Friday, September 19, 2008

Geuss, Raymond. Introduction to PHILOSOPHY AND REAL POLITICS.

Geuss, Raymond. Philosophy and Real Politics. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2008. When I object to the claim that politics is applied ethics, I . . . intend a . . . specific view about the nature and structure of ethical judgment and its relation to politics, and in particular a theory about where one should start in studying politics, what the final framework for studying politics is, what it is reasonable to focus on, and what it is possible to abstract from. “Politics is applied ethics” in the sense I find objectionable means that we start thinking about the human social world by trying to get what is sometimes called an “ideal theory” of ethics. This approach assumes that there is, or could be, such a thing as a separate discipline called Ethics which has its own distinctive subject-matter and forms of argument, and which prescribes how humans should act toward one another. It further assumes that one can study this subject-matter without constantly locating it within the rest of human life, and without unceasingly refl ecting on the relations one’s claims have with history, sociology, ethnology, psychology, and economics. Finally, this approach proposes that the way to proceed in “ethics” is to focus on a very few general principles such as that humans are rational, or that they generally seek pleasure and try to avoid pain, or that they always pursue their own “interests”; these principles are taken to be historically invariant, and studying ethics consists essentially in formulating them clearly, investigating the relations that exist between them, perhaps trying to give some kind of “justification” of at least some of them, and drawing conclusions from them about how people ought to act or live. Usually, some kind of individualism is also presupposed, in that the precepts of ethics are thought to apply directly and in the first instance to human individuals. Often, although not invariably, views of this type also give special weight to “ethical intuitions” that people in our society purportedly share, and they hold that an important part of ethics is the attempt to render these intuitions consistent. . . . In this essay I would like to expound and advocate a kind of political philosophy based on assumptions that are the opposite of the “ethics-first” view, and so it might be useful to the reader to make the acquaintance, in a preliminary and sketchy way, of the four interrelated theses that, I will claim, ought to structure a more fruitful approach to politics than “ethics-fi rst.” . . . Read the rest here:

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