Human bonds reconsidered: Acknowledgement beyond care and social justice

Naoko Saito, Kyoto University

With such social phenomena in Japan as Hikikomori (withdrawal within home for many years), Bochi (isolation) (Kishimi 2022; Ishida 2011), parasite singles, increase in the divorce rate, “family” in unconventional relationships, the form of the family has changed significantly. Behind these phenomena lies the fragmentation of society, the loss of faith in community (Sandel 2020; Dewey 1984) and the loosening of social structures. In this paper, I shall consider the implications of Emersonian self-reliance and its concomitant idea of care for new forms of family relationship. To illustrate this, I shall refer to the Japanese film, Shoplifters [Manbiki-Kazoku] (2018, directed by Kore-eda Hirokazu) and propose forms of family based on looser and more provisional ties. Cavell’s idea of acknowledgment endorses such a renewed concept of family in which self-reliance and care for each other allows space for the unknown and fertile forms of social relationship—something that opens new possibilities of community.

As a promising way to address the question of what it means to be a family, this paper discusses the significance of care ethics and its limits, and explores the possibility of acknowledgment as a meaningful way of creating human bonds as a form of family. Such domestic bonds are incontrovertibly a primary context in which the upbringing of children and their education (or miseducation) are realized. I shall first discuss care ethics as a crucial key to creating human bonds, centering on the idea of vulnerability. Much as it is full of possibilities, some limits in care ethics are to be pointed out. To move beyond such limits, I shall introduce the idea of acknowledgment that is proposed by Stanley Cavell. In the final section, an alternative sense of human bonds beyond care is proposed from the perspective of acknowledgment. This will be illustrated by an alternative way of interpreting some scenes of Shoplifters, to show an alternative sense of family.

Truth under attack: Talking past each other in a polarized society

Lynn De Jonghe, Edge Hill University

“The purpose of…education is not to shield you from ideas you dislike or to silence people you disagree with; it is to enable you to confront challenging ideas, interrogate your own beliefs, make up your mind, and learn to think for yourself.”

After quoting this laudable defense of liberal education, the author, a professor in a prominent American university, proceeded to mount a blistering attack on universities that are “too fearful to let us argue.” This critique, coming after the relentless grilling of four university presidents by conservative members of the U.S. House of Representatives, and the subsequent resignation of Harvard University’s first female black president, illustrates with painful clarity the sea of uncertainty that threatens to engulf colleges and universities in today’s polarized era. This attack on higher education first made headlines in 2021 when conservative congressman  J. D. Vance infamously declared that “the professors are the enemy.” At the annual meeting of the Philosophy of Education Society last March, President Michelle Moses addressed the threat, arguing that Vance’s claim represented a “competing perspective on truth, which goes against a broadly pragmatist view of truth and knowledge that relies on an explicitly democratic conception of the ends of inquiry.” In replying to Moses, Winston Thompson pointed out that good philosophical argument may not motivate all dissenters, because “they represent a range of actors, each of which likely calls for specific response.” One of these responses requires addressing Bernard Williams’s assertion that pragmatism may deny the relevance of truth and thereby threaten all education in the humanities. This paper will argue that many fierce policy disagreements and clashing truth claims have their roots in different understandings of the meanings of goodness and truth. After examining the historical roots of these disagreements, which can be manipulated and even weaponized by individuals for their own political ambitions,  I address Williams’s claim that education in the humanities must rely on a robust understanding of the nature of truth. I then turn to those whose righteous anger may be genuine, asking how we can respond to those who profoundly disagree with us without dissembling and without further inflaming the spirit of growing hatred in a struggling democracy. I argue that grappling with such different perspectives will require strategies that go beyond philosophical argument to more direct forms of formal and informal action. Although my current cases are located in the United States, these same problems occur everywhere political polarization calls the role of education into question.