Political Philosophy – Part 1:
From Plato to Paine and the French Revolution
Tutor: Ian Pirie.
Week 1 Summary:
1. Introduction to the course:
- teaching approach, prior knowledge, handouts, reading, learning plans,
2. Introduction to philosophy:
(a) What is philosophy? Love of knowledge (or of wisdom?) – philos + sophos.
(b) What does philosophy do?
Asks ‘deep’, fundamental questions à grounded knowledge (epistemology: how do we know?). (Deepest questions: metaphysics = beyond the physical). NOT = opinion...
Clarifies the meanings of words, classifies concepts (analytical approach).
Provides convincing answers: consistent, justified, rigorous etc arguments (logic).
(c) Other kinds of knowledge: Science (evidence-based). Faith?
(d) Branches of philosophy:
Logic, metaphysics, ethics, epistemology. Philosophy of: science/history... politics.
3. What is political philosophy? The application of philosophical methods to the theory and practice of politics. Key concepts:
- authority, power, legitimacy
- justice, fairness
- law, rules, obedience and disobedience
- the political community (collective) – the polis, its nature and purpose
- the citizen (individual) – duties, rights
- democracy, and other types of political system
- freedom, equality and other values
- ‘human nature’ (if it exists!)
4. The history of political ideas:
- changing beliefs and different beliefs/practices at different times and in different societies (contexts) à the question: which systems or beliefs are best? i.e. a normative approach (to do with values and value-judgements).
5. Background: Politics
City-states, wars between
Limited, though “direct” democracy. Knowing how to rule and be ruled.
The Sophists: experts in rhetoric (skill of persuasion) - available for hire...
6. Socrates (470 -399 BC) [whom we know about only through Plato...]
Know thyself. Knowledge and opinion.
Dialectical method (questioning, and questioning the answer!)
Accepted the death penalty (for “corrupting the