Old Quad

Daniel Nellor

‘The Mattering of Others and the Possibility of Politics’ (PhD in Philosophy, 2019).

This thesis asks how our thinking about politics might be informed by a particular approach to thinking about morality. I begin by arguing that the moral mattering of others is something that is encountered in the world, and not the conclusion of a rational process. I go on to suggest that morality is more like love than it is like enlightened self-interest—that is, that morality is fundamentally other-focused. I claim that the mattering of others is, like God, finally transcendent, and must therefore be approached apophatically—that is, that part of what it is to know that others matter morally is to know that they cannot be fully captured by power, including the power of knowing. I go on to make two negative claims about morality: one, that it is not internally divided—that is, I argue against value pluralism when it comes to morality—and two, that moral value is not sui generis—that is, that we should not think of morality as belonging to its own sphere of value, separate to political value. I claim that politics is therefore not, as R.F. Holland argues it is, morally ‘impossible’. Next I suggest that distinguishing between the human being in their aspect as an ‘individual’ and the human being in their aspect as a ‘person’ is a useful framework for understanding the relationship between political practice and the recognition of moral value. I borrow this distinction from the philosopher Jacques Maritain, but attempt to discuss it in a way that does not rely on his theological premises. I then go on to examine, in the light of the above, two concepts central to the liberal political-philosophical tradition: freedom, which I claim can be understood in a way that transcends the traditional negative/positive distinction; and human rights, which I describe as an attempt to capture in law and discourse what it means to treat others as both individuals and persons. Finally, I apply the above-described approach to one particular political question: how should we respond to the elderly among us?

Supervisor: Associate Professor Christopher Cordner