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Political Philosophy

Dec 31, 2015




Political Philosophy. The development of modern ideologies. Types of normative questions asked by political theories. What purpose should government serve? Equality? Justice? Security? How should governments be organized? To advance their power? To limit their power? - PowerPoint PPT Presentation

  • Political PhilosophyThe development of modern ideologies

  • Types of normative questionsasked by political theoriesWhat purpose should government serve? Equality? Justice? Security?How should governments be organized? To advance their power? To limit their power?Should they help citizens lead ethical lives? Can a state be ethical if its citizenry is not?

  • Platos allegory of the cave. People in the cave believe they are free, but they dont see the reality of their intellectual slavery. All they do is watch shadows cast by a hidden fire in the cave, thinking that the shadows are reality. They are passive and accepting. They never turn around, never ask questions. They remain completely unaware of how blind & shackled they are.

  • Platos allegory of the caveWho does Plato mean when he writes about the single enlightened person who stands up and dares to go outside to seek the truth?

  • The allegory of the cave, continuedSocrates, Platos teacher.

    His eyes adjust to the light and see how wonderful the world is beyond the cave. But instead of staying, he decides to return to the others in the cave, to free them as well.

  • The allegory of the cave, continued

    What happens when he returns to tell others in the cave about the truth?

  • The allegory of the cave, continuedThe prisoners in the cave think hes mad and dangerous; if he persists in talking nonsense, hell be killed. Socrates was sentenced to death about 400 B.C. for corrupting youth with his teachings.

  • The allegory of the cave, continuedIn other words, new ideas are dangerous, even when they are the truth. We like our comfortable illusions. Political thinkers on the left and right are criticized and even ridiculed for their points of view.

  • Thomas Mores Utopia (1516)Question = What would a perfect polity look like?Answer = Democratic, orderly communismAnswer is naturalistic (but based on reason, not Gods law) and retains focus on agent-centered morality (good people key to good society)

  • The Politics of Mores UtopiaWhat is good governance? Government by the most highly educated, who will teach the others. Criminals become slaves to aid others, weighed down by chains of gold. Work is compulsory, but health care and other essentials are free from the government.

  • How can we keep leaders from doing the wrong thing?Leadership is democratic, although the people choose the best-educated and smartest people to lead them. Government has little real power over everyday life because citizens are virtuous.

  • What are the duties of a good citizen?Good citizens share everything with each other, eagerly work for the common good, and try to learn as much as possible.

  • UtopianismMany political theories deal with attempts to create a perfect society, a utopia.

  • UtopianismThe notion of an ideal political society was often used by political writers to criticize the status quo.Dates from ancient Greeks, especially Plato writing The Republic.Also evident in 17th century English writing and in some contemporary science fiction.

  • DystopiasA nightmare distortion of a utopia.It happens when leaders impose perfection on imperfect human beings.To create a perfect society, those leaders must exercise totalitarian control over all aspects of human life.

  • Platos The RepublicPlatos ideas of a utopian society: Three natural groups: Workers, farmers, shopkeepers & artisans who provide material wealth for the community. Military units- called auxiliaries - who defend it. Guardians who govern it, with Philosopher-king at the top

  • Platos The RepublicPlatos ideas of a utopian society: Each person performs the tasks for which he or she is best suited. Injustice occurs when people act contrary to their nature. Ambition & competition unnatural.

  • The Republic, continuedTo maintain the utopia, Plato said these elements were necessary:Hierarchy of the best, rule by meritocracy. Dangerous and untrue ideas censored. The "Noble Lie." What is the Noble Lie?

  • The Noble LiePeople will be convinced that their prior lives were just a dream, not reality.Further, they must be convinced that they occupy their positions in society due to the type of metal in their souls.

    Why noble? Because it ensures popular acceptance (legitimacy) of the new republic ruled by the Philosopher King.

  • The Republic, continuedIs this a utopia or dystopia? Why?

  • What purpose does government serve?Plato says justice and truth. John Locke says protection of our natural rights.Thomas Hobbes says security, to keep us from killing each other.

  • Thomas Hobbes, LeviathanEnglish political theorist from 1588 to 1679. Humans are equal and capable of rational thought, but:Human nature is aggressive and greedy, and human life is brutish and short. The state of nature is ruthless and frightening. No advancement in science, arts, commerce, etc., is possible because existence itself so fragile.

  • The Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes (1657)According to Hobbes, people are the ultimate source of power, but they transfer sovereignty to the monarch by implicit contract. The monarchs power is absolute, but he does not rule by divine right. Hobbes believed peoples most basic motivations are greed, desire for power, and fear of others, and he argued that without an all-powerful sovereign to rule them, peoples lives will be poor, nasty, brutish, and short. His book raised fundamental questions about human nature and limitations of political power and influenced countries such as the U.S. to institute checks and balances in their government.

  • Hobbes, continuedGovernment formed for the sole purpose of providing security. Need a strong authoritarian government to control humans violent passions.

    Hobbesian world:might makes right and the weak are victimized. Is this a pessimistic view of human nature?

  • The Social Contract, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1762)Rousseaus fundamental contributions to political theory were the concepts of the general will and popular sovereignty. Unlike John Locke, who believed that the social contract was between the people and the government, Rousseau viewed it as a contract among the people themselves. Individual wills are fused into a general will of society. This common interest of society holds sovereign power. In becoming part of the whole society, one accepts the necessity to obey the general will, either willingly or by force. Rousseaus writings made him the prophet of democracy and nationalism.

  • On Liberty, John Stuart Mill (1859)According to John Stuart Mill, humans are not restricted by unchanging natural laws that create a dismal society, but can make use of government to promote the greater good and minimize the pain in society (principle of utility). His revision of liberalism resulted in a softer, more humane liberalism which stressed common good rather than individual economic gain. His ideas inspired Britain, the United States, and later, other countries.

  • The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (1848)The work provides a trenchant criticism of capitalism where, Karl Marx says, social organization never kept pace with developments in the means of production. Marx viewed history as a series of conflicts between classes and predicted that the ruling middle class would be overthrown by the exploited proletariat. The result of the revolution would be a classless society in which the chief means of production would be publicly owned. This booklet provided the inspiration for the communist revolutions in the twentieth century.

  • Second Treatise on Civil Government, John Locke (1690)According to John Locke, people possess certain natural rights, such as the rights to life, liberty, and property. In order to protect these rights, people establish a government resting on consent of the governed. If a government fails to protect these rights, the people have a right to alter or abolish it. Lockes theory was used to justify the American and French revolutions.

  • Should government promote equality?Political theorists divided on this.Many ideas have been put forth by Aristotle, Jefferson, Tecumseh, Chico Mendes, Friedrich Nietzsche and Kurt Vonnegut.

  • Equality of rightsThomas Jeffersons view of equality: a natural human right which government is supposed to secure.A government which fails to do this forfeits its authority; the people then have a right of revolution.Evident in Declaration of Independence, a classical liberal document (John Locke)

  • Power: maximized or restrained?Should the government be free of constraints? Yes, in order to act decisively against threats, according to Niccolo Machiavelli Should government power be checked? Yes, to guard against tyranny, according to James Madison and the framers of the U.S. Constitution

  • Machiavellis The PrinceMachiavelli argued for a strong central ruler who was amoral but would appear to be moral; who would use moral and religious appeals to win support from the citizenry. Relying on the peoples love was too insecure, yet fostering their hate was dangerous. Better to have people fear the ruler, because they can then be controlled.

  • Should government promote ethical or moral citizenry?In fact, they inevitably do. What are laws against homicide and theft but statutory expressions of our collective morality. The question gets complex in more contested areas of morality.John Stuart Mill was suspicious of societal & governmental limits on individual behavior.Fundamentalists are hostile to Mills tolerance of individual behavior.