The Politics of Human Life : Rethinking Subjectivity book cover
1st Edition

The Politics of Human Life
Rethinking Subjectivity

ISBN 9781138048164
Published June 25, 2021 by Routledge
124 Pages

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Book Description

This book centres on the notion of human life that lies at the foundation of contemporary thinking in the areas of ethics, law and politics.

Centrally, the book addresses the deep divide, characteristic of this thinking, between: on the one hand, those who wish to do away with any anthropological understandings of the human, and appeal to mere facts delivered by science; and, on the other hand, critics who defend an anthropological understanding of human life that is tied to traditional, teleological, metaphysics. In short: knowledge of the world is given over to the sciences and moral theory is considered to operate in a distinct, and insulated, domain. But this opposition has, Piergiorgio Donatelli argues here, outlived its usefulness. Through a discussion of the intimate human spheres of reproduction, dying and sexuality, he argues that we now live in a world characterized by new ways of living: by novel rearrangements of emotions, and by the modification, and in some cases a radical rupture in, existing ideas of human life. These shifts challenge any established separation between facts and norms, between human life and its conceptualization. As such, it is argued here, they simultaneously offer the possibility of a new, socially articulated, understanding of the relationship between subjectivity and normativity.

Engaging pressing contemporary themes, this book will be invaluable to scholars in the fields of ethics, law and political theory, and both analytic and continental philosophy.

Table of Contents

    1.Reversing Normative Dispositives  2.Liberals and Conservatives: Rethinking the Clash  3.Science and the Space of Ethics  4.Frameworks  5.The Quest for Freedom  6.Sexuality, Reproduction, Death

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    Piergiorgio Donatelli is Professor of Philosophy and Head of the Department of Philosophy at Sapienza Università di Roma. He has written on the history of ethics, contemporary moral theory, bioethics and on issues related to human life, as well as on J. S. Mill, Wittgenstein, Foucault, and Stanley Cavell.


    While the vocabulary of biopower, life, population, security, vulnerability, body, has come to suffuse contemporary discussions of democratic politics, there is a certain breathless quality to these discussions that often confuses expressions of indignation with criticism, and moralism with moral reasoning. In this milieu of heightened fears of how democracies are failing us, Piergiorgio Donatelli offers a fearless exposition of how to speak across political divisions of liberalism and conservatism, how to think of our allegiances and antagonisms in a manner that does not foreclose the possibility of a future together. Neither a knee-jerk rejection of science, nor salvational trust in science and technology, Donatelli shows us how we might think of the politics of life in its dense textures around the events of birth, sexuality, and death. This book is not only a brilliant contribution to Foucauldian studies but also might just help us recover a sane way of engaging the most pressing issues for securing democratic futures.

    Veena Das, FBA, Krieger-Eisenhower Professor of Anthropology, Johns Hopkins University


    One of the main conceptual transformations of the 21st century is a new emphasis on the notion of human life as a principle in ethics, law, and politics. Piergiorgio Donatelli, one of the most innovative thinkers in contemporary ethics, undertakes to think about this evolution and the current transformations of life forms; he presents an illuminating view of the radical change of perspective brought about by both the biologisation of social life forms and the politicisation of the living. The Politics of Human Life proposes a groundbreaking politics of life forms, together with an elucidation of the various and surprising ways today of integrating biological data in the exploration of ordinary life. Beyond the conformist divide between scientism and humanism, Piergiorgio Donatelli demonstrates how the present modifications of biological life, far from enforcing our submission to the 'laws' of life, contribute to giving human life its shape and lead us to invent new forms and norms of life, forces of transformation or resistance in a world under threat.

    The present metamorphoses of life open for Piergiorgio Donatelli a space for moral reflection and new freedoms: fields which seem subjected to hard necessity, those 'general features of human nature' (as Wittgenstein calls them), such as birth, death, procreation, sexuality, are precisely the object of political and everyday struggles for the pluralism of forms of life. He boldly tells us to reclaim these domains as places for us, places for the creative exercise of subjectivity. By offering a new and realistic way to reclaim human life as a sphere of freedom, The Politics of Human Life moves towards a politics that actually places at its core the human being as a living being.

    Sandra Laugier, Professor of Philosophy at the Université of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne