Social and Political Philosophy: A Contemporary Introduction

By John Christman | Go to book overview

Notes

1

Introduction
1
Indeed, some theorists have claimed that the defining focus of mainstream political philosophy consists in questions of distributive justice. (See Young, 1990:15-24).
2
Prior to Rawls’s work, ethics and political philosophy in the analytic tradition was very abstract, focusing, for example, on the structure of moral language, rather than the plausibility of particular positions concerning substantive political issues.

2

The problem of political authority
1
It is important to reflect upon the precise meaning of the terms ‘liberty’ and ‘freedom’ in this context, and there exists a vast philosophical literature on that question (Berlin 1969, McCallum 1967, Feinberg 1973:4-19, Christman 1994: ch. 4). One alleged and much commented upon distinction is between a ‘negative’ sense of freedom - the absence of restraints on action - from a ‘positive’ sense - the capacity to effectively act upon one’s own authentic desires (along with variations on each of these). Another useful distinction is between those concepts of freedom that assume it refers only to morally permissible acts, where being free means, by definition, being able to act within moral strictures, and those views that see freedom as simply the ability to act on one’s desires period, whether or not they issue in morally permissible acts (see G. Cohen 1988a, Christman 1994:68-70). Finally, other writers have attempted to declare any such debate about the ‘proper’ understanding of freedom as essentially misguided since different uses of that idea will presuppose substantive normative conclusions buried in the definitions of the word ‘freedom,’ so reference to it cannot be made to support such normative conclusions; this, they say, makes the concept ‘essentially contestable’ (see Connolly 1983: chs 1 and 5-6).
2
This is the received view of Hobbes. Some, such as Jean Hampton, have suggested that Hobbes is not, strictly speaking, a psychological egoist, at least not in the Leviathan, since he mentions various capacities for fellow feeling in the motivational structure of humans (see Hampton 1986:

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