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Political Philosophy

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Let me start today by asking the question, "what is political philosophy?" Custom dictates that I say something about the subject matter of this course at its outset This in some ways might seem a case of putting the cart before the horse or the cart before the course maybe or the cart before the course maybe because how can you say, how can we say what political philosophy in advance of doing it? Anyway, let me try to say something that might be useful. In one sense, you could say political philosophy is simply a branch or what we call a subfield of the field of political science Yes, all right. It exists alongside of other areas of political inquiry like American government, comparative politics and international relations Yet in another sense, political philosophy is something much different than simply a subfield it seems to be the oldest and most fundamental part of political science is purpose is to lay bare, as it were, the fundamental problems, the fundamental concepts and categories which frame the study of politics In this respect it seems to me much less like just a branch of political science than the foundation of the entire discipline. The study of political philosophy often begins as this course will do also with the study of the great books or some of the great books of our field. Political philosophy is the oldest of the social sciences and it can boast a wealth of heavy hitters from Plato and Aristotle to Machiavelli, Hobbes, Hegel, Tocqueville, Nietzsche, and so on You might say that the best way to learn what political philosophy is, is simply to study and read the works of those who have shaped the field yes, right? But to do that is I recognize, not without dangers, often severe dangers of its own Why study just these thinkers and not others? Is not any so-called list of great thinkers or great texts ikely to be simply arbitrary and tell us more about what such a list excludes than what it includes? Furthermore, it would seem that the study of the great books or great thinkers of the past can easily degenerate into a kind of antiquarianism, into a sort of pedantry We find ourselves easily intimidated by a list of famous names and end up not thinking for ourselves Furthermore, doesn't the study of old books, often very old books, risk overlooking the issues facing us today What can Aristotle or Hobbes tells us about the world of globalization, of terrorism, of ethnic conflict and the like? Doesn't political science make any progress? After all, economists no longer read Adam Smith I hesitate to... I don't hesitate to say that you will never read Adam Smith in an economics course here at Yale, and it is very unlikely that you will read Freud in your psychology classes So why then does political science,apparently uniquely among the social sciences continue to study Aristotle, Locke and other old books? These are all real questions and I raise them now myself because they are questions I want you to be thinking about as you do your reading and work through this course I want you to remain alive to them throughout the semester. Yes? Okay One reason I want to suggest that we continue to read these books is not because political science makes no progress or that we are somehow uniquely fixated on an ancient past but because these works provide us with the most basic questions that continue to guide our field. We continue to ask the same questions that were asked by Plato, Machiavelli, Hobbes, and others. We may not accept their answers and it's very likely that we do not but their questions are often put with a kind of unrivaled clarity and insight. The fact is that there are still people in the world, many people, who regard themselves as Aristotelians, Thomists, Lockeans, Kantians, even the occasional Marxist can still be found in Ivy League universities. These doctrines have not simply been refuted, or replaced, or historically superceded; they remain in many ways constitutive of our most basis outlooks and attitudes. They are very much alive with us today. right. So political philosophy is not just some kind of strange historical appendage attached to the trunk of political science; it is constitutive of its deepest problems. If you doubt the importance of the study of political idea for politics consider the works of a famous economist John Maynard Keynes, everyone's heard of him. Keynes wrote in 1935 "The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong are more powerful than is commonly understood.... Practical men," Keynes continues practical men "who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences are usually the slave 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 So this course will be devoted to the study of those "academic scribblers" who have written books that continue to impress and create he forms of authority with which we are familiar But one thing we should not do right one thing we should not do is to approach these works as if they provide, somehow, answers, ready-made answers to the problems of today. Only we can provide answers to our problems. Rather, the great works provide us, so to speak, with a repository of fundamental or permanent questions that political scientists still continue to rely on in their work. The great thinkers are great not because they've created some set of museum pieces that can be catalogued, admired, and then safely ignored like a kind of antiquities gallery in the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Video Details

Duration: 37 minutes and 5 seconds
Country: Palestine
Language: English
Views: 123
Posted by: tariqelm on Mar 8, 2010

Political Philosophy

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