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By Anna Sarkissian
In the late 1990s, philosophy Chair Matthias Fritsch took a few classes at the Free University of Berlin while completing his PhD at Villanova University in Pennsylvania.
Little did he know that more than a decade later, two of his professors, Christoph Menke and Stefan Gosepath, would become interested in his work and invite him to apply for a prestigious Humboldt Research Fellowship for Experienced Researchers. He won.
The connection was a happy coincidence. Fritsch doesn’t think they realized he was one of their former students.
“But I’m very pleased. This will give me an opportunity to work with some very good people during my sabbatical,” he said during a phone interview with the Journal.
The flexible fellowship is typically geared toward foreigners who can spend up to 18 months conducting research at an institution in Germany. Fritsch, who was born in Ochtrup in the north, has been away long enough that his German passport was not an impediment to qualify for the award.
This June, he is packing his family up and heading oversees for 12 months. He will conduct research, give talks and work on a manuscript at the Formation of Normative Orders, a new cutting-edge research centre at Goethe University Frankfurt.
Europe has been a hub of activity for political theory and ethics for decades. The university itself is known for its associations with the Institute for Social Research, whose world-renowned theorists like Jürgen Habermas and Max Horkheimer became part of the Frankfurt School.
During his fellowship, he will continue his research into intergenerational justice. One area that he is looking at is sustainability, which is typically defined as meeting today’s needs without compromising the needs of tomorrow’s people.
How can future people have needs, he asks? To what extent can they claim rights if they do not exist? What do we owe them? If we are contributing to bringing them into this world, how can they possibly complain?
If we are in a position to act morally for the future, it’s because we are heirs, he continues. The debt we have incurred from our parents is best discharged by giving to the people of tomorrow – intergenerational reciprocity.
“We’ve been given an inhabitable world that still has room for human life in it. We must keep it inhabitable,” Fritsch says, citing the Native American proverb which says, “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”
Fritsch’s work is geared towards rethinking democratic values and institutions on this basis.
Before coming to Concordia in 2002, he taught at Miami University of Ohio. He conducted SSHRC-funded research until 2008 about the discourse of democracy and has published extensively, with a forthcoming article in the European Journal of Political Theory. He plans to return to Concordia for the fall 2011 semester.
Find out more information about the Formation of Normative Orders.