Papers from the NSU Summer session of 2014 – study group 3: “Crisis and Crisis Scenarios: Normativity, Possibilities and Dilemmas”


The general theme of the meeting was CRISIS: Crisis and Crisis Scenarios: Normativity, Possibilities and Dilemmas. In addition we had the special theme Neoliberalism, Economic Crisis and a New Economy.


The general discussion was a continuation of the work of the crisis study group on topics such as: the concept of crisis; democracy in crisis: the European Union and the public sector; crisis, existence and culture; Arctic crisis, climate change and environmental issues; crisis, paradoxes and new technology; globalization and crisis.


Signe Larsen starts in “An Apology for Philosophy: On the contested relationship between truth and politics” with Hannah Arendt’s claim that the introduction of philosophical truth into politics leads to tyrannical or totalitarian outcomes. A critique of this claim is offered on the basis of Michel Foucault’s last lectures at the Collège de France, where he discussed the practices of parr?sia, i.e. “truth-telling” as multiple forms of political life of resistance, critique, and contestation. The common denominator of all parrh?siastic practices is that none of them is concerned with “doctrines.” That is, none of them is concerned with laying out the “content” of politics. After the paper has identified and expounded four different manifestations of parr?sia—“political” (Pericles), “philosophical” (Plato), “philosophical-ethical” (Socrates) and “ethical” (Diogenes the Cynic)—an argument is presented for a kinship, instead of a difference, between Foucault and Arendt as parrh?siastic or critical thinkers within the same tradition of political Kantianism.


Giorgio Baruchello proposes in his “Reflections on Castoriadis’ ‘The Crisis of Modern Society’” an outline of Castoriadis’ 1965 talk entitled “The Crisis of Modern Society”, whereby he individuates two general critical elements of modernity and five specific ones. The two general elements are: (1) While human ingenuity gives rise to more and more complex technological applications of scientific knowledge, our capacity to steer human society towards a harmonious order decreases; (2) Progressive changes such as alleged prosperity and seemingly less cruel living conditions for most of the people are undeniable, yet dissatisfaction and constant conflicts appear more than in most other known historical societies. The five specific elements are: (1) axiological; (2) work-related; (3) political; (4) familial; (5) educational. In addition, Baruchello offers some reflections connecting Castoriadis’ talk with previous contributions of his to the NSU research group #3 and also furthering such contributions in a novel subject area: higher education.


Espen D. Stabell investigates in “Responsibility: The First Virtue of Innovation? A discussion of some ethical and meta-ethical issues concerning the concept of ‘responsibility’ in technological innovation”, as the title makes clear, the concept of responsibility in the context of technological innovation, with reference to two types of responsibility: ex post and ex ante responsibility. Exposing the shortcomings of ex post responsibility in the context of innovation, Stabell examines different ways of conceiving of a form of ex ante responsibility suitable for our current technological situation. Here he identifies two positions with very different approaches to the question of the ethical status of responsibility: Hans Jonas’s concept of responsibility as an ethical principle structuring moral behavior; and René von Schomberg’s idea of responsibility as “responsiveness” linked to procedures of communication and collaboration. Rejecting von Schomberg’s concept on ethico-philosophical grounds, Stabell argues in favor of a critical rehabilitation of some basic thoughts in the philosophy of Jonas. Finally, the author suggests taking the step from the Jonasian ethics of responsibility towards the Hegelian concept of Sittlichkeit – a concrete social morality that disentangles responsibility from the dilemmas of subjectivist morality.


Huginn Freyr Þorsteinsson’s discussion in “The Crash Course from Iceland” originates from the recent economic crisis in Iceland. The years between 2006 and 2008 are said to be crucial in understanding the Icelandic economic crisis. One of the main questions one gets when discussing the lessons from Iceland is: Was the quick post-collapse recovery due to how the country ‘burned’ the creditors? Myth has it that when things got tough for the banks, the Icelandic government denied to bail them out and the country therefore escaped the difficult long-term consequence felt, for example, by Ireland. But that is a serious distortion of what happened. The Icelandic banks were already on Central Bank life support from 2006 to 2008. It was only when the CBI ran out of steam that an alternative approach in crisis management was put in place. For admirers of historical contingencies this case is of interest. Iceland did not take a calculated decision to let the banks fail, but an attempted bail-out failed. This meant that that its tackling of a banking crisis took an unexpected turn as banks were put into administration, a move only considered in the face of failure. And despite the route taken by Iceland, the total cost of the economic crisis for the State has surpassed Ireland and is one of the costliest any sovereign has faced in the ongoing world-wide crisis. This is interesting given the ongoing discussion about (1) the Icelandic ‘miraculous’ escape from an economic crisis, and (2) that the possibilities that countries face during crisis management may be many more than those that are discussed.


John Storm Pedersen, Anna Lyneborg Nielsen and Jacob Dahl Rendtorff propose an analysis of the crisis of the welfare state in “The Paradigmatic Struggle for Legitimacy of the Danish Welfare State regarding the Provision of Welfare Services – Taking care of vulnerable children and youths as a core problem.” The Danish welfare state constitutes a paradigmatic case of the welfare struggle of modern welfare states. Taking care of vulnerable children and youths is used as a case study here, in order to illustrate the efforts of the welfare state to acquire legitimacy as a body of public administration. That is, the efforts to close the gap between the welfare state´s ideology of doing what is ‘good’ for its citizens and doing this in practice. In this article, the authors analyze this struggle for legitimacy in relation to the Danish welfare state, with illustrations based exclusively on the chosen case study. The authors present the concepts of biopower and moral blindness, in order to test the legitimacy of the welfare state´s provision of welfare services at the beginning of this century. Then, the authors propose a new paradigm to improve the welfare state´s claim to legitimacy.


Gorm Harste offers an analysis of war and crisis in “The World of Wars: Risky Systems – A second-order observation of future wars”. The world of the future will not be one without wars. The many hopes we have about a future peace governed by a more or less federal global state will not make wars obsolete. Regular wars and irregular wars will continue and probably on different subjects than we are used to. The article proposes that the future form of war will be more about temporalities, i.e. fast interchanges or, rather, riskier protracted wars of attrition and exhaustion and less tactical confrontations on well-defined territories. Today, the West can neither dominate such wars nor establish one world that is ruled or even governed. The resulting risk is that we have the systems we have. These systems have their own path dependencies, their temporal bindings and their own stories to tell. In the worst case, the West will stick to an imaginary of almighty power – and then it will lose. We tend to forget that our present past will be experienced and told differently in the future. The “extreme 20th century” will have another history and another impact. Its extremes will be narrated as more extreme, and its temporal bindings become easier to observe. The much celebrated “revolutions in military affairs” will not dominate future war systems. Unipolarity is fading away. Kantian convergences may appear instead.


Jacob Dahl Rendtorff and Øjvind Larsen propose a reading of Thomas Piketty’s recent book-sensation in “Thomas Piketty – The Adam Smith of the Twenty-First Century?” Piketty’s book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2014) has quickly become a bestseller in the world, and in a category of books that rarely witness mass sales, i.e. academic, scholarly books in economics. Two month after its publication, it had sold more than 200.000 copies, and this success will surely continue for a long time. The reason? Its inherent value. With this book, Piketty has established a new platform to discuss political economy in the present century.


Erik Bendtsen discusses ethics and crisis in the paper “Values, Attitudes and Nature”. Any philosophical examination of the possibly right or true values involves a deep reflection on human life and the nature of values themselves, and that includes all aspects of human life, hence it includes also our relationship to nature. On this background we can fairly easily discover the problematic relationship of human beings to nature, given the repeated destruction of nature’s ecosystems and life-forms or of the ongoing climate change; but we might also start the other way around and ask: which are the true values and why? And then, in contrast to these true and positive values, ask: which values are false and destructive values? The latter is the path chosen by the author of the paper.


Please enjoy these interesting contributions that have served to foster and articulate the understanding of the concept of crisis in several different scholarly and scientific contexts. Indeed, the symposium was a great success in multi- and inter-disciplinary thinking, as the contributors came from many diverse areas in the social sciences and the humanities, and everyone involved was very active and happy to participate in the discussion sessions of the study group


About Jacob Dahl Rendtorff

Jacob Dahl Rendtorff (born 1965) is Associate Professor of Business Ethics at Roskilde University, Denmark. Rendtorff is Head of Studies and Head of Research for the research group on business, leadership and change of his department. Rendtorff has a background in ethics, business ethics, bioethics, political theory and philosophy of law. Rendtorff has written seven books on issues concerning existentialism and hermeneutics, French philosophy, ethics, bioethics and business ethics, philosophy of law and business, and he has been co-author and editor on more than ten other books. Rendtorff has written articles on business, business ethics and philosophy in Danish, English, German and French. Rendtorff is currently a member of the board of the Danish Philosophical Forum and he is vice president of the Danish Association for Philosophy in French Language. He is also a member of the international group on reflexion about ethics, Eco-ethica, founded by Professor Imamichi Tomonobu. In the summer 2008 Rendtorff was elected as member of the steering committee of FISP (Féderation international des societies de philosophie), the global organisation of philosophy that is responsible for the organization of the world congress of philosophy.