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    Tom Marshall, Modernity as Event: Nominalism, community and the political in International Relations Theory

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    Johnathan R. Razorback
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    Date d'inscription : 12/08/2013
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    Tom Marshall, Modernity as Event: Nominalism, community and the political in International Relations Theory

    Message par Johnathan R. Razorback le Ven 29 Jan - 21:44

    http://www.academia.edu/1149164/_Modernity_as_Event_Nominalism_community_and_the_political_in_International_Relations_Theory_

    The Nominalist Revolution and the Problem of Modernity

    Of the various theories of modernity described in the previous chapter, it is Michael Gillespie’s Theological Origins of Modernity that places the nominalist revolution at its heart. Gillespie’s argument is that late medieval contestations regarding the doctrine of nominalism brought about a crisis in Christian thought relating to the nature of God and, as such, the nature of being itself. Despite parochial origins, this debate became the crucible of modernity. Nonetheless, it is important to keep in mind that the crisis took religious form, originating in a contestation between two conceptions of God: the nominalist, voluntarist God of those such as William of Ockham and the Aristotelian God of the scholastics. This section will attempt to briefly outline the emergence of nominalism in late medieval thought and the implications this has for thinking about political community.

    Although deeply rooted in church politics and the relationship between temporal andchurch power in medieval Europe, this debate took the form of theological contestationsregarding the metaphysical status of universals. The dominant theology within thechurch was Thomism, which contended that the social and political world could beunderstood as a divinely ordered series of laws governed by the existence of Universallaw. Through the controversial writings of Peter Abelard, John Duns Scotus (not strictly nominalists, but ‘conceptualists’- which leaves them somewhere between scholasticism and nominalism) and finally, William of Ockham, a position emerged which challenged the existence of universals as the manifestation of divine reason. God was no longer bound up within the innate reason of the Universe, but as having anarbitrary relationship with the world characterized by will.

    The causes of this crisis were complex and multiple. Prominent amongst them were the growth of Aristotelianism both within and outside the church and the conflicts between Papal authority and the Holy Roman Empire. Islamic texts, including those of  Avicenna and Averroes brought Aristotle’s teachings into European culture, an irruption of thought that the church sought to limit by fiat, condemning (the Averroist elements of) Aristotelianism and emphasizing the omnipotence of God. However, these doctrines were later turned against the church and used to justify the claims of Ludwig of Bavaria in his conflict with Pope John XXII regarding the proper relationship of thechurch to the Holy Roman Empire. Whatever its origins, the implications of this(nominalist) literature were altogether more profound than its authors could have envisaged: God was no longer necessarily connected to the world; a relationship that- asper scholasticism- could be investigated through the exercise of reason. Instead,hypothesis replaced syllogism as the basis of enquiry, and human knowledge cannot gobeyond hypothesis: for the nominalists, God can overturn anything he has established, orcreate the world anew should he wish.

    As God was no longer bound to his creation by reason, the distance between man andGod had been made wider. Nominalism destroyed scholastic order mediating between man and God, replacing it with a ‘chaos’ of radically individual beings. It became incumbent upon late medieval and early modern philosophers to envisage new sources of order, new principles with which to understand how political order- mediated by institutions such as community, the church and the law- came to exist. For the early nominalists, many of whom were Franciscans, each being was linked with God and the apparent chaos of the world is mitigated by the unity of God’s creation. For later thinkers influenced by nominalism, such as Thomas Hobbes and Rene Descartes, man and the necessity of the state became regulative norms that established order in place of the cosmological unity of Thomism. The main impact of nominalism is that it encouraged a qualitatively new set of political questions. Indeed, the most profound implications of the nominalist revolution were not the political-philosophical ‘outcomes’(such as proposed models of organisation), but the way that political philosophical questions should be posed.

    Within political philosophy, it fundamentally changed the way that that community, law and authority were treated. Instead of corporatist and/or scholastic conceptions of community, the will of groups- individuals or all its members together- became thecause and constituent force of society. This led to the development of political philosophy within which the ‘will of the prince’ became primary and ‘order at the level of totality’ was marginalized. The political understanding of law underwent a similar transformation. For the scholastics, law was understood hierarchically and teleologically: the Universe was ordered and motion directed- teleologically- towards the good. After nominalism, law was arbitrary or voluntaristic, willed by the sovereign rather than inaccordance with divine reason. This is a transition from ‘natural law’ theory to a Schmittian conception of law.


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    « La racine de toute doctrine erronée se trouve dans une erreur philosophique. [...] Le rôle des penseurs vrais, mais aussi une tâche de tout homme libre, est de comprendre les possibles conséquences de chaque principe ou idée, de chaque décision avant qu'elle se change en action, afin d'exclure aussi bien ses conséquences nuisibles que la possibilité de tromperie. » -Jacob Sher, Avertissement contre le socialisme, Introduction à « Tableaux de l'avenir social-démocrate » d'Eugen Richter, avril 1998.

    "Il y a, de nos jours, beaucoup de gens qui s'accommodent très aisément de cette espèce de compromis entre le despotisme administratif et la souveraineté du peuple, et qui pensent avoir assez garanti la liberté des individus, quand c'est au pouvoir national qu'ils la livrent. Cela ne me suffit point." -Alexis de Tocqueville, De la Démocratie en Amérique, vol II, Quatrième Partie : Chapitre VI, 1840.


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