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)
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.
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)
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)
In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in 1987, the Russian-born American poet Joseph Brodsky argued that aesthetics is the mother of ethics. However, there is an ambiguity in his use of the term aesthetics. In the first part of this article, I distinguish between Brodsky’s narrow use of aesthetics, which refers to problems of beauty, and the broader sense, which refers to the cognitive function of sensibility and feeling. I then suggest that good sense can be made of the claim (...) about the origins of ethics only if we employ the broader sense of aesthetics. The second part draws on examples from Brodsky and the American poet Jorie Graham to illustrate the ways in which the feelings generated by human sensuous receptivity transform the world from a meaningless physical system into meaningful sets of life-valuable relationships. The third part sharpens this conclusion by considering the conditions under which the world can appear to be meaningless. In the final section I link Brodsky’s poetic responsiveness to the world to John McMurtry’s philosophical analysis of “the felt side of being.” Poetic evocation and philosophical argument are two approaches to the same problem which, when brought together, provide a comprehensive explanation of why aesthetics is the mother of ethics. (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)
Jeff Noonan traces the development of humanist values from the ancient philosophies of India, China, and Greece, to contemporary struggles against oppression. Embodied Humanism argues that humanism is a critical social philosophy in which need-satisfaction and life-enjoyment have always been paramount.
Providing a new philosophical foundation for thinking about old problems such as class inequality, this concise and accessible book explores the concept of and problems associated with democracy. Ideal for students in politics and philosophy, the book informs new structural and institutional responses to these problems.
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)
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)
At different times Horkheimer, Adorno, and Marcuse argued that immortality is a condition of overcoming misery and achieving complete human freedom. Their arguments were made before “practical immortality” had become a concrete scientific project. The difference between what was then and what is now scientifically possible alters the ethical and political value of the idea of immortality. Had the first generation of critical theorists occupied the present historical moment, they would have realized that science harnessed to the demand for limitless (...) life would not solve the kind of ethical and existential problems they hoped it would. I argue that the scientific struggle against human finitude is driven by the same egocentric concern for money and self-maximization that early critical theory diagnosed as the main psychological pathology caused by capitalism. Finitude, I conclude, is the price human beings must pay if they are to live free and meaningful lives. (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 paper explores the ways in which neoliberal schooling is threatening education. We define education as the development of cognitive and imaginative capacities for understanding of and critical engagement with social reality. Education opens horizons of possibility for collective and individual life-experience and activity by exposing the one-sidedness and contradictions of ruling-value systems. Schooling, by contrast, subordinates thought and imagination to the reproduction of the ruling money-value system, narrowing horizons of possibility for collective and individual life to service to the (...) prevailing structure of power. Our paper draws on our overlapping experiences as educators, one in the university system, the other in the adult education system. In both systems, students’ life-requirement for education is subordinated to the capitalist need for compliant wage-labourers and consumers. In opposition to this instrumentalization we will present an interpretation of “real world education” as a unique form of collective work through which teachers and students construct alternatives that can serve as the guiding ideas for new projects for social and political transformation. (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)
This essay is a review ofKarl Marx and Contemporary Philosophy. While the text will provide even knowledgeable Marxist readers with new insights on key texts and concepts in Marx, it nevertheless fails to intervene in crucial contemporary philosophical debates. The book is concerned less with the contemporary significance of Marxist philosophyas philosophyand more with re-reading classical Marxist texts in a contemporary context. This job it does well, but leaves the more important question of what Marxists have to say about fundamental (...) philosophical problems today unaddressed for the most part. (shrink)
(1999). Subjecthood and Self-Determination: The Limitations of Postmodernism as Democratic Theory. Canadian Journal of Philosophy: Vol. 29, Supplementary Volume 25: Civilization and Oppression, pp. 147-169.
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.
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.