Universality, ethics and international relations : a grammatical reading


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In Universality, Ethics and International Relations UEIR I identify a form of aspect seeing that dominates understandings of universality and offer an account of what produces it. The act of doing so is an attempt to instigate the conditions that make the dawning of a new aspect of universality possible despite being unable to guarantee it. A grammatical reading of the Realist, communitarian and cosmopolitan language games in international ethics reveal that they all have a commitment to universality rather than particularism.

Thus, according to them the search for ethics in IR is, necessarily, a search for universality. Without it ethics is impossible.

The Ethics of International Relations

UEIR argues that traditional theories of ethics in IR are dominated by the idea that words name objects. It is a view that assumes that language represents, or pictures, reality. Such a view makes engaging with universality a special kind of philosophical and theoretical endeavour.

It takes us on a metaphysical search for what universality names and, as such, necessarily becomes a search for its foundations. The grammatical reading found that the Realist, Morgenthau, grounds his commitment to the universality of the national interest in a Judeo-Christian God. Hence, we have evidence of a divine universalism.

In contrast, the cosmopolitan Beitz, grounds his universality on the findings of ideal theory. The most important products of ideal theory are principles of international distributive justice. Hence, there is also a form of ideal universality that is proposed as the foundation for an international ethics in IR. And finally, the communitarian, Walzer, offers a binary universality. For him, what makes ethics possible in global politics are both thick and thin universalisms. However, there may be occasions when leaving states to do what they will may be unethical. Thus, his thin universality seeks to name those aspects of moral life that hold for any community no matter what cultural and historical differences there may be between them.

However understood, the thing to note is that each assume that universality identifies features of reality and being human that can ground the possibility of ethics in global politics.

A Grammatical Reading, 1st Edition

These universalities therefore, express a hard ontology, i. By implication, they are also simultaneously, articulating the conditions that make ethics in global politics im possible. To be clear then, the naming of universals also tells us what ethics needs to exclude as unethical. As such, naming is a line-drawing practice of making distinctions between named phenomena. For example, the distinction between what is ethically possible and impossible, permissible and impermissible, desirable and undesirable; the universal moral features of humanity and particularist features which are morally irrelevant; [8] the spaces where ethics can happen and places where it is precluded; [9] and the means of accessing universals vs.

One could say that they carve it up. In this section, I want to argue that im possible universalism is hidden in plain sight. It is, so to speak, the duck that is always there even if we have not yet noticed it. For those inspired by Wittgenstein, to make a grammatical remark is to say something about how language use can lead us astray. Wittgenstein famously puts it this way:. A picture held us captive. In the case of universality in IR, my claim is that several pictures hold us captive.

They are pictures of the subject, pictures of reason and pictures of ethico-political space. There is no space in this short article to review these.


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Accordingly, the frames that inform the universalisms in IR are grammatically constituted. In other words, the grammar of language games discourses of ethics in IR determines where the lines of the frame are drawn. Grammar constitutes the inside and outside of the picture frame. The finding of UIER is that universality can be re-described as im possible.

Universality, Ethics and International Relations

Why does this matter? It matters for several reasons. The first is related to the question of change. Understanding universality as im possible means that we are no longer seduced into believing that we are dealing with the nature of reality. With this picture of reality, we have no choice but to accept it.

It exists independently of us as words are anchored to objects in reality. In contrast, to describe universality as im possible is to notice an unanchored, soft ontology. This is an ontology of reality that is constituted by our practices. That means that we can change it. However, that is not very easy at all. Grammars have a knack of being violently enduring and persistent. This leads nicely to my second point which is related to ethical responsibility. If the world is of our doing then we can be held responsible for what and how we make, sustain, re-produce, police and reinforce it.

UEIR claims that metaphysical seduction goes some way in identifying how this happens. For as long as we are seduced by a picture of language as naming, we will persist in being blind to the softness of the constituted lines that carve up the world and humanity. The point of UEIR is the observation it is us who carve up the world with hard lines. We make the world hard for as long as we encounter it this way. I suggest that through the continuous repetition and reiteration of practices of representation—picturing—these hard ontologies are held fast.

Our practices of drawing lines are political and ethical because the difference between whether they are drawn hard or soft lies in us. It is we who persist in seeing only a rabbit, so to speak, when a duck lies before our very eyes.

Universality, Ethics and International Relations | Research Explorer | The University of Manchester

In sum, im possible universalism points to a form of aspect blindness about universality that is produced by metaphysical seduction. However, if a new aspect of universality as im possible is noticed, we are reminded that hard universalism can fail. Do you see a duck or a rabbit? I want to suggest that understanding the ethical claims to universality in IR is, for heuristic purposes only , similar to looking at the image above. The questions with which I started this section will later become: do you see a hard ontology of universality a metaphysics of names or do you see a soft ontology of universality political and ethical line-drawing practices?

What do you notice when the question is put to you? The inspiration for looking at universality this way comes from the work of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. At that point, it meant that the duck was hidden in plain sight. The duck was there the whole time, yet you did not notice it; instead, you recognized the aspects of a rabbit that are familiar to you such as its long ears, the shape of its nose, etc. Until, perhaps, now. Instigating such change—rendering the familiar unfamiliar—is one of the critical purposes of grammatical readings Pin-Fat They are designed to provoke the dawning of new aspects by recognizing the political and ethical relevance of aspect blindness.

After a grammatical reading, the lines may well remain, yet how we view them, hopefully, announces a profound change in us ; a change in how we go about encountering one another and the world. Im possible universalism is a grammatical remark. It describes foundationalist grammars of universality. In Universality, Ethics and International Relations UEIR I identify a form of aspect seeing that dominates understandings of universality and offer an account of what produces it.

The act of doing so is an attempt to instigate the conditions that make the dawning of a new aspect of universality possible despite being unable to guarantee it. A grammatical reading of the Realist, communitarian and cosmopolitan language games in international ethics reveal that they all have a commitment to universality rather than particularism. Thus, according to them the search for ethics in IR is, necessarily, a search for universality. Without it ethics is impossible. UEIR argues that traditional theories of ethics in IR are dominated by the idea that words name objects.

It is a view that assumes that language represents, or pictures, reality. Such a view makes engaging with universality a special kind of philosophical and theoretical endeavour. It takes us on a metaphysical search for what universality names and, as such, necessarily becomes a search for its foundations. The grammatical reading found that the Realist, Morgenthau, grounds his commitment to the universality of the national interest in a Judeo-Christian God. Hence, we have evidence of a divine universalism. In contrast, the cosmopolitan Beitz, grounds his universality on the findings of ideal theory.

The most important products of ideal theory are principles of international distributive justice. Hence, there is also a form of ideal universality that is proposed as the foundation for an international ethics in IR.

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And finally, the communitarian, Walzer, offers a binary universality. For him, what makes ethics possible in global politics are both thick and thin universalisms. However, there may be occasions when leaving states to do what they will may be unethical. Thus, his thin universality seeks to name those aspects of moral life that hold for any community no matter what cultural and historical differences there may be between them.

Virtue Ethics

However understood, the thing to note is that each assume that universality identifies features of reality and being human that can ground the possibility of ethics in global politics. These universalities therefore, express a hard ontology, i. By implication, they are also simultaneously, articulating the conditions that make ethics in global politics im possible. To be clear then, the naming of universals also tells us what ethics needs to exclude as unethical.

As such, naming is a line-drawing practice of making distinctions between named phenomena. For example, the distinction between what is ethically possible and impossible, permissible and impermissible, desirable and undesirable; the universal moral features of humanity and particularist features which are morally irrelevant; [8] the spaces where ethics can happen and places where it is precluded; [9] and the means of accessing universals vs. One could say that they carve it up. In this section, I want to argue that im possible universalism is hidden in plain sight.

It is, so to speak, the duck that is always there even if we have not yet noticed it. For those inspired by Wittgenstein, to make a grammatical remark is to say something about how language use can lead us astray. Wittgenstein famously puts it this way:.


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A picture held us captive. In the case of universality in IR, my claim is that several pictures hold us captive. They are pictures of the subject, pictures of reason and pictures of ethico-political space. There is no space in this short article to review these. Accordingly, the frames that inform the universalisms in IR are grammatically constituted. In other words, the grammar of language games discourses of ethics in IR determines where the lines of the frame are drawn. Grammar constitutes the inside and outside of the picture frame.

The finding of UIER is that universality can be re-described as im possible. Why does this matter? It matters for several reasons. The first is related to the question of change. Understanding universality as im possible means that we are no longer seduced into believing that we are dealing with the nature of reality. With this picture of reality, we have no choice but to accept it. It exists independently of us as words are anchored to objects in reality.

In contrast, to describe universality as im possible is to notice an unanchored, soft ontology. This is an ontology of reality that is constituted by our practices. That means that we can change it.

Universality, ethics and international relations : a grammatical reading Universality, ethics and international relations : a grammatical reading
Universality, ethics and international relations : a grammatical reading Universality, ethics and international relations : a grammatical reading
Universality, ethics and international relations : a grammatical reading Universality, ethics and international relations : a grammatical reading
Universality, ethics and international relations : a grammatical reading Universality, ethics and international relations : a grammatical reading
Universality, ethics and international relations : a grammatical reading Universality, ethics and international relations : a grammatical reading
Universality, ethics and international relations : a grammatical reading Universality, ethics and international relations : a grammatical reading

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