The Concept of Utopia and Its Function

March 25, 2022 - March 26, 2022

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Vytautas Magnus University
West Virginia University
Ruhr-Universität Bochum

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The ambiguity of utopia as a philosophical idea and project is reflected in the term coined by Thomas More, which can be read as '[e]u-topia' (a good place) or ‘[o]u-topia’ (no place), meaning something that is impossible to achieve. In the post-WWII world, ‘utopia’ took on yet another meaning as a dangerous idea that coincided with totalitarian, genocidal regimes from Nazi Germany to Khmer Rouge Cambodia and up to the present day. At the philosophical level, this negative sense of utopia was highlighted and developed by Berlin, Arendt, and Popper, amongst others. Today the two negative senses of ‘utopia’ – as useless and dangerous – predominate while other senses of the term and especially positive ones seem to have been occluded. 

This workshop seeks to redress this imbalance by focusing on two main questions:

(1) What alternative philosophical concepts of utopia exist and what are the components that make them up? Relevant components for the concept of utopia might include: the impossibility of utopias, their imaginary aspect, their temporal dimension, etc.

(2) What philosophical function, if any, ought the concept of utopia to serve? Should it be a means of critiquing present-day society, politics, and/or culture? Should it serve as a model for actual change? Or perhaps be seen as a thought experiment to test the viability of alternatives to the status quo? More broadly, do we as philosophers need a concept of utopia at all?

We welcome papers that address the above questions from a variety of perspectives, including the history of philosophy, philosophical and literary utopias, as well as contemporary investigations of relevant concepts and ideas.

To be considered please submit a 300-500 word abstract and a copy of your recent CV to [email protected] by the 1st February, 2022. We will inform applicants about the decision by the 10th February, 2022. 

Each presenter will receive 30-40 minutes to present their paper, with additional time for questions and discussion. We also plan to pursue a publication (an edited volume or a special journal issue) based on the conference.

The conference will be held fully online (Zoom).

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