The Social Ontology of Sovereignty: Timeless and Timely Perspectives

March 14, 2024 - March 16, 2024
Facultad de Filosofía y Letras, Universidad de Navarra


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Kings College
University of Vienna


University of Antwerp

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Hans-Bernhard Schmid, University of Vienna
Thomas Pink, King’s College London
Jenny Pelletier, University of Gothenburg / KU Leuven

The University of Navarra invites paper proposals for the 57th annual Philosophical Meetings / Reuniones Filosóficas, to be held March 14-16, 2024  on the theme of the social ontology of sovereignty.  Historically, the conflict between the state and rival forms of social order has prompted much of the best theorizing on the nature of social reality. For instance, the 17th-century alone saw Hobbes’s juridical absolutism, grounded on an ontology of covenants and personification, pitted against Filmer’s divine right theory grounded in a state-family analogy and Bellarmine’s dual theory of popular sovereignty in the state and divine sovereignty in the Church. Medieval and contemporary conflicts of governance have spurred similarly vital social ontological debates among jurists, theologians, and philosophers. The Westphalian state remains very much with us, and the ongoing resurgence of social ontology will do well to turn full attention to the fertile and consequential puzzles that sovereignty continues to raise. What can cool-headed contemporary social ontology and heated real-world debates about the state learn from each other?

We invite historical as well as systematic papers around such questions as:     (non-exhaustive)

  • Which concepts and approaches from social ontology can help to describe and analyse contemporary and historical conceptions of sovereignty?
  • What views of their own nature and functioning are implied by communities that claim to be sovereign, or those that contest such claims?
  • How does the reciprocity implied by collective intentionality relate to the primordial position of sovereignty – i.e. how can a person be really sovereign if her sovereignty depends on its recognition by the subjects of that sovereignty?
  • Is a putatively sovereign community built on the same lines as other social orders, or is it (in its self-understanding or in actuality) radically different?
  • If sovereignty is established by a speech act, by whom is that speech act spoken? Does that distinction map onto the distinction between constituted power and constituent power?
  • How do the implied views of social reality in constitutional or canon law comport with rival social ontologies, or with the facts?
  • Is state sovereignty incompatible with the independent standing of subordinate communal/corporate bodies, as Hobbes thought?
  • What views on social reality have been operative in the historical trajectory of the sovereign state, and what practical or argumentative influence have such views exerted?
  • Can multiple sovereign communities co-exist or overlap, as some thinkers  claim?
  • If sovereignty is a “secularized theological concept,” as Carl Schmitt avers, what (political) theology does it imply and what are the implications for theorizing social reality?
  • Is the theological distinction between divine ordained power and divine absolute power relevant for the understanding of creaturely sovereignty?
  • What social ontology of “the people,” if any, is implied by the claim of popular sovereignty?
  • Can claims to sovereign power ultimately attach to persons, or communities of persons, or both, or neither?
  • How does a claimant to sovereignty relate to that social order over which it is claimed?


Contact the organizing team at  [email protected]
Team Members: Mark Hoipkemier (Navarra), Michaël Bauwens (Antwerp), David Thunder (Strasbourg), Sergio Clavero García (Navarra)

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February 10, 2024, 9:00am CET

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