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what is politics?

what is politics?


School: New York University
Department: College of Arts and Science
Course: Political Theory
Professor: Dimitri landa
Term: Fall 2016
Cost: 50
Name: Political Theory Midterm Study Guide
Description: Midterm Study Guide
Uploaded: 10/29/2016
14 Pages 13 Views 35 Unlocks

ganguli.isha (Rating: )

John Rawls & the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of politics Lisa Cooley

what is politics?

 John Bordley Rawls (1921 ~ 2002) was an American moral  and political philosopher.  

 In Justice As Fairness, Rawls sets out the 4 fundamental  roles of Politcal Philosophy:

1. Practical Role  

Arising from divisive political confluct and the need to settle order –  find a basis for philosophical and moral agreement!  

2. Collective Orientation

Identity. How we orient ourselves in society conceptually – articulate  your principles for a reasonable society!

3. Reconciliation/Justification

To make peace with what we don’t like because ultimately institutions  are rational. Be positive rather than resigned!

4. Realistic Utopianism If you want to learn more check out How does the distinction between these two relate to our political system now?

(Variation of previous role) Probing the limits of practical political  philosophy – Life is hard and messy but it still has the potential to be  good! 

 What is politics?

 “Enforced regulation of joint action/co-existance”

who starts off at Plato’s Lyceum?

Why do we need politics?

 HUMAN NATURE – Maybe we need enforcement to refrain us from  ourselves?

∙ Hobbes’ psychological egoism, vanity, desire for self-protection

∙ SCARCITY – To deal with the economic problem of finite resources and infinite wants & needs

 But why Government? Why not private institutions for  everything?

 Does politics = government?

 Governments are only effective when there are non-zero-sum  conflicts, meaning there is a way to compromise.

 Govs can enforce political and economic agreements between people  and make contracts legitimate in the marketplace

 Govs can provide public goods – a class of goods that the  marketunder-supplies

 Govs can facilitate collective decision-making – constitutions to  regulate our actions, lays out the expectations of society

The problem of Political Legitimacy

what are the key features of the ruler?

Don't forget about the age old question of spirillum volutans causes what disease

 What kind og government has a claim on us even if we disagree with  them?

∙ Normative criteria

o Personal Welfare – Is it good for the citizens individually? o Public reasons – Is it good for wider society?

 Aristotle (384~322 BC)

 Born in Macedonia (An outsider in Athens)

 Starts off at Plato’s Lyceum: A place for teenage boys to  philosophise for life

 Leaves, makes his own school (The Academy) and tutors  Alexander the Great before he becomes great Don't forget about the age old question of ml4t gatech

In Politics, Aristotle asks:

1. What is the right form of political organization? 2. Where do human beings fit in this? (What is the Good  Life?)

He was interested in PRACTICALITY and “phronesis”, or the exercise of  practical wisdom to pursue the good life (so not just ethics and normative  thinking). How? The method of decomposition – “examining everything  in the fewest possible elements”.  

From this thinking we get the different units of association: Sub familial  level  Family  Kin  State  

∙ The ultimate ‘end’ for humans seeking a good life is the state,  because we are political animals.


∙ Only as part of a city can people fully realize their nature;  separated from the city, they are worse than animals.


The highest form of man is eudaimonia, (our telos) and this can only be  achieved through:

∙ Being self-sufficing

∙ Being autonomous

∙ Having the right qualities of character (virtues)

∙ Having reason

∙ Identifying effective means  

∙ Separating the real from the ephemeral

…All of these are best realised when part of a state.

The argument:

1. Happiness is the satisfaction of goals/desires

2. Human beings are intentionally pursuing happiness

3. State is a social form that defines self-sufficiency

Social binaries – In the household, there is man and woman, master and slave, parent and child

A note on slavery:

Aristotle justifies slavery by arguing that the master-slave relationship is  mutually beneficial. Some people are masters by nature just like some  are slaves by nature. It is inhereted. The masters are more virtuous,  and the slaves fulfill their duty by helping their master achieve his higher  telos. Aristotle likens the relationship between master and slave to that  between soul and body: the master possesses rational, commanding  powers, while the slave, lacking these, is fit only to carry out menial  duties. If you want to learn more check out 9itgs

He also likens the relationship between master and slave to that between  a monarch and his people and that between a statesman and free  citizens.

What kind of state is best?

One with a constitution that “determines what is to be the governing  body, and what is to be the end of each community.” Needs legitimacy. The law should be the absolute sovereign, and the decisions of the  government should only be made in those cases where the law is unclear.  The government should not have the power to make decisions that go  counter to the law. A sovereign law should confer benefits according to  each person's contribution to the city (meritocracy), and deliberative and judicial assemblies that are made up of all citizens should rule in cases  where the law is ambiguous. This form of government is polity. Don't forget about the age old question of 50000/160


 A good citizen upholds the constitution – Because there are different  kinds of constitutions there are also different kinds of good citizens.  

Good citizen = good man? If you want to learn more check out chapter 8 the emergence of a market economy

 The only standard for being a good man is perfect virtue, so it is  possible to be a good citizen without being a good man. A good ruler  who possesses practical wisdom can be both a good citizen and a  good man.

Are the demands of citizenship as Aristotle sees them too much  for a modern person? May it be possible to refuse them? What  might that look like?

Aristotle’s virtues (courage, reason, self-sufficiency, autonomy) aren’t  strictly defined! Also, they might not be practically possible for everyone  in society – maybe it can/should only be expected of civil servants? If  everyone becomes virtuous, who’s going to do the menial jobs? Aristotle  would say that the “natural slaves” simply have lower rational  capacities and lower virtue potential.

Obstacles to practical wisdom:

 background/education

 laziness

 interpretation of constitution

 resources

Forms of government:

No. of rulers












For Aristotle, Polity is the best. It is the “attempt to unite the freedom of  the poor and the wealth of the rich”, and “ruling and being ruled in turn.”  Power lies in the strong, middle class citizens

 Different organs of government controlled by different sections of the  population. (Except not really because ‘citizens’ were a small group of  elite men – anyone who is entitled to share in deliberative or judicial  office.)

 A shared venture in which everyone participates in order to achieve a  common good.

Aristotle’s epistemoligcal beliefs – In line with Plato’s theory of ideal  forms. Everything can be understood in relation to the ideal.

Aristotle doesn’t really answer the question of how much authority the  state should have over the individual. For him, the goal of the city =  the goal of the individual. The individual could have no truly rational  needs or interests outside the confines of the state, because we are  political animals. As a result, it would be absurd to desire any kind of  individual freedom in opposition to the state. Connection to Hobbes.


Justice is the end goal of politics. All constitutions are based on a notion of justice, but are different, so the definitions vary. There are differing  notions about the end goal of the city. The end goal of a city is the good  life for its citizens. For Aristotle, justice≠equality! Everyone should  know their place in society and their own virtue potential.  

Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527)

 Born in Florence, Italy and had a peaceful childhood

 Received a humanist education

 Moved to Rome to work for a Banker

 Returned to Florence in 1494, witnessed the expulsion of the Medici  family, oligarchic despots who had ruled Florence for decades, and the  rise of Girolamo Savanorola, a Dominican religious zealot who took  control of the region shortly thereafter.

 Political Conflict in Italy – French invasions by Kind Charles VIII,  influences Machiavelli’s attitude towards the gov and pleas for Italian  unity.  

 Machiavelli gets involved in the government and the Florentine military. In 1513 he is wrongly accused of participating in a conspiracy to  restore the republic and leaves Florence.

 He desperately wanted to return to politics and writes The Prince to win the favor of Lorenzo de’ Medici, then-governor of Florence and the  person to whom the book is dedicated. Career opportunist? Maybe.

Historical context:  

 Beginning of the Renaissance (‘rebirth’) – rediscovered the works of  Aristotle (But he wasn’t Christian and they needed a way to link his  philosophy to Chrisitian doctrine)

The Prince

“mirror of princes” – description of what traits a ruler should have.  Machiavelli composed The Prince as a practical guide for ruling.  flattering and coming out of the humanist tradition

Unlike Aristotle’s virtue and telos-based political philosophy, Machiavelli  focuses on how things really are in the world.  

The Prince:

Types of principalities

 Heredity  

∙ Much easier to maintain as compared to new principalities  because everyone ‘knows the drill’ so to speak. There’s no need  to change past institutions.

 New  

∙ Harder to maintain. People will willing trade one ruler for another, there are no strong attachments to anyone who hasn’t ruled  before.  

∙ The expectation that someone else is better suited to be king  makes people take up arms against a relatively unestablished  prince.

∙ It is good if the Prince speaks the same language and has the  same culture as the people. In this case, the prince just has to  destroy the family of the former prince, and maintain the  principality’s laws and taxes.  

∙ Otherwise, they have a harder job and need to set up a  completely new regime

∙ Recognize problems early and support the weak, discourage the  strong

∙ Advises living there in the state so that the people feel more  connected to you but also so your opponents feel more scared of  you.

∙ Also, establish colonies to maintain power.

∙ Good Princes need to understand war craft and statecraft – they  are interconnected.  

∙ Fortuna = Go seek it, don’t wait for it to come!

∙ Virtu = Like virtues, but not about being a good person  according to humanist tradition, but being a good ruler who  knows how to maintain control. Machiavelli looks at the historical  record to determine what the virtu of rulers are.

Machiavelli wants to be completely empirical – he doesn’t have a  Hegelian notion of history. If we want to move forward, we have to look at  the way history teaches us.

Machiavelli’s philosophy emphasises ordinary subjects. Compared to  Aristotle’s elitest philosophy, he sees the ordinary citizen as a  simpleminded creature ruled by pain and pleasure, which will determine  their like or dislike of the government. As long as the prince can maintain  control, he need have little concern for their welfare. There is a  dichotomy between ethics and politics. The ends justify the  means (as opposed to Kantian ethics). Moral flexibility.

Historical Context:

English civil war (Parliament vs the King) 1642 – 1651

Thomas Hobbes (1588~1679)

 “Fear and I were born twins”, born the day the Spanish  Armeda sets sail to attack England.  

 A ‘domestic’ of lord Cavendish (Erl of Devonshire)  Discovered as a prodigy at a young age and received an  excellent education thanks to his rich uncle.

 An interlocuter of Descartes and Gallileo

 Influenced by Euclid’s ‘elements of geometry’  1640 – flees to France for 11 years because he is scared of persecution for supporting King Charles I (Royalist) when  parliament was turning against the king.

 1646 – becomes a tutor to the Prince of Wales  1649 – King Charles I is executed

 1653 – Leviathan is published in London, returns to London Leviathan

 Starts off with what we know about human nature:

1. Desire for self-preservation is psychologically innate – People  often say noble things, but when it comes down to it, they will defend  themselves tooth and nail, survival of the fittest.

2. Felicity – There are certin things that give us pleasure, but instead  of going for the strong one-time hit, we should aim for long-term  pleasure/happiness

3. Insatiability – there are natural (original) and instrumental  (derivative) powers. Natural powers: having a loaf of bread,  Instrumental powers: having money to buy a loaf of bread. We are  never satisfied with the amount of power we have.

4. Passions – fear, love, jealousy, hate, all opposed to reason.  “The power of man, to take it universaly, is his present means to obtain some future apparent good, and is either original or instrumental.” You  keep wanting more because it is a way to ensure #1 and #2.  

Social condition of Humanity

1. Scarcity  

2. Equality  

3. Interdependance  

4. Uncertainty

Laws of Nature

“dictates of reason” and also “divine commands” (He needed to appeal to  the religious folks of his time)

1. Immediate, unconditional preferences – “every man ought to  endeavour peace, as long as he has hope of obtaining it”. This is  what we naturally do anyway! We perform covenants because they  benefit us and not doing so is foolish.

2. Conditional preferences – when cooperation of an individual is  conditional on the cooperation of others. Kind of like the golden rule. These preferences needs an authority to enforce.

“Niceness prevents unreasonable nastiness”  

The doctrine of anticipation

If we anticipate that the ed result will be violent, we might as well start  the violence now to have to upper hand.

Our human instinct to self-preservation and the  doctrine of anticipation combined = the need for an  authoritative ruler.

Hobbes’ basic argument:

1. If people lived without a state, they would be in a state of war  (actualy fighting and anticipation of fighting)  

2. A state of war is the worst possible human circumstance 3. An absolutist state offers a stable and desirable to all resolution 4. N form of state with limited authority provides a stable resolution 5. The absolutist state is the ONLY form of state that can be rationally  justified  

Social Contractarianism

 Key Claim: “The social and political regime which can be shown to be  agreeable to all from the appropriately specified and independantly  defensible position is thereby justified as the preference of every  subject. Actions that undermine that regime are, therefore, irrational.”  (Similar to Machiavelli, viewing ordinary people as simple)

 Theory of political obligation

For Hobbes, a social contract is a surrender of liberty in return for  order. Because the ruler has authority over everyone, everyone obeys.  

Who do we pick?

Wo don’t. This is unimportant to Hobbes. Nothing is worse than a state of  nature. As long as there is a ruler, the doctrine of anticipation stops  binding, and self-preservation makes you more scared of the ruler than  your neighbour.  

Power and Authority

 Everyone is equal in their capacity to injure others, and their  vulnerability to be unjured by others. Physical strength doesn’t matter  because we have other means of hurting one another (a skinny man with  a gun is just as/more dangerous as a big man with a stick)

 Power = Capacity. Strength. Think in terms fo physics.  Authority = Public power. The power to influence people.  For Hobbes, power is too spread out and needs to be concentrated into one person who has authority.

Why only 1 person?

If there are checks and balances on the ruler, his authority is not  complete, and people who are unhappy will turn to the person/judge who  has some authority over the ruler and try to make him king instead. This  will lead to civil war.

3 key features of the ruler:

1. Absolute power

2. A product of the covenant between ourselves  

3. Objecting o him is objecting to ourselves- the ruler and the people  should have the same interests

‘Liberty’ = Also comes form physics. ‘Unrestricted movement’. Even at  gunpoint Hobbes says we are free and think liberty and fear can coexist.


1. Position of choice – Human nature, social condition of  humanity, reason

2. The causal mechanism that turns the state of nature into the state of war

3. How the absolutist rule resolves the problems of the state of war and the coordination argument

4. Why other kins of regimes cannot succeed

5. Absolutism is the answer.

John Locke (1632 ~ 1704)

 Secretary to Anthony Ashley Cooper, later Earl of  Shaftesbury. Performs sensitive political tasks, including writing  the Consitution of Carolinas.  

 2 years earlier, King James II was ousted for King William  III in the Glorious Revoluion – it was mostly bloodless and  peaceful

 Whigs vs Tories  the question was ‘how far can the ruler  press his power without getting checked? Power of the  prerogative (taking action without consent) Locke was on the  side of the Whigs and was pro-revolution.

 Locke is called on to write a rebuttal to Robert Filmer’s  Patriarcha, that argues for absolute government.  Locke’s Second Treatise of Government is published in 1690  It is commonly compred to as a the major counter-argument  to Hobbes’ Leviathan

Filmer’s Paternal Theory:  

Political obligations of children follow from the fact of being born. Noone is free.

o Argument from reason: Fathers give their children life, therefore can  take it away

o Argument from fact: Fathers have the right to control their offspring o Argument from revelation: The Bible says so

Filmer’s Property Theory:

 Political obligations are a consequence of pre-existng structure of  property ownership inhereted from Adam.

Locke’s rebuttals:

1. Humans are naturally equal and have ” personal political equality” and natural rights. In a state of nature, natural law governs  behavior, and each person has license to execute that law when  someone enfringes on their rights. To Locke, natural law is always going to bind as catagorical imperative.

2. Humans are naturally free and property is an extension of life and  limb.

In a state of nature, there are 3 rights:

1. Natural right to freedom (and, as an extension, the right to inheret property of ancestors)

2. Natural executive right to punish

3. Exclusive right to seek compensation (restitution)

The Position of Choice:

1. Natural Freedom

2. Natural equality

3. The existance of the wicked

4. Subject to passions

5. Interests in life, liberty, and property

6. Instrumental reason

Lockes’ solution: Limited social contract


A two-stage contract from the state of nature:

1. Commonwealth (People) that act via majority rule to… 2. …Hire the government  

3 Caveats:

 trading away unanimous consent

 government’s authority held ‘on trust’ from final authority (the  people)

 fall of gov ≠fall of the commonwealth

Normatively speaking, the government should act in the best  interests of the people, as should the people. TRUST can be  revoked! The government is tied by strings to the commonwealth.

BIG Difference between Locke and Hobbes: There is no trust in  Hobbes. The Gov is not a trustee! If the gov falls, we revert to a  state of nature.

For Locke, if the gov fails, it can be replaced because eof the 2- state structure


 Limits on the authority of the people:  

In Letter Concerning Toleration, there is a distinction between state  and religion. The 2 should not coincide. You can’t force someone to  believe, but you need to force someone into the social contract by  virtue of being in a society.  

∙ Environmental determination argument – youre most likely to  stay in the denomenation of your parents. There is evidence  today that shows that beliefs can be changed/engineered.  Psychology.

∙ Counter critiques – Irrelavence of coersion for internal belief, ‘red  line test’ (If you can see that a line is being crossed where there  could potentially be damage.

Limits on the authority of the government:

∙ Constraints:

1. The purpose constraint – The whole purpose of the  government is to protect the lives, liberties & properties,  and so it CANNOT take the lives, liberties and properties

2. Rule of law – ‘publically promulgated and impartially  formulated’

3. Requirement of consent for property takings – no taxation  without representation!  

4. Legislative Supremacy despite the executive’s Perogative  Power.

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