What Is Political Philosophy?

The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back. I am sure that the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas. Not, indeed, immediately, but after a certain interval; for in the field of economic and political philosophy there are not many who are influenced by new theories after they are twenty-five or thirty years of age, so that the ideas which civil servants and politicians and even agitators apply to current events are not likely to be the newest. But, soon or late, it is ideas, not vested interests, which are dangerous for good or evil.

- John Maynard Keynes, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, Ch. 24

Podcast of the Day

Why is argument so important in politics? In a democracy we have to reason together and convince each other. In this episode of the Philosophy Bites podcast Bob Talisse explores what this involves.

Listen to Bob Talisse on the Importance of Argument in Politics

Video of the Day

Short Article of the Day

What is the spectre haunting Europe today? It’s simple. The thing that truly dogs us, that really drags at our heels, is ignorance. Ignorance of the fundamental ideas at the heart of politics. Ignorance of the key terms of political argument: liberty, equality, power, justice, and so on. Ignorance of the subject matter of political philosophy.

This ignorance is a spectre precisely because it is invisible to us. You might, for example, not know how a microwave works. But you know you do not know that. Now imagine there are purple aliens growing yellow mushrooms on the other side of the moon. In this case you are unaware that you unaware of them.

As for lunar mycophiles, so for political philosophy. We are ignorant of our ignorance of it, as well as what that ignorance costs us. It is, to borrow from Donald Rumsfeld, an unknown unknown, when it could be something else: the thing that liberates the minds of our citizens; a weapon of mass deduction...

Continue reading Jonathan Floyd's article: Why we need to teach political philosophy in schools

Further Reading

Political philosophy can be defined as philosophical reflection on how best to arrange our collective life - our political institutions and our social practices, such as our economic system and our pattern of family life. (Sometimes a distinction is made between political and social philosophy, but I shall use ‘political philosophy’ in a broad sense to include both.) Political philosophers seek to establish basic principles that will, for instance, justify a particular form of state, show that individuals have certain inalienable rights, or tell us how a society’s material resources should be shared among its members. This usually involves analysing and interpreting ideas like freedom, justice, authority and democracy and then applying them in a critical way to the social and political institutions that currently exist. Some political philosophers have tried primarily to justify the prevailing arrangements of their society; others have painted pictures of an ideal state or an ideal social world that is very different from anything we have so far experienced (see Utopianism).

Political philosophy has been practised for as long as human beings have regarded their collective arrangements not as immutable and part of the natural order but as potentially open to change, and therefore as standing in need of philosophical justification...

Continue reading the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Political Philosophy by David Miller

Bonus Webcomic

Related Topics

 Authority | Capitalism | Democracy | Equality | Free Speech | Freedom | Justice | Power | Toleration

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