Care Ethics

Merel Visse and Inge van Nistelrooij talk with Kim about Care Ethics.

Over the course of the episode, we discuss works by many care ethicists and other philosophically inclined thinkers. Prominent among these is Joan Tronto, whose book Caring Democracy: Markets, Equality, and Justice (NYU Press, 2013) offers a political approach to the practice of care. Also discussed are Carol Gilligan’s In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development (Harvard UP, 1982; useful excerpt available here) and Francois Jullien’s The Silent Transformations (trans. Krysztof Fijalkowski and Michael Richardson, Seagull Books / Chicago UP, 2011).

Several of Merel and Inge’s publications are discussed in the episode as well. You can read their co-authored article, “Me? The invisible call of responsibility and its promise for care ethics: a phenomenological view” in Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy (2019) 22: 275–285. Full lists of publications are available for Inge here and Merel here.

Both our guests are members of the Care Ethics Group at the University of Humanistic Studies in Utrecht, the Netherlands. Inge van Nistelrooij is an Associate Professor of Care Ethics at the University of Humanistic Studies and an endowed professor of Dialogical Self Theory (DST) at Radboud University in Nijmegen, the Netherlands. Merel Visse is the Director of the Medical and Health Humanities Program at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey and an associate professor in Care Ethics at the University of Humanistic Studies.

This week’s image is an undated painting titled “Resting” by Amrita Sher-Gil (1913-1941).

Music used in promotional material: ‘Peace of the Night’ by Crowander

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Critique

In this episode Kim and Saronik discuss Bruno Latour’s essay, “Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern.” Critical Inquiry 30 (Winter 2004): 225-248.

Image source:
M. Platen, The New Curative Treatment of Disease: Handbook of Hygienic Rules of Life, Health Culture, and the Cure of Ailments Without the Aid of Drugs… London : Bong & Co., 1893, p. 668

TRANSCRIPT

SUMMARY KEYWORDS

critique, latour, engendering, essay, podcast, problem, pleasure, question, politics, talks, conspiracy theory, theory, write, reading, phosphors, object, diagrams, distinct pleasure, steam, antagonism

Saronik 

So Kim, what are we talking about today?

Kim

So in this episode we’re talking about Bruno Latour’s essay, “Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam.” Because he asked a question in the title, we’re going to change our format a little bit so we can ask his question, too.

Saronik  

Yeah, that’s right. So we are basically handing over the organizational bits to Latour himself. Okay, so my first question is, what is critique?

Kim 

What the heck is critique?

Saronik  

I was being respectful too quickly, but I guess I shouldn’t be…

Kim

Well, I realized when we were thinking about how to ask these questions that “critique” is in our intro.

Saronik  

That’s very true. And, according to Latour, a critique needs saving.

Kim

Or does it?

Saronik

Or does it?

Kim

Maybe it should be thrown in the dustbin of history…

Saronik  

So what the heck is critique, Kim?

Kim

It’s a good question, and I don’t think that anyone really knows the answer.

Saronik  

Right, right. Okay, so I’m just gonna, yeah, I feel like we owe it to our listeners to sort of at least try to give, at least try to define critique in one sentence.

Kim

Okay. For sure. Critique is reading with politics.

Saronik

That is brilliant. Critique is reading with politics. But I think, and also something that Latour says, we begin with the impulse of reading with politics but in that process, we sort of set ourselves in a relationship of opposition or antagonism with the object of our study, and then we just get so much fun out of the fault finding, it’s just, and this is something that Latour also said, that there is a is a very distinct pleasure in this practice. And I completely agree with him on this. Because I felt it. I have felt that pleasure. And it’s not a, it’s not always a thing because…

Kim

Yeah, I mean, it’s the pleasure of intellectual performance. It’s the pleasure of being the wittiest guest at the dinner party.

Saronik  

Well yes, but the thing is, like, you know, there’s also that classical Socratic pleasure of, you know, the pleasure that you find Socrates embodying in Plato’s dialogues, which is yes, being the wittiest guest in the, in the dinner party, but also, I don’t know, like, it’s also the pleasure of engendering an ethos.

Kim

Yeah, but it’s connected to the politics question, right?

Saronik  

Absolutely, yes. So you know, when I say engendering an ethos, it’s also engendering the polis, and that in itself is, yes, it’s and as you succinctly put it, it’s reading with politics

Kim

Yeah, but then I think, I think it’s also the problem, right? So like, his example with the climate change deniers, the thing that he sees the problem with it is that other people are reading with the wrong kind of politics. Yeah.

Saronik  

Yeah, which is I mean, I think we can do a segue here.

Kim

Yeah, totally. Which it’s my turn to ask. 

Saronik

Right. It’s your turn to ask. 

Kim

Yes. So then, now that we have something of a working definition of critique, has critique run out of steam?

Saronik  

I think Latour says that to some degree it has or at least, it has run out of steam in the sense that it has lost or some of its sort of foundational roots have lost credibility. 

Kim

Okay. 

Saronik

This is, I mean, we should sort of historically contextualize the essay itself. This is written in the wake of 9/11. 

Kim

Yeah. 

Saronik

It, it sort bases its analytic on 9/11. And one of the things that are happening is that it’s, it’s sort of, there’s an efflorescence of conspiracy theories after 9/11 and Latour is writing in response to that, and does he actually say that, what is the difference between critique and conspiracy theory?

Kim

He talks about conspiracy theories. Yeah, actually. But actually, this is not my favorite point in his argument, because–

Saronik

What is your favorite point?

Kim

My favorite point is the bit where he talks about the sort of, well, where he talks about the rhetorical structure of the way critical arguments work. 

Saronik

That’s the end with the diagrams. 

Kim

Yeah, although I hate those diagrams, but I think…

Saronik  

Those diagrams look like I mean, that they were, like, made in the 90s with, like…

Kim

I think they were made in Word…

Saronik

Yeah, with Wordart. Yes, exactly, with Wordart. I loved Wordart as a teenager.

Kim

But oh, actually, wait, my really my favorite, favorite point in this essay is the one where he is, like, philosophers… where is it… let me let me read it to you because it’s so good: “The problem with philosophers is that because their jobs are so hard, they drink a lot of coffee and thus use in their arguments and inordinate quantity of pots, mugs, and jugs to which sometimes they might add an occasional rock.”

Saronik  

I love how very famous scholars, I think they arrive at a certain point in their career, when they deliberately try to write in a colloquial vein, and it’s, it’s really cute. Although, you know, pots, mugs, and jugs–I think I see this as a reference to classicism. Because if you, I think, if you look at sort of Hellenistic philosophy, there’s a lot of reference to pottery which, which goes to show that, how much our present institutions or  institutional philosophy is still very Classicist and sort of…

Kim

Yeah, but his point, the point that he is making there is not just, like, a silly one, but, but that as he says in the next line, “the objects of philosophers are never complicated enough,” which is, which is one mode of trying to move away from the Classicism of the academy, to say instead of simplifying things to their Platonic ideals, we should be dealing with the complexities of the world that modernity has generated.

Saronik  

Yeah, and you know, towards beginning he says, when he talks about science studies and what happens, what happens after there has been such a long traditional scholarship which says, well, scientific fact is socially constructed and, you know, that again, like, that is something that we are, that is a problem that we are facing head on right now with COVID. 

Kim

Yeah. 

Saronik

But the thing is, and this is something I think the essay does respond to, is, like, there is a difference between you saying scientific fact is socially constructed and someone saying Fauci doesn’t know shit, COVID isn’t real. You know, that’s, that’s where we draw the line between conspiracy theory and a critical overture.

Kim

Yeah, but, so I think, and this is where I disagree with Latour, and maybe it’s a good point for the next question.

Saronik  

Which I will ask you, which is how will, or will critique save the world?

Kim

Yeah, so has critique run out of steam, and will it save the world? So here’s why, here’s where I disagree with Latour: the way to solve this problem is by drawing some sort of line and saying no, this is the real, like, at this point, we have hit the real because I don’t think that solves any problems. And in fact, I am not 100% sure that there is a real.

Saronik

Okay. 

Kim

Or at least that there is reality that is not one that we have made. We have made the world that we live in to such an extraordinary extent that recourses to nature as a grounds for fact or truth is really arbitrary.

Saronik  

Well, we can end on a nebulous note.

Kim

Ohhh… yeah, yeah. Say goodbye. Okay.

Saronik

Yeah…

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