Political philosophy beyond contemporary debate

portrait of Dr. Eva Odzuck.
Dr. Eva Odzuck forscht am Lehrstuhl für Politische Philosophie, Theorie und Ideengeschichte.(Bild:Glasow Fotografie)

Dr. Eva Odzuck presents outstanding research on the Hobbeschen philosophy.

Dr. Eva Odzuck takes sources from historical political philosophy and applies them to contemporary debate. In her role as a political philosopher, she seeks answers to pressing political questions and challenges faced by liberal democracies.

Who decides on matters of life and death in a liberal state? Which challenges do biotechnology and digital technology pose liberal democracies? These are the topical yet nevertheless fundamental issues which Dr. Eva Odzuck deals with in her research. ‘Liberal democracy is one of the most demanding forms of state imaginable,’ she says. At the Chair of Political Philosophy, Theory and History of Political Ideas at FAU, she carries out systematic research on fundamental political concepts and principles in liberal democracies. She emphasises: ‘A guiding principle of a liberal democracy is the willingness to find out about and reflect on fundamental political issues.’

Conceptual expertise

This is what Dr. Eva Odzuck considers to be her job as an academic. ‘Our department deals with fundamental political concepts, arguments and problems which have been part and parcel of political thinking for more than 2,000 years now.’ As part of her work, she takes sources from the history of political ideas and applies them to contemporary debate in order to allow a greater understanding of liberal democracies and encourage a reflective approach to furthering their development.

The English mathematician, state theorist and philosopher Thomas Hobbes is regarded as the founder of enlightened absolutism. His most famous work is "Leviathan."
The English mathematician, state theorist and philosopher Thomas Hobbes is regarded as the founder of enlightened absolutism. His most famous work is “Leviathan. “(Bild: Wikipedia Commosr)

The freedom of the individual

Her work focuses in particular on the English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes, whom she regards as the most important pioneer of liberalism. In her doctoral thesis, Dr. Eva Odzuck gives a convincing new interpretation of Hobbes’ philosophy based on the theory of the state as a body and uses the findings of her research to explore contemporary issues, such as the question of the freedom of the individual.

‘Even if Thomas Hobbes was not yet aware of the concept of the right to resist, he worked with the idea of a legal system based on authoritative bodies antecedent to our idea of a state, and believed each individual was entitled to the right of self-preservation,’ explains the internationally recognised Hobbes expert. ‘His theory therefore had to answer the question of who decides what life is and when there is considered to be a risk to life: the state? The individual? Experts?’

She believes that this problematic issue inherent to liberal theories arises even today, albeit in a different context: in other words with respect to intensive care medicine and the legal basis for euthanasia. For Dr. Eva Odzuck, issues such as these are linked to the question of how to bring the state’s obligation to protect its citizens into line with each individual’s right to the freedom to decide themselves on when a life can be considered worth living. For Thomas Hobbes, the concept of ‘equality’ is understood predominantly on the basis of the body. Dr. Odzuck continues, ‘In his opinion, all individuals are equal as everyone can be killed.’

As a political philosopher, Dr. Odzuck wanted to direct attention to the rhetorical dimension of Thomas Hobbes’ political philosophy by focusing on the body: ‘Hobbes pictured humans as bodies driven by their passions, whose movements can be controlled by calling on their passions.’ Thomas Hobbes developed political rhetoric aimed at the addressee in which he addressed the various passions of the individual target groups with individual messages. The underlying idea was that ‘people with different passions can thereby be encouraged to agree and learn the same lesson: the sovereign state is necessary.’

In a new publication, Dr. Eva Odzuck shows similar strategies being used in digital political microtargeting, i.e. digital electoral advertising that parties tailor to suit the recipient in the hope that it proves more effective. ‘Targeted advertising which is only visible to the individual user or which is only sent to selected groups can, however, also lead to an increasingly fragmented democratic public sphere and have fatal repercussions for democracy. A lack of openness and transparency makes it harder to compare, criticise and discuss,’ she stresses.

An outstanding researcher

For her innovative research into political theory based on the works of Hobbes, Dr. Eva Odzuck was awarded a prize in January 2020 for outstanding research by women in the humanities from the Faculty of Humanities, Social Sciences, and Theology at FAU. She is currently working on her habilitation.

In it, she drafts a modern definition of freedom, which can be used a guide for social debate and legislation in the context of interventions in the human germline. Dr. Eva Odzuck voices her concerns that whilst biotechnological procedures are now available which are paving the way for exciting new treatments by producing genetically modified humans, such procedures also rekindle controversial old ideas such as designer babies. ‘We must consider how we can impose limits to protect future generations.’

The Responsibility of Political Philosophy

Another focus of her current research is digital technology. Dr. Eva Odzuck is involved in the FAU Emerging Fields Initiative (EFI) ‘Digital Sovereignty’, where as a political philosopher she can contribute her expertise in the theory of democracy and skills at analysing various concepts. Just one of the issues she explores is how digital transformation can be designed responsibly to promote the functional requirements of democracy.

It is questions such as these which may sound simple initially but which have to be thought through very carefully that Dr. Eva Odzuck deals with in her daily research. She believes ‘political philosophers have the very responsible task of taking a stance on current problems and continually giving new impulses going beyond day to day political debate thanks to our expertise in the history of political ideas and our systematic approach to concepts.’

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In der aktuellen Ausgabe geht es um das Digitalisierungsprojekt „Objekte im Netz“, Fledermäuse mit Rucksäcken und die Herausforderungen für die Demokratie durch Bio- und Digitaltechnologie. Außerdem haben wir mit dem FAU-Theologen Prof. Dr. Peter Dabrock über seine Zeit als Vorsitzender des deutschen Ethikrates gesprochen. „Student des Jahres“ Sagithjan Surendra erzählt im Interview von seinem Jugend-Förderwerk und Dr. Axel Adrian vom Lehrstuhl für Strafrecht, Strafprozessrecht und Rechtsphilosophie erklärt, wie Künstliche Intelligenz im Rechtswesen eingesetzt wird.

FAU-Magazin alexander Nr. 113

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