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Extraordinary Responsibility
Politics beyond the Moral Calculus

$31.99 (P)

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  • Date Published: September 2015
  • availability: In stock
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107443136

$ 31.99 (P)

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About the Authors
  • Careful attention to contemporary political debates, including those around global warming, the federal debt, and the use of drone strikes on suspected terrorists, reveals that we often view our responsibility as something that can be quantified and discharged. Shalini Satkunanandan shows how Plato, Kant, Nietzsche, Weber, and Heidegger each suggest that this calculative or bookkeeping mindset both belongs to "morality", understood as part of our ordinary approach to responsibility, and effaces the incalculable, undischargeable, and more onerous dimensions of our responsibility. These thinkers also reveal how the view of responsibility as calculable is at the heart of "moralism" - the pettifogging, mindless, legalistic, excessively judgmental, or punitive policing of our own or others' compliance with moral duties. By elaborating their narratives of a difficult "conversion" to the open-ended and relentless character of responsibility, Satkunanandan explores how we might be less moralistic and more responsible in politics. She ultimately argues for a political ethos attentive to how calculative thinking can limit our responsibility, but that still accepts a circumscribed place for calculation (and morality) in responsible politics.

    • Accessible readings of five difficult thinkers in the history of political and moral thought
    • A novel understanding of the problem of moralism in ethics and politics
    • Blends history of political and moral thought, normative theory, literature, and contemporary political and cultural analysis
    Read more


    • Co-Winner, 2016 First Book Award, Foundations of Political Theory Section, American Political Science Association

    Reviews & endorsements

    "This essential book is about the importance of giving attention to things that can’t be reduced to rules or formulae, and it doesn't just call for intensified attentiveness - it models it. With a keen eye for surprising textual details and unusual political angles, Shalini Satkunanandan unsettles reductive interpretations of thinkers from Plato to Koestler and challenges the simplifications through which we too often evade the ethical claims made on us by social and political reality."
    Patchen Markell, University of Chicago

    "Satkunanandan in this erudite and provocative work powerfully argues that we release ourselves from a morality of 'calculable responsibility' that leads to the economization of political life and a false sense of control through technology in favor of an ethos that calls attention to individuality and particularity. Her sophisticated readings of an impressive range of philosophic guides from across the historical spectrum will compel readers to challenge their familiar understandings of responsibility."
    Arlene W. Saxonhouse, Caroline Robbins Collegiate Professor of Political Science, University of Michigan

    "Shalini Satkunanandan argues provocatively and persuasively that being responsible calls not for paying attention to acting morally, which we better achieve indirectly, but rather for attending and tending responsively to our world. Satkunanandan's bold and insightful readings of Nietzsche, Heidegger, Plato, Kant and Weber bring to appearance the ways in which we act under the sway of calculative responsibility when we act with a view to reckoning and discharging our obligations and debts. Putting such bookkeeping morality in its place, Extraordinary Responsibility radically revises our orientation to ethics and alters our appreciation of our human possibility."
    Jill Frank, Cornell University, New York

    "This brilliant and beautifully written book makes an incredibly valuable argument about morality and responsibility in politics. By creative and yet also carefully argued readings of canonical works by Plato, Kant, Nietzsche, Heidegger and Weber, Shalini Satkunanandan shows the dangers - but also the inescapability and value - of 'calculative' forms of thinking about responsibility and about life more broadly."
    George Shulman, Gallatin School, New York University

    "Extraordinary Responsibility is an extraordinary book. Through her patient, meticulous, and insightful readings of Heidegger, Weber, Nietzsche, Kant and Plato, Shalini Satkunanandan broadens and deepens our understanding of the notion of responsibility, arguing that our 'constitutive responsibility' to attend to the world, and to our place in it, matters as much to politics as our calculative responsibility to reckon up and discharge our moral debts. Satkunanandan's book is an indispensable contribution to ongoing debates about the place of morality in politics."
    Robert Gooding-Williams, Columbia University, New York

    "Extraordinary Responsibility is a bold, timely book … In focusing exclusively on moral relationships that are calculable, quantifiable, and causally clear, Satkunanandan argues, we risk losing sight of the more open-ended, inexhaustibly demanding aspects of our responsibility in and to a contingent world. This beautifully written book offers a provocative vision of how democratic citizens might inhabit and practice political responsibility more fully and attentively."
    Doug Thompson, University of South Carolina

    "Satkunanandan's book is an exceedingly lucid diagnosis of contemporary accounts of responsibility as a matter of debtor-creditor relations or of moral calculation. Through careful and compelling readings of key philosophers, she draws attention in this insightful work to neglected aspects of their thinking, while offering us ways of confronting our instrumentalism and beginning to think about responsibility otherwise."
    Marianne Constable, University of California, Berkeley

    "The focus of Shalini Satkunanandan's insightful book is how attitudes towards society can stabilize, but in turn also trap, us."
    The Times Literary Supplement

    "Satkunanandan argues that such "realism" overlooks the ways in which calculative responsibility is essential: the problem is to delimit the scope of such thinking, not eliminate it. What is required is "attentiveness to calculation" so the limitations of calculation can be grasped and higher forms of attentiveness can enable the incalculable, extraordinary responsibility that is constitutive of humanity. This original, deeply thoughtful argument is beautifully set out through encounters with historical thinkers and contemporary theorists and illustrated by concrete issues of public policy … Highly recommended."
    J. D. Moon, Choice

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    Product details

    • Date Published: September 2015
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781107443136
    • length: 263 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 152 x 15 mm
    • weight: 0.35kg
    • availability: In stock
  • Table of Contents

    Introduction: distracted by calculation
    Part I. Calculation and Indirectness:
    1. Nietzsche: morality's debt perspective
    2. Heidegger: the calls of conscience and calculation
    3. (In)calculable conversion
    Part II. The Moralizer's Critique of Calculable Responsibility:
    4. Plato: the philosopher's turn from debt justice
    5. Kant: the extraordinary categorical imperative
    Part III. Turning from Morality in Politics:
    6. Weber: the ethos of politics beyond calculation
    7. Darkness at Noon: mis-turn from morality
    8. Conclusion: attention to calculation.

  • Author

    Shalini Satkunanandan, University of California, Davis
    Shalini Satkunanandan has been an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of California, Davis since 2011. She is a past Harper-Schmidt Fellow in the Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts at the University of Chicago. She has published articles in Political Theory, the American Political Science Review, and Law, Culture and the Humanities.


    • Co-Winner, 2016 First Book Award, Foundations of Political Theory Section, American Political Science Association

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