This blog documents the research, activities, and outputs of the AHRC-funded project Equalities of Wellbeing in Philosophy and Architecture. Please visit the main project website at www.equalitiesofwellbeing.co.uk . We are on Twitter: @EqualitiesofWB
Equalities of Wellbeing in Philosophy and Architecture is a three-year project beginning 1 June 2013. Our primary question is this: How do philosophy and architecture give us a distinctive way of understanding equality, and how can this have impacts on the wellbeing of individuals and communities? We will look at an alternative history of the concept of equality found in both the 17th-century philosophy of Spinoza and in architectural thought. Here, equality is understood in terms of proportion, a way of thinking that can lead to new strategies for increasing equalities of wellbeing.
Standard notions of equality originate in the Enlightenment social contract tradition and depend on the assumption that every human being is an autonomous, rational subject. The resulting notion of the moral equality of reasoning subjects undergirds both 18th-century political thought and dominant theories of justice today. The notion that all persons are moral equals is foundational in arguments for political equality and universal rights. However, while liberal democracies have increasingly committed to the political equality of citizens, their societies have become less and less economically equal over the past fifty years. Recent studies such as Wilkinson and Pickett’s The Spirit Level have demonstrated the link between income equality and wellbeing. Wellbeing and “happiness” as indicators of national progress are now high on the public agenda. We are interested in finding out whether a concept of equality different from the standard moral-political sense, might provide a better foundation for arguments for income equality and greater wellbeing.
This alternative concept of equality is connected to an alternative concept of human subjectivity found in the 17th-century philosophy of Baruch Spinoza. Spinoza sees people as fundamentally unequal individuals whose capacity for reasoning and freedom varies with their bodily constitution, political circumstances, and emotional and social situation. His philosophy suggests that we should abandon the assumption of absolute moral equality, and instead look to ideas of geometrical proportion and mathematical ratio to understand what defines individuals, distinguishes them from others, and allows them to bind together into communities. What emerges is a concept of proportional equality which, if put into practice, could result in a greater equality of wellbeing among all individuals.
In Architecture, there is a long tradition of connecting a proportional conception of equality with wellbeing. From Vitruvius’s classical treatise On Architecture, through to Renaissance and Enlightenment aesthetic ideals, through to modernist utopian building and social housing projects, architects have upheld geometric criteria of proportion and harmony. In the 20th century these criteria were strongly linked to generating greater equalities of wellbeing through housing design. While this connection was recognized, and standards of living space protected, in the 1960s-70s, it has been ignored over the past 25 years due to the drive for large quantities of affordable housing. As architectural theory and practice remain focused on increasing wellbeing, there is a need to interpret and discuss the connection to proportional equality in a distinctive way.
The project team will work together, using the methods of philosophy and architectural theory, to understand this concept of proportional equality and connect it to case studies to see how it can be realized in architectural theory and affordable housing design. We will consult with professional groups and charities aiming at greater wellbeing through income equality and housing standards. The project involves events, publications, and other activities between 2013 and 2016.
Dr. Beth Lord, Philosophy, University of Aberdeen (posting as spinozaresearchnetwork)
Tiff Thomas, PhD student in Philosophy, University of Aberdeen
Main project website: www.equalitiesofwellbeing.co.uk
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School of Divinity, History, and Philosophy
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