Agenda de la pensée contemporaine
(cet article est paru dans le N°21 - sommaire été 2011 )
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N°21 - Summaries
THE HYPOTHESIS OF LANGUAGE
Patrice Maniglier has reconstituted the full extent and actuality of Ferdinand de Saussure’s fragmented thought, drawing on the critical editions of the Cours de linguistique générale. The Cours was written up by de Saussure’s students from notes taken during lectures between 1907 and 1911 and from various manuscript notes, including those found in the orangery of de Saussure’s home in Geneva in 1996. Patrice Maniglier demonstrates that the entire structuralist project is based on the discovery of a twofold ontological problem : signs are not material realities, and they constantly vary even as they are being used. Saussure’s personal tragedy thus appears as the consequence of the enigma that he resolutely faced on our behalf.
Questions about the nature of the laws of physics seem to count as the most ethereal metaphysics ; many scientists merely shrug their shoulders when asked about the issue. Yet it is nigh-on impossible to leave these questions to one side and to act as if they were not to be asked. What tools do we have to deal with the problem of the origin of the universe ? Only the laws of physics that we have at our disposal and the theories that structure them. We use them first to describe the universe as it is now, then we look back as far as we can into the past to try to describe the universe as it was when it began. This requires us to question the correspondence between the universe and the laws of physics that act within it – or on it ? What relationship does the empirical world have with its own body of legislation ?
THE HISTORY, IN QUEST OF TRUTH
Who are historians and what are their real duties ? Like hunters, historians set out to follow the traces of a past that they constantly track ; like detectives, they collect clues that they then read, making much of singular objects all too often cast aside by a form of history that deals solely in quantitative data and statistical series. They share the writer’s weapons of rhetoric, but are not limited to them in putting together a narrative of the past, while taking care to steer clear of the approach of those – whether revisionists or otherwise – who build a fictitious version. The borders between the true, the false, and the fictitious need to be questioned anew in the field of the historical sciences ; Carlo Ginzburg does so with the characteristic originality and finesse of his work in microhistory, turning the narrative of his investigation into the very matter of the historical truth he seeks.
A NEW DIALOGUE OF THE DEAD
Modernity constitutes both our identity and our ideal, yet it is an identity that is never set, and an ideal that we are constantly pursuing in the combined guise of the conquest of nature, social progress, and economic growth. Pierre Manent’s Les Métamorphoses de la Cité asks three fundamental questions : what does our modern identity consist of, what solutions has it given us, and what problems has it caused ? He answers these questions by looking back at thinkers from ancient Greece to the modern world, from Plato to Machiavelli, while enriching his own thought through two major new contributions – the ascendancy of Rome and Montaigne’s scepticism. The former offers a way to re-examine notions of the individual and of empire, while the latter grants us his mocking, sobering gaze on the topics in question.
RIGHT OF INSPECTION OR DUTY OF CONFIDENTIALITY ?
In Le Regard politique, a collection of his conversations with Bénédicte Delorme-Montini, Pierre Manent looks back at what shaped him as a political philosopher and his intellectual path. He stands by his Straussian heritage and approach and states firmly from the outset that he is only interested in “what is”, leaving “what could be” to schools of thought seen as less moderate or realist. This stance is the starting point for a book which, François Roussel writes, presents what is really a rather orthodox image of the author of Naissance de la politique moderne, and which leaves no margin for possible objections that could feed into a debate on questions that thinkers are today taking fresh pains to explore. The lack of acknowledgement of recent work on Machiavelli is just one example of the book’s over-homogenised approach to a number of key figures in political thought.
THE CONDITIONS OF “POLITICAL SCIENCE”
Is the political philosophy of the Ancients better than the political science of the Moderns, beginning with Machiavelli, Hobbes and Locke, and which has now developed into parallel strands of Rawlsian normative philosophy and sociology drawing on Montesquieu ? Pierre Manent’s intention is to pursue the former, which holds that politics arises principally from the deliberations and actions of men. Yet he introduces a new distinction between regimes – monarchy, aristocracy, democracy, and so on – and their forms – city, empire, nation, church. In the light of this continuity and innovation, Philippe Raynaud focuses on three points that he sees as key questions in Pierre Manent’s enlightening work : what does the Greek vision mean ? Did the Greeks misunderstand monarchy ? And should sociology be seen in opposition to political science (or philosophy) ?
THE OBSESSION WITH LAW AND ORDER AND THE VICTIMISATION OF SOCIETY
The third part of this history of madness in the modern age is devoted to the most recent developments in public health policy, particularly in France. These developments reveal a tendency to unite the entire population – including children – under one mental health umbrella, offering various schools of therapy, from psychoanalysis (under harsh attack) to cognitive behavioral approaches (in full growth), on a competitive marketplace. The theatre of madness has changed. Psychiatry has lost its identity among branches of medical science and mental illness has become lost in the ocean of nameless, yet codable and quantifiable, forms of suffering. Madness has been divided into two sets : a large group of maladjusted or mentally handicapped people, who must be reintegrated into the circuit of production as soon as possible, and the criminally insane, who are a source of fear and who must be eliminated from society. This vision, which seals the pact between liberalism and the obsession with law and order, studiously ignores the work done in this field following the Liberation.
Pierre Chartier & Jean-Loup Motchane
“Treating the establishment diminishes its iatrogenic effects, which take the pathological symptoms of the disease itself and add an aspect of reaction to the milieu […] : agitation, senility, passivity, and some acts of aggression against oneself or others are, in most cases, created artificially by conditions at the residence and the imperatives of organisation. The therapy club [at La Borde] produces activities, objects, ideas, material and affective exchanges, and events that take place within a shared history […]. It incorporates an economic dimension through the concrete collective management of a funding grant. All those present, whatever their status, bring their skills, analyses, and feelings to bear on the management. This subtle form of integration accompanies and shapes the various decisions that need to be made”.
STRUCK DOWN BY PITY
While notions that have drawn inspiration from pity have taken its place on the philosophical, moral, and political stage, pity itself has paid the price of the success of its masks – care, empathy, the vulnerable subject. Can pity, and the subject it implies, be thought ? Aristotle puts forward a precious phenomenology of pity that still echoes through the unsurpassable pages of Rousseau’s Emile. The article takes as its hypothesis that a history of pity is possible,