Session 10: The Ethical Turn

2nd Global Conference

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Friday 12th March – Sunday 14th March 2010
Salzburg, Austria


Time, Interdisciplinarity, and Ethics in Autopoietic Cultures
Scott H. Boyd
Middle East Technical University, Northern Cyprus Campus

When Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela introduced autopoiesis in 1971 it was “to designate the organization of a minimal living system.” Since then the term has followed an evolutionary path of natural drift and has been used to described non-living systems including legal, political, academic, and corporate. In short, it has been applied to any system that is seen as “one that continuously produces the components that specify it, while at the same time realizing it (the system) as a concrete unity in space and time.” Though unique in its biological origins and initial goals, autopoiesis is phenomenological and bears resemblance to other theories which place human creativity or thought as means of constructing the world, such as “nomos” described by John Berger in the late 1960’s. However, the consideration of time and engagement with the world in Maturana and Varela’s autopoiesis is closer to Dasein in Heidegger. This paper argues that cultures are autopoietic and inclusive of these and other theories as organized networks of processes (disciplines) of production (synthesis and destruction) and of components (language, behaviors, objects, beliefs) that continuously regenerate realizing the networks that produce them. Considering cultures as autopoietic allows that they are autonomous and autonomic systems existing in a continuous present. Secondly, such consideration reduces the primacy and power of disciplinary definitions and distinctions developed within a paradigm of representational (objective) analysis and instead privileges organization rather than structure and the relationship between cognition and action. Thirdly, if cultures are autopoietic, then every act takes place in language and, according to Maturana and Varela, “is an act of constitution of the human world.” Thus, every act has an ethical meaning because every act “brings forth a world created with others in the act of coexistence.”

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From Decision to Event: Complicating Badiou’s Politics of Truth
John McSweeney
Milltown Institute, Dublin

Building upon the formal ontology of Being and Event [1985], Alain Badiou’s Logics of Worlds [2006] offers a more thoroughgoing analysis of the practical contours of a ‘politics of truth’ in which the subject does not condition the possibility of the event, as in post-Kantian philosophy, but is constituted via its faithfulness to it. In particular, beyond its constitutive relation of fidelity to the event, he allows for a subject that is always embodied within a situation and whose fidelity involves forming its body and, by extension its world, in accordance with the truth of the event through the negotiation of a series of critical “points” within the situation – “‘isolated’ site[s] in which the otherwise infinitely ramified complexity of a world may in principle be filtered through the logical equivalent of a binary ‘decision’” (Hallward). More so, Badiou grants importance, especially within a capitalist world largely evacuated of such “points”, to the role of what might strictly be termed pre-subjective actions which prepare critically for the encounter with the event, should it occur. In this way, Badiou seeks to define a political action within culture, which nonetheless is not circumscribed by culture – the latter always already being ideologically inscribed.

This paper explores how this distinction between politics and culture, nevertheless, proves more complex than Badiou supposes. In particular, it considers how his ontology begins with a decision which structures an ontology of the event in such a way as to support a conception of subjectivity defined by a constitutive decision of fidelity. Decision and event, it is argued, are thus implicated in a relation of mutual causality, which is consistent only if Badiou reverts to the formalism of Being and Event, or if he allows a more complicated relation between culture and politics, the pre-subjective and the strictly subjective. Only the latter can be considered to ground a politics of truth, if Badiou is to escape the charge of ethical decisionism, suggesting that Badiou’s most formal of ontologies is already, partially and unavoidably, a cultural-political act.

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The Ethical Turn and Post-Marxism: Some Critical Remarks
Paul Reynolds
Reader in Sociology and Social Philosophy, Edge Hill University, Ormskirk, Lancashire

No abstract is presently available