Talk: Terrorism and Reductionism, by Anosike Wilson (4 November 2010)

Graduate Seminar Series: 4 November 2010, 2-4pm, AS3-05-23; Speaker: Anosike Wilson; Current PhD Student, NUS

Abstract:In an attempt to separate the concept of War with that of Terrorism, most Political Philosophers co-opt all human spaces which can justify group-violence into that of the political. The resultant effect is “Terrorism” being imbued with logic and rationality at the expense of human-spaces—even that of the trivial and farcical—that can serve as spaces of human renewal and rejuvenation. I therefore argue that identifying or conceptualizing terrorism only as politically motivated violence is not only futile but pernicious. Hence, any conception of “Terrorism,” for it to be practically relevant, cannot avoid the idea of the terrorist as a psychopath or a fanatic.

wilsonAbout the Speaker: Anosike Wilson is a final Year PhD student of the Philosophy Department with an interest in moral questions regarding War and Terrorism.

More information on the Graduate Seminar Series can be found here.

Talk 1: “Violating the Inviolable Conscience?”, by Koh Kia Ling, Charlene (28th October 2010, 2-3pm)

Philosophy Seminar Series: 28 October 2010, 2-3pm, AS3-05-23;
Speaker: Koh Kia Ling, Charlene, Current MA Student, NUS;
Moderator: Dr. Christopher Brown

CharleneAbstract: In “The Liberal Archipelago: A Theory of Diversity and Freedom”, Chandran Kukathas addresses the problem of multiculturalism by focusing on the question of what is to be done if not everyone agrees with a theory of justice. His resultant conception of the good society is one that respects liberty of conscience because living according to the dictates of one’s conscience is of common interest to all persons. I attempt to put forth a criticism of this interest-based account by examining the difficulty of excluding conscience-driven claims.

About the Speaker: Charlene is currently pursuing a Masters degree in NUS. Her areas of interest include the philosophy of religion.

More information on the Graduate Seminar Series can be found here.

Talk 3: Postmodern Government?, by Zhang Ming (28th October 2010, 4-5pm)

Philosophy Seminar Series: 28 October 2010, 4-5pm, AS3-05-23;
Speaker: Zhang Ming , Current PhD Student, NUS;
Moderator: Dr. Christopher Brown

Zhang MingAbstract: In the presentation I am going to develop a notion of postmodern government through a reconstruction of Lyotard’s postmodernism and Nuyen’s postmodern ethics which is drawn out from Lyotard’s theory. The key step of the reconstruction is to reinterpret metanarrative itself as the consequence of totalization. Then I can redefine the postmodern condition as an ideal form of free society rather than a society that is still full of the wrongs of différend. But it will not be achieved at the beginning of the presentation. Instead, firstly I will give a brief introduction of Lyotard’s postmodern condition. To offer a basic framework for my argument, I will then offer a description of Nuyen’s postmodern ethics in my own terms of micro ethics and macro ethics. Then I will confirm the identification of two kinds of terrorism that we can draw out from Lyotard’s works, namely, the violent terrorism and the white terrorism of totality, and emphasize that the white terrorism shares the same structure with the violent terrorism. To deal with the two kinds of terrorism, two strategies will be drawn out from Lyotard’s works, what Nuyen called the political strategy and the reflective strategy. After this I will do the key step mentioned above and then go further to put forth the notion of postmodern government with a reflection on the role of government in dealing with the two kinds of terrorism.

About the Speaker: Zhang Ming completed his undergraduate and master programme of philosophy in Jilin University, China. Now he is a PhD student in first year in department of Philosophy, NUS. His interest is mainly focused on issues of distributive justice and theories of postmodernism. Email address:

More information on the Graduate Seminar Series can be found here.

Talk: “E Pluribus Plurum, or, How to Fail to Get to Utopia In Spite of Really Trying”, by Chandran Kukathas (24 August 2010)

Philosophy Seminar Series: 24 August 2010, 2-4pm, Philosophy Resource Room; Speaker: Chandran Kukathas (Chair in Political Theory,  Department of Politics, London School of Economics); Moderator: Dr. Tang Weng Hong

Abstract: ‘The framework for utopia,’ Robert Nozick tells us at the beginning of the final section of Part III of Anarchy, State and Utopia, ‘is equivalent to the minimal state.’  The rich and complex body of argumentation of Parts I and II had produced the conclusion that the minimal, and no more than a minimal, state was legitimate or morally justified. What Part III reveals is that the minimal state ‘is the one that best realizes the utopian aspirations of untold dreamers and visionaries.'(333) Though this happy convergence is surely no accident, neither, Nozick insists, is it contrived, for it is the conclusion reached by two independent lines of argument. If there is a framework for utopia-or, as I shall from now simply say, utopia-it is the minimal state.

The obvious question to ask, then, is whether Nozick is right that the minimal state gives us utopia-understanding utopia in the way that he would have us do. The thesis of this paper is that Nozick does not succeed. What Part III offers is neither a plausible account of a utopian community nor the inspiring conception of a state that Nozick promises. The root of the problem lies in Nozick’s initial rejection of anarchy, for the idea of utopia he wants to defend is one that is achievable outside the state but not within it. What he tries to do in Part III is to put back into his political philosophy that which was taken away in Part I, when the legitimacy of the minimal state’s incorporation of ultra-minimal states was settled. It is within the framework of the minimal state ‘that one’s nonimperialistic vision of the good society is to be propounded and realized.’ (332) Indeed Nozick tells us that ‘Allowing us to do that is what the framework is for.'(332) The aim of this paper is to show that the framework can do no such thing. In the end, the purpose of the state is to limit rather than enable people’s pursuit of diverse ends. It is a way of making the many live as one. To the extent that those who do not wish to conform are compelled to do so, the state suppresses rather than enables the pursuit of diverse ideals. Of course, it may be that this is as much as is feasible in human society. But it may be too much to call this utopia.

ChandranAbout the Speaker: Chandran Kukathas completed his BA in History and Political Science at the Australian National University and his MA in Politics at the University of New South Wales before going on to a DPhil in Politics at Oxford University. He has taught at the Royal Military College, Canberra; Oxford; the Australian National University; the University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy; and the University of Utah, where he held the Neal Maxwell Chair in Political Theory in the Department of Political Science. His research interests include contemporary liberal political thought, multiculturalism, nationalism, and the politics of diversity, Libertarianism and political thinkers such as Bayle, Hume, Rawls, Hayek and Oakeshott.

More information on the Philosophy Seminar Series can be found here. A list of past talks in the series can be found here.

E Pluribus Plurum, or How to Fail to Get to Utopia In Spite of Really Trying