Slowing senses of aesthetics, science and the study of politics through Plato, Kant and Nietzsche




Anctil, Laura

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Since the post-positivist turn in critical political theory, many scholars of political science have tried to reimagine the discipline through feminist, Marxist, and postcolonial critiques. However, even critical scholars often overlook that all forms of critique are aesthetic- as is the mainstream of political science that they criticize. Despite these proliferating critiques, much of political science is still shaped by a robust epistemological orientation towards scientific aspirations, which I describe as a scientific epistemic mode. The argument of this thesis is that the dominance of a scientific epistemic mode in political science orients this discipline erroneously against aesthetic receptivity and production. The relationship between political science and aesthetics is often characterized by affects of discomfort and shame, so that aesthetic qualities in research are associated with unscientific, and therefore illegitimate outcomes. The claim that aesthetics is not suited to the study of politics is longstanding, but not necessarily legitimate. Rather than conceive of aesthetics and science as essentially opposed, this thesis considers how this dualism can be understood as a discursive formation. The notion of aesthetics as a threat to science exists as far back as Plato’s Republic, where poetry is banished for the sake of philosophy. Contra Plato, Kant acknowledges aesthetics as a relevant epistemic mode in The Critique of Judgment, but determines aesthetics to be irreconcilable with a reason-based, scientific epistemology. Finally, in The Birth of Tragedy Nietzsche’s reading of Attic Tragedy suggests that, like the figures of Dionysus and Apollo, aesthetics and science can be thought of as two forces in a relation of productive antagonism rather than mutual exclusion or domination. In response to the naturalized, scientific epistemic mode in political science, an aesthetic epistemic mode acknowledges the fusion of aesthetics and science in the production of political analysis. Following Isabelle Stengers, this thesis tries to slow down the sense that aesthetics is inferior, excluded and dominated by science, suggesting that political science begin to cultivate a receptive awareness of its own aesthetic value. In making aesthetics a legitimate focus in political science, an aesthetic epistemic mode is practised by seeking out relevant questions rather than demanding immediate, “scientific” answers.



Political Science, scientific epistemic mode, slow, voice/s, aesthetic epistemic mode, science, aesthetics, political theory, critical theory, politics, Plato, Kant, Nietzsche, The Republic, The Birth of Tragedy, Critique of the Power of Judgment, discursive formation, Foucault