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.
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)
The most influential theories of oppression have argued that belief in some shared human essence or nature is ultimately responsible for the injustices suffered by women, First Nations peoples, blacks, gays and lesbians, and colonised people and have insisted that struggles against oppression must be mounted from the unique and different perspectives of different groups. Jeff Noonan argues instead that such difference must be seen to be anchored in a conception of human beings as self-creative. Unless freedom and self-determination are (...) accepted as universal values, the moral force of arguments against exclusion and oppression is lost. Noonan shows that at the core of postmodern philosophy, with its claim that culture creates humans, is a concern to dethrone the modern understanding of human beings as subjects, as builders of their world and free when those world-building activities are the outcome of free choices. He explains that because the postmodern conception of human being does not capture what is universal in all humans it is incapable of critically responding to the forcible subordination of different cultures to European "humanity." When oppressed groups explain why they struggle against oppression, they invoke just that idea of human being as subjectivity that postmodern philosophy claims is the basis of oppression. Noonan argues that the voices of cultural differences, when they struggle against the forces of hatred and exclusion, do not ground themselves just in the particular value of their culture but in the universal value of human freedom and self-determination. (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)
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.
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 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)
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)
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.
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)
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)
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.
(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.
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.
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)
Marx is famous for apparently dismissing the practical role of philosophy. Yet, as accumulating empirical knowledge of growing life-crises proves, the simply availability of facts is insufficient to motivate struggles for fundamental change. So too manifest social crisis. The economic crisis which began in 2008 has indeed motivated social struggles, but nothing on the order of the revolutionary struggles Marx expected. Rather than make Marx irrelevant, however, the absence of global struggles for truly radical change make his early engagement with (...) the role of philosophy more important than ever. This engagement suggests a conception of philosophy as a uniquely practical discipline distinguished from empirical science by its unique capacity to synthesise values from the facts of life. The article examines the development of this conception of philosophy in Marx’s early work and concludes with the outlines for a new critical philosophy capable of generating a new set of universal values necessary to motivate anti-capitalist struggles today. (shrink)