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Realism, Wishful Thinking, and Utopia: A talk by Raymond Geuss, May 6, 2010


Download: audio, small video, or original.

Q&A

Download: audio, small video, or original.

We are all familiar with the phenomenon of wishful thinking, that is with cases in which people believe something not because they have any adequate reason for believing it, but because they wish it were the case. One powerful source of so-called ‘realism’ in thinking about politics is the desire to avoid such wishful thinking. There are, however, three kinds of arguments that have been formulated against this realist project. First, some have argued that there is no such thing as completely non-wishful thinking, that all thought must have a kind of projective component and thus that a completely realist view is incoherent. Second, many have wondered what is so bad with wishful thinking, or whether it is to be avoided in all cases. Surely sometimes it can be seen as something positive, motivating us to do valuable thing we would otherwise not find it in ourselves to do. Third, it has been argued that excessive versions of realism are ideologically motivated, amounting to no more than calls for people to reduce their aspirations and not disturb the status quo. This paper discusses some of these issues in their historical and political context.

Raymond Geuss is a professor of Philosophy at Cambridge University. Among his recent works are Politics and the Imagination (2010), Philosophy and real politics (2008), Political Judgment (co-edited with Richard Bourke, 2009), and “The loss of meaning on the Left” (2010). Organized by the Dialectics and Society Research Group.

While at the IAS, Geuss was interviewed by the Bat of Minerva.

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