On thinking about interpersonal violence and the impotence of force

South African Journal of Philosophy 42 (1):24-36 (2023)
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Abstract

We argue that the problem of violence persists, to a certain degree, because of our refusal or inability to think about traumatic, difficult or “senseless” material systematically. We explore the connection between thinking and violence, and specifically Arendt’s question whether thinking can make men abstain from violence. We are interested in the relationship and tension between knowing and not knowing – as products of thinking – in relation to (also our own capacities for) violence. The tension presents in two main ways. First, thinking is employed to shed light on dark or difficult knowable material, thereby increasing our understanding of ourselves, our place in a troubled society and our relation to violence. Second, thinking bumps up against our ability to know, and it is this unknowability that exposes us to our limits as thinking beings as well as a place of humility and mutual vulnerability. We suggest that paying closer and more nuanced attention to the gender dimensions of the above questions reveals something important about the reasons that gender-based violence persists. We argue, with Arendt, that violence results from non-mastery and that the equation of male power with violence is a lie that violence perpetuates about itself. Similarly, Heberle argues that violence results from the fragile non-cohesiveness of masculine subjectivity and thus also traces the roots of violence to weakness and fragility rather than strength or power. We argue that the antidote for this false mastery and control is thinking.

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Louise du Toit
University of Stellenbosch

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References found in this work

The Sexual Contract.Carole Pateman - 1988 - Ethics 100 (3):658-669.
Feminist theory and Hannah Arendt's concept of public space.Seyla Benhabib - 1993 - History of the Human Sciences 6 (2):97-114.

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