Social and Political Philosophy: A Contemporary Introduction

By John Christman | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 1

Introduction
The liberal democratic paradigm
Preliminaries I:Method
Preliminaries II:Moral theory and political philosophy
Structure of the book
Chapter summary
Notes on further reading

This is an exciting time to be studying political philosophy. Critical discussions in political theory have raised deep and perplexing questions about the nature of philosophical inquiry generally: what role should ‘reason’ play in our abstract reflections; is ‘objective’ theorizing from a detached and neutral perspective really possible, or is this always a front for surreptitiously biased and ultimately self-serving thought; is thinking ultimately political?

Also, events in the world have profoundly reshaped the ideological terrain within which political theorizing is taking place. Debate about political principles outside of philosophy for a long time played out a clash between socialism and capitalism, framed (oversimply) as a conflict between valuing (economic) equality and valuing (political) liberty. However, in the current landscape, especially since the fall of the Soviet Union, the model of a constitutional democracy with regulated but competitive economic markets has come to predominate political understanding in most parts of the world, including most former Communist regimes. But this does not mean that such a framework is therefore acceptable uncritically - quite the opposite - for what political philosophy has now focused on are the fundamental evaluative presuppositions of that framework, and the perhaps controversial principles about individual citizens, social life, and sources of value that such a model presupposes. When examined at that level, liberal democracy faces

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