For a few years in the 1980s, Andrea Dworkin’s Pornography: Men Possessing Women appeared to have changed the intellectual landscape – as well as some people’s lives. Pornography, she argued, not only constitutes violence against women; it constitutes also the main conduit for such violence, of which rape is at once the prime example and the central image. In short, it is patriarchy’s most powerful weapon. Given that, feminists’ single most important task is to deal with pornography. By the early (...) 1990s, however, the consensus had become that her project was a diversion, both politically and intellectually. Today, who would argue that pornography is a crucial political issue? I shall argue that Dworkin has in fact a great deal to teach us – perhaps even more today, as we are going through the neo-liberal revolution, than thirty years ago. Her argument is not a causal one, despite in places reading as if it were. The legal route she chose as the ground on which to fight may well be a dead end, but that does nothing to undermine the force of her analysis. Nor does the fact that she makes arguments that might not be recognized as professionally philosophical or social scientific undermine their substantive force. It may even be that pornography itself is not the sole key she thought it was to understanding and dealing with political realities; but even if that were so, the form of her analysis, far from rhetorical and/or fallacious, is exactly what is needed to counter the depredations of neo-liberal “common sense”. That she herself found it difficult to find a language beyond that of liberalism to express her argument is no reason either for ignoring or misinterpreting it. (shrink)
I argue that the family remains integral to neoliberal capitalism. First, I identify two tensions in the neoliberals' advocacy of the traditional family: that the ?family values? advocated run directly counter to the homo economicus of the ?free market?; and the fact that the increasingly strident rhetoric of the family belies its decreasing popularity. The implications of these tensions for how we might think of the family, I then propose, suggest that earlier critiques are worth revisiting for what they have (...) to say about the family?whether in biological or in social form?as a structure of ownership. Finally, I conclude with some embryonic thoughts about the ideological role of that state of affairs in shaping at once our understanding of ?politics? and our politics. (shrink)
The so-called ticking bomb is invoked by philosophers and lawyers trying to justify, on behalf of their political masters, the use of torture in extremis. I show that the scenario is spurious; and that the likely consequences of the use of interrogational torture in such cases are disastrous. Finally, I test the argument against a real case.
Even people who think torture is justified in certain circumstances regard it - to say the least - as undesirable, however necessary they think it is. So I approach the issue by analysing the extreme case where people such as Dershowitz, Posner and Walzer think torture is justified, the so-called ticking bomb scenario. And since the justification offered is always consequentialist - no one thinks that torture is in any way “good in itself” – I confine myself to consequentialist arguments. (...) That is to say, I take the argument on its own terms, since any non-consequentialist objection to torture merely invites the response, ‘So much the worse for non-consequentialism’: if a moral theory insists that torture is wrong even if it would save thousands of lives that just shows how wrong the theory is . I focus only on the question of the moral justifiability of torture in the ‘ticking bomb’ case, and do not not ask whether, even if admittedly immoral, it should nonetheless be legalised (see Brecher, Torture and the Ticking Bomb, Wiley-Blackwell 2007)). My main argument is in two parts: (1) the “ticking bomb” scenario falls apart when analysed; and (2), even if it did not, the likely consequences of permitting torture would be worse than the bomb’s going off. Finally I briefly consider a genuine case. Further questions and readings are appended. (shrink)
This chapter considers the wider significance of torture, addressing the manner in which it represents a touchstone for any universalistic morality, and arguing that it offers a means of refuting any moral relativism, something that ties in closely with my long-term theoretical work in metaethics (eg Getting What You Want? A Critique of Liberal Morality (Routledge: London and New York, 1998; and ongoing work around the ultimate justification of morality). Since torture consists in the erasure of a person on the (...) basis of their being an embodied rational agent, that is to say, of their being a person, it requires that the torturer at once recognise and negate the personhood of the person being tortured. The contradiction involved is immediate and integral: torture, one might say, is practical self-contradiction par excellence. For it is embodied rational agents who constitute the subject of any form, and thus of any theory, of morality -- and thus of global social and thus to torture a person is to both accept and deny our identity as embodied rational agents. This work also led to the opportunity for further collaboration with one of the editors, Heather Widdows, this time as part of a larger project on which I have been working for some time – both academically and as an activist -- namely to rescue work from the 1970s and 1980s for the Left. I have so far made two academic contributions: Andrea Dworkin’s Pornography: Men Possessing Women – a Reassessment’, in eds H Marway and H Widdows, Women and Violence: the Agency of Victims and Perpetrators. Palgrave Macmillan: London, forthcoming 2013 and ‘The family and neo-liberalism: time to revive a critique’, Ethics and Social Welfare, forthcoming 2012. (shrink)
Fulford’s discussion of ‘values-based practice’ as a model for medical ethics is deeply puzzling. First, it remains unclear what exactly he takes values to be or how tyhey can be based in clinical skills. Second, his proposal does not make it clear whose values these are supposed to be. I conclude that his attempt in effect to take the morality out of ethics fails.
Arising out of one of the annual conferences I organise as Director of the University’s Centre for Applied Philosophy, Politics and Ethics (see http://arts.brighton.ac.uk/research/cappe/) -- ‘Interrogating Terror’ – and from my work on the editorial board of Critical Studies on Terrorism, this collection is published in the Routledge Critical Terrorism Studies series and brings together theoretical and empirical material to challenge the notion that ‘terrorism’ and/or ‘terror’ are transparent, given or limited to non-state agents. Instead, it seeks to expose the (...) political and discursive practices which underlie the use of these terms and which, in doing so, seek to shape our very conceptualisation of what is real. The book has two distinctive features. First, it is interdisciplinary, including contributions from philosophy, law, social policy, media studies, sociology and history. To that extent, the book may also be read as a concrete instantiation of the interdisciplinarity to which my colleagues and I are committed in our undergraduate teaching and our research practices. Second, its format is deliberately designed to foster critical and interdisciplinary engagement, by presenting readers with a series of examples of it. Each chapter is the subject of a commentary from one of the editors, to which each author in turn offers a brief reply. The book thus instantiates, in terms of both authorship and readership, a commitment to collaborative modes of inquiry, in the belief that attending to complex issues – and perhaps especially those bringing theoretical and practical issues together (see also 2009) -- is likely to require a collaborative approach. Dedicated to ‘What’s left of the Left’, the book at once marks a trajectory characterised by an increasing concern to combine academic scholarship and research with activist contributions and to understand how the language of ‘terror’ is coming to shape our political lives. (shrink)
In 2008, Samantha Newbery, then a PhD student, discovered a hitherto confidential document: ‘Confidential: UK Eyes Only. Annex A: Intelligence gained from interrogations in Northern Ireland’ (DEFE 13/958, The National Archives (TNA)). It details the British Army’s notorious interrogations of IRA suspects that led to the eventual banning of the ‘five techniques’ that violated the UK’s international treaty obligation prohibiting the use of torture and ‘inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’. Having decided that the document – Intelligence gained from should (...) be put in the public domain, she invited me, along with the eminent lawyer, Philippe Sands and Brian Stuart, a former Secretary to the British Joint Intelligence Committee, to contribute commentaries. I concluded that even if the document was accurate in both what it stated and in what it left out, that use of the ‘five techniques’ (tantamount to torture) was unjustified, since the normalisation and institutionalisation of torture is far worse than failing to obtain the information thus gained. Whether or not this joint paper will make a difference to UK policy concerning the use of torture remains an open question; whether or not it should is not. This piece is an example of how my book on torture, deliberately written for a public readership, has made it possible for me to make interventions in practical policy, or at least to attempt to, whether in occasional writing for eg The Chartist and the web-based Open Democracy, or directly for activist groups, eg my ‘Ethical Opinion’ for Physicians for Human Rights – Israel, Report: Holding Health to Ransom: GSS Interrogation and Extortion of Palestinian Patients at Erez Crossing (2008). (shrink)
We live in times when, as Conor Gearty has pointed out, ‘legal scholars in the US are being taken seriously when they float the idea of torture warrants as a reform to what they see as the unacceptably uncodified system of arbitrary torture that they believe currently prevails’. And he is right when he goes on to add that ‘This is like reacting to a series of police killings with proposals to reform the law on homicide so as to sanction (...) officially approved pre-trial executions.' It is because the general public is taking these academics seriously that there is an urgent need to expose how spurious their ideologically driven arguments are. The “respectability” they confer on the argument that so-called ticking bombs justify torture, and that it had therefore better be regulated, needs to be countered. Otherwise there is a real danger that western politicians will succeed in persuading us to go along with them when they insist that another basic freedom – freedom from torture – is yet one more value we must abandon in the endless “war on terrorism”. It is a short road from legalising torture intended to gain information to accepting torture as a legitimate weapon and for all sorts of purposes. The “intellectual respectability” conferred by the academy is essential for that enterprise. Thus, since Alan Dershowitz’s carefully constructed proposal to introduce torture warrants is both the most prominent and the most sophisticated of today’s attempts to make torture respectable, it is his proposal we need to focus on. In the Introduction, I say something about both the intellectual and the political contexts of the so-called ticking bomb scenario that is the basis of these proposals. In chapter two I argue that the “ticking bomb” scenario remains in crucial respects a fantasy; and that the grounds it is said to offer for justifying interrogational torture so as to avoid a putative catastrophe are spurious. In chapter three I argue that, whatever you think of those arguments, the consequences of legalising interrogational torture, and thus institutionalising it, would be so disastrous as to outweigh any such catastrophes anyway. Finally, in chapter four, I draw together what the details of my argument imply about torture in general and interrogational torture in particular; and about why any even semi-decent society must abhor torture -– in all circumstances, always, everywhere. (shrink)
The chapter argues that communitarianism is the ‘postmodern bourgeois liberalism’ that Rorty, probably the leading avowedly epistemological, rather than political, or merely political, communitarian, describes himself as espousing. Proceeding by way of a detailed discussion of Philip Selznick’s definitive ‘Social Justice: a Communitarian Perspective’-- in which he seeks ‘to reaffirm, and to clarify if I can, the communitarian commitment to social justice’ -- I show that rooted in the particular as communitarianism is, it cannot but reflect the values, beliefs and (...) attitudes of the particular “community” in which it is variously found. Selznick's communitarianism, like any other, offers itself as a complement to, as well as a correction of, liberal principles: it could not do otherwise, since the institutional frameworks within which its values are to be realized are those of the modern nation-state and market econonmy. Communitarianism turns out to be the practice of postmodern liberalism. (shrink)
I argue that neo-liberalism requires a managerialist view of our universities; and to the extent that managerialism cannot be ameliorated, to that extent neo-liberalism signals the end of universities as places of learning. Rather than calling for “friendlier” management practice, we need to organise opposition by articulating and rallying around some vision of what the ends should be of the university, and which managing such an institution should therefore serve. Such a vision, whatever exactly its details might consist in, would (...) have to be in explicit opposition to the neo-liberal ideal of universities as providers of “flexible” workers for employers and compliant subjects for governments. A precondition of reclaiming our universities from the managerialists, whether they be committed neo-liberal cadres or reluctant bit-players, is to tell the truth; and to be able to tell the truth, one has first to identify it aright. Happily that attempt describes exactly what it is to be an academic. (shrink)
This chapter argues against Frank Furedi’s urging of a ‘pre-political’ humanism. Having considered the possible bases of appeals to "human nature" as a starting-point for political claims, I argue that, unless we already have a pre-existent non- or anti-humanist commitment, the movement in appeals to "human nature" is from our philosophical/political commitment to our view of it. But since that is precisely what the call for a pre-political humanism opposes, it founders on two difficulties. First, in what sense might a (...) humanism – a commitment to humanity and a confidence in humanity’s capacity to improve its state – be ‘pre-political’at all? Second, since no humanism can be founded on some purely factual conception of what human beings are, since in that case no normative recommendations could be drawn from that conception, the ‘pre-political’ has to be understood as ‘non-normative'. But how could it be? What other normative conception than a political one of what human beings are could there be? Precisely to the extent that we have a conception of our species at all, we are already a political species. To distinguish, for example, between ‘human being’ and ‘person’ – between ourselves as members of a specific biological species and ourselves as moral and political beings – is to imply a notion of people as some sort of moral-political beings, even if that sort remains (as yet) unspecified. So if by a ‘pre-political’ humanism is intended a humanism which is non-political, then it cannot be a humanism at all. (shrink)
In responding to Thomas Magnell's notion of 'collapsing goods', I draw attention to how medical and health ethics practices are not innocent, but political; and to suggest something about their relation to the moral climate. More specifically, I show that to take them as innocent, or as politically neutral, is not only a misunderstanding, but one that is likely to impact on the moral climate as well as being already a reflection of it. Ethics, and the various practices and understandings (...) of health and medical ethics in particular, may well turn out to be collapsing goods. (shrink)
Paul Griseri’s generous response to my ‘Against Professional Ethics’ offers an interesting point of view and there is much on which we agree. But we continue to differ about the nature of the primacy of morality, the possibility of a ‘general idea of professionalism’ and - perhaps - about Kant’s Categorical Imperative.
I argue that the current popularity of 'ethics' in general, and the extension of 'professional ethics in particular, masks an increasingly unethical culture. Furthermore, attempts to codify ethics encourage a rule-governed approach, thus misunderstanding the nature of ethical practice and - whether or not inadvertently - serving to protect the professions from ethical considerations rather than the opposite.