Ryan Nichols: The 1755 Lisbon Earthquake and Its Cultural Aftershocks

Lisbon is probably best known today as one of the cultural capitals of Europe, but it is also remembered as the victim of one of the deadliest and most powerful earthquakes ever recorded in European history. The disaster struck on 1st November 1755, registering an estimated 8.5-9.0 on the modern moment magnitude scale. It triggered fires and a tsunami, in the end claiming as many as 100,000 lives. The catastrophe was not just a literal earthquake, though; it was also a cultural earthquake, as it brought simmering religious tensions to the fore, threw Portugal’s imperial ambitions into disarray and even arguably changed the course of the Enlightenment in the latter half of the 18th century.

Today on The Provocateur I interview Ryan Nichols, associate professor of philosophy at California State University Fullerton, to discuss the cultural aftershocks of the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. We explore the historical context of Lisbon and Portugal before the earthquake; the immediate effects of the disaster on Portuguese politics and society; discussions of the earthquake by 18th-century philosophers including Voltaire and Rousseau; how Ryan’s research in the cognitive science of religion can help explain the aftermath of the quake; and the wider cultural reverberations of this episode for the history and philosophy of science.

You can listen to the podcast here: 

Further Reading:

Araujo, A. C. (2006) ‘The Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 – Public Distress and Political Propaganda’, E-journal of Portuguese History 4(1), article 3.

Braun, T. and J. Radner (eds.) (2005) The Lisbon Earthquake of 1755: Representations and Reactions. Oxford: Voltaire Foundation.

Chester, D. K. (2001) ‘The 1755 Lisbon Earthquake’, Progress in Physical Geography 25(3), pp. 363-383.

Dynes, R. R. (2000) ‘The Dialogue between Voltaire and Rousseau on the Lisbon Earthquake: The Emergence of a Social Science View’, International Journal of Emergencies and Disasters 18(1), pp. 97-115.

Festinger, L. et al. (1956) When Prophecy Fails: A Social and Psychological Study of a Modern Group That Predicted the End of the World. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Gutscher, M-A. (2004) ‘What Caused the Great Lisbon Earthquake?’ Science 305(5688), pp. 1247-1248.

Kelemen, D. (1999) ‘Why Are Rocks Pointy?: Children’s Preference for Teleological Explanations of the Natural World’, Developmental Psychology 35, pp. 1440-1453.

Marques, J. O. A. (2005) ‘The Paths of Providence: Voltaire and Rousseau on the Lisbon Earthquake’, Cadernos de Historia e Filosofia da Ciencia 3(15), pp. 33-57.

Neiman, S. (2004) Evil in Modern Thought. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (For a critique see Nichols 2014, below.)

Nichols, R. (2014) ‘Re-evaluating the Effects of the Lisbon Earthquake on Eighteenth-Century Minds: How Cognitive Science of Religion Improves Intellectual History with Hypothesis Testing Methods’, Journal of the American Academy of Religion 82(4), pp. 970-1009.

Pereira, A. S. (2009) ‘The Opportunity of a Disaster: The Economic Impact of the 1755 Lisbon Earthquake’, The Journal of Economic History 69(2), pp. 466-499.

Rousseau, J-J. (1967) ‘Letter to Voltaire, 18 August 1756’, in Correspondance Complète de Jean Jacques Rousseau, vol. 4, ed. J. A. Leigh, trans. R. Spang, 37–50. Geneva, Switzerland: Voltaire Foundation.

Voltaire (2000 [1759]) ‘Candide, or Optimism’, in Candide and Related Texts, ed. and trans. D.Wootton, 1–83. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing.

Loubna El Amine: Hierarchy, Status and Order in Classical Confucian Political Thought

China remains one of the world’s oldest, richest and most enduring civilisations, stretching back thousands of years. Among its many contributions to the world history of ideas is the Confucian school of thought, which could arguably be said to be the cornerstone of Chinese culture. Even as Mao strenuously repudiated Confucian ideals in the 20th century, the legacies of Confucius and his followers can still be found in Chinese society today: for example, the emphasis on filial piety, harmony and social stability. Confucianism has even been claimed to be the bedrock of a ‘pan-Asian’ identity, as part of the debate on Asian values. These currents might suggest that if we want to understand the Chinese mindset both then and now, we should try to examine Confucianism more closely.

This week on The Provocateur I talk to Loubna El Amine, assistant professor of political science at Northwestern University, to discuss her take on Classical Confucian political thought. We start by thinking about why Confucianism matters in the context of studying non-Western thought, before going on to discuss more specifically the work of Confucius, Mencius and Xunzi. Then we talk about Loubna’s radical new interpretation of Confucianism, which stresses the importance of hierarchy, status and order in the Confucian worldview, as opposed to the standard account which argues for the centrality of virtue. We also touch on the complexities of defining Confucianism and what it means to Chinese society today.

You can listen to the podcast here: 

Further Reading:

Primary texts:

Confucius (1979) The Analects, translated by D. C. Lau. London: Penguin.

——— (2003) Confucius: Analects with Selections from Traditional Commentaries. Translated by Edward Slingerland. Indianapolis: Hackett.

Ivanhoe, Philip and Bryan Van Norden (eds.) (2005) Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy, second edition. Indianapolis: Hackett.

Mencius (1970) Mencius. Translated by D. C. Lau. London: Penguin.

——— (2008) Mengzi: With Selections from Traditional Commentaries. Translated by Bryan Van Norden. Indianapolis: Hackett.

Xunzi (1988-1994) Xunzi: A Translation and Study of the Complete Works, 3 vols. Translated by John Knoblock. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

——— (2014) Xunzi: The Complete Text. Translated by Eric Hutton. Princeton University Press.

Secondary readings:

Angle, Stephen C. (2017) “Social and Political Thought in Chinese Philosophy”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2017/entries/chinese-social-political/>.

Brindley, Erica (2009) “‘Why Use an Ox-Cleaver to Carve a Chicken?’ The Sociology of the Junzi Ideal in the Lunyu.” Philosophy East and West 59 (1): 47–70.

Hsiao, Kung-Chuan (1979) History of Chinese Political Thought. Translated by Frederick Mote. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Fingarette, Herbert (1972) Confucius: The Secular as Sacred. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.

Pines, Yuri (2009) Envisioning Eternal Empire: Chinese Political Thought of the Warring States Era. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Salkever, Stephen G and Michael Nylan (1994) “Comparative Political Philosophy and Liberal Education: “Looking for Friends in History,” Political Science and Politics 27:2, pp. 238-247.

Schwartz, Benjamin (1985) The World of Thought in Ancient China. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Chris Henry: Truth and the Politics of Resistance

In our post-truth political climate, it seems as though the concept of ontological truth(s) has been cast aside in favour of a sceptical politics that dabbles in ‘alternative facts’. Can truth be rescued from the abyss? And is the current trend towards poststructuralism responsible for creating the abyss in the first place? If so, does poststructuralism have the resources to overcome this problem? According to Chris Henry, the answer can be found in a new micropolitics that offers a space for resistance out of which new political possibilities can arise.

In this week’s episode of The Provocateur, I debate these issues with Chris, who is an associate lecturer at the University of Kent. We explore what might be wrong with a contemporary politics that is interested in authoritative truth claims about the world, before moving on to discuss the idea of a politics not grounded in the representation of truth claims and the implications for how we should act in the contemporary political landscape.

You can listen to part one of the podcast here: 

Part two is here: 

Further Reading:

On resistance:

Badiou, A. (2005) Metapolitics. London and New York: Verso.

Buchanan, I. (2008) ‘Power Theory and Praxis’, in I. Buchanan and N. Thoburn (eds.) Deleuze and Politics. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Deleuze, G. (2008 [1964]) Proust and Signs. London and New York: Continuum.

Diefenbach, K. et al. (eds.) (2013) Encountering Althusser: Politics and Materialism in Contemporary Radical Thought. London: Bloomsbury.

Foucault, M. and G. Deleuze (1980) Intellectuals and Power: A Conversation between Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze. Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews. M. Foucault and D. F. Bouchard. Ithaca and London, Cornell University Press.

Svirsky, M. (2010) “Defining Activism”, Deleuze Studies 4(supplement), pp. 163-182.

On metaphysics and ontology:

Althusser, L. (1976) Essays in Self-Criticism. London and Paris: NLB. esp. “Reply to John Lewis.”

Althusser, L. and F. Matheron (2003) ‘Three Notes on the Theory of Discourses’, in The Humanist Controversy and Other Writings (1966-67). London and New York: Verso.

Badiou, A. (2011) Being and Event. London: Continuum.

Brassier, R. (2005) ‘Badiou’s Materialist Epistemology of Mathematics’, Angelaki 10(2): 135-150.

Bryant, L. R., et al. (2011). The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism, re.press.

Critchley, S. (2008) Infinitely Demanding: Ethics of commitment, politics of resistance. London and Brooklyn: Verso.

Deleuze, G. (2011 [1994]). Difference and Repetition. London and New York, Continuum.

Hallward, P. (2003). Badiou: A Subject to Truth. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press.

Henry, C. (2016). ‘On Truth and Instrumentalisation’, London Journal of Critical Thought (1), pp. 5-15.

Meillassoux, Q. (2008) After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency. London and New York: Continuum.

Nick Harding: The Ethics of Consensual Nonmonogamy

Conventional wisdom dictates that nonmonogamous sexual relationships are morally bad, even if they are consensual. Today on The Provocateur, I talk to Nick Harding, a PhD student in Philosophy at the University of Southampton, to discuss his case for why the conventional wisdom is wrong. We explore common objections to consensual sexual nonmonogamy – for example, the threat of falling in love with another sexual partner, the risks of sexually transmitted infections, the challenges of multiple parents – and why in Nick’s view these objections all fail. We also touch on the ethics of sexual infidelity and Nick’s argument for why in certain circumstances it may be morally permissible (if not morally required) to cheat on your partner.

You can listen to part one of the podcast here:

Part two is here:

Part three is here:

Further Reading:

Anderson, E. (2012). The monogamy gap: Men, love and the reality of cheating. New York: Oxford University Press

Buss, D. (2016) The evolution of desire: Strategies of human mating. Basic Books

Easton, D. and Hardy, J. W. (2009). The ethical slut: A practical guide to polyamory, open relationships & other adventures, second edition. New York: Celestial Arts, Berkeley

Fisher, H. (2017). Anatomy of love: A natural history of mating, marriage, and why we stray. New York: Norton & Company Inc.

Taormino, T. (2008). Opening up: Creating and sustaining open relationships. USA: Cleis Press

Benjamin Studebaker: Indigenous Peoples, the State and Citizenship

Amid all the fallout from Donald Trump’s highly controversial restrictions on immigrants from several majority Muslim countries, another significant announcement from the White House has largely escaped media attention: the decision to restart construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline. This proposal triggered a wave of protests in the latter half of 2016, particularly around the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. Campaigners argued that the pipeline represented a threat to the sovereignty of the indigenous peoples living on the reservation, particularly in terms of the environmental hazards that such a pipeline could unleash. However, what is often missing from the popular conversation on Aboriginal sovereignty movements is an understanding of the way in which the state has constructed a certain conception of citizenship that enables indigenous peoples to value their sovereignty over arguably more meaningful goods, such as socioeconomic opportunities.

In today’s episode of The Provocateur, I talk to Benjamin Studebaker, a doctoral candidate in politics at the University of Cambridge, about the relationship between indigenous peoples, the state and citizenship. We develop some of the themes from his blog post discussing the issue of Native American sovereignty and link them to broader issues to do with the ways in which states legitimate themselves by allowing different citizens to want different values and the resultant implications for indigenous policy when these values conflict. Ben has also kindly provided some outline notes, which I reproduce below.

You can listen to the podcast here:

Outline Notes:

I. Many different views of citizenship—of what it is that citizens share in common that makes them citizens (liberalism, republicanism, civic nationalism, ethnic nationalism, identitarianism, pluralism vs. Pluralism). All of these views tend to presume that people have things that they want to get out of citizenship and they build states for these purposes—people use the state to get power and use that power to construct a kind of citizenship which reflects their values and beliefs.

II. But people are not free in this way—their identity and beliefs are not individualistically chosen, they are instead acquired through interaction with material and social conditions. Who is ultimately responsible for those conditions? The sovereign entity—the state.

III. States need to legitimate themselves to secure stability. They will be recognized as legitimate when citizens want the things that states provide. So successful states will tend to create citizens whose desires and expectations match the state’s capabilities.

IV. In cases of inequality, states must be pluralist to some degree—they must create different kinds of citizens whose desires and expectations can be met in different and unequal ways. Pluralism also has other adaptive advantages—if all citizens want the same thing, it is easier to satisfy them, but to fail one citizen is to fail all of them, which means that when states do fail the failure is total and often fatal. In a pluralist society, states can satisfy enough people enough of the time by constantly cobbling together different coalitions of satisfied groups. However, this pluralism allows some groups to be persistently neglected by the state—especially anti-pluralists.

V. With respect to indigenous people, the state attempts to pacify them by socializing them to want what they get. So if Native Americans are going to live on separate reservations with some level of autonomy (but under grossly unequal socioeconomic conditions), they must be made to value the kinds of goods they can have—cultural purity and autonomy, not material prosperity. But this autonomy and culture are mirages—the state created them to see these constructs as valuable and then supplied them with conditions under which they can be realized. In the meantime, it creates other citizens with entirely different values which it enables them to actualize under entirely different conditions.

Further Reading:

Beiner, R. (ed.) (1994) Theorizing Citizenship. New York: SUNY Press.

Lukes, S. (1974) Power: A Radical View. Basingstoke: Macmillan.

Parfit, D. (2011) On What Matters, 2 vols. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Rawls, J. (1993) Political Liberalism. New York: Columbia University Press.

Strawson, G. (2011) Freedom and Belief. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

John McKeane: How to Dialogue in 2017

As the year comes to a close, it’s a good time to reflect on what has happened politically in the past 12 months. According to John McKeane, Lecturer in Modern French Literature at the University of Reading, the crisis in modern Western democracy can be put down to a crisis of confidence in citizens’ ability to dialogue with each other.

In today’s episode of The Provocateur, I talk to John about his aspirations for better political dialogue in 2017. We take in Brexit, Trump, identity politics and I even try ‘doing’ dialogue myself for good measure.

You can listen to the podcast here: