Philosophy as Rigorous Science and Political Philosophy

"Philosophy as Rigorous Science and Political Philosophy," Interpretation, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Summer 1971).  Reprinted in Studies in Platonic Political Philosophy.


Whoever is concerned with political philosophy must face the fact that in the last two generations political philosophy has lost its credibility. Political philosophy has lost its credibility in proportion as politics itself has become more philosophic than ever in a sense. Almost throughout its whole history political philosophy was universal while politics was particular. Political philosophy was concerned with the best or just order of society which is by nature best or just everywhere or always, while politics is concerned with the being and well-being of this or that particular society (a polis, a nation, an empire) that is in being at a given place for some time. Not a few men have dreamt of rule over all human beings by themselves or others but they were dreamers or at least regarded as such by the philosophers. In our age on the other hand politics has in fact become universal. Unrest in what is loosely, not to say demagogically, called the ghetto of an American city has repercussions in Moscow, Peking, Johannesburg, Hanoi, London, and other far away places and is linked with them; whether the linkage is admitted or not makes no difference. Simultaneously political philosophy has disappeared. This is quite obvious in the East where the Communists themselves call their doctrine their ideology. As for the contemporary West, the intellectual powers peculiar to it are neo-positivism and existentialism. Positivism surpasses existentialism by far in academic influence and existentialism surpasses positivism by far in popular influence. Positivism may be described as the view according to which only scientific knowledge is genuine knowledge; since scientific knowledge is unable to validate or invalidate any value judgments, and political philosophy most certainly is concerned with the validation of sound value judgments and the invalidation of unsound ones, positivism must reject political philosophy as radically unscientific. Existentialism appears in a great variety of guises but one will not be far wide of the mark if one defines it in contradistinction to positivism as the view according to which all principles of understanding and of action are historical, i.e. have no other ground than groundless human decision or fateful dispensation: science, far from being the only kind of genuine knowledge, is ultimately not more than one form among many of viewing the world, all these forms having the same dignity. Since according to existentialism all human thought is historical in the sense indicated, existentialism must reject political philosophy as radically unhistorical.

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