Tom Paine thought of himself as a "gardener of ideas". Reason and Self-Governing Individuals Self-governing individuals are necessary to have a self-governing society.
Ethical Foundations Political philosophy has its beginnings in ethics: Since people are by nature sociable — there being few proper anchorites who turn from society to live alone — the question follows as to what kind of life is proper for a person amongst people.
The philosophical discourses concerning politics thus develop, broaden and flow from their ethical underpinnings.
To take a few examples: Accordingly, in the political realm, the utilitarian will support the erection of those institutions whose purpose is to secure the greatest happiness for the greatest number. In contrast, an ethical deontologist, who claims that the highest good is served by our application of duties to the right or to otherswill acknowledge the justification of those institutions that best serve the employment of duties.
In turn an ethical relativist will advocate a plurality of institutions within a nation or around the worldwhereas an ethical objectivist will condemn those that are seen to be lacking a universally morally proper purpose for example, those that support certain inalienable rights.
As ethics is also underpinned by metaphysical and epistemological theories, so too can political philosophy be related to such underlying theories: The greatest and most persistent ethical-political issue that divides philosophers into a host of schools of thought is that concerning the status of the individual: Although the variety and subtleties of this area of thought cannot be examined here, suffice it to say that philosophers divide between those who deem the individual person as sacrosanct that is, ethically and thus politically so and those who consider the individual to be a member of a group and accordingly for whom the group takes on a sacred status.
Others consider political institutions to be sacred in their own right but this is hardly a tenable position: The key question that divides political philosophers returns to whether it is the group or the individual that should be the political unit of analysis.
The language used by the opposing thinkers to describe the political primacy of their entity that is, individual or group alters throughout history depending on other competing or complementing concepts; but today the division is best characterized by the "rights of the individual" versus the "rights of the group.
In political theory courses, the debate proceeds today between communitarians and liberals who debate the middle ground of rights and obligations as they stretch between groups and individuals. This caricature of extremes enables us to consider the differences and the points of agreement between the several schools of political philosophy in a better light.
But as with generalizations made of historical events, the details are much more complicated and subtle. Methodological Issues In pursuing a philosophical examination of political activity, philosophers also divide between those who are methodological individualists and those who are methodological holists.
Methodological individualists seek to explain social actions and behavior in terms of individual action — and politically are known as individualists, whereas holists seek to explain behavior by considering the nature of the group.
The bifurcation results from a metaphysical division on the appropriate unit of study. In contrast to methodological individualists, who claim that a society or culture, people, nation is no more than the sum of its living members, holists argue that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, which in the political realm is translated into the state being greater than the citizenry, or the race, folk, or people being greater than the individual; politically, holism translates into the general theory known as "collectivism," and all collectivist theories deny or lessen the value and authority of the individual in relation to the higher status accorded a collective entity.
Simmering in the background, it must also be noted, are theological-political philosophies that deny any primacy to the individual or to the group in favor of the supreme status of the divine realm.
Yet these too must also split between individualist and holist conceptions of the individual or of the soul and for our purposes here can be said to follow the same dialogue as secular oriented political philosophers.
Once theologians admit to having to have some kind of government or rule for the living on earth, the general debate of political philosophy can be admitted and expounded upon to define the good life for people amongst people. A second important methodological issue that relates both to epistemology as well as to ethics is the role that reason plays in social affairs.
The extreme positions may be characterized as rationalism and irrationalism, but the descriptions are not necessarily logical opposites. A rationalist may declare his belief in rationalism to be ultimately irrational for example, Karl Popperand an irrationalist may act rationally.
Political rationalism emphasizes the employment of reason in social affairs: Rationalists argue that reason unifies humanity politically and hence is a conducive vehicle to peace.
Irrationalists, on the other hand, downplay the efficacy of reason in our human affairs or more particularly in our social affairs. Irrationalists of all hues can also criticize rationalists for ignoring the subtle wisdom of intellectual and social heritage that often lies beneath contemporary society or which is deemed necessary for the reasoning mind; politically, they consider the demands of reason to be rationalizations of a particular culture usually the criticism is leveled against the West rather than demands that are universal or universalizable claiming that political solutions that appear rational to one group cannot necessarily be translated as solutions for another group.
Some irrationalists uphold polylogism — the theory that there are or ought to be more than one form of logic, which ultimately collapses into an epistemological subjectivism.
However, other irrationalists deny that the human mind develops alternative logics around the world, but that human action does develop alternative methods of living in different places and from different historical circumstances. To return to the epistemological problems facing holism, the existence of overlapping loyalties that often characterize groups presents a strong criticism against collectivist doctrines: The rationalist aspires to avoid such fractional implications of polylogism by maintaining the unity of human logic.
Yet, if the rationalist is also an individualist, the paradox arises that individuals are united into the collective whole of rational beings all individuals share reasonwhereas irrationalism collapses into a plurality of individualistic epistemologies all groups are ultimately composed of subjectivists.
Nonetheless, between individualists who emphasize the sacred status of the individual and collectivists who emphasize the sacred status of the group exist a panoply of schools of thought that derive their impetus from the philosophical shades — the gray overlapping areas, which are today found in the perpetual disputes between individualists and communitarians.
Political Schools of Thought Having illuminated some of the extremes that characterize political philosophy with regards to method and terminology, the major schools of thought can be introduced. What will be noted is not just to which end of the methodological spectrum the school leans, but also its implied connections to ethics.
Similarly, other aspects need to be elucidated: Liberalism The term "liberalism" conveys two distinct positions in political philosophy, the one a pro-individualist theory of people and government, the second a pro-statist or what is better termed a "social democratic" conception.
Students of political philosophy ought to be aware of the two schools of thought that reside under the same banner to avoid philosophical confusions that can be resolved by a clarification of terms.
The "Great Switch," as cultural historian Jacques Barzun notes, took place in the late Nineteenth Century, a switch which was the product of shifting the political ground towards socialist or social democratic policies under the banner of liberal parties and politics.
Etymologically, the former is the sounder description since liberalism is derived from the word "liberty," that is, freedom and toleration rather than notions of justice and intervention that took on board in the Twentieth Century. Yet, the pro-statist connotation pervades modern thinking so much so that it is difficult to separate its notions from the previous meanings without re-classifying one or the other.Thomas Hobbes: Moral and Political Philosophy.
The English philosopher Thomas Hobbes () is best known for his political thought, and deservedly so. His vision of the world is strikingly original and still relevant to contemporary politics.
Dale E. Miller, J. S. Mill: Moral, Social and Political Thought, Polity Press, , pp., $ (pbk), ISBN Reviewed by Henry R. West, Macalester College This is an excellent book.
John Stuart Mill was the most important British philosopher of the nineteenth century. He made. Bernard Williams: A British moral philosopher whose posthumously published work on political philosophy In the Beginning was the Deed has been seen—along with the works of Raymond Geuss—as a key foundational work on political realism.
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The Moral and Political Thought of Thomas Paine. The Institute of World Culture. October 14, Maurice Bisheff, Ph.D. Tom Paine thought of himself as a "gardener of ideas".