Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Philosophy, Politics and Political Philosophy

As it is the day before a general election here in the UK and as many of my recent postings have concerned this I thought it was probably time to write something, albeit brief, concerning the relationship between philosophy and politics. Philosophers are not interested in politics in exactly the same way as anyone else. Whilst a philosopher, like any citizen, does have to think through policies of political platforms and consider what appears, for various reasons, the best action to take in a given circumstance, there are also some overarching questions that need to be addressed.

The overarching questions include what the general justification is of government (assuming that one is not an anarchist), what basic size of government is justifiable and what the basic ground is of the contract that enables there to be government. So, in Kant's Doctrine of Right (which I intend to focus on in more detail) there is quite a bit that fits a social contract model but this has to be set against the apparent presence in his work of references to natural law as well. These elements arguably are in tension with the discussion of the social contract although without some sense of right that is not covered entirely in public right there is a definite tendency for social contract theory to justify any action by government (dangers apparent in the examples of both Hobbes and Rousseau). Similarly, the ends of government relate to a number of details that remain of central relevance, including questions about the nature and extent of justifiable punishment, the grounds on which redistribution can be justified and the basis of "right" itself.

Some of these questions have influenced comment I have made recently on contemporary matters, including the remarks of Lord Carey on "religious rights" and the general argument I have given for support for the Liberal Democrats in the present UK election. However, the specifics of given policies and the response to particular elections are matters of politics rather than political philosophy. What I hope to bring out in the blog in future is the relationship between politics and political philosophy by drawing out, in analysis of Kant's fundamental political principles and their relationship to contemporary political philosophy, some definite implications for day to day political response and decision. In doing this I will, at least initially, say less directly about specific politics but, in the process of drawing out these views, enable a greater degree of philosophical insight to inform the political positions advanced.

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