Academic Reading Club

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At the instigation of Jens Drolshammer we are holding an academic reading club as part of The Salon.

The participants are: Prof. Dr. Leonhard Neidhart (politics), Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c mult. Bruno Frey (economics), Prof. Dr. Peter Nobel (law), Prof. Dr. Marc Amstutz (law), Prof. Dr. Reiner Eichenberger (economics) and Prof. Dr. Jens Drolshammer (law).

The leitmotiv is the following text by Marc Amstutz that he has edited specially for this occasion.

The Salon: Why Theory?

What colour is theory? - it's a question you often meet. We raise it here not so as to try and find what is anyway an impossible answer. We are really interested in the associations the question evokes. Goethe's famous phrase, "All theory, dear friend, is grey, but the golden tree of life springs ever green", expresses a widely held view of theory - not as an illuminating explicative element, but a dark, obscuring one. To put it another way, what makes life really colourful is not something that theory can encompass.
This view of theory is one that deserves to be opposed (and this is precisely what "The Salon" aims to do in the interdisciplinary field of the humanities and social sciences). Theory ultimately means: questioning one's own assumptions about the object of one's reflections. Unlike its origins in ancient Greek (the˘reţn: to observe, regard, look), our view is that theory does not consist in the observation of things through pure thought independently of its practical application.
Instead, we see theory as social action: as social action consisting of the formation of social reality. So we follow Luhmann, who ascribes to theory the function of "dis-covering" the environment in which we act: "Theories arrive at their own unity and differentiation not through the way in which the external environment is divided up. It is not the object that guarantees the unity of the theory but the theory that ensures the unity of the objectů. An external environment does of course exist, but the form of the unity and differentiation that it presents is due to ů. [theoretical] construction"). It is only through theory that it becomes possible to encompass through words what we do, what we make and who we are (or also what we are not). And that means: the manner in which we organize our knowledge - and ultimately our society.
This is not to argue for a dominance of theory over practice. On the contrary, the relationship of theory to practice is one of "constructive distance": "In order to avoid a mere parallelism, it is necessary for there to be an act of interference, which accepts the other both as something other and yet also as not" (Schandl). Theory is intended to achieve precisely this: to intervene or "interfere" in practice and to do so with the aim of allowing contradiction to become fruitful. It is very much in this sense that Adorno wrote in his "Negative Dialectic": "The call for a unity of theory and practice has increasingly demoted theory to the status of handmaiden and deprived it of the very thing that it ought to have contributed to that unity. The practical identifying mark that was being demanded of all theory has also became a stamp of censorship. But through the fact that in the famous duality of theory and practice, theory has become the subservient element, it has also lost all definition and became a part of the very politics from which it was intended to find a way out: it was at the mercy of power. The annihilation of theory through dogmatizing and a prohibition on thinking contributed to bad practice; it is in the interest of practice itself that theory regains its autonomy".
"The Salon" is taking on that challenge: of "interfering" in practice through theorizing so as to allow theory to regain its autonomy. That this is an opportune moment to do so is due not least to the fact that there is a palpable deficit of theory in Switzerland. "Muddling through" seems to have become the order of the day not just in political and economic life, but also in the humanities and social sciences, which have been surprisingly quiet in recent years (you only have to look at the SNF annual report for 2003: 82% of the grants made went to biology, medicine, mathematics, science and engineering; 18% went to the humanities and social sciences!) By observing, debating and putting into a "practical" context the recent and the most current directions that theory is attempting to pursue, the aim is to make a contribution towards (re-) making theory in Switzerland into something that is colourful, dynamic, "multicoloured" and, most of all, which engages in "constructive dissent". (7.7.04)


Each participant takes it in turns to suggest books or texts to be read and sees to it that they are distributed in time.
Those taking part in the debates meet four times a year in The Salon. We maintain an interdisciplinary discussion and an exchange about our respective activities. In line with a given period of preparation we will always discuss one book or text and will hold the discussion in assigned roles. We then continue the discussion over drinks and dinner. This is also an opportunity to talk about our current activities and answer questions from others about our personal and working lives.

Texts and books read so far:

So far, we have discussed the following: Richard A. Posner, Frontiers of legal Theory (2001), Klaus Mathis, Effizienz statt Gerechtigkeit? Auf der Suche nach den philosophischen Grundlagen der ökonomischen Analyse des Rechts [Efficiency in place of justice? In search of the philosophical basis of the economic analysis of law] (2004), Douglass C. North, Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic Performance (1990), Niklas Luhmann, Die Realität der Massenmedien [The reality of mass media], 2nd, expanded edition (1996), Albert O. Hirschman, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty - Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States (1970), Leo Strauss, Natural Right and History (1950), Bruno S. Frey, Arts & Economics, Analysis & Cultural Policy (Second Edition, 2003), Gunther Teubner, Recht als autopoietisches System, [Law as an autopoietic system] (1989), Christoph Engel/Jost Halfmann/Martin Schulte (ed.), Wissen - Nichtwissen - unsicheres Wissen [Knowledge, - Non-Knowledge - uncertain knowledge] (2002) und Bruno S. Frey, ökonomie ist Sozialwissenschaft, Die Anwendung der ökonomie auf neue Gebiete [Economics is a social science. The application of economics to new fields] (1990).

On 23 August 2007 we discussed the text due to appear in Rabels Zeitschrift: Kristoffel Grechenig/Martin Gelter, Divergente Evolution des Rechtsdenkens? Von amerikanischer Rechtsökonomie und deutscher Dogmatik [Divergent evolution of legal reasoning: from US legal economics and German legal reasoning].

On 11 December 2007 we discussed the philosophic essay "On Bullshit" by Harry G. Frankfurt.

On 23 June 2008 we discussed the book Michel Foucault, die Geburt der Biopolitik, Geschichte der Gouvernementalität II by Michel Foucault.

On 1 September 2008 we discussed a biography of Joseph Schumpeter by Thomas K. McCraw entitled "Prophet of Innovation, Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction"

On 26 November 2008 we discussed the book Law & Capitalism: What Corporate Crises Reveal about Legal Systems and Economic Development around the World by Curtis J. Milhaupt and Katharina Pistor.

On 11 March 2009 we will discuss a biography of Max Weber by Joachim Radkau intitled "Die Leidenschaft des Denkens".

The meetings are private and all opinions are expressed in confidence.