Research Projects

THE POLITICS OF REASON

“The Politics of Reason” (POLSON) is a four year project (21st September 2021-20th September 2025) hosted by the Department of Logic and Theoretical Philosophy at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, and financed by the Ministry of Science and Innovation, Government of Spain (PID2020-117386GA-I00). The project inserts itself into contemporary debates in political epistemology to re-engage with the relationship between politics and reason, as a precursor to developing an account of political rationality from the perspective of postfoundational theory.

 

Theoretical Background

Although Western political theory has long affirmed the political importance of reason, this association has recently come under attack from postcolonial theorists, who question the universalist pretensions of traditional forms of reason, political theorists who claim that the emotions or agreement based in discursive deliberation are more fundamental for politics, and ‘post-truthers’ who question whether politics is concerned with rationally discerned truth. This critique of political rationality has, however, also been subject to critique, with a variety of thinkers working within analytic epistemology turning to the question of the relationship between reason and social action to better understand the subtleties of this relation before re-affirming the importance of reason to and for politics. For example, virtue epistemologists re-claim the importance of rational thought to identify the particular (political) virtues necessary to live a good life, while vice epistemologists focus on the problems that can prevent reason from functioning properly politically so as to both complicate any dependence upon reason and produce a more heterogeneous account of the political functioning of reason. Both approaches are however underpinned by a monadic subject, insofar as they focus on a single, reflective agent who encounters others subsequent to their original individual reflective discoveries. Proponents of group epistemology have aimed to correct this by demonstrating that epistemology is inherently social, although its proponents tend to continue to see collectives as an aggregation of individuals and collective knowledge as an aggregation of the knowledge of its members. As such, a number of authors have argued that a far stronger account of the individual’s social constitution—wherein instead of being situated in relation to others, individuals are constituted by that social relationality—is required, with the consequence that reason is held to be a fundamentally social phenomenon.

 

Project Aims

POLSON inserts itself into these multidisciplinary debates to offer a defense and reconsideration of the role that reason plays politically from the perspective of contingent foundations inherent in postfoundational theory. In so doing, POLSON undermines the binary opposition structuring the foundationalist/anti-foundationalist debate, by, on the one hand, incorporating the critiques of the foundational status of formal abstract logic and universal truths found in many contemporary critiques of political reason, without, on the other hand, succumbing to the conclusion (often made by proponents of affectivity or postcolonial theory) that universality need be abandoned politically. By maintaining that foundations are contingent constructions, POLSON engages with the question as to how such construction takes place to offer an original conception of political rationality (1) premised on the construction of contingent foundations; through (2) social performative action rather than individual reflection, with (3) the foundational aspect composed of temporary hegemonic cultural norms (rather than say institutional forms, laws, or sovereignty).