Parental leave until mid-March 2019

For me, certainly, the most important and happy event in 2018 was not an academic one, but rather the birth of my son Max. I am am happy and grateful to be offered the chance to spend the next four months closely with him during my parental leave. It will be a challenge of a very different nature, and I’m looking forward to so many new experiences of what it means to start a family!


Research Collaboration Stay at Penn State University

As part of the “Freiburg – Penn State Collaboration Development Program 2018” (organized on the Freiburg side by FRIAS) I was involved the drafting of the winning proposal “Philosophy in the Age of New Wars“, lead by Prof. Dr. Hans-Helmuth Gander on the Freiburg side and Prof. Dr. Nicolas de Warren on the Penn State side. The collaboration project aims at fostering a collaborative, sustainable, self‐supporting cooperation between faculty and junior researchers from both universities.

The project will run for 12 months, starting in September 2018. As part of the project, I will spend a 3 week collaboration stay during November 2018 at Pennsylvania State University. The goal is to develop collaboration ideas around philosophical research in the Age of New Wars. Apart from topics such as robotics and drone warfare, my main interest lies in the ethical reflection of automated and self-learning decision making, especially with regard to security technologies “at home” (e.g. automated traveler classification as potential terrorists).

Proseminar on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics

During the winter term 2018, I will teach a German language undergraduate seminar (Proseminar) on a classical Aristotelean text on pragmatic philosophy, the Nicomachean Ethics. Due to my parental leave, the main part of course will be held “en bloc” on two full days and the seminar description reads like this:

Aristoteles’ Nikomachische Ethik gehört ohne Zweifel zu den einflussreichsten Texten der antiken Philosophie und prägt insbesondere die Moralphilosophie bis heute. Dabei beschränkt sich der Text nicht auf die Beschreibung einer Ethik im engeren Sinne, sondern entwickelt, wie Ursula Wolf schreibt, „ein umfassendes Modell praktischer Philosophie, das eine Theorie des Glücks, der Tugenden, des richtigen Handelns und Überlegens umfasst und diese Themen in einer Theorie des Politischen einbettet“ (Aristoteles 2008: 7). Dabei geht Aristoteles davon aus, dass menschliches Streben letztlich immer auf Glück bzw. ein gutes Leben (eudaimonia) ausgerichtet sei. Die Frage danach, was denn nun aber ein glückliches Leben ausmacht, steht im Mittelpunkt der Überlegungen in der Nikomachischen Ethik.
Das Proseminar ist als Blockseminar konzipiert und eignet sich auch für Studienanfänger. Der Fokus liegt dabei auf einer intensiven Lektüre, Interpretation und Diskussion dieses philosophischen Klassikers. Über Impulsvorträge von Seiten der Teilnehmenden wird zudem auch aktuelle Forschungsliteratur rezipiert und der Text so auch auf aktuelle Fragestellungen bezogen.
Bitte schaffen Sie sich vor der ersten Blocksitzung den Text in der Übersetzung von Ursula Wolf an (herausgegeben vom Rowohlt-Verlag).

Moralische Landkarten der Sicherheit

Ein Framework zur hermeneutisch-ethischen Bewertung von Fluggastkontrollen im Anschluss and John Dewey.

Book cover of Moralische Landkarten der Sicherheit
Book cover of “Moralische Landkarten der Sicherheit”.

It was hard work, but I’m happy to announce that my dissertation was finally published and is now available. It took several revisions of the proofs, but I am very happy with the result.  Since the book is also a result of the research I conducted in the EU FP7 project XP-DITE, the publishing costs could also be funded as part of the EU FP7 framework. I am thankful for that possibility.

The title of my dissertation could be translated as “Moral Maps of Security Provision. A Hermeneutical Framework for the Ethical Evaluation of Airport Passenger Screening Following John Dewey”. In 2017, it was awarded the Wetzstein Award for Philosophy.


The dissertation is written in German and the abstract reads like this:

Die gesellschaftspolitischen Konflikte um die Verschärfung von Fluggastkontrollen belegen, dass es bei Entscheidungen darüber, wie und mit welchen Techniken derartige Kontrollprozesse zu organisieren sind, einen Bedarf an ethischer Expertise gibt. Getroffen werden müssen solche Entscheidungen vor einem komplexen Horizont von Wertvorstellungen, der sich nicht auf den Gegensatz ‚entweder Sicherheit oder Freiheit‘ reduzieren lässt. Entsprechend muss eine informierte Entscheidungsfindung berücksichtigen, welche impliziten Wertvorstellungen uns bei der Forderung nach mehr Sicherheit durch Fluggastkontrollen leiten und welche Wertungskonflikte verschiedene Kontrolltechniken jeweils konkret implizieren.
Über eine hermeneutische Lesart von John Deweys Moralpragmatismus werden in dieser Arbeit jene Wertvorstellungen rekonstruiert, die uns bei der Forderung nach Sicherheit leiten, wie auch jene, die dabei auf dem Spiel stehen. Auf dieser Basis präsentiert die Arbeit eine Methode zur operationalisierten Technikbewertung, über die verschiedene Kontrollprozesse verglichen sowie Handlungsempfehlungen generiert werden können.

Roughly, this translates as the following:

The socio-political conflicts around tightening passenger security screening measures at airports show that there is a need for ethical expertise. Decisions on how to organize the screening process and on which screening technologies to use must be taken in regard to a complex horizon of values that cannot be reduced to the alternative ‘either security or freedom’. Hence, informed decision making must take into account not only which valuations implicitly guide us when we ask for improved security, but also what values specifically come into conflict when organizing the security checks in a certain way.

Through a hermeneutical reading of John Deweys moral pragmatism, this book reconstructs the relevant valuations that guide us in demanding better security and those that are at stake. Building on this, the book presents an operationalized framework for ethical evaluation. It allows to compare the impact of different ways of screening passengers in regard to the relevant valuations, as well as to generate guidelines so as to address unintended negative consequences.


Proseminar on individualism and the social contract

In the summer term of 2018, I will offer a German language undergraduate seminar (“Proseminar”) that will address some of the most prominent concepts in modern political philosophy: the idea of using “the individual” as the key reference point in justifying certain conceptions of statehood and political authority, and the forms it takes in various philosophical conceptions of the social contract.

In a sense, the course has a focus in the history of political philosophy, as it deals with the development many of the core concepts of liberal democracy (even though, of course, not all of the conceptions of the social contract can be called liberal or democratic). At the same time, however, I also believe that the currently often cited “crisis of (liberal) democracy” across Europe, the US and many other parts of the world means that we have to re-address the concepts of classical liberalism – and the first step towards this should consist in making an effort to understand why and in what historical situation these ideas came into being.

Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes; engraving by Abraham Bosse, via Wikimedia Commons

Parts of the seminar are based on an introductory course on political philosophy that I visited myself as a student of political science in 2006 (then held by Marcus Obrecht) and that I consider one of the best seminars throughout my course of study!

The seminar is structured into three main blocks:

  • The first block will introduce the historical and conceptual basis for the rest of the seminar. The main goal here is to have a common vocabulary and some historical context for the remainder of the course.
  • In the second block, we then discuss the philosophical concept of the social contract in three of its classical variants, as formulated by Thomas Hobbes, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and John Locke, and how these respectively make use of the idea of “the individual”.
  • Finally, in the third block, we then historically jump forward to the 20th century (mostly) to take up two separate strands of the discussion: (1) the revitalization of the philosophical conception of the social contract by John Rawls and the ensuing debate on social justice; and (2) the formation of a comparably new fundamental right, the right to privacy, in its interplay with liberal conceptions of individualism.

Interim position at the CSS as Administrative Manager

For an interim period from 1st December 2017 to 31st May 2018, I will take the position of Administrative Manager at the Centre for Security and Society. During this time, I will take over from Nicholas during his parental leave.

This is already the second time I take this position for an interim period; the first time span covered November 2015 until March 2016. Judging from previous experience, I assume that I will have little time for my own research. And even if I do find a couple of hours here and there, this is not really conducive to my current effort: finding a suitable topic for my habilitation, i.e. a second big research project that demonstrates a wider philosophical horizon.

Nevertheless, I hope and believe that I will learn a great deal in science management during this time. Many of the ideas I developed 2 years ago were implemented in one way or the other (to be honest, probably in a much more professional way than I could have done it at this time). I have learned a lot from Nicholas as the Centre has developed into a duly professionalized research institution with greater staff, both in administration and research. And it plays a much more prominent role in the University, which means that university politics is also a much bigger component than before. So in the end, the task will be a completely different one – even though it goes under the same name.

Proseminar on Hannah Arendt’s conceptions of violence and power

As part of my new position as a staff member of the University of Freiburg’s Department of Philosophy, I will offer a German language undergraduate seminar (“Proseminar”) in the winter term 2017-2018 on political philosophy. The course will discuss Hannah Arendt’s conceptions of ‘violence’ and ‘power’ as distinct and – in a certain sense – anti-thetical, her critique of the traditional understanding of ‘the Political’ in terms of ‘Who rules whom?’ as well as her theoretical engagement with contemporary political change such as the student unrest in the late 60s. The seminar builds on earlier research for my final thesis in philosophy (“Wissenschaftliche Arbeit” equivalent to an MA thesis) that I am currently revisiting.

„Niemand hat das Recht zu gehorchen!“ Graffiti of BeneR1 in collaboration with koarts.
„Niemand hat das Recht zu gehorchen!“ Graffiti of BeneR1 in collaboration with koarts. By Bernd Schwabe in Hannover (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
It is clear that the prominence and importance of the concept of ‘power’ in Arendt’s thought can hardly be exaggerated. According to her, an understanding that is synonymous or in continuation with concepts like with ‘rule’ and ‘violence’ – as it is so often attested to in traditional conceptions of ‘power’ – blurs important distinctions that can allow us to see manifest differences in our political reality and, hence, to adequately grasp political freedom and democracy.

The course will follow up on these distinctions so as to provide an introduction to some of the most prominent aspects of the political philosophy of Hannah Arendt. At the core of the seminar will be a close reading of Arendt’s essay On Violence. As opposed to the more conceptual work I have done in my final thesis, the seminar will put a stronger focus on contextualisation. In order to reconstruct the historical situation of her critical commentary, we will also read many of the authors Arendt refers to in her essay, such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Frantz Fanon, Max Weber, Konrad Lorenz and others. To the same end, we will read texts with a more historical focus (e.g. on the RAND corporation) and contemporary journalistic texts that Arendt refers to. Lastly, we will discuss newer contributions to political philosophy that reject Arendt’s conceptual distinction, e.g. Chantal Mouffe’s On the Political.

The main goals of the seminar are (1) to make undergraduate students familiar with how to read philosophical essays and how to reconstruct the context of a critique that was written for an earlier reader; (2) to introduce some of the main aspects of Arendt’s political philosophy; (3) to demonstrate the course of scientific debates in philosophy over time; and (4) to discuss in how far the concepts addressed in the seminar can help to understand the current profound changes in democratic politics.