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1. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 49 > Issue: 1
Matthew Congdon, Alice Crary Social Visibility: Theory and Practice
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i. studies in social visiblity
2. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 49 > Issue: 1
Robert Gooding-Williams Beauty as Propaganda: On the Political Aesthetics of W.E.B. Du Bois
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This paper considers W.E.B. Du Bois’s short story, “Jesus Christ in Texas,” in the perspective of his analysis of the concept of beauty in Darkwater (1920); his exposition of the idea that “all art is propaganda” in “Criteria of Negro Art” (1926); and his moral psychology of white supremacy. On my account, Du Bois holds that beautiful art can help to undermine white supremacy by using representations of moral goodness to expand the white supremacist’s ethical horizons. To defend this thesis, he relies on an image of “the cross and the lynching tree” to revise imagery that he draws from Albrecht Dürer’s 1504 painting, “The Adoration of Kings.”
3. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 49 > Issue: 1
Shatema Threadcraft Making Black Femicide Visible: Intersectional, Abolitionist People-Building Against Epistemic Oppression
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Black women struggle to make the violence they experience visible for at least four reasons: the violence occurs in private, not in public; it is associated with sex, sexuality and intimacy; the violence is not amplified within the public and counterpublic spheres; and, finally and importantly, activists have not been as successful in constructing resonate narratives regarding the violence. Contemporary violence against black men, for example, is often understood through the lens of lynching, a phenomenon that earlier activists were able to link to the biblical crucifixion. The activists’ work ensured that lynching holds an important place in the story of black peoplehood; it helped to make blacks as a political people and has been crucial to black understandings of who we are and why we are here. Social visibility requires that black women tell stories that not only build social movements; they must also tell stories that help to build people.
4. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 49 > Issue: 1
Anika Simpson, Paul C. Taylor Marital Shade: Studies in Intersectional Invisibility
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As legal scholar Ariela Dubler notes, the institution of marriage casts a long shadow across contemporary social life. Much more than a way of conferring social sanction on sexual and romantic relationships, marriage unlocks a wide range of social goods, from inheritance rights to medical records access. In addition, though, and as generations of feminists, queer activists, and others have made clear, this institution is part of a wider network of power relationships that it helps to shore up and conceal. Critics most often point to the way the marital regime quietly reinforces patriarchal, bourgeois liberal, and heteronormative assumptions, hiding them in the shadow of putatively benign, private, and natural social structures. This article brings the overlooked connections between marriage and race out of the shadows and more fully into view. Using and refining a fourfold notion of racial invisibility developed in Taylor’s Black Is Beautiful, we consider two respects in which this ocularcentric metaphor for racialized epistemic short-circuiting is particularly appropriate for discussing the marital regime.
5. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 49 > Issue: 1
Sandra Laugier Paradoxes in the Invisibility of Care Work
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My paper focuses on the theme of visibility by teasing out some paradoxes of invisibility. In the ordinary social world, what is said to be invisible is generally what is here, right before our eyes, but to which we pay no attention. Care is invisible because it goes on without us seeing it. By suddenly making visible what is ordinarily invisible, the COVID pandemic has been a strange pedagogical moment, making visible the people who take care of “us”, and revealing our entire society’s ignorance of what allows it to live—whether in the context of everyday life or in the urgency of the risk of death. The grammar of care has thus imposed itself on everyone, because care is never so visible as in those situations where a form of life is shaken. Care work has been revealed as invisible work that keeps everyone going. “Invisible” does not refer to a difficulty in perceiving but rather a refusal to see. A refusal to see something that is not hidden, but which we do not see precisely because it is right before our eyes. Invisibility is thus denial, in both the social and the theoretical realms, especially when care work is envisioned in the terms of the further invisibilization of care work when it is done for the benefit of women as in the “care drain” from poor to rich countries. The asymmetry in the relations between North and South is part of the invisibility of what sustains societies. The invisible chains of care reveal the extent to which the question of service is the fundamental question of social invisibility.
6. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 49 > Issue: 1
Reginald Dwayne Betts, Lori Gruen Are Prisons Permissible?: Increasing Social Visibility of the Experiences of Incarcerated People
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Class, race, and tough-on-crime political platforms are three of the most discussed, and thus most visible, forces that contribute to mass incarceration. The analysis of each of these forces has been illuminating, yet these broad narratives tend to obscure the burden of prison for those locked up within them. The social narratives that have developed to help understand the prison industrial system often inadvertently obscure the complex experiences and losses endured by prisoners. The psychic and physical toll that accrues from decades of social exile, the affronts to dignity that “corrections” regularly impose, and the injuries to one’s sense of themselves and their relationships that prison foments haven’t received the attention they deserve. This essay explores the question of the permissibility of causing harm through imprisonment and social abandonment, arguing that any adequate answer must make the particular experiences and actual concerns of incarcerated people socially visible.
7. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 49 > Issue: 1
Susan J. Brison Valuing the Lives of People with Profound Intellectual Disabilities
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Some prominent contemporary ethicists, including Peter Singer and Jeff McMahan, do not consider human beings with profound intellectual disabilities to have the same moral status as “normal” people. They hold that individuals who lack sufficiently sophisticated cognitive abilities have the same moral value as nonhuman animals with similar cognitive capacities, such as pigs or dogs. Their goal—to elevate the moral standing of sentient nonhuman animals—is an admirable one which I share. I argue, however, that their strategy does not, in fact, achieve this goal and that there are better ways to advance it than to attach lesser value to the lives of profoundly intellectually disabled persons.
ii. questions of method surrounding social visiblity
8. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 49 > Issue: 1
Matthew Congdon The Aesthetics of Moral Address
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Acts of interpersonal moral address depend upon a shared space of social visibility in which human beings can both display themselves and perceive others as morally important. This raises questions that have gone largely undiscussed in recent philosophical work on moral address. How does the social mediation of interpersonal perception by forces such as ideology shape and limit the possibilities for moral address? And how might creative acts of putting oneself on display make possible unanticipated forms of moral address, especially under ideological conditions? In this paper, I propose that we can make progress towards answering such questions by treating moral address as a fundamentally aesthetic phenomenon. I begin by drawing examples from literature that invite the idea that humans and animals possess ethically value-laden features that are open to empirical view, and argue that approaches to moral address that do not avail themselves of this idea face serious limits, focusing on Stephen Darwall’s The Second-Person Standpoint. I then illustrate the role of the aesthetic in moral address by offering a reading of the “Capitol Crawl,” a 1990 direct action in which people with disabilities left behind assistive devices in order to ascend the stairs leading to the US Capitol. Drawing from some ideas in Iris Murdoch, I argue that the aesthetically striking features of this collective act of moral address are inseparable from the moral demands it expresses, and that, read as an aesthetic whole, its morally expressive power extends beyond the discursive while nevertheless remaining a part of the space of reasons.
9. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 49 > Issue: 1
Karen Ng Humanism: A Defense
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This paper develops an approach to humanist social critique that combines insights from Marx and Fanon. I argue that the concept of the human operative in humanist social critique should be understood both as the normative background against which questions of human flourishing and dehumanization can come into view, and as the evolving demand for universal human emancipation. Far from being abstract, essentialist, or ahistorical, Marx and Fanon show that humanist social critique operates through a dialectic between particular, socially and historically situated forms of oppression and struggle, and the universal species-context of the human life-form in which particular forms of suffering and injustice can come into view as instances of dehumanization. In developing this approach to humanist social critique, I defend humanism against three prominent objections: the charge of speciesism, the charge of essentialism, and the recent charge from Kate Manne who argues that humanism underdescribes relations of social antagonism and that recognition of humanity is compatible with inhumane treatment. In addition to considering the necessary relation between the particular and the universal, I also consider the relation between the psychological and social/political, arguing against the recent approach to the problem of dehumanization in the work of David Livingstone Smith.
10. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 49 > Issue: 1
David Beaver, Jason Stanley Neutrality
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Neutrality functions as an ideal in deliberation—we are supposed to have a neutral standpoint in debate, speak without bias or taking sides. We argue against the ideal of neutrality. We sketch how a theory of meaning could avoid commitment even to the coherence of a neutral space of discourse for exchanging reasons. In a model that accepts the ideal of neutrality, what makes propaganda exceptional is its non-neutrality. However, a critique of propaganda cannot take the form of “clearing out” the obstacles for a “neutral space of discourse for exchanging reasons”, since that is to misunderstand how speech works. Such a critique would suggest that any emotive appeal is fundamentally undemocratic, and would delegitimize almost all historical protest movements. In this paper, we contrast a neo-Fregean picture of the neutral core of language with our own practice-based view, a view that takes political propaganda and the language of protest as central cases, and in which all language practice is understood as fundamentally perspectival.
11. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 49 > Issue: 1
Alice Crary Neutrality, Critique, and Social Visibility: Response to David Beaver and Jason Stanley
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This piece continues an exchange between David Beaver and Jason Stanley, on the one hand, and Alice Crary, on the other, to which Beaver’s and Stanley’s “Neutrality” (immediately above) is a contribution. All three authors agree that the critique of ideology, propaganda, and oppressive structures should not be conceived as eliminating socially-situated perspectives and subjectively-mediated sensibilities from an allegedly neutral discursive space. Their exchange began with Crary’s 2018 article, “The Methodological as Political: What’s the Matter with ‘Analytic Feminism’?” which attacks appeals to neutrality, including one Crary finds in Stanley’s 2015 book, How Propaganda Works, for obscuring a pivotal methodological insight of radical feminist thought, namely, that feminism’s political radicalism is complemented by a “methodological radicalism that involves making use of the practical power of ethically non-neutral resources, conceived as in themselves cognitively authoritative” (Crary 2018: 47). This new reply argues that Beaver’s and Stanley’s practice-based image of language, while at first seemingly aligned with this rejection of neutrality as an ideal for political discourse, fails to fully respond to her original complaint. The ideal of neutrality is problematic, not only in masking social location, but in wrongly impugning as ‘non-cognitive’ or ‘irrational’ critical resources drawn from socially-situated perspectives—the sorts of perspectives to which notable strands of feminist theory give voice precisely for their cognitive value. The current piece claims that to address this further danger it is necessary to go beyond Beaver’s and Stanley’s study of meaning and critically examine engrained philosophical assumptions about how to construe logical notions such as objectivity and truth. It closes by suggesting that, within philosophy of language broadly conceived, the tradition of ordinary language philosophy provides a more promising source of resources and illumination for struggles to make gender-based and overlapping forms of structural bias socially visible.
12. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 48 > Issue: 2
Samuel Arnold No Community without Socialism: Why Liberal Egalitarianism Is Not Enough
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As G. A. Cohen’s camping trip argument shows, community is an important value. But is there anything particularly socialist about it? Critics suggest not. Jason Brennan argues that we don’t need socialist institutions to secure community; capitalist ones will do just fine. Louis-Philippe Hodgson argues, in a similar spirit, that we don’t need explicitly socialist principles to secure community; standard-issue liberal egalitarian ones (like Rawls’s) suffice. But these critics are mistaken. Pace Brennan, I show that capitalism inevitably runs roughshod over community. Pace Hodgson, I show that Rawls’s justice as fairness cannot, absent explicitly socialist supplementation, adequately protect community. In sum, I show that advocates of community must also, and for that reason, be advocates for distinctively socialist principles and institutions. Or, in a slogan: no community without socialism.
13. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 48 > Issue: 2
Elvira Basevich W. E. B. Du Bois’s Socialism: On the Social Epistemology of Democratic Reason
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W. E. B. Du Bois’s socialism has provoked debate for decades. His democratic theory and critique of political economy champions democratic socialism. In this article, I offer a philosophical reconstruction of the normative foundation of his democratic socialism in three steps. First, I argue that his philosophy of the modern democratic state supports the people’s advance of the principle of free and equal citizenship or civic equality. Next, I present his critique of the modern American welfare state, which asserts the fair value of political liberty and democratic control over productive activities. Finally, I introduce the method of the excluded groups from Darkwater as an ideal procedure for guiding democratic deliberation in a profoundly nonideal public sphere. The method foregrounds the voices of excluded groups to correct asymmetrical relations of practical power and to infuse democratic reason with practical intelligence, namely, new content and values that can lead to the development of a democratic socialist state.
14. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 48 > Issue: 2
Pablo Gilabert Alienation, Freedom, and Dignity
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The topic of alienation has fallen out of fashion in social and political philosophy. It used to be salient, especially in socialist thought and in debates about labor practices in capitalism. Although the lack of identification of people with their working lives—their alienation as workers—remains practically important, normative engagement with it has been set back by at least four objections. They concern the problems of essentialist views, a mishandling of the distinction between the good and the right, the danger of paternalistic impositions, and the significance of democratic authorization. This paper recasts the critique of alienation in a way that vindicates its importance for social and political philosophy and rebuts these objections. First, it provides an analytic framework to understand alienation—distinguishing its various conceptual, explanatory, and normative dimensions. Second, it accounts for the normative aspect of the critique of alienation by articulating it in terms of prudential and moral ideas of positive freedom regarding human flourishing and Solidaristic Empowerment. Finally, the normative account is developed further, and sharpened to respond to the four objections, through the introduction of the Dignitarian Approach—the view that we have reason to organize social life in such a way that we respond appropriately to the valuable features of individual human beings that give rise to their dignity.
15. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 48 > Issue: 2
Carol C. Gould Socializing the Means of Free Development
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This paper investigates the import for a conception of democratic socialism of Marx’s well-known principle “From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs,” arguing that it is best taken together with another of his principles: “The free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.” It considers their implications for the near term rather than some possible ultimate form of communal society, and also brings in a principle that I have developed previously—equal positive freedom—which in some ways synthesizes the other two. In analyzing the abilities and needs principle, the notion and extent of needs are explicated, seeing them as including not only material needs, but needs for recognition and for relationships. Marx’s crucial insight that distribution largely depends on the organization of the production process also comes into play. On these bases, the paper proposes that a system of democratically managed firms forms the centerpiece for democratic socialism, supplemented by some other institutions that would work to meet basic needs. The paper also proposes a role for the norms of reciprocity and solidarity, in addition to those of freedom and equality that are most evident in the three principles. Finally, the relative inattention to social reproduction in the early Marxist tradition is addressed with an interpretation of the notion of socializing care and a consideration of its import for institutional design, including cooperative ways of providing such care. Throughout, Marx’s distinctive notions of social individuality, socialized wealth, and the free development of individuals are appealed to for the guidance they can provide for interpreting the abilities/needs principle for the period ahead.
16. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 48 > Issue: 2
Alex Gourevitch Themselves Must Strike the Blow: The Socialist Argument for Strikes and Self-Emancipation
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Socialists know that they ought to defend strikes, but why? The best argument is that strikes are acts of self-emancipation. The ideal of self-emancipation lies at the heart of socialist political theory. It is up to workers to emancipate themselves, not just because it takes class power to overthrow capitalism, but because there is an intrinsic connection between class struggle and socialist freedom. Workers can only possess and exercise the freedoms they are denied, but ought to enjoy, if they demand that freedom for themselves, through their own, collective activity. Strikes are an essential way of both winning and exercising those denied freedoms. They are therefore a path to, and partial realization of, the ideal of self-emancipation to which socialists are, or ought to be, committed.
17. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 48 > Issue: 2
S.M. Love Socialism and Freedom
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Socialism has long been thought by many to be the enemy of freedom. Here, I argue that in order to understand the relationship between socialism and freedom, we must have a better idea both of what socialism is and of what it is to have a right to freedom. To start, I argue that the right to freedom is best understood as a right to direct one’s own will in the world consistently with the rights of others to do the same. This Kantian conception of the right to freedom is importantly different from the ubiquitous conception of freedom as negative liberty: with this Kantian conception, one’s right to freedom is limited to directing one’s own will and does not include a right to direct the wills of others. I then argue that socialism, like the right to freedom, is often misunderstood: today, socialists often argue for robustly democratic forms of socialism that are far from the autocratic so-called “socialist” regimes of the last century. With a better understanding of both socialism and the right to freedom, we can see that the right to freedom is indeed compatible with a robustly democratic form of socialism.
18. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 48 > Issue: 2
Martin O’Neill Social Justice and Economic Systems: On Rawls, Democratic Socialism, and Alternatives to Capitalism
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This essay is concerned with the question of what kind of economic system would be needed in order to realize Rawls’s principles of social justice. Hitherto, debates about ‘property-owning democracy’ and ‘liberal socialism’ have been overly schematic, in various respects, and have therefore missed some of the most important issues regarding the relationships between social justice and economic institutions and systems. What is at stake between broadly capitalist or socialist economic systems is not in fact a simple choice in a single dimension, but rather a range of choices across a range of different dimensions. This essay, then, has a dual objective: first, it aims to provide a richer account of this normative territory, while showing how issues of economic democracy, decommodification and the limits of markets, and the role of democratic economic planning, all raise questions of justice that are not well captured by focusing only on questions of ownership. Second, it aims to show how the case for democratic socialism can be developed from Rawlsian foundations, in a way that is sensitive to the normative affinities between Rawlsian liberal egalitarianism and democratic socialism, and which attends carefully to the different kinds of institutional elements which a stable, just, and democratic society would require. Taking these aims together, the hope is that we can move onward to a richer debate about the ways in which the realization of democratic socialist institutions may be seen as a requirement of social justice.
19. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 48 > Issue: 2
Tom O’Shea What Is Economic Liberty?
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Economic liberty is best understood in opposition to economic domination. This article develops a radical republican conception of such domination. In particular, I argue that radical republicanism provides a more satisfactory account of individual economic freedom than the market-friendly liberties of working, transacting, holding, and using championed by Nickel and Tomasi. So too, it avoids the pitfalls of other conceptions of economic liberty which emphasize real freedom, alternatives to immiserating work, or unalienated labor. The resulting theory holds that economic domination occurs when someone’s access to civic capabilities is contingent on the arbitrary economic power of others. Socialist institutions—suitably configured—can deliver on this individual economic freedom, allowing the dominating power of proprietors, shareholders, landlords, and managers to be kept in check, and providing an unconditional minimum that allows individual citizens to be less beholden to others in meeting many of their most fundamental civic needs. Thus, I conclude that socialism can be championed as a politics of individual economic liberty.
20. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 48 > Issue: 2
Christine Sypnowich What’s Wrong with Equality of Opportunity
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How do we know if people are equal? Contemporary philosophers consider a number of issues when determining if the goals of egalitarian distributive justice have been achieved: defining the metric of equality; determining whether the goal is equality, or simply priority or sufficiency; establishing whether there should be conditions, e.g. bad brute luck, for the amelioration of inequality. In all this, most egalitarians contend that what is to be equalized is not people’s actual shares of the good in question, but rather, the opportunities to have such shares. I counter this view with an ‘egalitarian flourishing’ approach that, in seeking to make people equal in actual well-being, takes exception to the role of opportunity in contemporary argument. The flourishing view means a focus on outcomes, on how people live, in order to enable people to live equally flourishing lives. I argue that if we consider the complex dynamics of choice and circumstance, the role of nonmaterial considerations and the ideal of an egalitarian community, equality of opportunity proves to be an inadequate approach to the realization of the egalitarian ideal.