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ARE OUR LIVES POLITICAL? - University of Tampere Our Lives... · Nietzsche & Nabokov VS. fellow...

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    H E I K K I A . KOVA L A I N E N / / I A S R L E C T U R E / / 1 M A R C H 2 0 1 6


    The Private and the Public: Moral Perfectionism in Democracy

    The gap between egoism and altruism runs deep in contemporary society, but how to bridge it? If self-regard and other-regard are not in conflict with one another, showing this requires, on the one hand, that genuine politics may foster personal growth, and on the other hand, that the projects of self-culture may be genuinely other-regarding. Developing these two arguments will be the task of my research.

    And it will be our task today!

    When asking whether Our Lives Are Political, were in effect taking up the task described above!

  • Whos asking the question?

    When and where?

    Whats not being asked?

    !We the citizens of a liberal democracy

    !At present in Finland !How things would be

    with more limited democracy, let alone in a totalitarian state

    D O N T B E M I S L E D I N TO T H I N K I N G I T S A L L U N I V E R S A L !


  • FIRST: THE BORING ANSWER Are our lives political?

    ! Depends on how you define life and political

    What is political activity? What would Arendt say?

    ! For Arendt, action labor and work, the latter two being related to the human condition of life and to worldliness, respectively

    ! Action, in contrast, means political activity: stemming from human togetherness, bestowing human lives with significance, entailing speech and creating public space of freedom

    ! Creating something NEW, like revolutions; or a more minor mark for future generations

    Whether our lives are political, then, depends on how high or low we set the standard of creating something new (and thats presumably a sliding scale)!



    !The phrase associated with Carol Hanischs paper in 1969 ! thematically based on discussion groups she and other women held, discussing personal

    questions in groups but not for the sake of therapy!

    e.g. What happens to your relationship if your man makes more money than you? Less than you?

    One of the first things we discover in these groups is that personal problems are political problems. There are no personal solutions at this time. There is only collective action for a collective solution.

    !One of the key insights of second wave feminism: household issues are political matters! !However, a conceptual problem: if everything in our lives is a political matter, then nothing is

  • Are our lives


    Does politics affect our lives?

    Is everything in our lives political?

    Do our lives affect politics?

    Are some parts of our lives political?



    T SEN


    OF TH

    E Q.






    scope of the question?

  • EXC



    N T

    O T



    A R E T H E P R I VAT E A N D T H E P U B L I C C O - D E P E N D E N T ?

    NO YES


    ! For Hannah Arendt, the private realm of life ought should be confused neither with the public (i.e. a commonly shared world) nor with the social (the false societal sphere)*

    Wherever [human life in general] is consistently exposed to the world without the protection of privacy and security its vital quality is destroyed. In the public world, common to all, persons count, and so does work, that is, the work of our hands that each of us contributes to our common world; but life qua life does not matter there. (CE, 183.)

    ! The private: privative and non-privative traits, i.e. privation from commonality as well as security from the affairs of human life

    The private >> the realm of birth and death which must be hidden from the public realm because it harbors things hidden from human eyes and impenetrable to human knowledge (HC, 62)


    ! The private and the public as two different vocabularies (and hence, realms of life)

    the private vocabulary of questions like What shall I be? or What can I become? functionally separate from public questions such as What sorts of things about what sorts of people do I need to notice? (the latter meant as a political project) (CIS, xiv)

    ! Different groups of texts for these different purposes (private exemplars, e.g. Kierkegaard, Nietzsche & Nabokov VS. fellow citizens, e.g. Marx, Habermas, Orwell & Rawls)

    what private perfectiona self-created, autonomous human lifecan be like. VS. a shared, social effortto effort to make our institutions and practices more just and less cruel. (ibid.)

  • RORTY CONTINUED! For Rorty, the private sphere geared towards autonomy; the public spheres linked with solidarity

    Autonomy has to do with our interest in self-creation; justice with our interest in fostering human solidarity. These interests are equally valid, but forever incommensurable. (Conant 2000, 266267.)

    They point in opposite directions: the one away from others to private pursuits and the cultivation of individuality; the other outwards to the community at large and the amelioration of its public institutions and shared practices (Conant, 276277.)

    Hence, two incommensurability theses [formulations by HK]:

    (i) there are no public criteria or yardsticks available for what counts as a private good (ii) individuals might not measure or judge, on private grounds, the pertinence of public goods

  • THEO

    RY C



    A R E T H E P R I VAT E A N D T H E P U B L I C C O - D E P E N D E N T ?

    NO YES


    Modes of recognition

    love respect esteem

    Forms of recognition






    of value

    What is recognized

    love, friendship rights solidarity

    Sphere of recognition

    persons constitutional state the state, global

    community (?)

    elaboratethough admittedly complexexplanations for how the personal and the political go together; how, in a sense, you cant have one without the other



    On my reading, a virtual refutation of Rortys incommensurability thesis (i): there are no public criteria or yardsticks available for what counts as a private good Honneths idea, roughly: theres nothing but public criteria for such a thing (i.e. we cannot genuinely esteem one anothers traits to any reasonable degree without recognizing their importance for society at large)

    within value systems (which have emerged via conflict) the social standing of subjects is indeed measured in terms of what they can accomplish for society within the context of their particular forms of self-realization (SFR, 129)

    Our relations to one another in society are not characterized by indifference, but rather shared concern for each others individuality:

    not just passive tolerance but felt concern for what is individual and particular about each other (SFR, 129)


  • REFUTING RORTY 2/2 How about the incommensurability thesis (ii): individuals might not measure or judge, on private grounds, the pertinence of public goods

    But if interpersonal recognition underlies solidarity, dont the individuals need to be able to judge such pertinence?

    Solidarity = an interactive relationship in which subjects mutually sympathize with their various different ways of life because, among themselves, they esteem each other symmetrically (SFR, 128)

    i.e. the shared goals of a society can be realized only to the degree to which I actively care about the development of the others characteristics (which seem foreign to me) (SFR, 129)

    In other words, there are no criteria for what counts as publically relevant goods, unless the individuals genuinely care for one another

    Hence, it is not just he case that projects of self-cultivation need societal contexts, but also that social progress presupposes interpersonal recognition!

  • EXAMPLE 1/2

    Ive never felt myself equal in

    Finland. This is an important day for me. For me, yeah [points his finger at himself]. So

    dont underestimate us. Weve waited for this for quite a

    while thousands of disabled people

    in Finland have waited for this.

    Without this, we have no equality. There you are,

    thats it. This is my opinion.

    Im not quite sure what the Convention

    [on the Rights of Persons with

    Disabilities] brings to the table. In itself, the Convention in question adds nothing new to the Convention on

    Human Rights only a specific group of

    people, i.e. the disabled, are granted the status of a special

    group deserving support. Whats

    valuable in this, then, is the overall goal [?] rather than some new incentives related to

    rights. EX


    E 1/2

  • SH: Since Ive asked for a job various times, Ive faced the issue of whether I, as a disabled person, can do the work. So thats been very difficult for me, Ive been accused of coldness etc Since I was a child, one of my dream jobs was to work as a helper in a kindergarten. So guess how it feels to go in therewhen you get the response that youre not allowed to do what you do?

    EXAMPLE 2/2

    Erkki Tuomioja (the former Minister of Foreign Affairs): I think youre one example of how these attitudes and prejudices may be changed, and little by little, it will lead to results. And of course, the Convention reaffirms this, since it equivocally forbids discrimination on [grounds like that]. Such Conventions aiming at diminishing discrimination have existed before, but this will be one more example.

  • SO ARE OUR LIVES POLITICAL? Do instances such as PKN prove that individual lives can make a difference in politics?

    In one sense, bands such as PKN are political, but regarding political processes the matters quite not so simple, since the causal connections between their activities and politics are hard to trace.

    Hypothesis 1: Our lives might be considered reasonably political, if we can trace a causal connection from the life of an individual or a group to political decision-making

    Hypothesis 2: Our lives are political in various ways at a micro scale, as it were since our individual actions may affect the power-relations around us (cf. OED on politics & power)

    How about borderline cases like Pekka Hyysalo: Would it be counter-intuitive to say that the life hes now leading is a political project?


    One possibility: Whether or not our lives are political is up to ourselves! We can fashion our lives so as to make them carry political relevance Political activity: transitioning from cultivation of the self to helping others, helping groups of

    people and empowering them

    Pekka Hyysalo: I can no longer be the best skier, but I can be the best in recover and in helping others.

    Stanley Cavell: moral perfectionism taken non-teleologically as the constant cultivation of yourself is essential to the criticism of democracy from within

    i.e. we cant have democracy unless we have authentic voices in it


    It is the publicity of the public realm which can absorb and make shine through the centuries whatever men may want to save from the natural ruin of time. (HC, 55.)

    Excellence itself, aret as the Greeks, virtus as the Romans would have called it, has always been assigned to the public realm where one could excel, could distinguish oneself from all others. Every activity performed in public can attain an excellence never matched in privacy; for excellence, by definition, the presence of others is always required, and this presence needs the formality of the public, constituted by ones peers, it cannot be the casual, familiar presence of ones equals or interiors. (HC, 4849.)