Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The Political Significance of Compassion
by Zaric, Zona, M.A., The American University of Paris (France), 2015, 50; 13833855
Abstract (Summary)

This thesis on the political significance of compassion, or the way in which compassion can be mobilised to found a sense of collective purpose in society by drawing on the moral sensibilities in the broader culture, derives from a longstanding interrogation about how to deal with, and overcome, division and the negation of shared humanity that flows from the construction of otherness and essentialized identities. Having experienced the wars in ex-Yugoslavia and witnessed the de-humanization of the Other that was both their cause and consequence, the project slowly matured to work out a political-philosophical framework that would move from abstract cosmopolitanism - which asserts common humanity, shared destiny and equal moral worth, but often tragically fails to generate adhesion - towards a sensitive understanding of these ethicalexistential truths capable of being mobilised to effectuate social change.

Starting from Adam Smith’s insights in The Theory of Moral Sentiments on the inherent sensibility of people to the “fortunes of others”, and building on Martha Nussbaum’s work on emotions (Nussbaum, 2001), this thesis aims to show how compassion - the faculty to imaginatively dwell, experience and feel with others - can serve as a foundation for a universalistic understanding of civil and political society tending towards the normative frontier of human solidarity. Compassion is thus prior to morals and ethics, for which it forms the foundation.

This thesis also aims to disentangle compassion from the plural emotions and commotions of the public and private spheres and give it political content by arguing that it founds moral reasoning and a sense of social responsibility that aims for the common good. By its very ubiquitousness and immediacy as a lived universal experience, compassion opens a pathway to breaking out of the Hobbesian assumption of competitive and clashing self-interests, and moving towards a collective project of living with and for others that starts from the foundational assumption that human beings are ends not means (Kant), and consciously asserts and acts on the harmony of interests.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Fleury, Cynthia
School: The American University of Paris (France)
Department: International Affairs
School Location: France
Source: MAI 58/03M(E), Masters Abstracts International
Subjects: Political science
Publication Number: 13833855
ISBN: 978-0-438-79607-2
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