Dr. David Schweickart /
MSU Faculty Roundtable w/ Marilyn Frye, Sandra Harding, Christian Lotz, and Kyle Whyte



Michigan State University
Department of Philosophy
503 South Kedzie Hall
East Lansing, MI

email: philconf@msu.edu

Nonideal Theory at the Border: Search for a Method
Chris Rugeley

This paper aims to formulate a nonideal method for theorizing the US-Mexico border wall. While in recent years border theorists have devoted considerable attention to the border as an object of inquiry, and while few have even devoted time to understanding the physical construction of walls at the border, little to nothing has been said in mainstream political philosophy, even less in ethics, about what the border wall signifies or more fundamentally how one might begin to theorize it. Liberal political theorists have spilled much ink on the issue of immigration, but liberal theory’s persistent ignorance of the empirical poses grave challenges for theorizing something like the US-Mexico border wall, whose physical reality is about as far from abstraction as one can get.  Existing approaches have their merits, but alternatives are needed. Charles Mills’ work on nonideal theory provides one such alternative, insofar as it is committed to both theorizing the actual and changing the social structures which engender it. Such an approach is not only preferable to existing ones; it is necessary. This paper lays out general criteria for nonideal theory, with the hope that these criteria can be of service in theorizing the US-Mexico border wall. It then examines a Foucauldian analysis of the border wall to see if this approach meets the criteria. Ultimately, it argues that a Foucauldian approach, while nearly nonideal, is not nonideal enough. A Foucauldian analysis, however, can be reformulated in a more nonideal way, but only by committing itself to universalist applicability.

The Injustice of Justice as Fairness
Randy La Prairie

This essay is a critique of John Rawls’s philosophy, justice as fairness. One of the most carefully developed and rigorous statements of philosophical liberalism, Rawls’s system has generated a vast body of discussion. The goal of my essay is to undermine Rawls’s philosophical project and call into question the genuineness of this body of discussion, i.e., its commitment to justice. In my critique of Rawls's philosophy per se I bring the materialist philosophy and political economy of Marx to bear on two central aspects of Rawls’s theory as expressed in his magnum opus, Theory of Justice, and later works. One is Rawls’s concept of the original position, and its underlying sociological presuppositions, namely that “general knowledge” and social theory are socially neutral and ahistorical constructs. Echoing Robert Paul Wolff, I argue that they are not socially neutral or ahistorical, and because Rawls fails to recognize this, his ideal just society is one premised on false consciousness about capitalist social relations. Naturally, then, the other aspect of Rawls’s philosophy I take up are his presuppositions concerning political economy. Rawls believes that an economy premised on private property is just, but neglects almost entirely Marx’s critique of political economy, particularly the theory of surplus value. The fact that Rawls never articulated a socialist formulation of his theory or seriously engaged socialist/Marxist critiques, but rather defended private property in all his works, leads me to conclude that Rawls was not a serious critic of, but rather an apologist for, existing society.

A Look at Transformative Justice:
Deconstruction through Environmental Justice to Challenge and Transform Multiscalar Identities in the Resistance to Free-Market Hegemony

Christina R. Bovinette

Sustainable development has been heralded as a “new principle for redirecting the course of socio-economic change” globally. But the literature on sustainable development has become highly fragmented. For example, the term has been criticized for being “vague, oxymoronic, technocratic, mere rhetoric, inegalitarian, and for being a smokescreen for perpetuation of the status quo (neoliberalism, hegemony by the North) in international development.” In this vein, this paper focuses on the political and social deficiencies of sustainability on a general level: in terms of its free-market hegemonical character, especially in the context of local identities and political economy in order to set the scene for discussing alternatives to a global sustainable development paradigm. I see such alternatives as stemming from social, community values (which stand in contradistinction to the consumptive, individualistic values appropriated by the free-market), which I will argue, can evolve from environmental justice struggles and their provision of transformative justice.

Freedom from the Contingent: Pogge, Global Poverty, and Inequality
Ndidi Nwaneri

In reality, the 1.2 billion people who make up the lower half of the global poor do not live on $1 a day, but on what 23 cents would buy in the United States today. At the same time, the richest 1000 people in the world control almost 80 percent of global income. Thomas Pogge suggests three initiatives to address global poverty and inequality: The Global Resources Dividend (GRD); measures to stop Western firms and governments from economically engaging corrupt leaders of poor countries; and that rich countries should desist from using their political and economic might to strike harsh bargains to the detriment of poor countries, as is currently done in The World Trade (WTO) negotiations. I argue in this paper that global poverty and inequality are unavoidable byproducts of the Economic and Financial System (EFS), and to address such problems would require initiatives that would get to the root of the EFS. I argue also that because of his ideological stance, Thomas Pogge is restricted to suggestions that will not fundamentally alter the EFS and as such, he cannot effectively address this problem in a lasting manner. After analyzing the features of the EFS, which unavoidably create global poverty and inequality, I question why Pogge suggests initiatives that rely on the continuance of the system to address the problems that it creates. Lastly, I suggest some initiatives that might yield better and more lasting results.

Defining Equity and Adequacy
Ian K. McDaniel

The debate over the just distribution of educational opportunity is between two views: equality and adequacy. Both sides have made concessions away from defining aspects of their respective views. By reducing their commitment to equality, egalitarians have made moves toward adequacy. By recognizing a need for greater equality in their view, sufficientarians move toward egalitarianism. The difference in these initially distinct positions, if there is one, is either a matter of degree or a matter of name. I consider the egalitarian views of Harry Brighouse & Adam Swift and William Koski & Rob Reich and the adequacy views of Debra Satz and Elizabeth Anderson concerning the leveling down objection, the nature of education as a positional good, the institution of the family, and the demands for racial (and gender and class) equality to establish the plausibility of the conclusion.

Toward a Progressive Cosmopolitanism:
The Reconstruction of Man in Gramsci’s Philosophy

Roberto Mosciatti

In the present era of globalization, the term “cosmos” is a semantic instrument that shapes not only the language of politics, but also the idioms spoken by ordinary people. For this reason, we might think of cosmopolitan ideas as progressive forms of thought which are by now necessary for coping with socio-political challenges. The point is now to establish what sort of cosmopolitan philosophy we should adopt. In this paper, I will take into account the Gramscian concepts of regressive and progressive cosmopolitanism.  I will show that the first type of thinking presupposes the promotion of a particular idea of the ‘human’ as ‘detachment’ from the animal, and involves class division. Gramsci is right in claiming that this sort of cosmopolitan thought is a disguised chauvinism and is completely ineffective from the international viewpoint. In support of his view I will take into consideration the recent failures of the so called ‘humanitarian’ interventions. A progressive type of cosmopolitanism requires the reconstruction of ‘man’: humanity can no longer be considered an assumption, but rather a purpose. The entity ‘man’ can be recreated only through the recovery of his natural characteristics, due to which individuals are described by Gramsci mostly as social practices and as territorialized forces. Nevertheless, the idea of ‘territorialization’ does not coincide for Gramsci with the image of a border, and not even with the concepts of ‘ethnicity’ and ‘class’. A territorialized will is the actual set of rituals which characterizes, without defining it, a specific community. Accordingly, a positive sense of identity is conceivable for Gramsci only at the material level, while from the theoretical viewpoint “identity” has to be negative, denoting the capability for a consciousness to turn into an alternative and to accomplish political transformation. Only by means of a negative identity can a slave potentially turn into a master, and a subaltern consciousness into a hegemonic one. This is what Gramsci would call a progressive type of cosmopolitanism: a form of thought that aims at the recapture of the natural-territorial sides of men, without relying on a rigid and stigmatized sense of identity.