A radical freedom? Gianni Vattimo's ‘emancipatory nihilism’

Martin, James. 2010. A radical freedom? Gianni Vattimo's ‘emancipatory nihilism’. Contemporary Political Theory, 9(3), pp. 325-344. ISSN 1470-8914 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

What scope is there for emancipatory politics in light of the postmodern critique of philosophical foundations? This paper examines the response to this question by Italian philosopher, Gianni Vattimo, who for over two decades has defended the emancipatory prospects of what he terms ‘nihilism’. Vattimo conceives the retreat of metaphysics as a progressive weakening of ontological claims and an opening towards new and diverse modes of being. In his view, far from an exclusively tragic experience of loss or meaninglessness, nihilism is a steadily expanding narrative that invites us to face up to our own radical freedom. The paper sets out Vattimo's central arguments and contrasts the ethical thrust of his ‘emancipatory nihilism’ with the distinctly political take on emancipation presented by Ernesto Laclau. While the two converge on the withdrawal of metaphysics as the premise for a radical and democratic freedom, Vattimo's vision remains insufficiently focused on the dynamics of contestation that a generalized nihilism implies.

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Vattimo; Heidegger; freedom; nihilism; emancipation

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Research Office > REF2014


August 2010Published

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Date Deposited:

13 Aug 2010 10:10

Last Modified:

30 Jun 2017 12:10

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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