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Summary of Plato’s Apology

Notes to the Apology of Socrates. (Michael Stokes translator, 1997 Oxford up)

After following the eloquent but false accusers, Socrates starts by saying that he wishes not to be judged as a “clever speaker” or for his inability to use the parlance of the courts; instead he wishes to be judged on whether what he says is just or not, regardless of how he delivers the argument. He then claims that he must respond to the accusations of those from long ago, who have continuously accused him of corrupting arguments and not believing in the gods — these are the more formidable opponents because they have influenced from a young age those who will decide Socrates’ fate, but they cannot be brought to the court room for examination by Socrates.

Socrates then states the older accusation as the following: “Socrates is an offender and a meddler, in studying things below the earth and in the sky, and making the weaker argument into the stronger and instructing other people in these same things” (45). Socrates claims not to teach for a fee (though he says Evenus of Paros does claim to teach the “appropriate goodness … Of a human being and that of a citizen” (47)); however, he argues that he has obtained his reputation as a result of his “wisdom,” which was confirmed by the Oracle of Delphi to Socrates’ friend and friend of Athens, Chaerephon. Yet Socrates does not accept the Oracle’s pronouncement at face value, since Socrates is not sure that he is wise but must accept the Oracle as telling the truth, since it is impossible for it to lie. So he sought to disprove the oracle by finding supposedly wise men, but it turns out they were only thought to be wise — each time, he tried to show them that they weren’t actually wise. In turn, this led to resentment, as Socrates traveled around discovering that he was wiser on small things than others (but never as wise in everything). His experience led him to believe that those of the highest reputation for wisdom turned out to be the least wise. Similar to the politicians, the poets could not defend their positions, instead producing fine works which they could not explain. Finally, Socrates turns to the handicraftsmen who, in many things, knew much more than him; however, they believed this knowledge made them wiser in other subjects, in which they were not.

This quest yields the answer that while the god is wise, human wisdom means little — the wisest is he who knows he has little wisdom (53). As a result of questioning others, Socrates has developed a following of sons of the wealthy who copy Socrates in questioning supposedly wise men. Instead of accepting that young men had proven they had little knowledge, they instead charge that Socrates has corrupted the youth and made the weaker argument into the stronger one.

Having presenting a “factual” refutation to the older accusations against him, Socrates then turns to the Meletus’ accusation that “Socrates is a corrupter of young men and does not accept the gods the city accepts, but other novel superhuman beings” (55).

Beginning with the first point, Socrates objects that Meletus has never previously cared about the young and that he cannot name who makes young men better. Meletus responds by saying its the laws, and in particular, the judges who know the laws. But Socrates gradually forces Meletus to expand his definition until all of Athens besides Socrates makes young men better. Yet Socrates suggests that young men are like horses, which is to say that very few are capable of training them, while the ordinary man corrupts them. Moreover, while a bad citizen does harm to those near him and one wishes to be harmed, then Socrates would not intentionally corrupt the youth around him, as that would do harm to him; either he corrupts unintentionally or does not corrupt; the court is meant for intentional action, as unintentional harm could be solved by education; thus, Socrates must be shown to be intentionally doing harm.

Socrates then turns to the content of the charge of corruption– Meletus clarifies that it is based on Socrates’ absolute rejection of the gods. Socrates counters that, as it is impossible to believe in human things without believing in human beings, so to it is impossible to believe in super human matter without superhuman beings (which the charge suggests).

Moreover, it could be charged that Socrates is merely showing he is guilty by practicing the same activity which landing him having to defend himself. Socrates responds that just because ones life is at stake does not mean that an action is less good or bad (this seems like Kant), dishonor is still to be avoided. Like a soldier stationed at post, Socrates cannot stop examining others merely because of the threat of death. Fearing death presupposes knowledge of death (would have to assume that death is the biggest bad), and thus would prove Socrates a charlatan. Instead, Socrates says he will not stop practicing philosophy, as demanded by the gods, even if he were to be acquitted on the condition that he stops. As the gadfly appointed by the gods, Socrates does a service to the city of Athens which cannot be replaced; it is a moral evil to unjustly condemn a man, especially one who is attempting to better the city.

Socrates then argues that he has intentionally stayed out of politics because he would have been killed long ago for opposing the popular assembly; thus, if one wants to fight for what is just, he must do it personally and not publicly. This is because, in a public position, one can be forced to act contrary to justice — as a member of the court, Socrates was almost arrested for not carrying out a decision which seemed popular. Moreover, Socrates claims that, since he has never intended to teach anyone or taken a fee for teaching anyone, he cannot be held responsible for the views of those he has spoken with. But nevertheless, it is held that Socrates has corrupted the youth, and in looking around there are indeed many of those whom he had supposedly corrupted in their families; however, not a single one is there to accuse Socrates of corruption. Lastly, Socrates does not beg for an acquittal, since he believes that the judge must decide justly, without regard to any personal factors (his kids and family, for example). Socrates finishes by saying that, as one who does believe in god, he submits himself to whatever judgment is decided for him.

Section 2:

While Socrates is found guilty, it is with a small margin. His accusers set his penalty at death, but he suggests he should have the deserved penalty: whatever one deserves for spending his entire life outside of the typically accepted virtues and instead promoting the good life privately. He asks for being served food in the Prytaneum.

However, he is convinced that he has not done any wrong, so he will not set on a bad punishment. He will not chose prison, since that would make him enslaved to the officers; he will not chose a fine with imprisonment until he pays, since he is poor and thus that means a life sentence. He also cannot accept exile because no matter where he will go, young men will listen to him and he will be driven out. And he cannot merely not discuss bc “life without examination is not worth living” (87). So he concludes by offering to pay a fine in accordance with what he can afford (one silver Mina), but Plato and his other students instead offer 30 Mina.

Section 3:

After being sentenced to death, Socrates warns that those who have voted to kill him will be dishonored for it, for he is not guilty of having poor arguments, but rather of not groveling to the judges. Instead suggests that he has done the far more difficult thing, of trying to escape wickedness and not death. For death cannot shown to be bad; instead it could be an emptiness or a land with homer and the greats.


Summary of Kant’s Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals

Notes on Kant’s Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals.


Defines metaphysics as pure philosophy limited to “determinate objects of the understanding.” There can be both a metaphysics of nature (of physics) and of morals (ethics), the second of which can be broken down into the empirical (practical anthropology) and the rational (morals). But for Kant, this division is not akin to the division of labor, because pure reason will arrive at the proper conclusion regardless of the number of people working on it. The goal of the groundwork is to work out a “pure moral philosophy” free of all empirical grounding. What is ethical must be done for the sake of the law, not merely be the same as the law because then it would be mere coincidence (it wouldn’t matter if I happen to not lie — I have to not lie because I recognize the ethical demand on me). But the groundwork is not meant to be his definitive statement on morals, since he has to write the critique of practical reason first. Regardless, Kant will attempt to work from common rational moral cognition to a supreme principle, and then to test that principle in the second and third section.

First Section: Transition from Common Rational Moral Cognition to Philosophical Moral Cognition

A good will is the only thing that can be good without limitation, since all other good things are contingent on it. Some things might be conducive to good will (moderation, for example), but could easily be used for evil. Good will is good not because of what it accomplishes, but through the act of willing in itself.

Kant accepts the proposition a priori that whatever instrument is found in man, it must be the most appropriate instrument for it. Thus, it cannot be that happiness is the highest attribute since reason is not at all conducive for it (instinct would work much better). Nature would have limited man’s reason from the realm of happiness and entrusted man’s happiness to instinct alone. Instead, Kant points out that reason in the realm of happiness actually leads to a lack of contentment, or a “hatred of reason.” However, reason is a practical faculty (influence over the will), yet does not necessarily lead to happiness, its true use must be to produce a “will good in itself”

Kant then turns to the concept of duty which “elevates” the good will. His test case is an action which is in conformity to duty, since one which is in opposition to duty would be too easy to distinguish the causation. For example, the preservation of ones life is a duty, but people do this would of self interest, not because it is a duty. The maxim is only moral when his self-inclination is removed (if he were suicidal, yet chose to keep living because of his duty). Moreover, it is a moral act not when someone sympathetic takes inner gratification from donating to the poor; instead, it is moral when someone who has absolutely no interest in donating to the poor does so out of duty. Or, more famously, love thy neighbor and thy enemy. This is Kant’s first proposition: an action has moral worth only if it is done out of duty.

The second proposition is that an action has moral worth not because of its aim, but because of the maxim on which it is based. Therefore, it wouldn’t matter if the intent failed or backfired, as the principle was good. Will is between principle a priori and incentive a posteriori, and since Kant has stripped the will of its incentives (see above), the goodness of an act must necessarily be in the principle.

The third proposition, as derivative of the first two, is that “duty is the necessity of an action from respect for the law.” Inclination is possible for an effect of an action — I could want or approve of a certain result — but the law can be respected. Since an action in accordance from duty must be stripped of all inclination (subjective desires), then what is left is the purely objective, which is the law. Thus, law must be universal, and one should never act except that his action could be made a universal law. this is not a specific law but rather lawfulness in general that fulfills the logical requirements and gives meaning to duty. Kant then uses the example of a person in a tight spot lying to avoid embarrassment. Although he could will the lie, he could not will the maxim to lie, as the universal law would destroy promises and law would “destroy itself.” This gives us the general principle of the common understanding, which would serve as an acceptable compass for moral behavior (and appears to be the equivalent of Socrates’ human wisdom), but it could still be corrupted by the human desire for happiness, which would try to bring these laws closer in accordance to our inclinations. Thus, in the following sections, Kant has to show how practical philosophy can determine the correct moral laws and thus subjects common practical reason to the “complete critique of reason.”

Second Section: Transition from Popular Moral Philosophy to the Metaphysics of Morals

Kant opens this section by noting the objection that it cannot be shown that man has ever acted solely in accordance with duty. It could always be the case that man, even while claiming to follow duty, is actually secretly acting for self-benefit. Thus, it would appear to be a terrible idea to base a moral system on something that cannot be shown to be empirically true. However, Kant argues that basing the worth of a moral system on its empirical reality automatically leads to its defeat by “those who ridicule all morality” because even a neutral observer would note that men act selfishly. Instead, Kant is talking about what reason commands ought to happen (prescriptive): duty is prior to all experience because it comes a priori through reason. Thus, following examples is pointless (beyond encouragement), since even the “best” examples — Jesus in the Bible — must first be evaluated as worthy by some moral framework.

Popularity is entirely unimportant for Kant; instead, must be a moral system free of theology, anthropology, physics, etc. Kant writes that the pure expression of the law necessarily has a power over the heart stronger than all other forces because one thinks only of reason, not a mixture of reason and incentive (28). [not sure that I follow why this makes it “stronger” in this sense — it may be stronger logically, but in terms of the heart?]

Kant then starts his proof towards a metaphysics of morals. First, laws govern how things in nature work, and only the rational being can follow the “representation” of those laws (a will) (29). The will is practical reason, and if reason defines the will, the beings actions are both subjectively and objectively necessary because he chooses according to reason what is good. However, if there are other factors leading to a choice, then it is a subjective decision which objective laws to follow, ie the law is corrupted.

A “command” is the presentation of an objective principle, and the formula of that is an imperative (30). Imperatives require an “ought,” and communicate an objective law in general to a subjective imperfection of a rational being. Imperatives can be either hypothetical (something that one might will, or a possible action for another attaining something else), or categorical (objectively necessary for itself). In accordance with the perfection of skill, there is only one end which is naturally necessary which is “the aim at happiness” and prudence is the skill that allows for that perfection. But following prudence is a hypothetical imperative because it leads to happiness, is done to achieve happiness. The imperative of morality, however, is categorical in that the end is itself. While skill is technical, prudence is pragmatic, only morality is law (objective).

Skill is analytic in that one knows the consequences of ones actions, as there is only one consequence to a particular action which happens certainly. If I do the necessary mathematics to divide a line in half, I will divide a line in half. Prudence would be the same way, but it has no universal definition of happiness. This is because happiness is empirical and man cannot state a “determinate concept” of happiness. For example, how much money will make happy and how can one know this without first having that much? Thus, it must be empirical and there cannot be a command of happiness. Both skill and prudence can be gotten out of or modified if the end to be achieved is changed.

In contrast, the objective law gives no other option. The categorical imperative represents the accordance of the subjective maxim with the objective law, and accordance alone is the content of the imperative. Thus, the categorical imperative is “act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law (of nature)” (38).

Kant then gives a series of examples to test his first categorical imperative. First is the man who, depressed while still in possession of his reason, thinks the maxim that “from self-love, I make it my principle to shorten my life when by longer term it threatens more ill than it promises agreeableness” (38). But it cannot be that a law of nature kills by the very same principle (self-love) that it promotes life. Second, a man who cannot pay for an item and yet wonders if he could borrow money and not pay it back. He makes the maxim that “if I believe myself to be in distress, then I can borrow money and never pay it back.” Yet this cannot be universal because it would destroy the act of promising. Third, there is a man with an amazing talent who instead prefers to indulge and let his talents rust. While he could will this for himself, he cannot will this as universal because “as a rational being he necessarily wills that all the faculties in him should be developed because they are serviceable and given to him for all kinds of possible aims” (40) [but what if these faculties lead to misery, like Kant’s discussion of reason earlier]. And fourth is the fortunate man who does not wish to help others in hardship. Kant says this could be a natural law, but the will could conflict since the man could at one point be the one in need of assistance. Kant argues that understanding maxims from the point of view of reason means that one can avoid the bias of always thinking himself the exception.

While Kant has shown that a duty must be grounded in the categorical imperative, which would have to be universal, he has not yet shown a priori that there is such an imperative or that it is duty to follow that law. Here, Kant warns against looking to nature to find the content of a law, since the law much be universally valid for all rational beings regardless of their particular nature (even aliens…).

Thus Kant poses the question if it is necessary for ALL rational beings to always act in accordance with universal law and maxims, and if that is the case, then it must be shown a priori in the concept of the will or of the rational being. To do this, Kant must first find an end in itself, because any other end is relative and thus subjective. This is a human being, which exists only as an end, in contrast to things which have a subjective value to us. This is because rational nature exists as an end in itself, which is how a human being “represents his own existence.” [the proof apparently comes later?] This leads to the practical imperative “act so that you use humanity, as much as in your own person as in the person of every other, always at the same time as end and never merely as means” (47).

Going back to the previous examples, that means a man cannot commit suicide because he would kill himself as a means of preserving what is left of his happiness. In lying to get money, one uses another as a means for money. The third does not promote the harmonization of a duty and man kind. And the fourth, if one is to truly take a human subject as an end in itself, it means also taking his ends as well. [I really don’t understand the logic in the third and fourth examples, in both sections]

This leads to the third principle, “the idea of the will of every rational being as a will giving universal law.” Thus the will is subject to the law in the double sense that it is also its author. This principle means that imperatives based on universal law are the only objective laws. If man is thought to be only the subject, then there would need to be another criterion for acting in accordance of the law, like coercion. The third principle, however, leads to a “realm of ends,” which is the combination of human beings through common laws. The law uniting man is the second principle that all rational beings are ends, and a rational being belongs to the realm so long as it gives and is subject to the law. It belongs as “supreme head” if it gives law without being subject to it, but it can only be this when it is a “fully independent being.” Duty emerges for all those besides the supreme head as a result of the relation of rational beings to one another, which also gives “dignity” because one only observes the law which he gives himself. Dignity has no cost or replacement, while “price” is something that can be replaced; dignity has an “inner price” or worth which cannot be exchanged. Because morality is when humans are treated as ends, that is the only condition for dignity (no equivalence to rational beings).

All maxims have a form (universality), a matter (an end), and a complete determination (harmonize from ones on legislation to a possible realm of ends), which can be summarized as “act in accordance with that maxim which can at the same time make itself into a universal law” (55). Using this, Kant returns to the notion of a good will, which is by definition free of all evil. The above maxim is the only condition under which the good will cannot be in contradiction, and thus the only maxim for a good will. Actions which coincide with the autonomy of the will are “permissible,” while those that do not are “impermissible” (57). Objective necessity without recourse to holy justification is called obligation.

The absolutely good will relies on autonomy without any incentive in it. But metaphysics cannot show the synthetic position is possible, and Kant has only so far shown that morality is not imaginary because both the autonomy of the will and the categorical imperative are true and necessary a priori (62). In the next section, he must show a “possible synthetic use of pure practical reason” (62).

Section Three: From the Metaphysics of Morals to the Critique of Pure Practical Reason.

“the concept of freedom is key to the definition of the autonomy of the will”
Will is a type of causality unique to rational beings, and freedom is the quality that allows it to be effective/independent of other causes. Freedom consists in autonomy, or the will being its own law. This definition collapses the distinction between acting morally and acting freely, since to act morally is to be free.

“Freedom must be presupposed as a quality of the will of all rational beings.”
Every rational being that cannot act except “under the idea of freedom” is actually free, for it cannot ascribe any other cause of its actions except to itself.

“of the interest attaching to the ideas of morality”
Rational beings would all be capable of acting in accordance with the laws, but must be shown to have a reason to do so. Here, Kant must deal with the apparent tautology of freedom leading to moral laws, and following moral laws leading to freedom. The way out is differentiating the freedom a priori from the freedom as representing the self through actions. This is similar to the critique of pure reason, in the distinction between the world of sense and the world of understanding; man divides himself into the sense and intellect. Reason is how the human being distinguishes himself from all other things, and separates sense from understanding and gives the limits of understanding. In so far as that the rational being belongs to the intelligible world, he must think in terms of freedom: independence from the world of sense is freedom.

“how is a categorical imperative possible?”
Man is both in the sense and intelligible world, but the intelligible contains the laws for the former.

Summary of Strauss’s NHR, ch. 3

Chapter 3: the origin of the idea of natural right

Natural rights origins are in the way they present themselves in political life, even they were not recognized as such (still there). Natural rights are unknown if nature is unknown, and that is the task of philosophy. Nature stands in contra distinction to custom. If favoring custom, then ancestry is the primary means of authority, but NR is a challenge to custom. Ancestry is necessarily abandoned because there are multiple, divinely inspired claims to knowing what’s right, despite that they are conflicting. Thus, what is good necessarily comes into conflict with what is ancestral. The distinction between heresy and seeing with ones own eyes had to be applied to the highest matters, and thus divine law questioned by human rationality. Looking for things which are always, that aware beyond human in origin (because humans cannot be the first thing).

Custom then splits into nature and convention, convention being law which hides nature. So philosophy starts by the distinction between to be in truth and to be by virtue of law or custom. Philosophy attempts to find what is good by nature, not merely by what is said to be good by ancestry. Nature is, however, a source of legitimacy prior to ancestry: nature is the ancestor of ancestors. Nature is the authority. But philosophy also upholds reason against authority.

Now that nature has been discovered, we have a necessary but not sufficient condition for natural right. Conventionalism will argue that because man has had at different times many different conflicting ideas of right, then it cannot be said to be true. However, just because man has different ideas of then universe, it doesn’t invalidate the universe.

Conventionalism’s view: It turns out that justice and nature are opposites — man is not naturally inclined to justice, but instead turns to it as a result of coercion (convention). The city cannot mediate the conflict between self and society except by declaring that society is of a higher order– but this is precisely what a group of robbers would do. (full argument on pg 108).

Summary of Strauss’s NRH, ch. 2

Chapter 2: NR and the distinction between facts and values

Has shown the possibility of philosophy, but must then show the existence of of natural right. Takes up debate with Max Weber on his view that there are multiple unchanging principles of right that conflict, but none of which are superior to one another. Weber rejected historicism because it did not distance itself enough from natural right: weber argues that there is no meaning to history beyond the subjective meaning of actors. Separates science from a dominant, historical world view. So one analyzes social phenomenon (unchanging, scientific) through a historic lens. But there are ultimate values which are timeless, like logic (39). Because there is a distinction between facts and values, argues that the social sciences must be value free — this is the difference between is and ought. Strauss argues that even these are separate, the ought influences the is and agues that the only reason weber made the distinction is that he did not believe in the possibility of finding a true ought. Strauss then launches the critique that Weber’s thought necessarily leads to nihilism, which he claims Weber intentionally hides from himself.

This is because Weber, while distinguishing between ethical and cultural values, does not place one over the other. The goal is man to develop his own values, but that’s an anarchical value system (even if shared between individuals). Strauss quotes Weber’s “become what thou art” as “follow god or the devil as you will, but, whichever choice you make, make it with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your power.” Weber clearly means then that excellence is having a value system, rather than having an excellent value system, which means that values are entirely subjective and a manner of personal preference.

The last safeguard to chaos is that the chosen preference must be rational. Yet weber provides no ground for favoring beauty or the sacred or other vitalistic values above reason, so man could chose to delude himself. Thus, weber’s thought leads to noble nihilism (but even that requires an objective value judgement that one must make from outside his framework). In fact, Weber’s own work on religion as a sociologist implies value judgments in order to distinguish what truly counts as a religion, a religious activity, etc. If we were to exclude value judgments, one could only describe concentration camps without condemning their cruelty and is the actual suppression of value judgements that is itself value laden.

Weber also cannot contend with the value judgement of an activity itself. It could be possible to distinguish between a good general and a bad general, but what of war itself? If war is indeed evil, then the best general would be one that never engages in war. This shows up when he puts peace in quotation marks but leaves war, which comes from his view that conflict is an inescapable part of human life, which leads him to endorse Machiavelli’s power politics. But this leads to an individual who is at peace with himself while the world is at war.

Crux of the question for Weber on the crisis of modern life is if man can acquire knowledge of the good by unaided efforts or only through divine revelation. The idea that the two cannot refute one another is a de facto endorsement of revelation because it assumes that a logical conclusion can never be reached.

Summary of Strauss’s NRH, ch. 1

Chapter 1: NR and the historical approach

Basic critique is that natural right is supposed to be universally acknowledged and discernible through reason; however, there are an infinite variety of notions of justice. Strauss argues that count of all mankind is not grounds for natural right — since it is the result of reason, then it cannot be expected of savages.

“Conventionalism” is the view in political philosophy that right is convention-based, and that nature and convention are two distinct realms. Thus, rights are a matter of agreement, not truth. “modern historical view” sees the human realm as equal if not superior to nature, and tries to find a historical ground for the beliefs of a certain time. While traditional philosophy (Plato) begins with mans departure from the cave of public opinion to the use of reason, “historicism” believes that all philosophy is a product of a historical period. While historicism arose from the natural right belief in discrete (natural) units of organization, it’s product was a failure because it could not produce objective laws out of history. Instead of viewing this failure as the failure of historicism, it was instead viewed as revealing the true character of the human condition as lacking any universal laws. However, history can only teach which views were abandoned for others, it cannot say which are valid.

Kant and Hume as representative of “skepticism” which views itself as coeval with human thought and holds that all positions are necessarily arbitrary regardless of their historical point. Instead if validating the historicism point, history instead shows (he uses Aristotle on the relationship between technology and political science as an example) that we’re still returning to exactly the same questions. And if there are fundamental problems that shows that the human mind is capable of transcending historical limitations. But, just knowing that there are the same problems does not mean that there could be universal answers (we now have a transcendent question, have to go the next step).

Counter argument to historicism: if all human beliefs are historical, then historicism is historic and cannot be true. We cannot use the historicism framework without first transcending it or giving it immunity from itself. Historicism is the absolute (Hegel) for of thought which analyzes it’s relative object, history. However, historicists refuse to acknowledge the first part. Nietzsche tries to get out of this view by denying the possibility of abstract theory (the route of Plato) and instead goes for placing philosophy in the service of life. Left with a radical historicism whereby the whole cannot be validated by reason, but instead mere choice bc history informs reason, not the other way around. Leaves us with individualism and choice of preference, it the choice is a false one between the one imposed on us by fate (life chance) or “losing ourself in despair” (27) (not sure I get why these are the two choices).

In contrast, natural right claim that the fundamentals of justice are accessible to man as man. Historicism sees this as “an unforeseeable gift of unfathomable fate.” Thus, we get to the absolute moment of history which is essentially Hegel’s philosophy of history. He claims this moment comes as an unraveling of all the philosophical problems, but historicism cannot be shown to be dependent on philosophical premises bc it assumes that philosophy is subservient to history and thus philosophical methods are necessarily absurd (or at least contingent).

The idea if natural right compels a return to the original meaning of philosophy as the exit of man from the court of opinions to the searching for universally valid truth. At bottom, Strauss’ rebuttal is : “no more is needed to legitimize philosophy in its original, Socratic sense: philosophy is knowledge that one does not know, or awareness of the fundamental problems and, therewith, of the fundamental alternatives regarding their solution that are coeval with human thought.” the two projects are to understand non-historicist thought with a non-historicist framework; and to understand historicist thought with a non-historicist framework.

Summary of Strauss’ Natural Right and History, Introduction

Opens by contrasting natural right of the united states (found in the declaration of independence) to the relativism of Weimar Germany. Rejecting natural right is an endorsement of positive right, which means only what the courts have determined is acceptable. “if there is no standard higher than the ideal of our society, we are utterly unable to take a critical distance from that ideal.” Wants to find an ideal that transcends a particular society by which we can judge all social standards. Social science is reduced to nothing more than instrumental powers because it cannot (or will not) answer the fundamental questions of standards. It is mere luck that we still prefer liberalism to despotism.

Absolute endorsement of tolerance means the rejection of intolerance. Out of this paradox, liberals chose the celebration of individuality over natural right. This also binds reason to nihilism because the more we think, the more we realize that our actions have no justification beyond mere preference. But even if it is proved that natural right has a high utility, that doesn’t make it true, could be just a myth. Ends by saying that natural right is rejected in the social sciences in two grounds: the name of history and the distinction between values and facts.

Summary of Newman’s “Critical Human Security Studies”

Newman, Edward. “Critical Human Security Studies.” Review of International Studies 36 (2010): 77-94.

Newman’s article attempts to bring together two similar fields within security studies — critical security studies and human security studies — as a way of creating a both policy relevant and critical field. Human security maintains that security analysis “must focus on the individual as the referent and primary beneficiary” (78). This implies a normative argument latent within human security — that it is an ethical obligation to place humans at the center of security analysis. Emerging out of the 1990s and the decline of Cold War geopolitics,  human security holds that an over emphasis on state security can actually be a detriment to the security of the individual.  By focusing on non-traditional sectors of analysis (beyond the military sector), human security scholars are attempting to raise the visibility of new security threats (80). this goal connects to what Newman argues is characteristic of human security scholarship: “a defining characteristic of human security scholarship is its policy relevance, its engagement with policy, and its desire to change security policy in ‘progressive’ ways” (81). Thus, out of necessity, human security scholarship often avoids critical literature in an attempt to make its arguments more accessible for the policy community.

Newman explains the lack of engagement between critical and human security scholarship through a number of factors. First, the central conclusions of human security is already incorporated into critical security, though with more robust analytical tools. Secondly, critical security scholars are skeptical of human security being co-opted into a hegemonic discourse. Since the language of  human security is often promoted by states to justify their actions (think of the United States in Iraq and R2P), critical security scholars find that human security can act as a cloak for broader geopolitical interests. As a result, the language of human security itself has been a subject of critique from non-Western states who view it as a form of cultural imperialism (88).

Newman concludes by suggesting a merger of critical and human security studies (consciously drawing on Cox’s essay “Social Forces, States and World Orders”) to give human security conceptual richness and critical security policy relevance (91).

Summary of Whitworth’s Gender in the Inter-Paradigm Debate

Whitworth, Sandra. ” Gender in the Inter-Paradigm Debate.” Millennium 18 (1989): 265-272.

Whitworth’s article is an analysis of the relative silence on gender on both sides of the inter-paradigm debate in international relations. For Whitworth, “the continued silence of critical international relations in relation to gender presents a fundamental challenge, perhaps even more so than from within the mainstream of international relations,” since realism has a number of other silent absences in its theory (265). However, since critical international relations theory is supposed to be reflexive and self conscious, it is a source of concern that it has yet to explicitly theorize the role of gender in international relations.

Drawing on a long tradition of feminist thought, Whitworth argues that gender is not a biological subject, but rather refers to “the ideological and material relation between [men and women], which historically has been an unequal relationship” (265). It is not a solution to increase the number of women working in international relations scholarship, as liberal-feminists have argued; instead, Whitworth focuses on the silence about women in international relations, arguing that “the theory and practice of international relations have always been gendered, and that international economic and political institutions contain, affect and are affected by understandings of gender” (266). Therefore, it is essential that a theory of gender within international relations be theorized.

For a feminist space within International Relations to be opened, there are several criteria which would have to be met: first, there needs to be space within international relations discourse to talk about non-essentialist and constructed terms like gender itself. Second, international relations needs to be historicized, that is, it needs to acknowledge that constructs shift over time and that it is historical dependent. Third, a feminist international relations theory would need to contain the notion of power, since “implicit in the notion of gender is an understanding of power and an inequality of power” (266). For Whitworth, Morgenthau’s realist theory doesn’t open a significant space for feminist interpretations because “its ontological commitments to states and statesmen ultimately preclude any incorporation of gender into its analysis… [and] its conception of power is one that recognizes only the overt ability to control action, through force or coercion, and not one in which the management of power relations tends to recede into the background of consciousness” (268).

In turning to critical theory, Whitworth states that it “holds out the greatest promise for incorporating gendered analysis into international relations” because “it stands apart from the prevailing order and asks how that order came about” (269). However, because critical theory is still at the fringes of international relations scholarship, even if a gendered analysis were to be incorporated fully within it, gendered analysis would likely not break into mainstream international relations theory (270). To that end, Whitworth argues that “the ‘next stage’ of international relations theory will not be one which is merely ‘critical’, but one which is both critical and feminist” (270), meaning that a synthesis of the two perspectives is the next logical step in trying to develop a critical theory of international relations.

Summary of Tickner’s “Hans Morgenthau’s Principles of Political Realism: A Feminist Reformulation”

Tickner, Jane Ann. “Hans Morgenthau’s Principles of Political Realism: A Feminist Reformulation.” Millennium 17 (1988): 429-440.

In this article, Tickner targets Morgenthau’s 6 principles of political realism as exemplary of the school of thought as a whole. She starts by arguing that “diplomacy, military service, and the science of international politics have been largely male domains”: within the upper tier of international decision making, men have consistently controlled those decisions. Even though more women are breaking through barriers of entry, they typically do not advance to the highest levels, and when they do, they find themselves feeling like “a mouse in a man’s world” as Jeane Kirkpatrick did (429). For Tickner, the lack of women advancing through international relations is a result of not only discrimination, but also “through a process of self-selection which begins with the way in which we are taught about international relations” (430). In other words, they very framework through which scholars analyze international politics (realism in this case) is structured in a way that precludes women’s success.

Tickner’s largest critique of Morgenthau is his assumption of a “rational (and unemotional) theory of international politics based on objective laws that have their roots in human nature” (431). Drawing on the work of Evelyn Fox Keller, Ticker argues that this assumption places Morgenthau squarely against feminist thought, since “most share the belief that knowledge is socially constructed: since it is language that transmits knowledge, the use of language and its claims of objectivity must continually be questioned” (432).  Objectivity itself is linked with masculinity as being impermeable and absolute; in contrast, subjectivity is linked with femininity for being irrational and non-scientific. This is because “women are socialized into a mode of thinking which is contextual and narrative rather than formal and abstract” (433). Ticker points out that thinking contextually is absolutely essential, since the prescriptions of Morgenthau’s time are not infinitely and atemporally viable. For example, “given that any war between the major powers is likely to be nuclear, increasing security by increasing power could be suicidal,” thus challenging one of the key ideas coming from Morgenthau.

Moreover, in order to create his rational theory of international politics, Morgenthau fashions a theory of “political man,” who is a “beast completely lacking in moral restraints” (432). In Tickner’s reading of Morgenthau, politics is an amoral business, since real men cannot live up to abstract universal moral codes. On the international level, that translates into Morgenthau’s tolerance of Hobbesian competition for power maximization and survival between states. However, feminist scholars would reject the distinction between politics and morals. For Tickner, Morgenthau’s reconstruction of human nature is fundamentally lacking: “one might well ask where the women were in Hobbes’ state of nature; presumably they must have been involved in reproduction and childrearing, rather than  warfare, if life was to go on for more than one generation” (432). Additionally, focusing on conflicts within international relations underplays the role of cooperation and regeneration that have continuously played a role in sustaining international politics and human life itself (432).

Lastly, Tickner points to a new paradigm of power which is based on cooperation rather than competition: “when women write about power they stress energy, capacity and potential” (434). Like Hannah Arendt, who theorized power as a deliberative, collective and cooperative action, Tickner finds that a feminist reformulation of security studies would fundamentally alter the field, especially “since women have had less access to the instruments of coercion, women have been more apt to rely on power as persuasion” (434). For Tickner, this reformulation would lead to an analysis of security in terms of north-south instead of east-west and about human security instead of national security, and would even tie in the environment as a site of mutual cooperation. At the end of her article, Tickner notes that she does not deny the validity of Morgenthau’s work; rather, “adding a feminist perspective to the epistemology of international relations… is a state through which we must pass if we are to being to think about constructing an ungendered or human science of international politics which is sensitive to, but goes beyond, both masculine and feminine perspectives” (438).

Summary of Smith’s “The Prophetic Realism of Reinhold Niebuhr”

Smith, Michael. “The Prophetic Realism of Reinhold Niebuhr” in Realist Thought from Weber to Kissinger. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1986.

For the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, “the primary concern [of his work] was to demonstrate the continuing relevance of his prophetic vision of human nature and politics and thus to offer a sounder basis for American policy in a time of crisis” (100). It should be immediately noted that Niebuhr’s analysis is grounded in a Christian understanding of human nature, and he therefore argues that “prophetic religion has a duty to guide men in their relative moral judgments and to fulfill this duty it must maintain and develop its ‘points of contact’ with human history” (101). This means, in part, acknowledging that man is both capable of self-transcendence – acting in the image of the God that created him – as well as inevitably sinning (though not necessarily).

At its core, Niebuhr’s theory is realist in its rejection of man’s inherent possibility of perfection and goodness.  Beginning with anxiety, derived from the self-knowledge that man is “weak and dependent but willfully [seeking] to assert his independence anyway,” man sets forth three different forms of pride: the pride of power, defined as “vain attempts to dominate nature and other men”; the pride of knowledge, which “leads man to ignore the contingent nature of his knowledge”; and finally the pride of virtue, which is the assumption that man’s “very relative moral standards are absolute” (103-105). However, each of these sins offers the possibility of redemption through the recognition that the sin is itself not necessary, and teaches man to that he “is most free in the discovery that he is not free” (106).

Niebuhr’s analysis of the individual is essential for understanding his early theories of the collective, since “society… merely cumulates the egoism of individuals and transmutes their individual altruism into collective egoism so that the egoism of the group has a double force” (107).  Therefore, Niebuhr argues, “no group acts from purely unselfish or even mutual intent and politics is therefore bound to be a contest of power” (107). Thus, the theory he lays out in The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness should be read in terms of a contest of power between two opposing groups: the children of light, who “seek to bring self-interest under the discipline of a more universal law in harmony with a more universal good”; and the children of darkness, who “know no law beyond their own self-interest” (111). The children of light – much like E.H. Carr’s “utopians” – are guilty of believing too strongly in the good will of mankind and risk losing their ideological battle with the children of darkness. In a form of dialectical overcoming, the children of light must learn the wisdom of their counterparts without giving in to the cynical forces that drive them (112). Specifically, the children of light must learn to reject the sentimentality of national pride and “confront the reality of human nature”; a policy which does not confront national pride only succumbs to the veiled cynicism of the children of darkness (113). Additionally, Niebuhr argues that liberals – identified as the misguided children of the light – have failed to produce creative solutions to international disorder since they are fundamentally misguided with regards to human nature.

However, Niebuhr also critiqued dominate realists of his time, rejecting theories of national interest in favor of containment and domestic moral development. Attacking both sides of the debate, Niebuhr writes, “idealists must learn that nothing but a preponderance of power in the noncommunist world can preserve the peace. Realists must learn that power consists of the unity of moral and economic health of our world” (121). Indeed, the geopolitical strength of the Soviet Union forced liberals to release “notions of human nature, of inevitable progress, and of the possibility for world government,” in favor of the preservation of the “American way of life” (122). Above all else, Niebuhr differentiates himself from his realist contemporaries by using a Christian theological perspective to ground his analysis, which ultimately provided the prophetic possibility of overcoming idealist platitudes.