Dr. phil. Mattias Iser (Associate Professor of Philosophy)
Dr. phil. Mattias Iser  (Associate Professor of Philosophy)


My areas of specialization are social and political philosophy: My particular expertise lies in the normative foundations of social and political criticism (and Critical Theory in particular), in the history of political thought as well as in theories of recognition, (global) justice, democracy, freedom, power and legitimate violence.


In my research I am developing a deontological theory of recognition that combines the interdisciplinary aspects of Critical Theory with the vigor and clarity of contemporary analytical moral and political philosophy.


I laid the foundations for this new form of Critical Theory in my first monograph, Empörung und Fortschritt. Grundlagen einer kritischen Theorie der Gesellschaft (Indignation and Progress. Foundations of a Critical Theory of Society). It was published in 2008 and appeared in its second edition in 2011.  In 2009 it won the Best First Book Award of the German Political Science Association (DVPW).

Empörung und Fortschritt. Grundlagen einer kritischen Theorie der Gesellschaft (Indignation and Progress. Foundations of a Critical Theory of Society), Frankfurt/M.: Campus, 329 pp. 2008/20112


The English translation will be published by Oxford University Press  (transl. Ciaran Cronin)


In Indignation and Progress I quite generally argue that, for social criticism to be a fruitful enterprise, it must take aggressive emotions, and in particular feelings of indignation – as recently witnessed, for example, in the “Arab Spring” – much more seriously than has been done so far. Social criticism should be understood as a reflection on the values and norms that feelings of indignation express, as well as on the situations and institutions to which they react. My book pursues the ambitious goal of showing that the structure of indignation – correctly understood – holds the key to normative criteria of moral and political progress. Because adequate feelings of indignation react to a lack of what I call “deontological recognition” – of being recognized as having the normative status one deserves – the theory developed in this study can decipher certain forms of indignation as expressing justified demands for social and political progress.


In my new book project I pursue this account further and develop a comprehensive theory of legitimate violence. Confronted with the question of whether struggles for recognition can sometimes permissibly take on violent forms, I argue that persons and collective actors are under certain circumstances justified to ward off rights violations or to overcome a basic structure that systematically commits such rights violations – even by violent means. What is new about my approach is the special attention I pay not only to the instrumental but also to the expressive dimension of violence as one (albeit problematic) way of answering experiences of (institutional) disrespect.

Thus, I deal especially with the relationship between individual as well as institutional attitudes on the one hand and the issue of permissible harm on the other. I do so by looking at three institutional contexts: violence of the state towards its citizens (dealing with police violence, torture and punishment), violent resistance of citizens against their state (discussing the problem of institutionalizing legitimate authority in the contexts of rebellion and revolution) as well as violence between states (war). This analysis of the normative similarities and dissimilarities between the three – moral as well as legal – contexts allows me to better grasp new phenomena such as transnational terrorism and to propose institutional safeguards against the abuse of violence. 

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© Mattias Iser