Ethics and Politics of Imagination
- European Research Council
- Austrian Science Fund
Talks at this conference
Two workshops related to the projects The Limits of Imagination: Animals, Empathy, Anthropomorphism (P35137-G; funded by the FWF) and Prefiguring Democratic Futures: Cultural and Theoretical Responses to the Crisis of Political Imagination (PREDEF 101055015; funded by the ERC)
· First workshop session: Oct 13th and 14th 2023, Innsbruck, Austria
· Second workshop session: April 12th and 13th 2024, Vienna, Austria
Organized by Martin Huth (Department of Philosophy, University of Innsbruck) & Sergej Seitz (Department of Political Science, University of Vienna)
The concept of imagination plays a significant, yet sometimes underestimated or concealed role in the history of as well as in current debates in practical philosophy.
Ethics problematizes whether or to what extent imagination forms a basis or at least an irreducible part of moral judgments and behavior. For instance, our treatment of people with non-normative embodiment (Garland-Thomson 2017) may depend on our capacity to empathize with them and to imagine their specific way of being in the world. While it is often claimed that this is easily possible, imaginative empathy is a complex phenomenon. An illustrative example is the case of epistemic injustice as analyzed by Fricker (2009). The tacit inability to imagine that, for example, people with cognitive disabilities can be capable knowers forms the basis of systematic exclusion and disrespect. Generally, hegemonic socio-cultural frames of the “deviant” tend to picture their way of being in the world through the lens of privation; hence, comprehension and perceptions are in some respect rooted in politically saturated schemes. This may well lead to paternalism, infantilization, or even dehumanization. With regard to non-human beings, current debates scrutinize whether and to what extent we are capable of imagining what it is like to be a pig, a lizard or a bat. Traditionally, we face widespread skepticism concerning this capability (Nagel 1974), which involves an inability to determine if and to what extent animals suffer in factory farms or during experiments, thus paving the way for the reification of animals.
In politics, imagination is considered in its relevance for forming political judgments as well as in regard to how imaginary dispositives stabilize or destabilize the status quo of a given political order. The neoliberal-capitalist hegemony forecloses the very possibility to imagine institutions and political relations substantially different from the status quo. As Margaret Thatcher’s notorious TINA dictum ‘There is No Alternative’ suggests, ‘radical imagination’ (Castoriadis 1975) and a lively political sense of possibility are repressed. Following this line of thought, it seems urgent to rethink the political’s imaginary dimensions both in its stabilizing (ideological) as well as in its possibility-disclosing and subversive capacities. While the latter is classically explicated in terms of utopia, more recent work questions the blueprint character of classical utopias and focuses instead on how political movements enact and experiment with different forms of life and new relationalities. Much-discussed notions in this respect are prefiguration (van de Sande 2023, Sörensen 2023) and pre-enactment (Marchart 2019), pointing to how political imagination is not only a mental-pictorial, but essentially a practical and collective matter.
This double workshop proceeds from the conviction that to thoroughly rethink imagination requires bridging and interweaving ethical and political perspectives. From the perspective of ethics, it is indispensable to tackle the problem of politically saturated schemes since they predetermine the possibilities and limits of perceiving, imagining, and comprehending others. In this view, ethics is not restricted to ethical criteria and deliberation, but is mindful of the bodily and pre-reflective prerequisites of ethical responsiveness. Political imaginaries constitute alternative frames of perception and comprehension as well as new versions of inclusion and (multi-species) cohabitation. In turn, from the perspective of politics, it seems indispensable to acknowledge different versions of living in the world as prerequisites for imaginaries that are considerable as meaningful alternatives to the status quo.
Against this background, exploring the possibilities and limits of imagination is crucial both for comprehending the ethical aporias as well as the political antagonisms of our times. To this end, the double workshop convenes researchers from all fields of practical philosophy, political theory, sociology, pedagogics, and related disciplines, which tackle the following or further related questions:
· How shall we describe the phenomenon of imagination and its ethical and/or political relevance?
· What role does imagination play in moral decision making? What role should it play?
· To what extent and in what way is imagination pre-determined by hegemonic socio-cultural frames? In other words, how is the relation between imagination and the imaginary to be conceived?
· How can we determine the limits of imagination? Can we extend these limits, and if so, how is that possible?
· How is imagination related to democracy? Is there such a thing as a specifically democratic imagination?