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Karl Widerquist, ‘Prehistoric Myths in Modern Political Philosophy’

by Troy Henderson on July 25, 2017

Prehistoric Myths in Modern Political Philosophy

Presentation by Karl Widerquist, Associate Professor of political philosophy at SFS-Qatar, Georgetown University

Before public lecture on ‘Why we need a universal basic income’ –

Date: Wednesday 16 August 2017

Time: 2pm-4.00pm

Location: Darlington Centre Boardroom, University of Sydney

About the presentation

The book, Prehistoric Myths in Modern Political Philosophy, on which this presentation is based is an anthropological critique of two of two theories that have dominated political philosophy for centuries. It carefully examines the most influential justifications of government and of private property to show how—despite significant equivocation—both rely on the seldom-questioned empirical premise the book calls, “the Hobbesian Hypothesis.” That is the belief that everyone in a society with a government and/or a private property rights system is better off than anyone could be in a society without those institutions. In other words, the “Lockean Proviso” is fulfilled—whether by the state or by the property rights system or both. The book traces the path of this claim through the history of political thought from Hobbes and Locke to the present showing how it has become entrenched in most contemporary political thought on these issues. Although a few philosophers have criticized the hypothesis, contemporary philosophers continue to repeat it as if it were obvious while providing little or no evidence to support it. The book argues that the truth value of this claim cannot be obvious because it involves a comparison between two groups that most philosophers have little direct knowledge of: the very poor in capitalist states and people living in small-scale stateless societies distant in time and/or place from the everyday experience of philosophers. The book examines anthropological and archaeological evidence to make that comparison. It presents convincing evidence that neither the state nor the property rights system have benefited the least advantaged people in contemporary capitalist states. The very poor, socially isolated people, and the victims of modern diseases are worse off than they could reasonably expect to be if they were allowed to live in a stateless society without a private property system. The presentation makes a broad preview of the book’s findings.

About the presenter

Karl Widerquist is an Associate Professor of political philosophy at SFS-Qatar, Georgetown University. His research is mostly in the area of distributive justice—the ethics of who has what. He holds two doctorates—one in Political Theory (Oxford University 2006) and one in Economics (the City University of New York 1996). He has published seven books, including Prehistoric Myths in Modern Political Philosophy (Edinburgh University Press 2017, coauthored by Grant S. McCall) and Independence, Propertylessness, and Basic Income: A Theory of Freedom as the Power to Say No (Palgrave Macmillan 2013). He has published more than two dozen scholarly articles and book chapters. He is a cofounder of the journal, Basic Income Studies, the only academic journal devoted to research on Basic Income. He has appeared on or been quoted by many major media outlets, including the New York Times, the Atlantic Monthly, Forbesthe Financial TimesNPR’s On Point, NPR’s MarketplacePRI’s the WorldCNBCAl-Jazeera538ViceDissent, and others. Much of his writing is available on his “Selected Works” website. More information about him is available at his BIEN profile.

Contact: Troy Henderson,

Troy Henderson
Troy Henderson is an economist with a particular interest in the past, present and future of work in Australia. He received a Bachelor of Economics and Social Sciences and a Master of Arts (Research) in Political Economy from the University of Sydney. He is completing his PhD in 2019. His Masters research focused on The Four-Day Workweek as a Policy Option for Australia, while his PhD thesis explores Basic Income as a Policy Option for Australia. He has published academic articles and book chapters on these and other work-related topics, and has undertaken economic consulting work for Public Services International. He has presented at national and international conferences, and is a regular media commentator. He is passionate about fair work, social justice, cricket and the NBA. Twitter: @TroyCHenderson

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