This article argues for a realist conception of human needs. By ‘realist’ we mean that certain fundamental needs are categorically distinct from consumer wants, holding independently of people's subjective beliefs as objective life requirements. These basic needs, we contend, are baseline measures of social justice in the sense that no society that does not prioritise their satisfaction can be legitimate. The paper concludes with a comprehensive response to seven core objections to our position.
Jürgen Habermas’s discourse-theoretic reconstruction of the normative foundations of democracy assumes the formal separation of democratic political practice from the economic system. Democratic autonomy presupposes a vital public sphere protected by a complex schedule of individual rights. These rights are supposed to secure the formal and material conditions for democratic freedom. However, because Habermas argues that the economy must be left to function according to endogenous market dynamics, he accepts as a condition of democracy (the formal separation of spheres) a (...) social structure that is in fact anti-democratic. The value of self-determination that Habermas’s theory of democracy presupposes is contradicted by the actual operations of capitalist markets. Further democratic development demands that the steering mechanisms of the capitalist market be challenged by self-organizing civic movements. (shrink)
In his seminal reflection on the badness of death, Nagel links it to the permanent loss “of whatever good there is in living.” I will argue, following McMurtry, that “whatever good there is in living” is defined by the life-value of resources, institutions, experiences, and activities. Enjoyed expressions of the human capacities to experience the world, to form relationships, and to act as creative agents are intrinsically life-valuable, the reason why anyone would desire to go on living indefinitely. As Nagel (...) argues, “the fact that we will eventually die in a few score years cannot by itself imply that it would not be good to live longer. If there is no limit to the amount of life that it would be good to have, then it may be that a bad end is in store for all of us.” In this paper I want to question whether in fact there is no limit to the amount of life it would be good to have. My general conclusion will be that it is not the case that the eternal or even indefinite prolongation of any particular individual life necessarily increases life-value. Were death thus somehow removed as an inescapable limiting frame on human life, overall reductions of life-value would be the consequence. Individual and collective life would lose those forms of moral and material life-value that form the bases of life’s being meaningful and purposive. (shrink)
This paper is a review essay of two collections of essays focused on the work of Alasdair MacIntyre. The review focuses on three core themes. First, it discusses those papers that explore the central role that the relationship between practices and institutions plays in MacIntyre’s critique of modernity. Second, it turns to those papers that examine the foundational role that human needs play in MacIntyre’s ethics. Third, it places in dialogue those papers that defend MacIntyre’s politics as a form of (...) ‘revolutionary Aristotelianism’ with those that contest the soundness of this categorization. (shrink)
Human life is finite. Given that lifetime is necessarily limited, the experience of time in any given society is a central ethical problem. If all or most of human lifetime is consumed by routine tasks then human beings are dominated by the socially determined experience of time. This article first examines time as the fundamental existential framework of human life. It then goes on to explore the determination of time today by the ruling value system that underlies advanced capitalist society. (...) It concludes that the equation ‘time is money’ rules the contemporary experience of time, and goes on to argue that this experience deprives those who live under this ruling value system of a central requirement of free human life: the experience of time as an open matrix of possibilities for action. (shrink)
To the extent that classical, neoclassical, and Marxist political economy have traditionally ignored the problem of economic scale and valorized economic growth, all three have much to learn from ecological economics. Its most important contribution is the argument that the human economy is a subsystem of the finite earth’s natural life-support system. Implied in this argument is a new metric of economic health, the life-value rather than the money-value of that which economies produce and distribute.
While the mechanisms of apology, forgiveness and reconciliation receive considerable scru-tiny, little attention has been afforded the non-apology. This counterfeit, confected typically by false substi-tution or mis-direction, adds moral insult to moral wrong. The paper elucidates the normative structural relationship among apologiser, the apologetic disposition, and the apology and defends the view of the non-apology as the pretended willingness to recalibrate the moral positional relationship among apologiser, wronged, and wrong without actually doing so.
The essay argues that the most influential liberal accounts of moral theory (utilitarianism and deontology) assume that human material nature is the seat of desire, and that desire is essentially unsociable. Moral systems are then interpreted as a means of counteracting the essentially self-interested desires that are assumed to ordinarily drive human beings. The essay challenges the normative presuppositions of these arguments. It maintains that liberal moral philosophy must be interpreted in the historical context of the rise of a competitive (...) market society. It then contends that contra liberal moral theory, human beings are neither essentially egoistic nor altruistic, but interdependent. Moral theory is better seen as following from a recognitions of this material interdependence than as an ideal limit on ?naturally? self-interested and competitive behaviour. (shrink)
Dussel’s complex work calls into question the standard history of philosophy, reveals a counter-history at work beneath the official history that gives voice to the victims of capitalism and colonialism, and systematically develops a novel ‘material ethics’ grounded in an unqualified, universal affirmation of life as the foundation of liberatory values. The Ethics of Liberation brings together the major problems explored in Dussel’s prolific body of earlier work: the relationship between Western philosophy and the expansion of European society; the relationship (...) between centre and periphery in global political economy, considered as both a philosophical and an ethical problem; the ethical interpretation of Marxism; the politics of liberation in the colonial context; the defence of universal foundations of ethical norms; and the distinction between formal and critical ethics. (shrink)
This article argues that the normative foundations and political implications of David Held’s cosmopolitan social democracy are insufficient as solutions to the moral and social problems he criticizes. The article develops a life-grounded alternative critique of globalization that roots our ethical duties towards each other in consciousness of our shared needs and capabilities. These ethical duties are best realized in political projects aimed at fundamental long-term transformations in the principles that govern major socio-economic institutions.Cet article soutient que les fondements normatifs (...) et les implications politiques de la démocratie sociale cosmopolite proposée par David Held n’offrent pas de solution satisfaisante aux problèmes sociaux et moraux qu’il critique. Notre article développe une critique alternative de la globalisation, fondée sur l’expérience de la vie, quifait de la conscience que nous avons des besoins et des capacités des uns et des autres la source de nos obligations morales réciproques. Ces obligations morales s’accomplissent surtout dans des projets politiques qui visent à introduire des modifications fondamentales et durables dans les principes qui régissent les plus importantes institutions socio-économiques. (shrink)
This paper will examine the loss of confidence in secular bases for the normative understanding of, and response to, the fundamental social and political problems. The recent arguments of Richard Falk in favour of a religious foundation for a humane globalization will be taken as paradigmatic. While the paper agrees that the normative core of major world religions supports Falk's particular conclusion that religion can provide the content for a universal critique of inhumane global governance, it will conclude that the (...) universal claim that global human solidarity today can only be built on the basis of religious faith does not follow. The paper will contend that the required normative foundation for the positive project of constructing global human solidarity is neither religious nor secular, but synthetic, embracing both—in what I will call, following the work of John McMurtry—the “life-ground of value.”. (shrink)
This essay focuses on the purported duty?defended by Walter Benjamin but widely assumed in much political theory and practice?of the living to redeem the suffering of those who died as a consequence of oppression, exploitation, and political violence. I consider the cogency and ethical value of this duty from the perspective of a politics grounded in the equal life-value of human beings. For both metaphysical and ethical reasons I conclude that this duty does not obtain, first because the dead cannot (...) experience redemption, and secondly because it is politically counterproductive: it personalizes a pathological form of political resistance which may easily incite further violence and thus perpetuate human suffering and oppression. (shrink)
The long tradition of pessimism in philosophy and poetry notoriously laments suffering caused by vulnerabilities of the human body. The most familiar and contemporary version is antinatalism, the view that it is wrong to bring sentient life into existence because birth inevitably produces suffering. Technotopianism, which stems from a similarly negative view of embodied limitations, claims that we should escape sickness and death through radical human-enhancement technologies. In Embodiment and the Meaning of Life Jeff Noonan presents pessimism and technotopianism as (...) two sides of the same coin, as both begin from the premise that the limitations of embodied life are inherently negative. He argues that rather than rendering life pointless, the tragic failures that mark life are fundamental to the good of human existence. The necessary limitations of embodied being are challenges for each person to live well, not only for their own sake, but for the sake of the future of the human project. Meaning is not a given, Noonan suggests, but rather the product of labour upon ourselves, others, and the world. Meaningful labour is threatened equally by unjust social systems and runaway technological development that aims to replace human action, rather than liberate it. Calling on us to draw conceptual connections between finitude, embodiment, and the meaning of life, this book shows that seeking the common good is our most viable and materially realistic source of optimism about the future. (shrink)
The article argues that historical materialism is not only a theory of historical change but more generally a mediation between the natural foundations of human life and its meaningful symbolic expressions. The article begins with an interpretation of the general philosophical significance of the basic premises of historical materialism as they are sketched in the German Ideology. I argue that these premises point us in two different directions: down, towards a scientific understanding of the natural world, and up, towards interpretations (...) of meaningful human expressions. Reductionist scientific models are appropriate for the understanding of natural forces, but these reveal their own limitations when applied to social life. Social life cannot be understood outside its symbolic expressions, but these are not free floating ideal abstractions, but remain connected to fundamental human purposes and must be understood as such. (shrink)
Since its publication in 1971, John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice has defined the terrain of political philosophical debate concerning the principles, scope, and material implications of social justice. Social justice for Rawls concerns the principles that govern the operation of major social institutions. Major social institutions structure the lives of citizens by regulating access to the resources and opportunities that the formulation and realization of human projects require. Rawls’ theory of social justice regards major institutions as just when they (...) distribute what he calls “primary goods” in a manner that he regards as egalitarian. Hence, the subsequent social justice debate has been shaped by and large as a debate about the meaning and implications of egalitarianism. While on the surface a debate about egalitarianism as a distributional principle seems to uncover the core problem of social justice—how much of what everyone should get as a matter of right—the entire history of the debate has been conducted in abstraction fr om what matters most to people’s lives. It is as a corrective to such abstractions that the life-value approach to social justice has been developed. (shrink)
Current patterns of global economic activity are not only unsustainable, but unethical - this claim is central to Materialist Ethics and Life-Value. Grounding the definition of ethical value in the natural and social requirements of life-support and life-development shared by all human beings, Jeff Noonan provides a new way of understanding the universal conception of "the good life." Noonan argues that the true crisis affecting the world today is not sluggish rates of economic growth but the model of measuring economic (...) and social health in terms of money-value. In response, he develops an alternative understanding of good societies where the breadth and depth of life-activity and enjoyment are dependent on dominant institutions. The more social institutions satisfy the necessary requirements of human life, the more they empower each person to develop and enjoy the capacities that make human life valuable and meaningful. A well-reasoned synthesis of traditional philosophical concerns and contemporary critiques of global capitalism, this book is a forward-looking treatise that defends political struggle and reconsiders what is most important for a happy life. (shrink)
The article is a critical examination of Marcuse's speculations about the possibility of determining a biological foundation for ethical norms. It considers three key objections to this project: that Marcuse fails to adequately define needs, that he misinterprets Freud, and that, details aside, he fundamentally misunderstands what a `biological' foundation for ethics would entail. The objections are accepted, to varying degrees, as regards the content of Marcuse's argument. The article concludes, however, with a different account of biological foundations designed to (...) rescue the deeper aims of Marcuse's project. Key Words: biology ethics foundation Herbert Marcuse needs socialism. (shrink)
This paper explores the metaphysical foundations of critical theory in Marcuse and Habermas's postmetaphysical alternative. It argues that Habermas's attempt to free critical theory from a normative conception of life‐activity deprives it of the conceptual tools required to accurately diagnose the fundamental structure of social problems today. It thus concludes that Marcuse's efforts towards specifying a life‐grounded foundation to critical theory must be renewed if the project of human freedom is to be advanced today.
A new collection of essays edited by Michael J. Thompson aims to explicate and defend the humanist values which, according to the authors, were the core of Marx's critique of capitalist society. The text does not aim to provide a political roadmap to building an alternative society in which those values could be realized but rather philosophical analysis of the meaning and implications of those values. While there are sometimes tensions between the philosophical arguments developed in the various essays that (...) make up the text and the traditions of Marxist political practice, the book as a whole certainly proves that the human values of Marx's philosophy are central to his politics and that his emancipatory vision remains relevant, even necessary. (shrink)