Desktop version

Home arrow History arrow The Art of World-Making: Nicholas Greenwood Onuf and his Critics


Response to Paul Kowert

Paul Kowert and I arrived in Miami at the same time and immediately developed a close relationship, both at work and play Having encouraged his interest in Japan, my wife Sandy and I spent a great deal of time with him in Kyoto and roaming about the country In Miami and with Vendulka Kubalkova’s leadership, we launched the Miami International Relations Group. This forum greatly facilitated my return to Constructivist social theory, as did many one-on-one discussions with Paul, who had only recently steeped himself in Constructivism in order to conduct a ‘theoretical reprise’ for the landmark volume that Peter Katzenstein had edited (Kowert and Legro 1996).

One of Paul’s most appealing traits is the sympathetic spirit in which he deals with the world - no outsider can have a greater sympathy for Japanese culture. His sympathies have subtle links; his evident sympathy for Constructivism hardly precludes other sympathies. When I turned him onto Rom Harre’s ‘principle of bivalence,’ his sympathy for Philosophical Realism turned to enthusiasm (as evident in his essay). His sympathy for positivist methods suits his love of tinkering and his immersion in social psychology. His deep interest in the relation between emotional capacities and ethical systems reveals his many sympathies converging in fruitful ways. I must say that his sympathy for Jonathan Haidt, whom he had me read, and Haidt’s ‘moral foundations theory’ (again evident in his essay), and more generally for the emerging field of moral psychology, exceeds mine. Yet his sense of evolution’s importance in making us what we are, emotionally and ethically, matches my own.

Paul is as careful a reader as he is sympathetic. Few scholars seem to realize that the last chapter of World of Our Making is, by my lights, the book’s most ambitious chapter, the big pay-off for the patient reader, and the necessary end for my years of labor. No one has commented on that chapter with Paul’s care, subtlety, sympathy and lucidity. I wrote that chapter while teaching a doctoral seminar on international political economy, which over several years I had used to educate myself on rational choice theory and Marxist political economy. This was a bracing experience for me and my students, some of whom conspicuously helped in my education. Reading Paul’s essay for this book reminds me that my education was nevertheless incomplete but reassures me that the three ‘grounds of comparison’ underlying choice, as developed in that chapter, work as a conceptual framework.

In the book more generally, I develop a tripartite scheme, the very omnipresence of which induced me to claim that there are three, and only three, ‘faculties of experience’ constituting the human condition (1989, Synoptic Table, 290-293). Paul does not link the three grounds of comparison to these generic categories. He does call the former “states of affairs about which we may have feelings and make reasoned judgments.” And this is better said than anything I say in that last chapter.

Paul faults me on neglecting memory. So I did, at least in World of Our Making, but sought to remedy this omission, with David Hume’s help (not to mention Paul’s), in a later essay (2003, reprinted in Onuf 2013a). I also neglected the faculty of imagination, which Paul does not mention, and which I have only recently taken into consideration. While Hume said, “I paint the universe in my imagination” (1738, I.iii.9), he thought that memory resulted in more vivid impressions than the exercise of one’s imagination. In my own case anyway, memories are mostly wispy and fragmented; I marvel at people whose speak of memory as I cannot. In any case, memory and imagination are intimately associated with emotions. And it is with respect to the place and play of emotion that World of Our Making is perhaps most deficient. (Notice that, as with memory and imagination, there is no index entry for emotion).

Always gracious, Paul chooses not to emphasize my neglect of emotions, although he bears some responsibility in having me give them more attention in recent years. To the contrary, he describes the three ‘states of affairs’ as indeed states about which we have feelings - something I should have said directly. I did associate these states with a concern with standing, security, and wealth, all of which have emotional resonances and triggers. This is most obviously the case with security, where fear motivates such a concern, perhaps less obvious with wealth, which may have several emotional sources, but least obvious with standing. In Chapter 3, World grants at least as much attention to standing’s emotional concomitants as it does to those of security and wealth.

There I associate a prevalence of instructions-rules with cultures that rely extensively on ceremony, anxiety, shame and care. I failed to say anything much about pride, approval and applause. I did later attend to honor and respect in relation to rank (1998; 2013b; 2015). My brother Peter and I also considered Adam Smith’s bivalent scheme of approbation and contempt, the former an inducement to feeling good and acting in good conscience (Onuf and Onuf 2006, 189-197). Smith’s version of virtue ethics fits nicely with republican theory and my own ethical sensibility. I see it now as an answer to the question that Paul has always posed and seeks to answer for himself: how do we formulate a theoretically and empirically robust moral psychology?


Hume, David. 1738. A Treatise of Human Nature. Edited by L.A. Selby-Bigge. Oxford: Clarendon.

Kowert, Paul and Jeffrey Legro. 1996. “Norms, Identity, and Their Limits.” In Peter J. Katzenstein, ed., The Culture of National Security: Norms and Identity in World Politics, pp. 451-497. New York: Columbia University Press.

Onuf, Nicholas Greenwood. 1998. “Everyday Ethics in International Relations.” Millennium: Journal of International Studies 27: 669-693.

  • - 2003. “Parsing Personal Identity: Self, Other Agent.” In Francois Debrix, ed., Language, Agency and Politics in a Constructed World, pp. 26-49. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe.
  • - 2013a. Making Sense, Making Worlds: Constructivism in Social Theory and International

Relations. Abingdon: Routledge.

-2013b. “Organizing for Good: Republican Theory in a Changing World.” M. Cherif

Bassiouni, Gomula Joanna, Paolo Mengozzi, John G. Merrills, Rafael Nieto Navia, Anna Oriolo, William Schabas, and Anna Vigorito, eds. In The Global Community: Yearbook of International Law and Jurisprudence, pp. 507-533.

- 2015. “Acts of Recognition, Shades of Respect.” In Christopher Daase, Caroline

Fehl, Anna Geis, and Georgios Kolliarkos, eds., Shades of Recognition: Rethinking a Social Theoretical Concept in a Global Context, pp. 265-278. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Onuf, Nicholas Greenwood and Peter Onuf. 2006. Nations, Markets and War: Modern History and the American Civil War. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >

Related topics