Research

Hegel, Marx, ethics, political philosophy.

See below for full list of publications, and links to full-text copies.

My main research interest for some time has been in the normative ground for the criticism of basic social and political institutions. I am interested both in the grounds that historical thinkers have adopted, and in how their ideas can be used to provide such a ground today.

I am mainly interested in two streams of thought: a modern 'political constructivist' current that starts from the idea of what it is to be a free or rational agent (e.g. Kant, Rawls, Gewirth, Habermas, Scanlon) and an older current that starts from the idea of humans as social or sociable animals (e.g. Aristotle, Aquinas).

I am especially interested in thinkers who seem to have attempted a synthesis of these two streams, such as Rousseau, Fichte, Schelling, Hegel and Marx. As I see it, each of these figures developed a variant of the idea that freedom and society are inseparable from each other, so that their ultimate ground for social and political criticism is some idea of 'free sociality' or 'social freedom'. The concepts of the 'general will' in Rousseau, 'mutual recognition' in Fichte, 'ethical life' in Hegel, and 'species-being' in Marx are all attempts to formulate such an idea, as is Jean-Luc Nancy's more recent notion of 'community'.

At the same time these concepts seem to suffer from some serious problems. First, there is a question about whether any of them really succeeds in integrating the ideas of freedom and sociality at a deep level, or whether instead they simply put the two ideas together under new labels, or redefine one in terms of the other. In addition, like all foundationalist ethical concepts, they look vulnerable to historicist, naturalist and deconstructive critiques.

Furthermore, each has problems of its own. For example, Fichte's concept of mutual recognition looks vitiated by the way it is bound up with an absolutist notion of individual freedom, Hegel's concept of ethical life by its reliance on the idea that those who participate in it are somehow 'all one', and Marx's concept of species-being by its exclusive focus on labour and production.

My research aims at investigating the strengths and weaknesses of these various conceptions of 'free sociality', with a view to asking whether an alternative formulation of the idea can overcome their problems.

I am currently working on a monograph on these themes in Marx, Freedom and Sociality in the Thought of Karl Marx, with the support of the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council.

See also my academia.edu page.