Political philosophy

Last updated
Plato (left) and Aristotle (right), from a detail of The School of Athens, a fresco by Raphael. Plato's Republic and Aristotle's Politics secured the two Greek philosophers as two of the most influential political philosophers. Sanzio 01 Plato Aristotle.jpg
Plato (left) and Aristotle (right), from a detail of The School of Athens , a fresco by Raphael. Plato's Republic and Aristotle's Politics secured the two Greek philosophers as two of the most influential political philosophers.

Political philosophy or political theory is the philosophical study of government, addressing questions about the nature, scope, and legitimacy of public agents and institutions and the relationships between them. Its topics include politics, liberty, justice, property, rights, law, and the enforcement of laws by authority: what they are, if they are needed, what makes a government legitimate, what rights and freedoms it should protect, what form it should take, what the law is, and what duties citizens owe to a legitimate government, if any, and when it may be legitimately overthrown, if ever.


Political theory also engages questions of a broader scope, tackling the political nature of phenomena and categories such as identity, culture, sexuality, race, wealth, human-nonhuman relations, ethics, religion, and more.

Political science, the scientific study of politics, is generally used in the singular, but in French and Spanish the plural (sciences politiques and ciencias políticas, respectively) is used, perhaps a reflection of the discipline's eclectic nature. [1]

Political philosophy is a branch of philosophy, [2] but it has also played a major part of political science, within which a strong focus has historically been placed on both the history of political thought and contemporary political theory (from normative political theory to various critical approaches).

In the Oxford Handbook of Political Theory (2009), the field is described as: "[...] an interdisciplinary endeavor whose center of gravity lies at the humanities end of the happily still undisciplined discipline of political science ... For a long time, the challenge for the identity of political theory has been how to position itself productively in three sorts of location: in relation to the academic disciplines of political science, history, and philosophy; between the world of politics and the more abstract, ruminative register of theory; between canonical political theory and the newer resources (such as feminist and critical theory, discourse analysis, film and film theory, popular and political culture, mass media studies, neuroscience, environmental studies, behavioral science, and economics) on which political theorists increasingly draw." [3]


Ancient traditions

Ancient India

Indian political philosophy in ancient times demarcated a clear distinction between (1) nation and state (2) religion and state. The constitutions of Hindu states evolved over time and were based on political and legal treatises and prevalent social institutions. The institutions of state were broadly divided into governance, diplomacy, administration, defense, law and order. Mantranga, the principal governing body of these states, consisted of the King, Prime Minister, Commander in chief of army, Chief Priest of the King. The Prime Minister headed the committee of ministers along with head of executive (Maha Amatya).

Chanakya was a 4th-century BC Indian political philosopher. The Arthashastra provides an account of the science of politics for a wise ruler, policies for foreign affairs and wars, the system of a spy state and surveillance and economic stability of the state. [4] Chanakya quotes several authorities including Bruhaspati, Ushanas, Prachetasa Manu, Parasara, and Ambi, and described himself as a descendant of a lineage of political philosophers, with his father Chanaka being his immediate predecessor. [5] Another influential extant Indian treatise on political philosophy is the Sukra Neeti. [6] [7] An example of a code of law in ancient India is the Manusmṛti or Laws of Manu. [8]

Ancient China

Portrait of Confucius, c. 1770 Konfuzius-1770.jpg
Portrait of Confucius, c.1770

Chinese political philosophy dates back to the Spring and Autumn period, specifically with Confucius in the 6th century BC. Chinese political philosophy was developed as a response to the social and political breakdown of the country characteristic of the Spring and Autumn period and the Warring States period. The major philosophies during the period, Confucianism, Legalism, Mohism, Agrarianism and Taoism, each had a political aspect to their philosophical schools. Philosophers such as Confucius, Mencius, and Mozi, focused on political unity and political stability as the basis of their political philosophies. Confucianism advocated a hierarchical, meritocratic government based on empathy, loyalty, and interpersonal relationships. Legalism advocated a highly authoritarian government based on draconian punishments and laws. Mohism advocated a communal, decentralized government centered on frugality and asceticism. The Agrarians advocated a peasant utopian communalism and egalitarianism. [9] Taoism advocated a proto-anarchism. Legalism was the dominant political philosophy of the Qin Dynasty, but was replaced by State Confucianism in the Han Dynasty. Prior to China's adoption of communism, State Confucianism remained the dominant political philosophy of China up to the 20th century. [10]

Ancient Greece

Western political philosophy originates in the philosophy of ancient Greece, where political philosophy dates back to at least Plato. [11] Ancient Greece was dominated by city-states, which experimented with various forms of political organization. Plato grouped forms of government into five categories of descending stability and morality: republic, timocracy, oligarchy, democracy and tyranny. One of the first, extremely important classical works of political philosophy is Plato's Republic , [11] which was followed by Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics and Politics. [12] Roman political philosophy was influenced by the Stoics and the Roman statesman Cicero. [13]

Medieval Christianity

Saint Augustine

The early Christian philosophy of Augustine of Hippo was heavily influenced by Plato. A key change brought about by Christian thought was the moderation of the Stoicism and theory of justice of the Roman world, as well emphasis on the role of the state in applying mercy as a moral example. Augustine also preached that one was not a member of his or her city, but was either a citizen of the City of God (Civitas Dei) or the Earthly City (Civitas Terrena). Augustine's City of God is an influential work of this period that attacked the thesis, held by many Christian Romans, that the Christian view could be realized on Earth. [14]

St. Thomas Aquinas

Thomas Aquinas meticulously dealt with the varieties of philosophy of law. According to Aquinas, there are four kinds of law:

  1. Eternal law ("the divine government of everything")
  2. Divine positive law (having been "posited" by God; external to human nature)
  3. Natural law (the right way of living discoverable by natural reason; what cannot-not be known; internal to human nature)
  4. Human law (what we commonly call "law"—including customary law; the law of the Communitas Perfecta )

Aquinas never discusses the nature or categorization of canon law. There is scholarly debate surrounding the place of canon law within the Thomistic jurisprudential framework.

Aquinas was an incredibly influential thinker in the Natural Law tradition.

Islamic Political Evolution

Mutazilite vs. Asharite

The rise of Islam, based on both the Qur'an and Muhammad strongly altered the power balances and perceptions of origin of power in the Mediterranean region. Early Islamic philosophy emphasized an inexorable link between science and religion, and the process of ijtihad to find truth—in effect all philosophy was "political" as it had real implications for governance. This view was challenged by the "rationalist" Mutazilite philosophers, who held a more Hellenic view, reason above revelation, and as such are known to modern scholars as the first speculative theologians of Islam; they were supported by a secular aristocracy who sought freedom of action independent of the Caliphate. By the late ancient period, however, the "traditionalist" Asharite view of Islam had in general triumphed. According to the Asharites, reason must be subordinate to the Quran and the Sunna. [15]

Islamic political philosophy, was, indeed, rooted in the very sources of Islam—i.e., the Qur'an and the Sunnah, the words and practices of Muhammad—thus making it essentially theocratic. However, in Western thought, it is generally supposed that it was a specific area peculiar merely to the great philosophers of Islam: al-Kindi (Alkindus), al-Farabi (Abunaser), İbn Sina (Avicenna), Ibn Bajjah (Avempace) and Ibn Rushd (Averroes). The political conceptions of Islam such as kudrah (power), sultan, ummah, cemaa (obligation)-and even the "core" terms of the Qur'an—i.e., ibadah (worship), din (religion), rab (master) and ilah (deity)—is taken as the basis of an analysis. Hence, not only the ideas of the Muslim political philosophers but also many other jurists and ulama posed political ideas and theories. For example, the ideas of the Khawarij in the very early years of Islamic history on Khilafa and Ummah, or that of Shia Islam on the concept of Imamah are considered proofs of political thought. The clashes between the Ehl-i Sunna and Shia in the 7th and 8th centuries had a genuine political character. Political thought was not purely rooted in theism, however. Aristotleanism flourished as the Islamic Golden Age saw rise to a continuation of the peripatetic philosophers who implemented the ideas of Aristotle in the context of the Islamic world. Abunaser, Avicenna and Ibn Rushd where part of this philosophical school who claimed that human reason surpassed mere coincidence and revelation. They believed, for example, that natural phenomena occur because of certain rules (made by god), not because god interfered directly (unlike Al-Ghazali and his followers). [16] [17] [18]

Other notable political philosophers of the time include Nizam al-Mulk, a Persian scholar and vizier of the Seljuq Empire who composed the Siyasatnama , or the "Book of Government" in English. In it, he details the role of the state in terms of political affairs (i.e. how to deal with political opponents without ruining the government's image), as well as its duty to protect the poor and reward the worthy. In his other work, he explains how the state should deal with other issues such as supplying jobs to immigrants like the Turkmens who were coming from the north (present day southern Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan). [19]

Ibn Khaldun

The 14th-century Arab scholar Ibn Khaldun is considered one of the greatest political theorists. The British philosopher-anthropologist Ernest Gellner considered Ibn Khaldun's definition of government, "...an institution which prevents injustice other than such as it commits itself," the best in the history of political theory. For Ibn Khaldun, government should be restrained to a minimum for as a necessary evil, it is the constraint of men by other men. [20]

Medieval Europe

Medieval political philosophy in Europe was heavily influenced by Christian thinking. It had much in common with the Mutazilite Islamic thinking in that the Roman Catholics thought subordinating philosophy to theology did not subject reason to revelation but in the case of contradictions, subordinated reason to faith as the Asharite of Islam. The Scholastics by combining the philosophy of Aristotle with the Christianity of St. Augustine emphasized the potential harmony inherent in reason and revelation. [21] Perhaps the most influential political philosopher of medieval Europe was St. Thomas Aquinas who helped reintroduce Aristotle's works, which had only been transmitted to Catholic Europe through Muslim Spain, along with the commentaries of Averroes. Aquinas's use of them set the agenda, for scholastic political philosophy dominated European thought for centuries even unto the Renaissance. [22]

Some medieval political philosophers, such as Aquinas in his Summa Theologica , developed the idea that a king who is a tyrant is no king at all and could be overthrown. Others, like Nicole Oresme in his Livre de Politiques , categorically denied this right to overthrow an unjust ruler.

The Magna Carta, viewed by many as a cornerstone of Anglo-American political liberty, explicitly proposes the right to revolt against the ruler for justice's sake. Other documents similar to Magna Carta are found in other European countries such as Spain and Hungary. [23]

European Renaissance

During the Renaissance secular political philosophy began to emerge after about a century of theological political thought in Europe. While the Middle Ages did see secular politics in practice under the rule of the Holy Roman Empire, the academic field was wholly scholastic and therefore Christian in nature.

Niccolò Machiavelli

One of the most influential works during this burgeoning period was Niccolò Machiavelli's The Prince , written between 1511–12 and published in 1532, after Machiavelli's death. That work, as well as The Discourses , a rigorous analysis of classical antiquity, did much to influence modern political thought in the West. A minority (including Jean-Jacques Rousseau) interpreted The Prince as a satire meant to be given to the Medici after their recapture of Florence and their subsequent expulsion of Machiavelli from Florence. [24] Though the work was written for the di Medici family in order to perhaps influence them to free him from exile, Machiavelli supported the Republic of Florence rather than the oligarchy of the Medici family. At any rate, Machiavelli presents a pragmatic and somewhat consequentialist view of politics, whereby good and evil are mere means used to bring about an end—i.e., the acquisition and maintenance of absolute power. Thomas Hobbes, well known for his theory of the social contract, goes on to expand this view at the start of the 17th century during the English Renaissance. Although neither Machiavelli nor Hobbes believed in the divine right of kings, they both believed in the inherent selfishness of the individual. It was necessarily this belief that led them to adopt a strong central power as the only means of preventing the disintegration of the social order. [25]

European Enlightenment

Eugene Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People (1830, Louvre), a painting created at a time when old and modern political philosophies came into violent conflict. Eugene Delacroix - La liberte guidant le peuple.jpg
Eugène Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People (1830, Louvre), a painting created at a time when old and modern political philosophies came into violent conflict.

During the Enlightenment period, new theories emerged about what the human was and is and about the definition of reality and the way it was perceived, along with the discovery of other societies in the Americas, and the changing needs of political societies (especially in the wake of the English Civil War, the American Revolution, the French Revolution, and the Haitian Revolution). These new theories led to new questions and insights by such thinkers as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Benjamin Constant and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

These theorists were driven by two basic questions: one, by what right or need do people form states; and two, what the best form for a state could be. These fundamental questions involved a conceptual distinction between the concepts of "state" and "government." It was decided that "state" would refer to a set of enduring institutions through which power would be distributed and its use justified. The term "government" would refer to a specific group of people who occupied the institutions of the state, and create the laws and ordinances by which the people, themselves included, would be bound. This conceptual distinction continues to operate in political science, although some political scientists, philosophers, historians and cultural anthropologists have argued that most political action in any given society occurs outside of its state, and that there are societies that are not organized into states that nevertheless must be considered in political terms. As long as the concept of natural order was not introduced, the social sciences could not evolve independently of theistic thinking. Since the cultural revolution of the 17th century in England, which spread to France and the rest of Europe, society has been considered subject to natural laws akin to the physical world. [26]

Political and economic relations were drastically influenced by these theories as the concept of the guild was subordinated to the theory of free trade, and Roman Catholic dominance of theology was increasingly challenged by Protestant churches subordinate to each nation-state, which also (in a fashion the Roman Catholic Church often decried angrily) preached in the vulgar or native language of each region. Free trade, as opposed to these religious theories, is a trade policy that does not restrict imports or exports. It can also be understood as the free market idea applied to international trade. In government, free trade is predominantly advocated by political parties that hold liberal economic positions while economically left-wing and nationalist political parties generally support protectionism, the opposite of free trade. However, the enlightenment was an outright attack on religion, particularly Christianity. The most outspoken critic of the church in France was François Marie Arouet de Voltaire, a representative figure of the enlightenment.

Historians have described Voltaire's description of the history of Christianity as "propagandistic". Voltaire is partially responsible for the misattribution of the expression Credo quia absurdum to the Church Fathers. In a letter to Frederick II, King of Prussia, dated 5 January 1767, he wrote about Christianity: La nôtre [religion] est sans contredit la plus ridicule, la plus absurde, et la plus sanguinaire qui ait jamais infecté le monde. "Ours [i.e., the Christian religion] is assuredly the most ridiculous, the most absurd and the most bloody religion which has ever infected this world. Your Majesty will do the human race an eternal service by extirpating this infamous superstition, I do not say among the rabble, who are not worthy of being enlightened and who are apt for every yoke; I say among honest people, among men who think, among those who wish to think. ... My one regret in dying is that I cannot aid you in this noble enterprise, the finest and most respectable which the human mind can point out." After Voltaire, religion would never be the same again in France. [27]

As well, there was no spread of this doctrine within the New World and the advanced civilizations of the Aztec, Maya, Inca, Mohican, Delaware, Huron and especially the Iroquois. The Iroquois philosophy, in particular, gave much to Christian thought of the time and in many cases actually inspired some of the institutions adopted in the United States: for example, Benjamin Franklin was a great admirer of some of the methods of the Iroquois Confederacy, and much of early American literature emphasized the political philosophy of the natives. The Iroquois (/ˈɪrəkwɔɪ/ or /ˈɪrəkwɑː/) or Haudenosaunee are a historically powerful northeast Native American confederacy in North America. They were known during the colonial years to the French as the Iroquois League, and later as the Iroquois Confederacy, and to the English as the Five Nations, comprising the Mohawk, Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga, and Seneca. After 1722, they accepted the Tuscarora people from the Southeast into their confederacy, as they were also Iroquoian-speaking, and became known as the Six Nations. [28]

John Locke

John Locke in particular exemplified this new age of political theory with his work Two Treatises of Government . In it, Locke proposes a state of nature theory that directly complements his conception of how political development occurs and how it can be founded through contractual obligation. Locke stood to refute Sir Robert Filmer's paternally founded political theory in favor of a natural system based on nature in a particular given system. The theory of the divine right of kings became a passing fancy, exposed to the type of ridicule with which John Locke treated it. Unlike Machiavelli and Hobbes but like Aquinas, Locke would accept Aristotle's dictum that man seeks to be happy in a state of social harmony as a social animal. Unlike Aquinas's preponderant view on the salvation of the soul from original sin, Locke believes man's mind comes into this world as tabula rasa. For Locke, knowledge is neither innate, revealed nor based on authority but subject to uncertainty tempered by reason, tolerance and moderation. According to Locke, an absolute ruler as proposed by Hobbes is unnecessary, for natural law is based on reason and seeking peace and survival for man.

John Stuart Mill

John Stuart Mill's work on political philosophy begins in On Liberty . On Liberty is the most influential statement of his liberal principles. He begins by distinguishing old and new threats to liberty. The old threat to liberty is found in traditional societies in which there is rule by one (a monarchy) or a few (an aristocracy). Though one could be worried about restrictions on liberty by benevolent monarchs or aristocrats, the traditional worry is that when rulers are politically unaccountable to the governed they will rule in their own interests, rather than the interests of the governed. Mill's explicit theory of rights is introduced in Chapter V of Utilitarianism in the context of his sanction theory of duty, which is an indirect form of utilitarianism that identifies wrong actions as actions that it is useful to sanction. Mill then introduces justice as a proper part of the duty. Justice involves duties that are perfect duties—that is, duties that are correlated with rights. Justice implies something which it is not only right to do, and wrong not to do, but which some individual person can claim from us as a matter of right. These perfect duties will thus create liberty and collective freedom within a state. He uses, On Liberty to discuss gender equality in society. To Mill, Utilitarianism was the perfect tool to justify gender equality in The Subjection of Women, referring to the political, lawful and social subjection of women. When a woman was married, she entered legally binding coverture with her husband; once she married her legal existence as an individual was suspended under "marital unity". While it is easy to presume that a woman would not marry under these circumstances, being unmarried had social consequences. A woman could only advance in social stature and wealth if she had a rich husband to do the groundwork. Mill uses his Utilitarian ethics to assess how gender equality would be the best way to achieve "the greatest good for the greatest number" : "The principle that regulates the existing social relations between the two sexes … and is now one of the chief obstacles to human improvement…"

The ‘chief obstacle’ to Mill relates to women's intellectual capability. The Subjection of Women looks at this in the women of society and argues that diminishing their intellectual potential wastes the knowledge and skill of half of the population; such knowledge lost could formulate ideas that could maximize pleasure for society.

Benjamin Constant

One of the first thinkers to go by the name of "liberal", Constant looked to Britain rather than to ancient Rome for a practical model of freedom in a large, commercial society. He drew a distinction between the "Liberty of the Ancients" and the "Liberty of the Moderns". The Liberty of the Ancients was participatory republican liberty, which gave the citizens the right to directly influence politics through debates and votes in the public assembly. In order to support this degree of participation, citizenship was a burdensome moral obligation requiring a considerable investment of time and energy. Generally, this required a sub-society of slaves to do much of the productive work, leaving the citizens free to deliberate on public affairs. Ancient Liberty was also limited to relatively small and homogenous societies, in which the people could be conveniently gathered together in one place to transact public affairs.

The Liberty of the Moderns, in contrast, was based on the possession of civil liberties, the rule of law, and freedom from excessive state interference. Direct participation would be limited: a necessary consequence of the size of modern states, and also the inevitable result of having created a commercial society in which there are no slaves but almost everybody must earn a living through work. Instead, the voters would elect representatives, who would deliberate in Parliament on behalf of the people and would save citizens from the necessity of daily political involvement.

Moreover, Constant believed that, in the modern world, commerce was superior to war. He attacked Napoleon's martial appetite, on the grounds that it was illiberal and no longer suited to modern commercial social organization. Ancient Liberty tended to be warlike, whereas a state organized on the principles of Modern Liberty would be at peace with all peaceful nations.

Thomas Hobbes

The main practical conclusion of Hobbes' political theory is that state or society can not be secure unless at the disposal of an absolute sovereign. From this follows the view that no individual can hold rights of property against the sovereign, and that the sovereign may therefore take the goods of its subjects without their consent.

In Leviathan, Hobbes set out his doctrine of the foundation of states and legitimate governments and creating an objective science of morality.[ citation needed ] Much of the book is occupied with demonstrating the necessity of a strong central authority to avoid the evil of discord and civil war.

Beginning from a mechanistic understanding of human beings and their passions, Hobbes postulates what life would be like without government, a condition which he calls the state of nature. In that state, each person would have a right, or license, to everything in the world. This, Hobbes argues, would lead to a "war of all against all".

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

The Social Contract outlines the basis for a legitimate political order within a framework of classical republicanism. Published in 1762, it became one of the most influential works of political philosophy in the Western tradition. It developed some of the ideas mentioned in earlier work, the article Discours sur l'oeconomie politique (Discourse on Political Economy), featured in Diderot's Encyclopédie. The treatise begins with the dramatic opening lines, "Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. Those who think themselves the masters of others are indeed greater slaves than they."

Rousseau claimed that the state of nature was a primitive condition without law or morality, which human beings left for the benefits and necessity of cooperation. As society developed, the division of labor and private property required the human race to adopt institutions of law. In the degenerate phase of society, man is prone to be in frequent competition with his fellow men while also becoming increasingly dependent on them. This double pressure threatens both his survival and his freedom.

Industrialization and the modern era

The Marxist critique of capitalism—developed with Friedrich Engels—was, alongside liberalism and fascism, one of the defining ideological movements of the twentieth century. The industrial revolution produced a parallel revolution in political thought. Urbanization and capitalism greatly reshaped society. During this same period, the socialist movement began to form. In the mid-19th century, Marxism was developed, and socialism in general gained increasing popular support, mostly from the urban working class. Without breaking entirely from the past, Marx established principles that would be used by future revolutionaries of the 20th century namely Vladimir Lenin, Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh, and Fidel Castro. Though Hegel's philosophy of history is similar to Immanuel Kant's, and Karl Marx's theory of revolution towards the common good is partly based on Kant's view of history—Marx declared that he was turning Hegel's dialectic, which was "standing on its head", "the right side up again". [29] Unlike Marx who believed in historical materialism, Hegel believed in the Phenomenology of Spirit . [30] By the late 19th century, socialism and trade unions were established members of the political landscape. In addition, the various branches of anarchism, with thinkers such as Mikhail Bakunin, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon or Peter Kropotkin, and syndicalism also gained some prominence. In the Anglo-American world, anti-imperialism and pluralism began gaining currency at the turn of the 20th century.[ citation needed ]

World War I was a watershed event in human history, changing views of governments and politics. The Russian Revolution of 1917 (and similar, albeit less successful, revolutions in many other European countries) brought communism—and in particular the political theory of Leninism, but also on a smaller level Luxemburgism (gradually)—on the world stage. At the same time, social democratic parties won elections and formed governments for the first time, often as a result of the introduction of universal suffrage. [31]


Political spectrum European-political-spectrum.png
Political spectrum

In a 1956 American Political Science Review report authored by Harry Eckstein, political philosophy as a discipline had utility in two ways:

the utility of political philosophy might be found either in the intrinsic ability of the best of past political thought to sharpen the wits of contemporary political thinkers, much as any difficult intellectual exercise sharpens the mind and deepens the imagination, or in the ability of political philosophy to serve as a thought-saving device by providing the political scientist with a rich source of concepts, models, insights, theories, and methods. [32]

From the end of World War II until 1971, when John Rawls published A Theory of Justice , political philosophy declined in the Anglo-American academic world, as analytic philosophers expressed skepticism about the possibility that normative judgments had cognitive content, and political science turned toward statistical methods and behavioralism. In continental Europe, on the other hand, the postwar decades saw a huge blossoming of political philosophy, with Marxism dominating the field. This was the time of Jean-Paul Sartre and Louis Althusser; and the victories of Mao Zedong in China and Fidel Castro in Cuba, as well as the events of May 1968, led to increased interest in revolutionary ideology, especially by the New Left. A number of continental European émigrés to Britain and the United States—including Karl Popper, Friedrich Hayek, Leo Strauss, Hannah Arendt, Isaiah Berlin, Eric Voegelin and Judith Shklar—encouraged continued study in political philosophy in the Anglo-American world, but in the 1950s and 1960s, they and their students remained at odds with the analytic establishment.

Communism remained an important focus especially during the 1950s and 1960s. Colonialism and racism were important issues that arose. In general, there was a marked trend towards a pragmatic approach to political issues, rather than a philosophical one. Much academic debate regarded one or both of two pragmatic topics: how (or whether) to apply utilitarianism to problems of political policy, or how (or whether) to apply economic models (such as rational choice theory) to political issues. The rise of feminism, LGBT social movements and the end of colonial rule and of the political exclusion of such minorities as African Americans and sexual minorities in the developed world has led to feminist, postcolonial, and multicultural thought becoming significant. This led to a challenge to the social contract by philosophers Charles W. Mills in his book The Racial Contract and Carole Pateman in her book The Sexual Contract that the social contract excluded persons of colour and women respectively.

In Anglo-American academic political philosophy, the publication of John Rawls's A Theory of Justice in 1971 is considered a milestone. Rawls used a thought experiment, the original position, in which representative parties choose principles of justice for the basic structure of society from behind a veil of ignorance. Rawls also offered a criticism of utilitarian approaches to questions of political justice. Robert Nozick's 1974 book Anarchy, State, and Utopia , which won a National Book Award, responded to Rawls from a libertarian perspective and gained academic respectability for libertarian viewpoints. [33]

Contemporaneously with the rise of analytic ethics in Anglo-American thought, in Europe, several new lines of philosophy directed at the critique of existing societies arose between the 1950s and 1980s. Most of these took elements of Marxist economic analysis but combined them with a more cultural or ideological emphasis. Out of the Frankfurt School, thinkers like Herbert Marcuse, Theodor W. Adorno, Max Horkheimer, and Jürgen Habermas combined Marxian and Freudian perspectives. Along somewhat different lines, a number of other continental thinkers—still largely influenced by Marxism—put new emphases on structuralism and on a "return to Hegel". Within the (post-) structuralist line (though mostly not taking that label) are thinkers such as Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, Claude Lefort, and Jean Baudrillard. The Situationists were more influenced by Hegel; Guy Debord, in particular, moved a Marxist analysis of commodity fetishism to the realm of consumption, and looked at the relation between consumerism and dominant ideology formation.

Another debate developed around the (distinct) criticisms of liberal political theory made by Michael Walzer, Michael Sandel and Charles Taylor. The liberal-communitarian debate is often considered valuable for generating a new set of philosophical problems, rather than a profound and illuminating clash of perspective. These and other communitarians (such as Alasdair MacIntyre and Daniel A. Bell) argue that, contra liberalism, communities are prior to individuals and therefore should be the center of political focus. Communitarians tend to support greater local control as well as economic and social policies which encourage the growth of social capital.

A prominent subject in recent political philosophy is the theory of deliberative democracy. The seminal work was done by Jurgen Habermas in Germany, but the most extensive literature has been in English, led by theorists such as Jane Mansbridge, Joshua Cohen, Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson. [34]

A pair of overlapping political perspectives arising toward the end of the 20th century are republicanism (or neo- or civic-republicanism) and the capability approach. The resurgent republican movement aims to provide an alternate definition of liberty from Isaiah Berlin's positive and negative forms of liberty, namely "liberty as non-domination." Unlike the American liberal movement which understands liberty as "non-interference," "non-domination" entails individuals not being subject to the arbitrary will of any other person. To a republican the mere status as a slave, regardless of how that slave is treated, is objectionable. Prominent republicans include historian Quentin Skinner, jurist Cass Sunstein, and political philosopher Philip Pettit. The capability approach, pioneered by economists Mahbub ul Haq and Amartya Sen and further developed by legal scholar Martha Nussbaum, understands freedom under allied lines: the real-world ability to act. Both the capability approach and republicanism treat choice as something which must be resourced. In other words, it is not enough to be legally able to do something, but to have the real option of doing it.

Another important strand of contemporary political theory in North America draws on thinkers such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and Gilles Deleuze, among others, to develop critiques and articulate alternatives to the sufficiency of the liberal-communitarian debate and republicanism discourse. Since the 1990s, these political theorists, broadly engaging the "genealogical approach", "deconstruction", and "weak ontology", have expanded the scope of political theory and issued a variety of arguments on topics such as pluralism, agonism, gender performativity, secularism, [35] [36] and more recently the Anthropocene [37] and the non-human turn. [38] The works of Judith Butler, William E. Connolly, Wendy Brown, Jane Bennett, Bonnie Honig and Chantal Mouffe [39] have been highly pertinent in this regard.

Influential political philosophers

A larger list of political philosophers is intended to be closer to exhaustive. Listed below are some of the most canonical or important thinkers, and especially philosophers whose central focus was in political philosophy and/or who are good representatives of a particular school of thought.

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">John Locke</span> English philosopher and physician (1632–1704)

John Locke was an English philosopher and physician, widely regarded as one of the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers and commonly known as the "father of liberalism". Considered one of the first of the British empiricists, following the tradition of Francis Bacon, Locke is equally important to social contract theory. His work greatly affected the development of epistemology and political philosophy. His writings influenced Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and many Scottish Enlightenment thinkers, as well as the American Revolutionaries. His contributions to classical republicanism and liberal theory are reflected in the United States Declaration of Independence. Internationally, Locke's political-legal principles continue to have a profound influence on the theory and practice of limited representative government and the protection of basic rights and freedoms under the rule of law.

Natural law is a system of law based on a close observation of human nature, and based on values intrinsic to human nature that can be deduced and applied independently of positive law. According to the theory of law called jusnaturalism, all people have inherent rights, conferred not by act of legislation but by "God, nature, or reason." Natural law theory can also refer to "theories of ethics, theories of politics, theories of civil law, and theories of religious morality."

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Social contract</span> Concept in political philosophy

In moral and political philosophy, the social contract is a theory or model that originated during the Age of Enlightenment and usually, although not always, concerns the legitimacy of the authority of the state over the individual.

In Ethics and political philosophy, in social contract theory, religion, and international law, the term state of nature describes the hypothetical way of life that existed before people organised themselves into societies. Philosophers of the state of nature theory propose that there was an historical period before societies existed, and seek answers to the questions: What was life like before civil society?, How did government emerge from such a primitive start?, and What are the hypothetical reasons for entering a state of society by establishing a nation-state?

Some philosophers distinguish two types of rights, natural rights and legal rights.

Popular sovereignty is the principle that the authority of a state and its government are created and sustained by the consent of its people, who are the source of all political power. Popular sovereignty, being a principle, does not imply any particular political implementation. Benjamin Franklin expressed the concept when he wrote that "In free governments, the rulers are the servants and the people their superiors and sovereigns".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Early modern philosophy</span> Period in the history of philosophy

Early modern philosophy is a period in the history of philosophy that overlaps with the beginning of the period known as modern philosophy.

Classical republicanism, also known as civic republicanism or civic humanism, is a form of republicanism developed in the Renaissance inspired by the governmental forms and writings of classical antiquity, especially such classical writers as Aristotle, Polybius, and Cicero. Classical republicanism is built around concepts such as civil society, common good, civic virtue and mixed government.

While the term "political science" as a separate field is a rather late arrival in terms of social sciences, analyzing political power and the effects that it had on history has been occurring for centuries. However, the term "political science" was not always distinguished from political philosophy, and the modern discipline has a clear set of antecedents including moral philosophy, political economy, political theology, history, and other fields concerned with normative determinations of what ought to be and with deducing the characteristics and functions of the ideal state. Political science as a whole occurs all of the world in certain disciplines, but can also be lacking in other specific aspects of the term.

This article is a list of major figures in the theory of libertarianism, a philosophy asserting that individuals have a right to be free. Originally coined by French anarchist and libertarian communist Joseph Déjacque as an alternative synonymous to anarchism, American classical liberals appropriated the term in the 1950s for their philosophy which asserts that individuals have a right to acquire, keep and exchange their holdings and that the primary purpose of government is to protect these rights. As a result of this history, libertarians on this list may be either of the American-style free-market variety or of the European-style socialist variety.

The history of political thought encompasses the chronology and the substantive and methodological changes of human political thought. The study of the history of political thought represents an intersection of various academic disciplines, such as philosophy, law, history and political science.

Articles in social and political philosophy include:

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to libertarianism, a political philosophy that upholds liberty as its principal objective. As a result, libertarians seek to maximize autonomy and freedom of choice, emphasizing political freedom, voluntary association and the primacy of individual judgment.

Liberalism is a political and moral philosophy based on the rights of the individual, liberty, consent of the governed, political equality and equality before the law. Liberals espouse various views depending on their understanding of these principles. However, they generally support private property, market economies, individual rights, liberal democracy, secularism, rule of law, economic and political freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and freedom of religion. Liberalism is frequently cited as the dominant ideology of modern history.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">British philosophy</span> Philosophical tradition of the British people

British philosophy refers to the philosophical tradition of the British people. "The native characteristics of British philosophy are these: common sense, dislike of complication, a strong preference for the concrete over the abstract and a certain awkward honesty of method in which an occasional pearl of poetry is embedded".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Italian philosophy</span> Philosophical tradition of Italy

Over the ages, Italian philosophy had a vast influence on Western philosophy, beginning with the Greeks and Romans, and going onto Renaissance humanism, the Age of Enlightenment and modern philosophy. Philosophy was brought to Italy by Pythagoras, founder of the school of philosophy in Crotone, Magna Graecia. Major philosophers of the Greek period include Xenophanes, Parmenides, Zeno, Empedocles and Gorgias. Roman philosophers include Cicero, Lucretius, Seneca the Younger, Musonius Rufus, Plutarch, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, Clement of Alexandria, Sextus Empiricus, Alexander of Aphrodisias, Plotinus, Porphyry, Iamblichus, Augustine of Hippo, Philoponus of Alexandria and Boethius.

The philosophy of human rights attempts to examine the underlying basis of the concept of human rights and critically looks at its content and justification. Several theoretical approaches have been advanced to explain how and why the concept of human rights developed.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to politics and political science:

Prior to the rise of anarchism as an anti-authoritarian political philosophy in the 19th century, both individuals and groups expressed some principles of anarchism in their lives and writings.


  1. "Political science". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2020-04-03.
  2. Strauss, Leo (1959). An introduction to Political Philosophy. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, p. 10.
  3. Dryzek, John S.; Honig, Bonnie; Phillips, Anne, eds. (2009-09-02). "The Oxford Handbook of Political Theory". Oxford Handbooks Online. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199548439.001.0001. ISBN   9780199548439.
  4. Boesche, Roger (2002). The First Great Political Realist: Kautilya and His Arthashastra. Lexington Books. p. 7. ISBN   978-0-7391-0401-9.
  5. Rangarajan, L N (2000). The Arthashastra. Penguin UK. p. 95. ISBN   9788184750119.
  6. Brown, D. Mackenzie (1982). The White Umbrella: Indian Political Thought from Manu to Gandhi. Greenwood Press. p. 64. ISBN   978-0313232107.
  7. Sankhdher, Madan Mohan; Kaur, Gurdeep (2005). Politics in India: Ancient India, Politics of Change, Modern India. Deep and Deep Publications. p. 95. ISBN   9788176296557.
  8. Manu ((Lawgiver)); Kullūkabhaṭṭa (1796). Institutes of Hindu Law: Or, The Ordinances of Menu, According to the Gloss of Cullúca. Calcutta, Printed by order of the government, London reprinted, for J. Sewell and J. Debrett.
  9. Deutsch, Eliot; Bontekoei, Ronald (1999). A companion to world philosophies . Wiley Blackwell. p.  183. ISBN   9780631213277.
  10. Hsü, Leonard Shihlien (2005). The political philosophy of Confucianism. Routledge. pp. xvii–xx. ISBN   978-0-415-36154-5. The importance of a scientific study of Confucian political philosophy could hardly be overstated.
  11. 1 2 Sahakian, Mabel Lewis (1993). Ideas of the great philosophers. Barnes & Noble Publishing. p. 59. ISBN   978-1-56619-271-2. ... Western philosophical tradition can be traced back as early as Plato (427–347 BC).
  12. Kraut, Richard (2002). Aristotle: political philosophy. Oxford University Press. p. 3. ISBN   978-0-19-878200-1. To understand and assess Aristotle's contributions to political thought ...
  13. Radford, Robert T. (2002). Cicero: a study in the origins of republican philosophy. Rodopi. p. 1. ISBN   978-90-420-1467-1. His most lasting political contribution is in his work on political philosophy.
  14. Schall, James V. (1998). At the Limits of Political Philosophy. CUA Press. p. 40. ISBN   978-0-8132-0922-7. In political philosophy, St. Augustine was a follower of Plato ...
  15. Aslan, Reza (2005). No god but God . Random House Inc. p.  153. ISBN   978-1-58836-445-6. By the ninth and tenth centuries...
  16. "Al-Fārābī | Muslim philosopher". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2018-04-22.
  17. "Avicenna (Ibn Sina) | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy". www.iep.utm.edu. Retrieved 2018-04-22.
  18. "Al-Ghazālī | Muslim jurist, theologian, and mystic". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2018-04-22.
  19. "Niẓām al-Mulk | Seljuq vizier". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2018-04-22.
  20. Gellner, Ernest (1992). Plough, Sword, and Book. University of Chicago Press. p. 239. ISBN   978-0-226-28702-7. Ibn Khaldun's definition of government probably remains the best: ...
  21. Koetsier, L.S. (2004). Natural Law and Calvinist Political Theory. Trafford Publishing. p. 19. ISBN   978-1-4122-1440-7. ...the Medieval Scholastics revived the concept of natural law.
  22. Copleston, Frederick (1999). A history of philosophy. Vol. 3. Continuum International Publishing Group. p. 346. ISBN   978-0-86012-296-8. There was, however, at least one department of thought ...
  23. Valente, Claire (2003). The theory and practice of revolt in medieval England. Ashgate Publishing Ltd. p. 14. ISBN   978-0-7546-0901-8. The two starting points of most medieval discussions ...
  24. Johnston, Ian (February 2002). "Lecture on Machiavelli's The Prince". Malaspina University College. Archived from the original on 2012-02-18. Retrieved 2007-02-20.
  25. Copleston, Frederick (1999). A history of philosophy. Vol. 3. Continuum International Publishing Group. pp. 310–12. ISBN   978-0-86012-296-8. ...we witness the growth of political absolutism ...
  26. Barens, Ingo; Caspari, Volker; Schefold, Bertram (2004). Barens, Ingo (ed.). Political events and economic ideas. Volker Caspari ed., Bertram Schefold ed. Edward Elgar Publishing. pp. 206–07. ISBN   978-1-84542-152-6. Economic theory as political philosophy: the example of the French Enlightenment
  27. Byrne, James M. (1997). Religion and the Enlightenment. Westminster John Knox Press. pp. 1–2. ISBN   978-0-664-25760-6. ... there emerged groups of freethinkers intent on grounding knowledge on the exercise of critical reason, as opposed to ... established religion ...
  28. Johansen, Bruce Elliott (1996). Native American political systems and the evolution of democracy . Greenwood Publishing Group. p.  69. ISBN   978-0-313-30010-3. ... the three-tier system of federalism ... is an inheritance of Iroquois inspiration
  29. Marx, Karl. "Capital Volume One, Afterword to the Second German Edition" . Retrieved 24 September 2013.
  30. Kain, Philip J. (1993). Marx and modern political theory. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 1–4. ISBN   978-0-8476-7866-2. Some of his texts, especially the Communist Manifesto made him seem like a sort of communist Descartes ...
  31. Aspalter, Christian (2001). Importance of Christian and Social Democratic movements in welfare politics. Nova Publishers. p. 70. ISBN   978-1-56072-975-4. The pressing need for universal suffrage ...
  32. Eckstein, Harry (1956). "Political Theory and the Study of Politics: A Report of a Conference". American Political Science Review. 50 (2): 475–487. doi:10.2307/1951680. ISSN   0003-0554. JSTOR   1951680. S2CID   147351387.
  33. David Lewis Schaefer, Robert Nozick and the Coast of Utopia, The New York Sun, April 30, 2008.
  34. Gutmann, Amy, and Dennis Thompson, Democracy and Disagreement (Princeton University Press, 1996). Also see Gutmann and Thompson, Why Deliberative Democracy? (Princeton University Press, 2002).
  35. Asad, Talal; Brown, Wendy; Butler, Judith; Mahmood, Saba (2013-05-09). Is Critique Secular?. Fordham University Press. doi:10.5422/fordham/9780823251681.001.0001. ISBN   9780823251681.
  36. Connolly, William E. (2010). Why I am not a secularist. Minnesota University Press. ISBN   9780816633326. OCLC   796203705.
  37. Connolly, William E. (2017). Facing the planetary. Entangled humanism and the politics of swarming . Duke University Press. ISBN   9780822363309. OCLC   982874967.
  38. Coole, Diana H., Frost, Samantha (2010). New materialisms : ontology, agency, and politics. Duke University Press. ISBN   9780822392996. OCLC   903283836.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  39. Mouffe, Chantal (1993). The Return of the Political. London: [[Verso Books]. pp. 71–78. ISBN   0-86091-486-0.
  40. McInerny, Ralph; O'Callaghan, John (2018), "Saint Thomas Aquinas", in Zalta, Edward N. (ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2018 ed.), Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, retrieved 2020-10-15
  41. Shields, Christopher (2020), "Aristotle", in Zalta, Edward N. (ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2020 ed.), Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, retrieved 2020-10-15
  42. Crimmins, James E. (2020), "Jeremy Bentham", in Zalta, Edward N. (ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2020 ed.), Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, retrieved 2020-10-15
  43. Cherniss, Joshua; Hardy, Henry (2020), "Isaiah Berlin", in Zalta, Edward N. (ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2020 ed.), Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, retrieved 2020-10-15
  44. "A Guide to Edmund Burke's Political Thought". Edmund Burke. Retrieved 2020-10-15.
  45. "Chanakya". World History Encyclopedia . Retrieved 2020-11-28.
  46. "On Linguistics and Politics, by Noam Chomsky".
  47. "Noam Chomsky: Philosophy, Anarco-Syndicalism, and Truth to Power". 2018-03-20.
  48. Lydon, Christopher (2017-06-02). "Noam Chomsky: Neoliberalism is Destroying Our Democracy". The Nation.
  49. Csikszentmihalyi, Mark (2020), "Confucius", in Zalta, Edward N. (ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2020 ed.), Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, retrieved 2022-04-22
  50. Connolly, William E. (2007). William E. Connolly: Democracy, Pluralism & Political Theory. Routledge.
  51. "John Dewey | American philosopher and educator". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2020-10-15.
  52. Tyler, Colin (2019), "Thomas Hill Green", in Zalta, Edward N. (ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2019 ed.), Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, retrieved 2020-10-15
  53. MacIntyre, A. (1959). Hume on "Is" and "Ought". The Philosophical Review, 68(4), 451–468. doi:10.2307/2182491
  54. Van Norden, Bryan (2019), "Mencius", in Zalta, Edward N. (ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2019 ed.), Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, retrieved 2020-10-15
  55. "Sarkar, Prabhatranjan - Banglapedia". en.banglapedia.org. Retrieved 2020-10-15.
  56. "PROUT Globe". proutglobe.org. Retrieved 2020-04-11.
  57. Hospers, John (1973). Rule-Egoism. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 54 (4):391.

Further reading