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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

What is Political Philosophy?

There are many questions studied by political philosophy that come up so often that we hardly notice that philosophy is involved at all when considering them. What should be the relationship between individuals and society? What are the limits of freedom? Is freedom of speech a good idea, or freedom of action between consenting adults? When may government act against the will of a citizen, and when should a citizen act against his or her government? What is the purpose of government? What characterises a good government? And so on. Not everyone is interested in these things, of course, but they'll be answered in one way or another—affecting us all. Everyone has a political philosophy, we could say, whether it is thought out in detail or not.

Political Philosophy is the study of these and other matters, more generally the first—the relationship between individuals and society. Sometimes the subject is nicely encapsulated in the question "how are we to live?" That is: given that few people live entirely alone, we may ask how best to govern our interactions. What responsibilities do we have to each other? Can we do as we please? Is society more important than the individuals that make it up? Political philosophy doesn't exist in a vacuum, though; the answers we might give will depend in turn on our ethical ideas, as well as what kind of world we think we live in and what we may consider the purpose of our time here, if any.

Political philosophy can be defined as philosophical reflection on how best to arrange our collective life - our political institutions and our social practices, such as our economic system and our pattern of family life.

Political philosophers seek to establish basic principles that will, for instance, justify a particular form of state, show that individuals have certain inalienable rights, or tell us how a society's material resources should be shared among its members. This usually involves analysing and interpreting ideas like freedom, justice, authority and democracy and then applying them in a critical way to the social and political institutions that currently exist. Some political philosophers have tried primarily to justify the prevailing arrangements of their society; others have painted pictures of an ideal state or an ideal social world that is very different from anything we have so far experienced

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