Group 7: Aesthetics, Political Theory and Ethics
Friday 11th of December 2020
Elliott Hartman, University of Canberra
‘Framing the Perceptual Theory of Sentimentalism as a Discourse Ethic’
In this paper I propose to frame Tappolet’s perceptual theory of sentimentalism as a discourse ethics by incorporating Habermas’ theory of communicative action as a process of moral discourse. The basic premise of sentimentalism is that moral judgements are made on the basis of the emotions that accompany these judgements. Additionally, the type of emotion that is felt corresponds with the type of judgement being made with negative emotions indicating immorality and vice versa. This premise has since been expanded by the perceptual theory which has drawn a parallel between these emotions and perception. In this model when a person witnesses moral events in the world, they experience emotions that are directed toward that object and these emotions correspond with the moral character of that object. The perceptual theory argues these emotions are attuned to moral properties thus revealing them to the observer. This theory raises several interesting questions. To what extent is emotion perceptual? And in what capacity do moral properties exist? Rather than examine these metaphysical questions, this paper will develop this theory by broadening its scope to include the social and cultural aspects of morality which constitute a significant aspect of moral experience. One proponent of the perceptual theory has identified how a process of moral discourse may contribute to the accuracy of moral perception. By providing access to the perceptions and perspectives of others a discourse process would allow individuals to identify sources of bias and erroneous stimuli that may interfere with moral perception (Tappolet, 2016, p. 172). Tappolet has not specified what form this process would take nor how this social process may interact with moral perception, but she has indicated that identifying these sources of interference is a collaborative process (p. 195). In this paper I look to Habermas’ theory of communicative action to fulfil this role. Communicative action is a process of collective rationality whereby members of a community participate in discourse that is oriented toward reaching an understanding about the world. According to Habermas it is also the process that allows individuals to contribute to the formation of cultural norms and values (Habermas, 1984). In this paper I will outline how Tappolet’s perceptual theory may incorporate communicative action to form a holistic theory that places this perceptual process in a cultural context. I argue that by utilizing communicative action the perceptual theory opens the door to new moral processes that may strengthen the theory’s underlying claims. Additionally, by mapping out how the perceptual theory interacts with the formation of cultural moral norms may allow for an epistemic link to be drawn connecting moral properties with cultural values.
Pablo Hubacher Haerle, University of Cambridge
‘From Enemies to Adversaries - Mouffe, Wittgenstein and Political Disagreement’
Can we understand someone with a different political ideology? Can someone’s values become intelligible to us even if they are very different from our own? In the age of populism and “identity politics” is there any way for non-antagonistic politics? In this paper I defend such a possibility, building on the works of Chantal Mouffe and Ludwig Wittgenstein.
First, I will present Mouffe’s theory of ‘agonistic pluralism’, which builds on thoughts of the later Wittgenstein (section 2). In several works (2000; 2005) Mouffe presents two arguments against rationalistic approaches to political theory (e.g. Habermas 1984, Rawls 1971): First, she claims that such accounts rest on a narrowly uniform idea of rationality as they make “differences irrelevant” (Mouffe 2000: 19), which renders them “unable to adequately grasp the pluralistic nature of the social world” (Mouffe 2005: 10). Second, Mouffe criticizes the idea that such procedurals theories only rely on formal requirements without making substantial ethical commitments. For both her arguments she cites Wittgenstein as an important source. I will carve out the assumptions upon which Mouffe’s reading rests (sections 3 and 4).
The next section (5) dwells again on the philosophy of Wittgenstein and responds to a common criticism of agonistic pluralism, namely that Mouffe is unable to explain how political opponents can be seen as legitimate adversaries instead of enemies which should be destroyed. In Mouffe’s words: “The crucial point here is to show how antagonism can be transformed so at to make available a form of we/they opposition compatible with pluralist democracy” (2005: 19). If we see political disagreement as a clash of forms of life, then Wittgenstein’s remarks on the possibility of understanding different forms of life become relevant (Z § 390; PPF § 327). Wittgenstein stresses repeatedly how the practice of imagining a different language (PI § 19), different training (Z § 387) and different social facts can make other forms of life intelligible (PPF § 366; cf. Baker / Hacker 1985: 240 ff., esp. 242).
Lastly (section 6), I examine which practical consequences follow from such an understanding of political disagreement. In particular, I argue that through narration and the study of history we can foster our ability to imagine different forms of life. Accordingly, literature and testimony become politically relevant as through them we can understand opposing values. This contributes to a civic practice which acknowledges radical plurality in society and yet does not conceive of political opponents as hostile enemies.
In doing this, it is neither my aim to scrutinize the interpretative consistency of Mouffe’s work, nor to defend agonistic pluralism against other theories of the political. Rather, I strive to connect Wittgenstein’s philosophical work with relevant and recent developments in political philosophy (cf. Crary / de Lara, forthcoming) and contribute to the general endeavour of making political theory apt for its application.
Nicholas Reimann, University of Leeds
‘Exploring the relationship between the aesthetic and moral value of food’
The debate about the relationship between aesthetic and moral value has brought forth a variety of accounts of what aesthetic-ethical value interaction might consist in. Autonomists deny any such interaction; they maintain that a moral defect in a work of art never makes for an aesthetic defect, and likewise, that a moral virtue never contributes to a work’s aesthetic value. Moderate moralists hold that a moral virtue/defect sometimes makes for an aesthetic virtue/defect, whereas (radical) moralists claim that a moral virtue/defect always makes for an aesthetic virtue/defect. Contextualists argue that the valence of the interaction can sometimes be inverted, that is, sometimes a moral defect can make for an aesthetic virtue, and vice versa.
So far, there have been only a few attempts to apply the value interaction debate to the case of food. One concern with such a project might be that the experience of food is not typically considered to be an aesthetic experience. I reject this view, arguing instead that the savouring of experiences that are derived from the senses of taste, smell and touch — traditionally taken to be the ‘lower’ senses — can and should be considered genuine aesthetic experiences.
Having thus established the aesthetic quality of the experience of savouring food, I turn to some conceptual difficulties in applying the ethical-aesthetic value interaction debate to the case of food. One obvious disanalogy between (representational) art and food is that food rarely advances a moral perspective. The moral quality of a work’s perspective, however, is what most contributors to the value interaction debate have focused on. Korsmeyer (2012) suggests that we should consider the moral quality of food in terms of the moral status of its means of production instead. Specifically, she maintains that a food’s moral quality is aesthetically relevant if the means of production leave a discernible ‘trace’ in the final product. The position she then goes on to argue for is analogous to moderate moralism. Liao and Meskin (2018) pick up Korsmeyer’s discussion of trace, but they draw a different conclusion, viz. food contextualism.
In reviewing these two accounts, I will interrogate the notion of ‘trace’ in particular, arguing that its scope is too narrow to do the work that Korsmeyer seems to want it to do. I will then turn to Gaut’s merited response argument for moralism and Carroll’s uptake argument for moderate moralism in order to explore whether they might be extended so as to provide a more promising strategy for applying the value interaction debate to the case of food.