Thinking outstrips the thinker An argument to keep on reading Heidegger

Heidegger’s case

Ever since renowned German philosopher Martin Heidegger joined the National Socialist Party in 1933 there has been a lively debate surrounding both his work and persona[1]. What’s more, after the Second World War Heidegger never confronted his own philosophical-historical conceptions behind his actions and remained silent on the role he had plaid under the regime[2]. Recently, this debate has gained a new spark due to the publication of the first volumes of Heidegger’s so-called Black Notebooks, thirty-four black-covered booklets containing Heidegger’s philosophical reflections and annotations about events of the time in the years between 1931 and 1976[3]. The controversial contents of the publications have reignited accusations concerning the authoritarianism and anti-Semitism of the person and the thought[4].

Some have called for removing Heidegger from the shelves of philosophy departments and to rehouse him under the history of Nazism[5]. These commentators usually refer to a contamination of Heidegger’s philosophy or hold that a bad man cannot be a good Philosopher[6]. In this essay, I follow the position of commentators such as Eric Nelson, who holds that the more pressing issue regards the internal structure of Heidegger’s thinking[7]. I argue that we ought to keep on concerning ourselves with Heidegger and keep on reading his works as he remains one of the most influential Philosophers in the 20th century, which is precisely why we ought to think about how his works are to be interpreted both as philosophical works and as works that are bound up with the historical life of a person[8]. One of my tasks will be to hint at the ambivalence of Heidegger, which makes it hard to penetrate him and begs the question if a final answer to the Heidegger problem is at all achievable. It follows that I in no way aim at answering the question if National Socialism and anti-Semitism contaminate Heidegger and his work. Rather, in forwarding philosophical perspectives on his work, this essay aims at promoting further investigation and reflection.

Analyzing the Philosopher

In addressing the Heidegger case, it is seems almost natural to ask how the person relates to his intellectual work. I will here give some implications towards why the analysis of Heidegger’s Philosophy is an end in it’s own right, regardless of the person. Historian Holger Zaborowski’s analysis of Heidegger’s life and work paints a picture of great paradoxes and arbitrariness[9]. There are many clear cases of personal fault regarding Heidegger’s actions, which are not ambivalent and place great guilt on him. However, it is hard to make such a clear judgment in many other cases[10]. It may for instance be argued that Heidegger himself made efforts to overcome his problematic actions Rector and party member and tried to criticize National Socialism, but he did so philosophically rather than taking action[11]. Another point Zaborowski makes is that Heidegger lived a very eventful life, which makes it impossible to put all pieces of the puzzle together[12]. To this complexity, Arendt adds that Heidegger lacked the common sense necessary for political life and action because of his withdrawnness from the world in thought[13]. The complex and ambivalent character is also reflected in his reception, in which he has been read as both an opponent and proponent of oppression for instance[14]. Zaborowski thus suggests that the only way to come to terms with Heidegger is to confront him philosophically and recognizing that he after all is an influential and inspiring thinker[15].

Besides the complexity of Heidegger’s work and character, ad hominem arguments appear toothless if we accept that throughout history there have been very evil people who have written interesting books and said things that are true. As Zaborowski puts it, there are many examples that show that intellectual greatness does not protect one from error and bad actions[16]. Bernasconi notes that there is much racism in the thought and actions of Kant, Locke and Hegel, but, even though they are regularly criticized, this is not held as a reason to expel them from our canon of thought. In the same way, we cannot ignore Heidegger’s influence up to this day. Foucault himself said that his thought directly derived from Heidegger[17]. The same holds for Sartre. The Phenomenology of Derrida and Ponty is fundamentally based on readings of Heidegger. Responding to claims like a bad man must be a bad philosopher, it hence seems arbitrary that so much value is created from something which supposedly is valueless.

In this excursion, I have put forth arguments showing that a focus on analyzing Heidegger’s philosophic work without regarding his actions as a person surely does not exhaust the Heidegger case, indeed we may rightly ask how his Philosophy and persona interact. Focusing exclusively on his Philosophy however makes our task scalable and most importantly engages Heidegger on the level on which he is intellectually still influencing our world.

The Kant example

With regards to the racism of canonical philosophers, Robert Bernasconi agrees with Nelson and myself that given their unquestioned importance, such that we cannot afford not to read them, we should make their racism a further reason to interrogate them[18]. He provides us with the example of Kant and his controversial essays on race[19]. Canonical philosophers are according to Bernasconi often communicated as refined versions that differ from the actual person and his philosophy as a whole. In Kant’s case, many distinguish his empirical claims about races from his philosophical theses, thus separating racist beliefs from his main philosophical doctrines, enabling one to read Kant without the racism[20]. Another suboptimal way of analyzing Kant’s racism would be to analyze only the obvious and easily targeted racism[21]. To Bernasconi, if we want a better understanding of how racism operates in Kant we need a more inclusive approach which would for instance investigate Kant’s racism in it’s coexistence with his famous conception of cosmopolitanism, the search for a purpose in human history[22]. This approach suggests that Kantʼs cosmopolitanism actually made his racism even more pronounced because the racial inferiority that he had already recognized in some groups now becomes an offence against humanity itself, as certain races are unable to lead a life of purpose in his sense[23]. This approach thus rewards us with a greater understanding of how racism operates within philosophical frameworks and how it may have been inherited via Kant’s doctrines up until this very day.

Heidegger and National Socialism

Following Bernasconi’s learnings from Kant, we ask how National Socialism and anti-Semitism may be active in Heidegger’s work, thereby also including the specific historic surroundings[24]. With regards to National Socialism, Escudero notes that it did not start out as anything monolithic, but was a movement which in its initial stages sought a political and social revolution that was later dramatically transformed into a regime of human devastation[25]. This not only raises the necessity of situating Heidegger’s texts within the context of the Weimar Republic, but also within the crisis of modernity that made many intellectuals call for cultural revolutions[26]. To Ecsudero, we must thus enter our analysis with the premise that Heidegger’s thought contains a specific kind of National Socialism situated in this very point of time, in contrast to a simplified version related to the later ruling party in Germany[27].
This difference within the interpretation of National Socialism is also reflected in the fact that Heidegger from 1933 on was being separated from the party and it’s ideology. According to Nelson Heidegger did not speak in the same way as the National Socialist party philosophers and ideologues, but also the movement was not embracing his own philosophy. National Socialism was in Heidegger’s estimation an initially promising response to the nihilism of modernity, something he himself had called for, but it lost it’s initial promise and revealed itself as yet another version of modernism[28]. In the Black Notebooks, it is obvious that Heidegger has distaste for numerous elements of the National Socialist movement, which he sees as symptoms of the crisis of modernity, like its vulgar populism, biological racism and worship of technology[29].

To Nelson, these points however remain insufficient as to count as a real critique of National Socialism. Furthermore, Heidegger’s stance toward National Socialism is critical only in a broadly right-wing and elitist manner, which in Heidegger is fundamentally anti-modern and negative towards liberalism and democracy[30]. Nelson points out that when Heidegger develops concepts such as homeland, community and people, this wording does not justify an involvement with Nazism, these words were of common use at this time. But neither can it be denied that it echoes conservative and nationalist sentiment and eases the road towards a positive interpretation of the National Socialist movement[31]. The question of Nazi = yes / no is in other words not applicable, rather we need to depart from the point that Heidegger’s terminology is not accidental and his thought is bound up with the time in which he lived[32].

Heidegger’s Anti-Semitism

It is known that Heidegger made occasional anti-Semitic remarks and engaged in anti-Semitic actions when he was active on behalf of the political movement in 1933/34[33]. The Black Notebooks are testimonials to his anti-Semitism and provide further evidence and context. To Escudero, there on one hand is no doubt that Heidegger’s relationship with Judaism is highly problematic and ambiguous, but his stance is not unilaterally anti-Semitic, if understood as the racial persecution and systematic annihilation of the Jews[34]. What according to Escudero instead can be detected in Heidegger are strong traces of a spiritual and cultural anti-Judaism, particularly present in the university and academic spheres[35]. As already mentioned, Heidegger early developed a technophobic conservative opposition against modern technology. To him, with the modernization of society the use of technologies was no longer limited to the household economy, but extended to the creation of a public infrastructure, which furthers impersonal society and distances man from his individual being and original setting[36]. Some of Heidegger’s most controversial formulations emerge at the point where he connects this modernization with Jewry. However, these problematic remarks are ambiguous for they may for instance also be motivated by his anti-Christian polemic, which Nelson reads as a much more central thread throughout the Black Notebooks[37]. In the Black Notebooks and in other writings there are also passages in which Heidegger appears extremely critical of the type of anti-Semitism the party invoked[38]. It hence seems difficult to speak of a racist or biological anti-Semitism in Heidegger.

What is hard to deny is that Heidegger’s wording reflects part of Hitler’s discourse, like the stereotypes associating calculability with the Jewish world-view. Like Kant’s racism evolves when paired with his cosmopolitanism, we now know something about Heidegger’s anti-Semitism as the criticism of modernity is united with and extended to Judaism[39]. To Nelson, his anti-Semitism is thus not accidental or superficial, however, given the role of Jewry as one symptom of the history of metaphysics and modernity, his anti-Semitism is inconsistent with more radical anti-Semitic visions[40]. Commentators as Christian Fuchs hold a more critical interpretation, for instance clearly relating Heidegger to Adorno’s elements of anti-Semitism[41]. We have already noted the calculability, but Heidegger can also be said to define Jews as a powerful homogenous group, which echoes the myth of a Jewish world conspiracy. He even uses the term world Jewry (Weltjudentum). It would thus not be a biological, but a social and political feature of Jews that they are an opposition to what Heidegger sees as the German’s rootedness in soil, nation, and nature, while Jews are viewed as cosmopolitan and international, which are destructive features of modernity[42].

Where does this leave us

Finding a scalable and defendable approach to Heidegger is a great challenge for any philosopher or historian. As Nelson notes, apologetic and polemic accounts of the Heidegger controversy often remain closed to the unavoidable and necessary questions that must continue to be posed and reposed anew[43]. I have tried to focus on the need to address the implications we may find in Heidegger’s thought once we set his character and actions aside, in pursuit of showing that we should continue to concern ourselves with Heidegger: on one hand because evidently there is much to be gained from his thought, as his influence on important thinkers of our time proves. On the other hand, so that we can come to terms with what is hidden in thought and understand how this may influence us today. I agree with Nelson that the philosophy and the person cannot be cleanly separated and demarcated and indeed Heideggr’s thought ought to be put in context with his personal actions and beliefs. But at the same time, in analyzing the Philosopher we are necessarily looking at something which is beyond the person, the thinking necessarily outstrips the thinker and the philosophy calls for being encountered in its own terms[44].


Bernasconi, RobertWill the real Kant please stand up – The challenge of Enlightenment racism to the study of the history of philosophyRadical Philosophy 117:13-22, 2003 – URL:

Carlisle, E. J. – How did she Forgive Heidegger? Hannah Arendt and the Politics of Forgiveness – In, West, B. ed. TASA Conference 2014. Adelaide, SA: Challenging Identities, Institutions, and Communities. Melbourne, VIC. Nov, 2014 – URL:

Elden, Stuart – Mapping the Present – Heidegger, Foucault and the Project of Spatial History – Continuum, Cornwall 2001

Escudero, Jesús AdriánHeidegger’s Black Notebooks and the Question of Anti-Semitism – 2015 URL:

Fuchs, Christian – Martin Heidegger’s Anti-Semitism: Philosophy of Technology and the Media in the Light of the Black Notebooks. Implications for the Reception of Heidegger in Media and Communication Studies – tripleC: Communication, Capitalism & Critique. Open Access Journal for a Global Sustainable Information Society Vol 13 No 1, 2015 – URL:

Nelson, Eric S. Heidegger’s Black Noteboooks: National Socialism. Antisemitism, and the History of BeingHeidegger-Jahrbuch. 11 Zur Hermeneutik der „Schwarzen Hefte“ :77-88, Verlag Karl Albert 2017 –  URL:

Zaborowski, Robert – Eine Frage von Irre und Schuld?: Martin Heidegger und der Nationalsozialismus – FISCHER Taschenbuch, 2010

[1] Nelson, p. 77

[2] Ibid, p. 86

[3] Nelson, p. 78; Escudero, p. 24

[4] Nelson, p. 78



[7] Nelson, p. 79

[8] Ibid

[9] Zaborowski, p. 747-755

[10] Ibid, p. 750, 752

[11] Ibid, p. 753

[12] Ibid, p. 751

[13] Carlisle, p. 11

[14] Nelson, p. 78, 80

[15] Zaborowski, p. 754

[16] Ibid, p. 750

[17] Elden, S.1,2,94

[18] Bernasconi, p. 13

[19] Ibid, p. 14

[20] Ibid, p. 16

[21] Ibid

[22] Ibid, p. 18

[23] Ibid

[24] Escudero, p. 22; Bernasconi, p. 14-15

[25] Escudero, p. 32

[26] Zaborowski, p. 749

[27] Escudero, p. 32

[28] Nelson, p. 80

[29] Nelson, p. 80-81, 86

[30] Nelson, p. 82; Zaborowski, p. 753

[31] Nelson, p. 80

[32] Nelson, p. 80; Zaborowski, p. 750

[33] Nelson, p. 83

[34] Escudero, p. 37

[35] Ibid, p. 37, 38

[36] Fuchs, p. 66

[37] Nelson, p. 82

[38] Escudero, p. 27-29, 38

[39] Escudero, p. 26; Nelson, p. 83

[40] Nelson, p. 85

[41] Fuchs, p. 63

[42] Ibid, p. 65, 74

[43] Nelson, p. 87

[44] Ibid

A good peer is hard to find

The problem of disagreement has received heightened attention in the last decades, creating debates in the fields of epistemology, metaphysics, ethics and linguistics, raising questions such as if we disagree about beliefs or attitudes, or in which situations we actually disagree and when we are merely talking past each other. Thinkers like MacFarlane have suggested that in trying to come to terms with the phenomenon of disagreement we need to accept that we are faced with several types of disagreements, which emerge in different constellations of parameters existing between holders of propositions (MacFarlane, p. 3). One specific type of disagreement emerges between epistemic peers, subjects who are equally equipped for assessment and thus can be expected to make the same judgement. The underlying idea has been forwarded by several thinkers. Max Kölbel for instance uses the term faultless disagreement to describe a situation where there is a thinker A, a thinker B, and a proposition p, such that: (a) A believes that p and B believes that not-p (b) Neither A nor B has made a mistake (Kölbel, p. 53). Kölbel thus describes a situation where two parties have conflicting propositions but neither of them seems to have made a mistake in their judgement. Sarah McGrath uses a similar idea to define what she names controversial disagreement. Accordingly, a disagreement qualifies as controversial if I have no reason to think that my opponent is more in error than I am (McGrath, p. 91). Building on this idea, McGrath introduces the term with which we will concern ourselves with in this text, the epistemic peer. Within her framework, the concept gives an equal weight to the judgement of an opponent who qualifies as an epistemic peer, hence resulting in controversial belief if the two parties disagree. An epistemic peer is as it were, defined by me predicting that my opponent is just as likely as me to arrive at the correct judgement (McGrath, p. 103). As a result, I would have to suspend judgement even if we arrive at different answers, for at this point I have no reason to think that one of the opposing propositions has an advantage over the other, I have no reason to favor any proposition with regards to the assessor’s ability of judgement.

The concept of epistemic peerhood has been held to promote skepticism, the view that we lack knowledge and that all claims to the effect that something has a certain [moral] property are false (Vavova, p. 304; McGrath, p. 87-88). This is supposed to follow from the argument that if we do disagree without being able to find any error that causes the disagreement, this strongly implies that we indeed lack knowledge. I will argue that the cases where this type of disagreement emerges are far less than may be supposed (Vavova, p. 303). Katia Vavova has already made several general observations which hint that the situations in which epistemic peers disagree are rather limited. In her paper from 2014, Vavova lists several factors which are crucial to our reasons for thinking that we are peers, such as how much I know about your respective credentials, if we see ourselves as superior or inferior in some respect, if we have faith in the judgement of our respective credentials, etc. (Vavova, p. 307). Vavova however does not discuss these factors in detail, which is what we will do in this paper. By doing so I aim to show that the premises that qualify two opponents as epistemic peers are not easily met, thereby undermining the skeptical argument from peer disagreement.

Conditions for epistemic peerhood
Whilst the general concept of epistemic peerhood has been stated quite clearly by both Vavova and McGrath, Nathan L. King supplies us with four conditions which have to be met for epistemic peerhood to obtain (King, p. 252). We will walk them through one at a time:

– The disagreement condition: A believes P, while B believes -P
– The same evidence condition: A and B have the same evidence E relevant to P
– The dispositional condition: A and B are equally disposed to respond to E appropriately
– The acknowledgement condition: A and B have good reason to think that the three conditions above are satisfied

The Disagreement Condition requires that the disagreement between peers is genuine, that the opponents take incompatible doxastic attitudes toward the same proposition (King, p. 253). As King however notes, it is quite common to be mistaken about whether this condition is satisfied, which to him becomes evident in the remaining three conditions discussed below (King, p. 253). Though King thinks that the problem of the disagreement condition is quite self-evident and does not get much into why this is so, we will here not take his word for it. As current debate shows, it is on one hand an open matter what we are disagreeing about; are we talking about beliefs or attitudes towards some belief for instance? What we are aiming at when two seemingly opposing propositions clash is thus not clearly defined. Let’s take a simple case. King gives us an example where there is a fact about whether capital punishment significantly deters crime: those who believe that capital punishment does deter crime clearly disagree with those who think that it does not (King, p. 253). This seems rather easy to qualify as genuine disagreement. Consider however Vavova’s similar case. She tells us about two opponents from different political camps who disagree about whether the death penalty is justified because [they] disagree about whether it has deterrent effects. But whether the death penalty has deterrent effects is an empirical matter. [Their] disagreement, then, isn’t a moral disagreement (Vavova, p. 313). Thus, the opponents in Vavova’s case morally agree about what would justify a certain punishment but disagree empirically about the fact of the matter. We do not want to go into all the different realms we can disagree within, as stated before, this is an unfinished debate in itself. However, what Vavova shows is that it is possible to agree on the premises and disagreeing on results and vice verca (Vavova, p. 314). So where are we to put our assessments? Furthermore, even if we follow Vavova’s objection to empirical issues in moral disagreement, it is not clear how in this case empirical matters are to be evaluated. It is no secret that how we evaluate some empirical fact may be prone to ideological or scientific premises for instance. To take a simple metaphor, if 50% of the beer inside my cup remains, some will hold it to be half full, the other to be half empty. The upshot of this is thus, that it is not self-evident that two opponents actually do disagree; perhaps they are for instance only be talking past each other. It is also plausible that the issue which is disagreed about builds on certain background beliefs, which in turn have several layers of beliefs. In trying to get a hold of such beliefs to see if we do disagree will hence often be a very hard task.

The Same Evidence Condition holds that two opponents need to hold the same body of evidence, a condition that to King is not easily met either (King, p. 254). Here is his example:

Mike and Keith are veteran philosophers who teach at different universities. Both specialize in metaphysics […]. Both are very familiar with the arguments in the literature on the problem of universals. There is significant (but not total) overlap in the arguments of which they are aware. […] Mike is a realist who thinks that properties are abstract universals. Keith is a trope nominalist who thinks that realism is false. While attending conferences and through correspondence, they have discussed many of the reasons for their opposing views, yet disagreement remains. (King, p. 254)

In this example, though extreme care has been taken to disclose their relevant arguments, both philosophers are clearly not able to share a common body of evidence (King, p. 255). Also McGrath notes that even experts often have no consensus when it comes to, in her case, moral issues (McGrath, p. 99). Where evidence is complex, it thus seems that it becomes increasingly hard to satisfy this condition. Consider another case:

Peter and David are professional philosophers of the first rank. Both exhibit a wide range of intellectual skills and virtues, […] Peter and David have acknowledged that they exemplify these virtues more or less equally. These philosophers are, in a word, scrupulous with respect to their assessment of evidence. […] they take great care to share their evidence with respect to the claim that . In conversation with one another, they proceed slowly and carefully so as to ensure mutual understanding. They read the same books and journal articles […] thereby acquainting themselves with the same arguments. […] Yet after all this, Peter believes that genuine freedom must be indeterminist in character, while David denies this. (King, p. 256)

This example makes it clear that even in cases where extreme precaution is taken, it is utterly hard to satisfy the same evidence condition (King, p. 256). There may be many reasons for this, such as background beliefs, or that accounts of evidence, such as perceptual experiences, rational insights, intuitions, religious views, etc. cannot mediate the same evidence between individuals (King, p. 256-257). On such accounts, opponent’s respective bodies of total evidence may be overlapping, but not co-extensive due to the subject’s differing intuitions for instance (King, p. 257).

The Dispositional Condition targets the merits of each opponent, which have to be equal for all parties involved (King, p. 258). This may include equality in intelligence and logical skill, but also elements like sense modalities or honesty, carefulness and freedom from bias, etc. are part of the subject’s merits (King, p. 259). Where differences in such merits occur, it is easy to anticipate that there will be differences in reliability of the subjects’ assessments (King, p. 259). King gives us an example with regards to background beliefs which may for instance determine how evidence should be assessed:

[…] two subjects have differing background beliefs about which sources of testimony are reliable. Smith believes that The National Enquirer is a reliable source, while Jones believes that the Enquirer is unreliable, opting instead for The New York Times. Suppose that the Times is in fact more reliable. If both subjects read both periodicals in an effort to possess a shared body of evidence, we would expect Jones to form true beliefs more often than Smith, and false beliefs less often. (King, p. 260)

One way for subjects to be equally reliable is to rate equally well along the relevant dimensions, a direct but very hard and perhaps unrealistic way of satisfying the condition. Another way is to rate disparately along different dimensions, but in such a way that these differences cancel out, if for instance A is better at logic than B, but B is better at reading instruments than A (King, p. 261). However, the problem with this second alternative lay in that different combinations of abilities means precisely that two opponents have differently tuned apparatuses for assessing their evidence which is likely to influence their judgement. Thus, to meet the condition two opponents will have to have the same apparatus for assessment, which we have already stated will often be a hard condition to meet.

Thus far we have described three conditions which categorically (dis-)qualify subjects as being epistemic peers. Turning to the Acknowledgement Condition we now look at the reasons the subjects themselves may have for thinking that they are engaged in a genuine disagreement with an epistemic peer. Vavova amongst others has stated that it isn’t enough that you are as likely as I am to get things right. I have to have reason to think that we are equally likely to be right, I have to have reason to treat you as my peer (Vavova, p. 308). It is important to distinguish this claim from the three conditions discussed above, since they have different truth conditions; for even if one has objectively good reason to think that the opponents is a peer, one might be mistaken.
Vavova notes that my reasons for thinking that we are equally likely to be right or wrong can be varyingly strong and depends on a number of factors, including how much I know about our respective credentials, track records, reliability, etc. (Vavova, p. 307). In other words, they rely on the subject’s assessment of the conditions just described above. But remember that in analyzing these conditions, we have seen that they are hard to satisfy exactly because our ways of assessment carry with them several weaknesses. As the examples of the philosopher’s disagreements above show, even if we ignore elements that are on the subjective side of things, such as intuition, and only focus on arguments and their constituents as evidence, subjects still rarely have reason to think that their opponents have the same evidence (King, p. 261). Or in cases in which judgement requires logical skill one often has little good reason to think that the opponent’s logical skills are on a par with one’s own (King, p. 262). In virtue of all this, subjects will often lack reason to think that they are involved in a disagreement with an epistemic peer (King, p. 263).

Several objections need to be confronted regarding empirical peerhood, also if it is to act as a skeptical argument. We have seen that it may not be clear about what two opponents actually disagree. Putting this debate aside, we have seen that we are not merely concerned with clashing propositions, but also with background beliefs. If we are to include these, how far do we need to investigate into our opponent’s premises to get a hold of where we agree and where we do not. If this is the preferred approach, we seem to end up with a form of Socratic investigation, which may be too time consuming for our everyday coping. Furthermore, on King’s second condition, it seems to be a hard task to guarantee equal evidence held by two opponents, be it the access of the same epistemic factors or perceptual elements which cannot be mediated between subjects. Turning to personal discourse, elements as background belief or intellectual capacities play a great role in determining if opponents can be called peers or not. Vavova mentions similar elements, but is more optimistic that track records, in combination with other personal traits can be used to evaluate opponent’s reliability and skillset (Vavova, p. 307). The question that remains is if this is enough. King would probably argue that after realizing all the limitations we have discussed regarding our four conditions, one might, with good reason, be skeptical towards viewing an opponent as equal on merits. As McGrath notes, even if very good arguments contrary to one’s own position can be made, one may often still have reason to rather suspect error in such positions than in one’s own (McGrath, p. 95).
As King notes, one may object that the four conditions that have to be satisfied are overly strict. However, our overall argument still works even if the conditions grant some flexibility, for instance regarding abilities that would have to match 100 percent (King, p. 264). Surely, it would be unrealistic to hold that two subjects hold exactly the same evidence or have exactly the same ability in logical thinking. This does however not matter to the argument for any reasonable standard for these conditions will presumably still dramatically limit the cases where peer disagreement occurs. The stricter the condition has to be met, the less cases with epistemic peers remain.
The upshot of all this is thus not to deny that epistemic peerhood exists, indeed there may be cases where these conditions are met sufficiently, but the situations in which epistemic peers disagree seem, when regarding all the conditions which have to be satisfied, utterly small and not enough to support a general skeptic argument.

King, Nathan L. (2012), Disagreement: What’s the Problem? or A Good Peer is Hard to Find, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research Vol. LXXXV No. 2, p. 249-272,

Kölbel, Max (2004), Faultless Disagreement. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 104,
p. 53-73

MacFarlane, John (2014), Assesssment Sensitivity, Oxford: Oxford University Press

McGrath, Sarah (2008), Moral Disagreement and Moral Expertise, In R. Shafer-Landau (Ed.), Oxford Studies in Metaethics: Volume 3 (p. 87-108). Oxford: Oxford University

Vavova, Katia (2014), Moral Disagreement and Moral Skepticism, Philosophical Perspectives, 28, p. 302-333

Biological kinship and the construction of positions

Through the times there have been many ideas regarding what constitutes the being of the human subject: religion, race, class, gender and culture are examples of human features, which have been viewed as essential to the individual’s self. To J. David Velleman, one such essential element consists of the biological ties shared with one’s family, which to him is a premise for any healthy identity[1]. If having such an identity then is something which is to be valued, so he argues, it follows that it is immoral to create human life where the offspring has no chance to get to know who she is with regards to her biological ancestry, as is the result of donor conception for instance[2].

In this essay, I aim at comparing Velleman’s arguments with theories of identity formation to see what such theories tell us about the value, which Velleman lends to biological kinship. I will also use culture as an example to view how such social features relate to identity. Since Velleman is concerned with the themes identity, self-image and self-knowledge, which overlap but all have a different meaning, I will for our purpose use the term position to describe a central standpoint the individual establishes for her to view the world as meaningful and having a coherent context.

Velleman on kinship and identity
According to Velleman, knowing our relatives and especially our parents provides a knowledge of ourselves, which is of irreplaceable value to personal identity[3]. This is reflected by the fact that most people rely on their acquaintance with biological relatives in constructing their identity[4]. Prominent in Velleman’s identity formation via kinship is the narrative concept, defining ourselves in the terms of a story which puts everything in context. To Velleman, thus knowing our biological family enables us to integrate authentic stories into our own identity[5]. In the case of adoptees, he holds that they may find meaningful positions from narratives about their adoptive families, but they lack the most important stories about themselves[6]. The biologically related narratives are what he calls family-resemblance, which qualifies individuals as belonging to the same family and are vital to the process of bonding and the social realm of the family[7]. To Velleman, this resemblance is deeply rooted in one’s self-concept, which includes information not only about how one looks, but also about personal traits and characteristics[8]. Many aspirations are directed at fulfilling family-resemblance concepts, trying to live up to certain criteria which reproduce the family-resemblance[9].

Heritage and Culture
As Norqvist and Smart note, Velleman’s theory rests on the idea that the individual’s constitution is linked to origin, a paradigm, which has manifested itself around many human features[10]. Genetic heritage shares this foundation with racial biology, which in our time has developed into the discourse of culture[11]. Just as kinship, culture too is often held as something essentially defining of the individual. Culture is also compelling as a source for positions, for it offers a predefined narrative and gives certainty about where one comes from and who one is[12]. Just as family-resemblance, cultures thus offer schematic stories, which help their members to bond and interact[13].

Having identified similarities between culture and kinship, we can now move forward to the critique of culture as establishing a dichotomy between socially constructed positions in the same way that biological racism does, claiming that the individual is inescapably determined by her origins[14]. According to Haslanger, such theories fail to explain individual development: even though a person should directly relate to some cultural group, her position often turns out to be unexpectedly different[15]. For instance, being an Afghan in Sweden cannot be the same as being an Afghan in Afghanistan since not only is the meaning of Afghan different, but one is also faced with many other circumstances in a specific time and place which influence one’s position, including the unique experiences of the individual[16]. The same thing should hold for family narratives, where Velleman seems to be taking for granted that knowing ones’ ancestors’ narrative automatically triggers some fixed self-knowledge, which can be incorporated into one’s position[17]. Instead, drawing on the same source of kinship relation, even siblings often have very different conclusions about their family history and how it affects their position[18].

Relative identity
Velleman holds that positions do not consist of loose facts of one’s past, but are processes of telling stories[19]. However, focusing merely on one specific narrative neglects the many other factors which shape the individual[20]. As our position is built up from an endless source of influences, Song and Haslanger argue that positions are not only complex but also vary; the individual possesses layers of positions that are negotiable and are used in different situations[21]. If I have access to both a German and Danish position, one of these will be more defining of me in certain situations, depending on social expectations and which position I myself may choose to apply[22]. It thus becomes utterly hard to pinpoint some essential position, if what I am positioning myself as is always relative to the specific situation.

A related observation regards the development of the individual’s position over time, which is steadily in progress, on her way to becoming or turning herself into something[23]. This seems intuitive to us when we reflect upon how we ourselves change and confirms the observation made by Song, showing how ethnic identities change over time[24]. Here too it becomes hard to extract some essential position, if positions are in steady flux.

What we have seen thus far, is that positions are relative and relational. They are also constructed in relation to other individuals, which includes the family, but potentially everybody else too[25]. A third consideration thus arises which holds that our position is formed by the dialectic of identity and difference[26]. A position is thus not only formed by the recognition of who I am like, such as my family, but also of who I am not like. With regards to the culture example, it has often been noted that a certain Swedishness could not have been constructed without an anti-thesis. Such experiences of sameness and difference occur at home, having a different gender than one’s siblings for instance, in the playground, at university, at work and so on, forming complex webs of meaning and interpretation of the self[27]. This is another problem for the idea of biological kinship being essential to the individual’s position, for what the individual meets in her surroundings also intrudes upon the manifestation of the kinship narrative.

Coercive structures
Even though positions are not fixed, control of one’s position is often a hard thing to attain, for what position one is expected to hold underlies coercive discourses. Culture can again be taken as an example, for it on one hand may structurally justify discrimination and stereotypes, on the other hand, the ones being discriminated may themselves believe in the idea that they in fact are different due to the cultural paradigm. In several studies, Foucault shows how based on certain social norms, the normative and the unnormal become separated, with those not fitting in, the docile bodies, being socially and institutionally coerced into certain living conditions[28]. Furthermore, when situating people in a certain situation and constructing their entire reality around the position they are being coerced into, the docile bodies often start believing in this construction and reproducing it[29].

In the same spirit, Norqvist and Smart show how the norm of being biologically related to one’s parents has been incorporated in society and how this plays into the treatment of individuals. As in Foucault, people who did not fit within the model of biological kinship were often seen as undesirable or as harming their children[30]. As they note, English family law works on the presumption that children born to a married woman were the legitimate offspring of her husband[31]. With new family structures developing, this relation became more and more complex with the result that the state abolished anonymous gamete donation in all UK licensed infertility clinics, so that all children conceived in this way are at least institutionally entitled to receive identifying information about their donors[32]. The most significant policy overlap between donor conception and adoption is to Norqvist and Smart precisely in this area of creating and/or sustaining links with genetic parents[33].

Haslanger holds that such norms regarding what constitutes a healthy position is culturally specific and located within social structures[34]. When Velleman thus states that most individuals form their position via biological kinship and it hence must have special value, this does not make it natural or essential but like culture remains part of a social reality[35]. One of the main observations which Norqvist and Smart are able to make, derives precisely from the constructed idea of the individual’s position, which is assumed to stem from correct knowledge about one’s genetic forebears[36]. This norm manifested itself socially and institutionally so that it had a profound impact when somebody did not fit into this norm. Not knowing one’s father thus brought with it many problems and much adversity in the nineteenth and much of the twentieth century, having few rights and a stigmatized status[37]. This was the reason why parents of adopted children were often advised not to mention to others that their children were adoptive, since this would discriminate the children and make life hard on them[38].

As Norqvist and Smart note and what the current emphasis on the right to know one’s genetic parents shows, is that the question regarding genetic connection cannot be fully ignored for it indeed does play a great role for individual’s position. However, this is not due to it’s intrinsic value or relation to the individual, but because of it’s rootedness in a culture and the awareness of it’s members what it means to fit or not fit into this norm[39]. As Haslanger notes, identity problems arise for adoptive children not simply because they have been told they are adopted, but because there are conflicting cultural values around them[40].

Whilst not refuting that biological kinship may have some special place in the production of a position, the text has established doubt which the theory as presented by Velleman needs to take into consideration. We have doubted that biological kinship has an intrinsic value to the construction of healthy or authentic positions. Using the analogy of culture, we questioned a determinism, which holds that a narrative manifests itself in a predictable way and showed that in fact people turn out in very different ways. We have also seen that positions are not only complex but relative and ever changing, being influenced by our surroundings and dialectic structures. All of this questions, if Velleman can argue for biological kinship as an essential or natural part of the individual’s position for it questions the idea of one essential position itself. However, another way to argue for Velleman would be that kinship has functional value, for it seems that most people construct their position in such a way. Here we have cast doubt on such claims by showing that what constitutes a normatively healthy position, such as culture or kinship, is socially constructed and reproduced by society. If identity problems occur, this must not necessarily be because the individual lacks some important narrative of herself, but because she is aware of the normative which disqualifies her.



De los Reyes, Paulina – Mångfald och Differentiering – Diskurs, olikhet och normbildning inom svensk forskning och samhällsdebatt – Arbetslivsinstitutet 2001

Foucault, Michel – Discipline and Punish– The Birth of the Prison –Penguin Books, London 1991

Gren, Martin, Hallin, P.O, Molina, Irene (red.) – Kulturens plats/maktens rum – Brutus Östlings bokförlag, Symposion 2000

Hall, Stuart – Representation – Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices – Sage, The Open University London 2003

Haslanger, Sally – Family, Ancestry and Self: What is the Moral Significance of Biological Ties? – Adoption & Culture (2009) 2.1., URL:

Nordqvist, Petra; Smart, Carol –  Relative Strangers – Family life, genes and donor
– Palgrave Macmillan Studies in Family and Intimate Life, 2014

Song, Miri – Choosing Ethnic Identity – Polity Press, Cornwall 2003

Velleman, J. David – Family History – Philosophical Papers Vol. 34, No. 3 p. 357-378, 2005;

[1] Velleman, p. 357

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid, p. 364

[5] Ibid, p. 363

[6] Ibid, p. 376

[7] Ibid, p. 365

[8] Ibid, p. 366

[9] Ibid, p. 368

[10] Norqvist, Smart, p. 24; Haslanger, p. 15

[11] Gren, Hallin, Molina, p. 142; Des los Reyes, p. 14; Song, p. 7

[12] Norqvist, Smart, p. 24

[13] Haslanger, p. 21.

[14] Gren, Hallin, Molina, p. 10; Des los Reyes, p. 57

[15] Haslanger, p. 15

[16] Song, p. 9

[17] Norqvist, Smart, p. 24

[18] Ibid, p. 118

[19] Velleman, p. 363

[20] Norqvist, Smart, p. 25

[21] Haslanger, p. 8, 25; Song. p. 17

[22] Song, p. 10

[23] Norqvist, Smart, p. 25; Des los Reyes, p. 59

[24] Song, p. 17; Haslanger, p. 8

[25] Norqvist, Smart, p. 26

[26] Des los Reyes, p. 13; Hall, p. 237

[27] Norqvist, Smart, p. 26

[28] Foucault, p. 138

[29] Ibid, p. 264, 266

[30] Norqvist, Smart, p. 11

[31] Ibid, p. 21

[32] Ibid, p. 22

[33] Ibid, Smart, p. 22

[34] Haslanger, p. 12

[35] Ibid, p. 26

[36] Norqvist, Smart, p. 23

[37] Ibid, p. 24

[38] Ibid, p. 20

[39] Ibid, p. 123

[40] Haslanger, p. 17

Let it go – An Argument for not defending cultural heritage

There has been a recent reawakening of the cultural debate, finding new relevance in the dawn of heightened immigration of refugees to the EU and the following public and political debates, which commonly occur once the question of national heritage and protection of other cultures is triggered. Though migration and the melting together of cultures has been an ever-ongoing process throughout human history, David Miller notes that it is first in the modern and postmodern age that it is regarded as a political problem, with the state being expected to protect an original national culture and at the same time guarantee it’s citizens the right to live according to their own specific culture (Miller, 2008). The obvious question is what the normative implications regarding different cultures are. On one hand, there are those who hold that immigrants are to assimilate to the cultural patterns of the host society (Miller, 2008). On the other hand, the widespread acceptance of multicultural rhetoric holds that ethnic minorities possess a right to their culture (Song, 2003). These two positions are known to collide and though this discussion is not a new one, we have yet to find a solution. How can on one hand integration into society be achieved in a way consistent with liberal principles of personal freedom. On the other hand, how far can natives be asked to modify their practices and public culture to accommodate the new arrivals? (Miller, 2008). Relating to this discussion are a vast number of issues whose answering exceed by far the format of this essay. Instead, I want to challenge the value of cultural heritage. I will engage this task by establishing an interpretation of the individual subject’s relation to identity, social groups and their usage of history. I will focus on the notion of heritage, not only since the subject of culture is too complex to be analyzed in this essay, but also because the call for preservation of cultures is commonly being legitimized by being rooted in a people’s history. This is also reflected by sociologist Miri Song whose research suggests that a shared ancestry and history becomes ever more important in situations where a group’s identity is threatened (Song, 2003). We can hence assume that a current state of a culture is related to a heritage, which provides values, signifying objects and a self-narrative.


What is the individual subject?

If we want to explore what role cultural heritage plays regarding the identity of a group of people, we ought to understand what constitutes its individual subjects. Martin Heidegger’s approach has been one of the most important narratives in the 20th century about how the individual subject constructs it’s self-narrative. Starting at birth, the individual subject finds itself thrown into an unknown world of which it must make sense (Heidegger, 2006). Whatever the individual’s self-image amounts to is thus a result of it existing in a certain world at a certain time. At this point, we have already denied that the individual has certain cultural feature that it is born with, rather it is but a product of it’s surroundings. Heidegger does however not endorse social constructivism or even determinism. He holds that the individual subject is primarily situated in time, being aware of it’s past, present and future. It’s actions are hence always aimed towards the future, since it is aware of that it is going to exist and will have to make something out of itself (Heidegger, 2006). This in turn means that the individual subject has the potential to transform herself from what it is now to something it wants to become. To Heidegger then, the individual subject is constituted by a process of production, rather than having a fixed essence. What may seem like a consistent self or identity is according to Heidegger merely a result of just this non-existent essence. To make sense of itself and to be able to consistently relate to the ontological world, the subject has to create a self-narrative which renders it’s history a meaningful story and acts as a safe outlook from which the world can be viewed.
Culture in flux
One of the premises a priori which the individual subject encounters in the ontological world, is that it shares it’s world with other people. Heidegger mentions that an authentic individual subject is a mixture of lone individual and social experience. For our purpose, we need not discuss this Heideggarian theme any further. It is only important to notice that the production of a self-narrative always incorporates a social dimension, which has to be carefully balanced with the subject’s individuality (Heidegger, 2006). Miri Song describes this dilemma with examples of the expectations, which are put on members of a certain group to adhere to cultural behavior and which may be at odds with individual authenticity (Song, 2003). It is in this connection between the individual and the social where culture comes into play. Concerning ethnic groups, Song states that they share:
[…] real or putative common ancestry, memories of a shared past, and a cultural focus in one or more symbolic elements which define the group’s identity, such as kinship, religion, language, shared territory, nationality or physical appearance (Song, 2003).

There are thus several instances, which together constitute what is called culture. For our purpose, we will focus on the cultural use of history. I believe, that this will not lead us into fallacy since culture has an intrinsic connection to heritage, influencing values and traditions.
As I have suggested, the individual is constituted by potentiality and is always in a progress of becoming something rather than being something consistent in the platonic sense. If this holds for the individual, mustn’t it also hold for the social groups that consist of individuals? Just as the individual subject, a culture too is subject to a complex and every changing world. Hence, a culture not only consists of many varying positions and is not homogeneous. There are men, women, different social classes and individual differences, many of whom would tell very varying narratives of a culture’s history. Neither is a culture static but always in flux since it must establish itself within ever changing premises (Song, 2003). To Song then, appealing to some authentic heritage is necessarily flawed, because such a notion relies on a static understanding of culture, when in fact cultures are in a continuous process of change (Song, 2003). For instance, even if Turkish immigrants brought parts of their heritage with them to Germany, the cultural identity which is constructed no longer relates to heritage the same way as it does in Turkey, the premises now lie in a different time in a different location. Furthermore, as Miller states, we are today faced with a global culture, which more than ever exposes cultures to outer influences and alternative narratives (Miller, 2008).

Is heritage valuable?
If culture then is something which is always in flux, what value can heritage still hold? Friedrich Nietzsche was throughout his lifetime very concerned with the moral values of cultures and how they change over time. To him, those cultures are to be regarded as healthy, which are able to distance themselves from the past and are thus able to use history for their own wellbeing (Nietzsche, 2005). These people are defined by Nietzsche a historic. The overhistoric people on the other hand have incorporated their history to such a degree that they have become passive and are no longer interested in the possibilities that the future may hold (Nietzsche, 2005).

These two types of people which Nietzsche observes throughout history are themselves products of several ways of applying history: the monumental, the antiquary and the critical (Nietzsche, 2005). The monumental views the past as a standard for what is achievable. These people get their inspiration from important people or happenings in history, which they try to impersonate. The positive trait is that they will often try to create something historically great for the world to come, it may however also be harmful since monumental history stands very close to myth and one-sided narratives (Nietzsche, 2005). What does not fit into it’s narrative is simply ignored. Nationalism for instance to Nietzsche is just this kind of monumental usage of history which has justified several wars and other terrible things (Nietzsche, 2005).
The antiquarian mode is quite and respectfully thankful towards those historical structures, which have led to current existence. These people try to conserve their heritage, identify themselves with the old and recognizable, which provides them with a sense of security and rootedness (Nietzsche, 2005). However, holding on to the past impairs upon the ability to differ between what actually is valuable and what is but junk (Nietzsche, 2005). It becomes degenerative once it no longer is inspired by current existence and merely conserves but does not create anything.
Both the monumental and the antiquary use of history risk compromising current existence and the possibilities of the future in favor of the past. The critical application of history does not share this respect for the past but is fundamentally always revolting against it, viewing heritage as a burden more than an asset. It also holds that the past is not fixed but always tries to change the way the past is viewed (Nietzsche, 2005).

Nietzsche’s three types of applying of history should not be viewed as only de- or constructive. They all have positive and negative traits and their value depend on how history is put to use in different situations. To Nietzsche, we should apply history with the aim to favor life and our future outlook, the mode which he calls historic. What is hence important is to keep reevaluating oneself and one’s culture. Nietzsche uses the phrase “to ruminate” to describe this ongoing process of steadily putting one’s own narrative on trial (Nietzsche, 2005).

New priorities
We have thus argued that no individual subject can be minimized to consisting of some sort of essential narrative. Rather, the individual subject is full of potential regarding what will become of it’s narrative and it is but it’s own motivation to conserve the illusion of consistency which may (re)produce some outward identity. Holding on to some fixed cultural essence would hence reduce the individual to but a fragment of it’s possibilities. It would also disable the ability to ruminate it’s heritage and use it for it’s own wellbeing. The same holds for those cultures, which consist of such individual subjects. Like the individual, they are not only complex, but also not determined and must seek to reestablish themselves in a world that is ever changing. As it changes, so do the cultures and their relation to heritage. This openness of culture and the possibility to use heritage to our advantage is reflected by Miri Song’s observation of how ethnic minorities may break up stereotypes by breaking with or redefining otherwise defining cultural traits (Song, 2003). In a different case, people who have access to several cultures may choose which cultural identity may be more or less salient in different situations, once again using their heritage as a tool (Song, 2003).

As suggested, we have not answered any of the large questions which regard the cultural debate. What I have tried to argue is that some national or ethnic culture cannot have any value that merely relies on the premise of essential truths found in a people’s heritage. Heritage is but a shadow of the past and has no determining effect on any current culture a priori. What is made out of history is always up for grabs. As we have argued, a culture’s history is valuable only in the sense that we can reevaluate and use it to come to terms with the current world. Hence, we ought to keep analyzing and thus remembering our heritage since it contains elements which we one day may rely on, but given that our goal is to make or lives better and to look ahead into the future, it is the critical and reevaluating attitude towards history and culture which is to be protected, not history in itself.

Heidegger, Martin – Sein und Zeit – Max Niemeyer Verlag, Tübingen 2006
Miller, David – Immigrants, Nations, and Citizenship – The Journal of Political Philosophy: Volume 16, Number 4, 2008, pp. 371–390
Nietzsche, Friedrich – Vom Nutzen und Nachteil der Historie für das Leben Reclam, Ditzingen 2005
Song, Miri – Choosing Ethnic Identity – Polity Press, Cornwall 2003

Restricting freedom with freedom


This essay focuses on the phenomenon of citizenship from the position that  structures of power consist of a relation, in this case between governed subjects, migrants, and the governing national/supranational state. The Nietzschean standpoint is that every individual and every group has a will, and thereby a power, aimed towards the world. From this perspective, any power relation builds upon the actions of each position involved, in this case the migrants, just as the state.
In western liberal democracies the state can no longer operate without its actions in some way being justified in regard to it’s citizens. This makes the notion of immigration an interesting one. If citizens of the western world can be seen as people who in general hold fairly democratic views (by dogma or true belief), such as basic human rights, then what reasons are there for them to justify the state’s growing limitations upon immigration and deportation of foreigners? In terms which fit in to our construction of power relation, can there be a problematic function found within immigrants’ self positioning that might act as an object for the state to use against them, to put immigrants in a problematic spot which justifies restrictions upon immigration.

Citizenship and migration share today a close bond. Over time one can see a clear trend of citizenship being restricted to include those who are viewed as unproblematic to the state and society and excluding those who are seen as dangerous, problematic to society if given too much power. Though the different types of rights and responsibilities covered by the different statuses surrounding citizenship vary (visa, citizen, asylum seeker, etc. and rights such as right to vote, being included in the welfare system, right to work, etc.) a clear enough trend of exclusion and inclusion according to an individual’s presumed value or problematic position for the state and society can be found and used for a essay’s starting point.
A few examples of groups within society that once were excluded because of their presupposed threat to order and security were the Afro-Americans, who actually through an act of heightened attention on a supposed problematic position had their newly gained rights revoked, the same as for women in Britain.  Women were also seen as a problem if given too much power because of assumed differences in thought and physical value to state and society and were thereby excluded from political rights.
The same trend holds in today’s society. That ex-convicts in the United States still have their right to vote invoked is a clear example of this trend. Today’s times of globalization and migration have made this trend visible even in a global context. For Europe and Sweden the legal status of immigrants and their applications is the clearest sign of this maintained structure. Immigration having been a subject of discussion since at least the 1930s, the urgency of today’s flow of immigrants from war and poverty struck countries, the rise and war against politicized Islamism, and society’s defined by a growing ethnic class-segregation has put the status of these new individuals who enter our society and the resulting actions taken at the top of the discussion board.
In the later years we have even witnessed a growing restrictive and hardened sentiment towards immigration and border control. The project of border control is for example today even active inside Sweden’s borders, with police having the right to randomly stop and ask individuals for their papers.
The discourses of citizenship and the statuses surrounding it are of course intersectional. Me being born in Sweden, growing up in Germany, having a Danish passport and now living in Sweden for 13 years and not having the right to take part in the national vote is certainly different from an Afghani refugee seeking asylum in Sweden. While the same discourses might apply at certain levels the focus of this paper will be on discourses surrounding the stereo typified immigrants if you so will.

Restricted citizenship
The status which migrated individuals receive and/or can aspire to is dependent on the specific assumed value/problem for society.  Restrictions upon dual nationality and change of nationality apply to the same principle as immigrants’ status, having to deal with the fact that a previous nationality and possible problematic attachments may follow individuals into the new country. These problems become ever more heated by conflicts in society being explained as clashes between cultures.
Immigrants in different ways are being defined as problematic justifies the restrictions put upon immigrants and immigration/citizenship. Justified must here be understood in the broader sense. Although certain migration may indeed pose a problem for the state (though these problems often may arise from discourses imbedded not within the new individuals arriving, but structures already at place), one must still give credit to certain public ideals within Swedish and European thought, (how dogmatic or relative these might be) which do emphasize basic human and democratic rights, in principle stopping any democratic government from restricting immigrant’s passage and rights.
As Spinoza writes, every democratic state and all its actions must be justified and tolerated by its citizens for the government to maintain its power.  To summarize this in easier terms, the limitation and restriction upon immigration and immigrant’s rights must be justified by society’s citizens, meaning there must be good enough reason, or the illusion of reason, for the public to agree on the state’s actions towards restrictive immigration and citizenship, besides reason for the state to assume these measures.

Justified restriction
What are then these reasons by which today’s restrictions towards immigration and citizenship are justified? Of course there are many different functions and discourses to be summed up here, and there might be doubt that we will ever understand this entire changing phenomenon. The already mentioned cultural discourse is as stated one of the most urgent dimensions of debate and also one of the fields I myself am dealing with. In my study of the rhetoric of the integration policy of the city of Malmö, I found the notion of culture to be the most interesting one. In my findings, culture becomes the main argument for explaining differences between people and people’s behavior and lives.  On one hand this essentialist view would explain immigrant’s segregation as partly caused by structures within society, but their essential position still being posing a sort of double trouble. The essential finding was that this view of cultural determinism ranged from individual’s physical lives to judgments about their psychological properties and morals. What was even more interesting was the finding of culture acting as a dialectic signifier. Culture becomes the signifier of identification and differentiation in which individuals are essentially defined by their cultural heritage. This gives on one hand the Swedish or European position the possibility to define itself as automatically holding good humane and democratic values.  In the critique of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, this culture is a nihilistic one which isn’t product of individual will but simply a constructed set of identifiable norms that is followed.  One acts/is believed to act well, not out of an individual will, but because of one´s determination under a cultural heritage. On the other hand, the belief and the necessity of this essentialist structure, must, to function for the own definition of self, therefore also apply to others, thereby degrading the unknown other to being defined by its own presumed cultural preferences. The situation, behavior and reasons are thereby seen as a generalized product of cultural determinism.
Against this view I have used the notion of existential constructivism which basically strips the individual from its constructions via culture, identity, etc. While the individual always is tuned into and confronted with the world around here, the way the individual interprets and acts in the world is a relative phenomenon, dependent on the individual in question . Notions of culture, religion, identity, nationhood, are here for seen as constructions which do not carry any right of truth or determination. In Nietzsche’s terms, history and so culture, are perspectives which constantly must be revalued to be able to have a gaining impact on life.
Relating to the Foucauldian approach to power, every position has the ability to somehow combating a power structure, even if these abilities might be very small. My argument here forth will be that the notion of culture in itself, by not being redefined in a way that enforces ones power, may act as one of the barriers which undermine individual’s empowerment within society and even threaten the outlook for immigrants now and in the future.
The structures of cultural determinism, xenophobia, etc. are very much complex as such and can be argued about forever. For our needs culture as a marker for definition and self-definition will do. Bringing it together with this essay’s Foucauldian presupposition, it is one thing for the original ethnic population to have presupposed or badly founded views of immigrants, but this would in turn leave out the immigrant’s own power and part in the upholding or destructing the relationship between these positions. In other words, for the state to enforce restrictiveness towards migration and citizenship, a justification must be upheld by the state and its citizens, which in turn must find some valid reason to hold on to these beliefs. An explanation that would put the blame in xenophobic and racist sentiment seems to narrow minded here as it would also undermine the basic Foucauldian structure that power always is a relationship between at least two interacting positions. For a general public to reproduce beliefs about immigrants, the immigrant’s own part, responsibility and opportunity in reinforcing or combating these beliefs become a necessary part of the power structure. This is not to misinterpret at freeing any position from responsibility, rather it follows the harsh reality of any power structure always being relational. In Foucault’s terms, even the most oppressed person always has the possibility of committing suicide or killing the master.   Although governing and dominant structures of power are something to be avoided and worked against, one should not refrain from the fact that there is a part, a responsibility and an opportunity in all positions within any power structure.  In the case of immigrants one must therefore also take hold of how these individuals themselves uphold or combat these power structures and what structures might prevent them to.

The culture problem
Connecting to the notion of culture, as I have proposed culture today acts as one of the furthest ways to categorize one self and others. This causes a problem within modern and postmodern theory which calls to attention the (re)productive tendencies of society’s own problematic identities. Foucault has shown us how the institutionalization of individuals may enhance or even foster the same problematic identity it was supposed to suppress.  Also Anthony Giddens talks about this structure, writing that the modern individual chooses from different identities believing this choice being up to her, while it really being the institutionalized and socialized boundaries of identity in which the individual finds herself within which she chooses an identity . If immigrant’s lives today in a high degree are being determined by cultural signifiers which explain their lives and behavior, what other role does culture play in the upholding of this power structure, which ultimately puts citizenship and migration in a problematic spot.
Here there are some historical implications. Kivisto and Faist show us that the Afro-Americans first gain of right which differed from the movement in the 20th century by its emphasis of morally unjustified empowerment against the later empowerment that should be justified not by own initiative and self empowerment, but by the claim of basic human rights, resulting in claims for affirmative action.  In other words, rights were no longer to be taken, they were to be given. They also refer to this same problematic within today’s welfare states where rights are often taken for granted, not worked for.  What differs is the self empowerment if you so will, the own manifestation against an opposite power .
This structural change is also noted by Kofman and her critique of the 20th century feminist movement. What she adds to our discussion is her critique of later feminism which I would summarize as claiming rights not for women as human individuals, but for women as women. Hence, there is an emphasis on a basic right of women resembling a form of affirmative action, affirming women as women.
Applying there structures, in theory, to the dimension of ethnicity and culture, it paints an interesting picture. Apparently there has been a trend for marginalized groups to be claiming rights with the claim of both moral justification and it’s affirmativeness towards its individual’s being, reflective of the modern discourse on identity. Could this sort of affirmative ideology also be part of the multicultural discourse, part of the debate of migration and citizenship? The modern discourse in the creation of identity reproduces its own subjects, risking forming immigrants into the problematic position they are assumed to inherit. The multicultural and neoliberal focus on culture as something defining for individuals may in turn even trigger a self-consciousness which relates itself to certain cultural traits while at the same time excusing it.

Problems for the future
The discourses described become potentially threatening to immigrants safety in their residency and future immigrants possibilities of migration. If discourses of identity produce a certain kind of cultural image which individuals risk to adapt to, and if cultural essentialism may explain and justify certain culturally explained behavior, taking away the need for any cultural identity to change to become appealing, or at least not appalling, the problematic positioning of a few may come back to haunt the majority of immigrants not having any part in this. If claims such as incorporating certain laws of Sharia are made by enough individuals to create at least the sense of a threat, then there is the risk for, and I believe there will be, a drastic breakdown of political and social rights for immigrants and even more restrictive migration, if the borders are not closed at all. There is the risk that once again the many will have to suffer for the acts of few – that rights are everlasting is not a given, we have already seen how fast such processes can be and it would be idiotic to follow Hegel’s belief of the Western world today being history’s final result.

I believe British commentator and debater Douglas Murray is quite on point when he in a debate stated that neoliberalism does not know how to defend itself. One can translate this into several meanings, but I believe what he was trying to say was that basically the neoliberal idea of multiculturalism has reached a point of self-contradictory. On one hand neoliberalism and its multicultural system defends culture and religion as part of basic human rights of expression thereby tolerating social cultural and religious expressions that are not one’s own. This has become problematic with the multicultural system acting as a shield for not only radical views, but also a social agreement over cultural presuppositions being essentially part of all individual’s self. Except for discourses that actually foster there problematic identities, this also results in the minority of actually problematic individuals becoming indistinguishable from those none problematic, both share a common cultural markers. This problematic view upon immigrants does indeed in result justify restrictive citizenship migration politics for immigrants may per sé be defined as a problem for society. Where this will lead in the future I believe it quite clear. I do not see any ethnic takeover of Sharia laws or any such happening as many radicals might have it. Rather, before such a point might ever be reached, the intrusion of problematic individuals through immigration will result in the deportation of immigrants and the closing of borders.
To make sure that individuals in the future can continue to find safe havens in the world, the responsibility is not only on, in this case, Sweden or Europe to fight for humane and democratic values, it must also be up to the newly arriving individuals to actively make sure that these principles can be put and kept in place. Rights must be taken, not given . Even if this means that religious and cultural traits must be put away.
The problematic notions surrounding immigrant’s own part in upholding power structures that threaten their legal status and possibilities in life has opened for quite a few areas if inquiry. On one hand it has enabled the decentralizing of ethnicity as an existing phenomenon per sé and instead points towards underlying structures such as class, structures within the welfare states, etc. On the other hand, it has, by focusing on individual’s own part in every power relation, put forth the problem of cultural determination. From the existential worldview my approach derives from, culture, religion, and every such phenomenon must be viewed as constructions which may be used by individual’s to enhance their lives, but shouldn’t be used in an essentialist way meaning not being able to adept culture or oneself to the required circumstances. What the secularization of the western world meant was a loosening up of moral values, where individuals for themselves had to find out what was good and what was evil. Though this secularization is a questionable one, fact remains that freedom of religion, meaning freedom of dogma, has been one of the western notions of democracy and freedom. The paradox arises when an essential freedom, the freedom of religion and culture, actually undermine individual’s freedom, or in the worst case, collide with other freedoms.

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