Political philosophy encompasses the multiplicity of philosophical reflections on the origin or organization of life in society and the various implications that this conviviality imposes on individuals.
Even though some thinkers have reflected on the same notions and themes, such as justice and the nature of laws , the relevance of their proposals lies more in the novelty or specificity with which they addressed these issues than in their practical viability.
What is the difference with political science?
Political science , on the other hand, would be the form of political thought focused on the practice of politics , describing how governments act at the national and international level.
History and main representatives
Political philosophy in ancient times
The relevance of the Greeks to Western political thought is not only visible in the etymology of the word politics, which originates from the Greek polis (meaning city), but also in myths and great legislators , especially Solon.
The writings of Plato and Aristotle , who guided their main reflections on the notion of virtue, indicated and guided, in a certain sense, the main themes with which philosophers occupied themselves for many years. Certainly, the discussion about the best form of government for the city-state and the issue of the conventionality of laws were two of the main contributions of this historical period.
Political Philosophy in the Modern Age
It is the modern period , however, that which established the main themes that are still in question today. Distancing themselves from previous proposals, philosophers of that period argued about the hypothesis of a social contract that would mark the beginning of life in society.
The alleged natural sociability of human beings is criticized by Thomas Hobbes , who thought the situation prior to society as unstable and dangerous, proposing that only an absolute power could guarantee the safety of everyone in society. The cost would be the freedom of individuals (understood as naturally bellicose beings), which would have to be severely diminished so that a state of peace could be established.
John Locke , with his defense of a liberal and democratic vision of the State, thought of the contract as a means of ensuring certain natural rights , especially property rights, with the individual having to be submissive to the government insofar as these rights are respected.
The third great contractualist, Jean Jacques Rousseau , defended human beings as naturally kind, their corruption being the result of social interaction. It was up to this philosopher of Genoese origin to propose a general will , a concept that is still much studied today.
It is Niccolò Machiavelli , however, who many identify as the inaugurator of modern political thought. Its emphasis on facts and circumstances resulted in a less idealized view of political action. He mainly criticized the relevance of the notion of virtue for a ruler to be successful in his actions.
Jeremy Bentham presents himself as one of the first critics of the naturalist conception of rights and a forerunner of positivism in law . According to his thinking, rights could only be dealt with, in a political system, as an expression of a human will and not something natural and prior to a government. His perspective, based on his utilitarianism, was further developed by John Stuart Mill and John Austin .
Political Philosophy in the Contemporary Age
The social implications of the industrial revolutions and the movements for independence, especially the French Revolution , changed the world scenario of the 19th century and fostered the discussion on democracy and the issue of rights. There are many relevant contributions in this historical period, but it is the consequences of the two great wars that profoundly mark contemporary political thought.
In this regard, the observations of the German thinker Hannah Arendt stand out , with her view on the banality of evil and revolutionary initiatives, within her research on the phenomenon of totalitarianism .
One of the leading names of the second half of the 20th century in political philosophy is John Rawls , who criticized a utilitarian interpretation of justice and proposed justice as fairness . In A theory of justice , he states that his proposal would be chosen by people in an idealized situation, namely, free, reasonable people with equal choice conditions, thus promoting a more egalitarian society. The result would be valid for any democratic society .
Ronald Dworkin, on the other hand , proposes equality as a core value , defending that everyone should have the same availability of resources, in his book The sovereign virtue . These two philosophers are the main representatives of liberal political thought in contemporary times.
Criticizing mainly the abstract notion of person and the conditions of choice adopted by John Rawls, the term communitarianism was used to refer to theories that rejected universalist pretensions, indicating that political decisions depended on people in their own contexts, emphasizing the culture and traditions. Michael Walzer and Charles Taylor are its main representatives, although they reject this classification. The latter and Axel Honneth , including, are the main proponents of the theory of recognition .
As in other fields of philosophical investigation, political issues began to receive new perspectives, especially that of the economist Amartya Sen , who emphasized the issue of poverty and developed the theory of capabilities , and that of Michel Foucault, with his original proposal on power, or rather, the power relations that are constituted in the social fabric. His is the notion of biopower , which would be a mechanism used by governments to control an entire group of people.