Discussant/Commentateur/Commentatrice : Joshua Goldstein (University of Calgary)
Rights and Utility in the Early American Republic: James E Crimmins (Huron University College) Abstract: The influence of utilitarianism—initially emanating from Britain in the writings of Paley and Bentham, then later from the hands of American writers—has been given short shrift in histories of American political thought and philosophy in the antebellum period. Traditionally, intellectual historians view this period through the interpretive lens of natural law/rights. The aim of this paper is to challenge this conventional wisdom by bringing to light the ways in which utilitarian ideas surfaced in intellectual, scholarly and political discourse, and to delineate the forms of the relationship between rights and utility in the context of the dissemination of these ideas. Rights and utility are situated as antagonistic ideas in Bentham’s utilitarian critique of the Declaration of Independence. Utility is viewed as the foundation of rights, meaning the only rights justified are those which promote utility, in Lectures on Political Economy (1826) by the South Carolinian Thomas Cooper, and by John Neal in his account of Bentham and his ideas in Principles of Legislation (1830). And, several moralists and philosophers constructed a synthesis between rights and utility, though the resulting ideational structure was not always coherent: this can be seen in Introductory Lecture on the Study of the Law (1822) by Jesse Bledsoe; Chief Justice Nathaniel Chipman’s Principles of Government (1833); Theory of Morals (1844) by the populariser of Bentham’s ideas, Richard Hildreth; A System of Moral Science (1853) and Empirical Psychology (1854) by Laurens Perseus Hickok; and Mental Philosophy (1857) and Moral Philosophy (1859) by Joseph Haven.
Passion, Folly, and the Philosophy of History in Plato's "Symposium": Colin Cordner (Carleton University) Abstract: It is oft recognized that Plato's "Symposium" is an eminently political work. In it, one finds the author exploring issues of civic and philosophic pedagogy, and of Socrates' peculiar, even disastrous failure to educate Alcibiades, with its many political consequences for Greece. However, what is oft ignored is a certain sort of philosophy of history embedded in the dialogue, which gives context to Alcibiades "anoia" (folly) and overweening ambition - it is this dimension of existence which is carefully unpacked by Plato through the dramatic sequence of the symposium's speeches. I shall argue that Plato uses the drama and the symbolism of the dialogue to explore both the new calling and the great hazards which are inaugurated by a final breakthrough from the cosmological form of society, first to a divine-immanent anthropocentrism, then to a fully anthropocentric order defined by personal responsibility in recognition and response to Nous ("Divine Reason"), rather than collective representation in the civic cults. That, on the one hand, Socrates and his life of philosophia represent life in responsible, even joyous acceptance of the calling, while Alcibiades' mania and demonic hubris represents the new possibility (and political problem) of consciously inverting one's existence in a personal revolt against the newly differentiated understanding of reality, human existence, and society.
History as the Remedy for the Present: The Political Intention of Livy's History of Rome: Ryan McKinnell (Memorial University) Abstract: This paper explores Titus Livy’s claim that the benefit of history “is to behold a splendid monument, from which you and your country may emulate and what to avoid.” The paper interprets the intention of Ab Urbe Condita as Livy’s remedy for the corruption besetting Rome during the dissolution of the republic and the beginnings of Augustus’ Principate. Livy argues that when properly written, history can improve our lives both publicly and in private. By instructing his fellow citizens on how their ancestors lived, what their mores were, the character of their leaders and citizens; Livy can demonstrate how Rome excelled at home and abroad. Rather than advising a retreat from public life in the face of civic corruption, Livy’s aim is to offer his history as a remedy for the tribulations of the present and perhaps provide the foundation for a restoration. Livy's claim that the Roman political community did not have one Founding, but was renewed again and again; can serve as a useful model for the navigation of the contemporary decline of political institutions and practices.
Political Theory and Public History: Caitlin Tom (Glendon College, York University) Abstract: The Canadian History Hall at the Canadian Museum of History opened to the public in July 2017. The new History Hall replaced the previous central exhibit dealing with Canadian history and culture, called Canada Hall. The closure of Canada Hall occurred concurrently with a change in the name and mission of the Museum, previously the Canadian Museum of Civilization. Both exhibits have been critiqued for their portrayal of Canadian history and identity and their choices about what stories to tell. This paper uses this example to think about the implications of these and other works of state-supported public history for the political theory of identity. What ideas about national identity, citizenship, and belonging should be expressed in such exhibits? How should staff make decisions about what kinds of story to tell? When the state speaks about history, what should it say? This paper brings work in the political theory of identity and group recognition together with work in museum studies and public history in order to explore (a) the relationship between public history and national and other group-based identities, (b) the implications of work in public history for the political theory of identity, and (c) the importance of grounding contemporary political theory in existing political practice.