Questions de société
Ariel Colonomos, Pricing Lives. The Political Art of Measurement

Ariel Colonomos, Pricing Lives. The Political Art of Measurement

Publié le par Marc Escola

This book discusses how human lives are equated with the material, and argues that pricing lives lies at the core of the political; in fact, as in Plato or Hobbes, and in the Weberian ethics of responsibility, measurement is considered to be one of its central features. Ariel Colonomos argues that this measure relies primarily on human lives and interests, and that the material equivalence to lives is twofold. The equivalence is a double equation, as we pay for lives and we pay with lives. This double equation constitutes the measurement upon which the political equilibrium of a society depends and is thus a key constitutive part of the political. The book adopts two approaches, both with an interdisciplinary perspective: one explanatory and the other normative. First, it explains the nexus between existential goods and material goods, drawing on a detailed analysis of several case studies from contemporary politics, both domestic and international. Second, it discusses normatively the material valuation of human lives and the human value of material goods. Value attribution and the question of the material equivalent to lives are of relevance not only for political theory and philosophy, but also for sociology, history, international relations, and legal studies.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The lives-interests nexus

Part I. Pricing Lives before the State: Some Political Lessons from Shakespeare
1:The many merchants of Venice
2:Henry V: An all-too-human gambler

Part II. The Calculating State: Hobbes's Hidden Pendulum
3:The challenge of measuring the measures: Proportionality
4:The challenge of weighing up the value of hostages
5:The challenge of deciding upon reparations
6:The challenge of pricing pandemics

Part III. Patriarchalism and Philanthropism
7:A political theory of hostage-taking: Patriarchalism
8:A political theory of the victim: Philanthropism

Part IV. Pricing Distant Lives
9:Lest we forget the future: The fallacy of temporal discounting
10:Out of sight, out of mind?
Conclusion: Knowing who we are. Pricing lives and taking responsibility

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Ariel Colonomos is Research Professor at CNRS and Sciences Po in Paris where he is affiliated with CERI. He has taught in the Political Science department at Columbia and at SIPA, and has held numerous visiting positions in the US. His work focuses on international relations and political theory, and his recent works include Moralizing International Relations (Palgrave, 2008), The Gamble of War (Palgrave, 2013), and Selling the Future—The Perils of Predicting Global Politics (Hurst/OUP, 2016), which received the ISA Ethics section book award.

"Combien devrait coûter une vie ?", par Eric Sangar (le 6 juin 2024)

Reviews and Awards

"Pricing Lives is a tour de force and a book of many talents. It effortlessly brings together literature, philosophy, history, economics, and political theory to address the fundamental issue of the value of life in a variety of contexts. To what extent do we value life? How do we put a price on life? How do the answers given to these questions define us as human beings and societies? These are some of the issues that Ariel Colonomos explores. Last but not least, the book is written in a highly elegant style that makes it a real pleasure to read." - Jean-Marc Coicaud, Distinguished Professor of Law and Global Affairs, Rutgers University

"'In this brilliant and knowledge-rich book, written at a time of global fragility, Ariel Colonomos questions the value of human life, that is, the price that societies, governments, and communities are willing to pay to save lives. Putting a price on life (and death) is at the heart of social relations, and balancing life and interests lies at the core of the political. But is it the human lives that matter or the goods that come with them? And are the prices given to lives indicative of the value we place on life?" - Nadia Urbinati, Kyriakos Tsakopoulos Professor of Political Theory, Columbia University

"Ariel Colonomos has been, for many years, one of the most provocative and profound thinkers about the politics of life and death. His new book, Pricing Lives, is a fascinating tour through the last five centuries of Western political thought, with incisive stops at a remarkable range of examples, from Renaissance hostage-taking to COVID policy to popular film and tv. Along the way, Colonomos skewers the pieties of the pricelessness of life and reveals the compromise and bargaining that - sometimes crassly, sometimes subtly - mark the tradeoffs with which life presents us. Readers from law, politics, international relations, and philosophy will find much to admire here" - Christopher Kutz, C. William Maxeiner Distinguished Professor of Law, University of California Berkeley

"In this fascinating, ambitious book eminent political theorist Ariel Colonomos argues that the political sphere depends upon the act of pricing lives. Whatever sphere of domestic or international politics one is concerned with - national welfare, climate change, terrorism and counterinsurgency, global health, etc. - this book is of sharp intellectual import and impact." - Richard Beardsworth, Professor of International Relations, University of Leeds