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Questions on power

Grant number: 02/00727-3
Support Opportunities:Research Projects - Thematic Grants
Duration: December 01, 2002 - November 30, 2007
Field of knowledge:Humanities - Philosophy
Principal Investigator:Renato Janine Ribeiro
Grantee:Renato Janine Ribeiro
Host Institution: Faculdade de Filosofia, Letras e Ciências Humanas (FFLCH). Universidade de São Paulo (USP). São Paulo , SP, Brazil


This project aims to organize researches already supported by Fapesp, and also to support a new one, concerning the hypothesis that in our days political philosophy undergoes important changes. Crucial traditional concepts as sovereignty, representation, and ideology are maybe no longer able to describe our world. But, most important, (political) power has changed its meaning and role in political philosophy. On one side, in the last few years politics has lost much of its appeal and power. In the 1990s, at the same time that political freedom spread across the world in a scale never known before, elected rulers lost much of their power to the rulers of internationalized capital. The rulers of global economy are not elected, are not accountable to people in general and often cannot even be identified. We are living what we could call a disempowerment of politics. And politics also loses ground to ethics, that for a long while -say, from the 1940s to the 1990s -has been seen by philosophy, maybe due to Marxist influence, as its poor cousin. However, since politics had become ideology, ethics has been able in the last years of the century to gather more popular support than it. Maybe this is due to the fact that ethical values appear more stable than political ones, and do not rely on changing conjunctures and alliances. In many countries politics is deemed as dishonest, while ethics is seen as the bearer of new hopes. This mar be the present feeling of people in Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil, but also in several developed countries, like Italy. Politics is criticized on the name of ethics.But, on the other side, this advancement of ethics means it expresses itself in terms of power, i.e., in a language that traditionally belonged to politics. Some concepts have accordingly been transferred from politics to ethics, as we can see in the case of Machiavelli. And one of the most meaningful trends of the late 20th century was the fact that the individual -or brand new associations of individuaIs, such as NGOs or minority groups - has/have come to occupy the seat of the prince. This important change has received the name of empowerment. It confers an enormous weight to personal will and even to voluntarism, as it helps to create new political and social actors. We can then see two parallel movements: disempowerment of politics, that is emptied of its former wealthy, and empowerment of the moral person, who receives those attributes that once belonged to power. We could say that politics loses power, both to economy and to ethics. It loses its real power to economy. It loses its ideaIs to ethics. We should then distinguish between politics and power. The former has lost ground, the latter acquires a new life. In order to assess this process, our methodology shall consist in making political philosophy, both classical and modern, analyze the new cultural signs of our times. We will employ the best theories available in the field of political philosophy as tools to understand our present world - and, every time it will fail in this task, we will see which changes must be brought to theory, 50 that it can provide a better understanding of present-day changes in politics and ethics... (AU)

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