The Minnesota Political Theory Colloquium this Friday 11/11/2011

This Friday 11/11/2001, Professor David Blaney from the Department of Political Science at Macalester College will present at the Political Theory Colloquium his paper (coauthored with Naeem Inayatullah) "The Relative Virtues of Adam Smith's Theodicy". Dr. Blaney's research interests are political theory and political economy of international relations. He also wrote with Dr. Inayatullah, Savage Economics: Wealth, Poverty, and the Temporal Walls of Capitalism (Routledge, 2010). This year's Colloquium theme is "Capital and Crisis" and we meet Fridays at 1:30 p.m. in the Lippincott Room, 1314 Social Sciences Building.

For the authors, "Smith's ethical appraisal of commercial society reproduces the elemental structure of theodicy. Though critics see theodicy as justifying social evil, and there is something to that, we see theodicy as having a more complex structure that only covers evil, but does not really redress the fundamental antagonism of a social/natural order. Despite various sutures of gaps and disavowals of what cannot be justified, the very structure of theodical practices reveal the presence of the evils they attempt to cover. To Smith's credit he is conscious of the moves (invisible hand that educed good from evil; the revaluation of self-interest; the need for public education) he is making and doesn't provide full coverage or justification of social evils. In that sense his theodicy is virtuously incomplete. Nonetheless, disavowal of social evils (in his analysis of famine and distribution of income) plays a crucial role in Smith. By contrast, neoclassical economics and various forms of rational choice thinking rely on notions of optimization that contain little of Smith's self-conscious ethical appraisal and work instead to disavow the ethical loss that accompanies contemporary social arrangements. Or worse, theories of individual rational choice within market or market-like structures take on what Zizek calls a 'cynical' instead of a simply ideological quality: they know that their assumptions bear only faint resemblance to reality but act as if they do, including continuing to use an ethics of efficiency to justify, in parallel to Smith's disavowals, a 'triage of humanity." Despite the ethically repugnant reputation of theodicy for social reformers (and certainly questions about its relevance in a secular era), we argue that exploring Smith's theodical practices allows us to expose the way consideration of social ills is foreclosed by much of contemporary International Political Economy."

Please visit for more information on the 2011-2012 Colloquium's description, current schedule, and reading/study groups.

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