April 1st, 2019


Teubner, using Latour and Luhmann, to elucidate the legal theory of non-human agents

Personification of non-humans is best understood as a strategy of dealing with the uncertainty about the identity of the other, which moves the attribution scheme from causation to double contingency and opens the space for presupposing the others' self-referentiality. But there is no compelling reason to restrict the attribution of action exclusively to humans and to social systems, as Luhmann argues. Personifying other non-humans is a social reality today and a political necessity for the future. The admission of actors does not take place, as Latour suggests, into one and only one collective. Rather, the properties of new actors differ extremely according to the multiplicity of different sites of the political ecology.

- G. Teubner, "Rights of Non-Humans? Electronic Agents and Animals as New Actors in Politics and Law" (link)

This is a fascinating article.

Putting it into the context of the debates that used to rage here, a few things must be said:

- "Continental philosophy" is the primary philosophical reference point in German legal scholarship. Their whole legal system is built on that tradition. Grokking that, which took a great deal of time, really made be grateful to the exposure to continental theory here. Because now the EU, which is largely based on German legal theory, is leading the world in technology law.

- The two theorists listed here are the Great Names in continental philosophical theory as of 10-20 years ago. It's funny that we never talked about them here. In my view, Latour is terrible, and Luhmann is fantastic. But your mileage may vary.

- Latour got famous riding out the Science Wars on a social constructivist platform. This was done under the auspices of a social science research, specifically ethnographies of laboratories. It's very poorly positioned philosophically, in my opinion, but nevertheless became wildly popular. My best guess as to why was that it was what mediocre people think smart people sound like. He's changed his tune since and now he has so many positions he's hard to track.

- Luhmann is a 'system theorist' of social science, a student of Talcott Parsons who drew a lot from second-order cyberneticists Maturana and Varela, who are _amazing_. Luhmann got some recognition for his epic argument with Habermas, who is/was of course the culmination of the Frankfurt School field. Luhmann is, in many ways, the cybernetics/pragmatist/engineering-mentality as reflected back into high German social theory. And even in Germany, he largely won the argument--German scholars you meet are far more likely to speak of their Luhmann studies than their Habermas studies.

The combination of the two is a bit unholy. But it's a novel approach to a significant practical problem that requires philosophical insight to address: how to deal with all the artificial 'agents' that are not really 'persons' per se.

Food for thought, in case anybody check this place any more. Looks like @nanikore is still around...
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