Thursday, March 19, 2015

Fourth Edition of "Political Questions: Political Philosophy from Plato to Pinker"

I have finished writing the fourth edition of Political Questions: Political Philosophy from Plato to Pinker, which will be published by Waveland Press.  I do not yet have the production schedule.  But I assume that the book should be published sometime late this spring or early in the summer.

Here's the Prologue and the Table of Contents.  You can see that it incorporates a lot of material from this blog.


In this fourth edition, I have changed and added material throughout the book. I have added new chapters on Adam Smith, Leo Strauss, and Steven Pinker.

I have written this book both for students, who might be studying the history of political philosophy for the first time, and for scholarly experts in political philosophy, who might find something here to stimulate (if not provoke) them.

I hope that both novices and initiates can benefit from the way this book combines four major features: (1) a reliance on disputed questions, (2) an emphasis on primary texts, (3) references to issues in American political history, and (4) a multidisciplinary approach to political philosophy.

(1) To stimulate readers to think for themselves, I raise a series of enduring political questions, and I leave the readers free to work out their own answers. As much as possible, I avoid imposing my own point of view.

(2) Because there is no good substitute for reading the original works of political philosophy, I tie my questions to specific texts. This book is only supplementary to reading the primary sources. The best use of this book is to read it while reading some of the primary texts.

(3) Because it is important for students to see how the study of political philosophy can illuminate their political experience, I indicate how the questions raised by political philosophers clarify issues in American politics. In particular, I draw out some of the philosophic implications of the Declaration of Independence.

(4) Political philosophers make empirical claims about human nature, human culture, and political history.  To assess those empirical claims, I argue in this book, we need to draw from relevant knowledge gained from all of the intellectual disciplines in the natural sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities.  So, for example, in my surveys of disputed political questions, I bring up pertinent ideas from anthropology, biology, economics, history, psychology, and theology.   Political philosophy is best studied as part of a multidisciplinary liberal education that aims for a comprehensive science of nature and of human beings as part of nature.

Table of Contents

Introduction: From the Declaration of Independence to Political Philosophy

1        Political Knowledge and Political Power:  Plato’s Apology, Crito, and Republic

 1. What is the political lesson of the trial of Socrates? 

 2. How far is a citizen obligated to obey the laws? 

 3.  In defining justice, how do we move from opinions to knowledge? 

 4. Is justice the interest of the stronger? 

 5. Is justice the fulfillment of natural needs? 

 6. Is justice conventional rather than natural? 

 7. Is the rule of philosopher-kings meant to be a realistic political goal? 

 8. Why does Socratic statesmanship require a “noble lie”? 

 9. Is there any justification in nature for the hierarchical ordering of the city and soul into three parts? 

 10. Must a good political order depend on a cosmic order of divine law? 

2        Political Science as the Study of Regimes: Aristotle’s Politics

 1. Is the best regime good enough? 

 2. Does political life fulfill a natural human end? 

 3. Are human beings the only animals with the capacity for symbolic speech?

 4. How do selfishness and aggression influence political life? 

 5. Does Aristotle show the prejudices of his culture in his views of slaves and women? 

 6. Does Aristotle’s understanding of citizenship illuminate modern democratic politics? 

 7. Does Aristotle’s regime suppress individual liberty?    

 8. Can we settle the conflict between oligarchic and democratic views of justice? 

 9. How does the Aristotelian leader handle a regime that is less than the best? 

10. Why does Aristotle teach tyrants how to preserve their regimes? 

3        The Political Realism of Christian Theology:
Augustine’s City of God

 1. Was Augustine the first political realist? 

 2. Does Christian faith perfect our reasoning about politics? 

 3. Is nature apart from God a reliable standard for politics? 

 4. Must earthly political rule always be unjust? 

 5. Must Christians be Machiavellians? 

4          Natural Law: Thomas Aquinas’s “Treatise on Law”

 1. What is natural law?

 2. Is law the command of the sovereign backed by threat? 

 3. How do human beings discover natural law?  

 4. Does the fact-value distinction refute the idea of natural law? 

 5. Is law the joint product of nature, custom, and stipulation? 

 6. Does cultural diversity contradict the idea of natural law? 

 7. Must we legislate morality? 

   8. Is Thomistic political thought compatible with liberal democracy? 

   9. Does the application of natural law to sexual conduct, abortion, and marriage threaten individual liberty? 

  10. Can government rightly promote our pursuit of the complete happiness that comes only with eternal life in Heaven? 

5        Power Politics: Machiavelli’s The Prince and Discourses

 1.  Is Machiavelli evil? 

 2. What is Machiavellian virtue? 

 3.  In politics, does the end justify the means? 

 4. Does political order require “cruelty well used”? 

   5. Are democratic leaders just as selfish as dictators in their pursuit of power? 

 6.  Does Machiavelli elevate political power over political wisdom? 

6        Liberal Rationalism: Descartes’s Discourse on Method

 1. Can the scientific method of Descartes lead us to a free and rational society?

 2. Is Cartesian reason unreasonable? 

 3. Does Cartesian science promote nihilistic tyranny? 

 4. Does Cartesian science promote technocratic tyranny? 

 5. If machines can think, do they have rights? 

7        Individual Rights and Absolute Government: Hobbes’s Leviathan and behemoth

 1. Are human beings too selfish to be naturally political animals? 

 2. Can selfish human beings create political order by consenting to a social contract? 

 3. Why should we obey an absolute government? 

 4. Can only an absolute government protect individual liberty? 

 5. Does the right to revolution subvert good government? 

   6. Is anarchy better than a predatory government? 

 7.  Is the founding of political authority on rational selfishness too idealistic? 

 8.  Is the American government a Hobbesian Leviathan? 

   9.  Is the interpretation of the Bible and the Koran a political question? 

 10.  Does the English Civil War show how political history can be a natural laboratory for testing political philosophy? 

8        Classical Liberalism: Locke’s Second Treatise of Government and letter concerning toleration

 1. Are human beings entitled to equal liberty as being the workmanship of their Creator? 

 2. Are human beings entitled to equal liberty s members of the same human species who claim self-ownership? 

  3.  Are human beings equal and free in the state of nature? 

  4.  Are all human beings entitled to equal liberty in acquiring property? 

 5. Can liberal government combine individual freedom with political authority? 

 6. Can Lockean government secure the consent of the governed? 

 7. By what right does the majority rule? 

   8.  Does the protection of minorities require a minority veto in a consensus democracy? 

 9. Can the rule of law and the separation of powers secure individual rights? 

10.  Must the executive have the prerogative powers of a dictator? 

11.  Does the right to revolution mean that might makes right?

12. Should women have equal rights? 

13.  Are there good arguments for religious toleration and the separation of church and state?

14.  Is a society of atheists possible?

9        Participatory Democracy:  Rousseau’s First and Second Discourses and Social Contract

 1. Does popular enlightenment subvert political freedom?

 2. Were human beings naturally good as solitary animals in the state of nature?

 3. Has the evolution of civilization deprived us of our natural freedom and happiness? 

 4. Does participatory democracy promote or threaten individual liberty?

 5. Does a participatory democracy require a godlike founder? 

 6. Is representative democracy disguised slavery? 

 7. Does democracy need a civil religion? 

 8. Is a true democracy impossible?



1.  Is Smithian moral sentimentalism rooted in selfishness, vanity, conformism, and emotivism?

2.  Do evolutionary science and experimental game theory confirm Smith’s moral theory? 

3.  Does religion make people moral?

4.  Do markets degrade morals?

5.  In the commercial society, does commerce take the place of virtue?

6.  Does the commercial society promote the bourgeois virtues?

7.  Is Smith a man of the left, or even a proto-Marxist, in supporting distributive justice for the poor?

8.  Does the system of natural liberty require private property anarchism?

9.  Does the recent history of economic and financial crises show the failure of Smithian free-market thinking?

11      History and the Modern State:  Hegel’s Philosophy of Right and Philosophy of History

 1. Does history have an ultimate meaning? 

 2.  Is every political philosopher “a child of his time?” 

 3. What is freedom? 

 4. Can the modern state unite individual rights and political duties? 

 5. Does war preserve the health of the state?

 6. Is the United States a state?

 7. Have we reached the end of history?

12      Socialism: Marx’s Communist Manifesto

 1. Do economic interests determine history? 

 2. Must capitalists exploit their workers? 

 3. Does capitalism prevent workers from finding joy in their work? 

   4. Does capitalism inevitably create an unjust inequality, with wealth concentrated in the hands of the richest 1 percent of the capitalists?

 5. Would socialism emancipate human beings?

 6. Can a socialist economy work? 

 7. Can we have Marx without Stalin? 

 8. Can socialism be democratic?  24

 9.  Can social democracy combine the best features of capitalism and socialism? 

            10.  Do we need a new communism? 

            11.  Is socialist anarchism more liberating than Marxist communism?  

13      The Death of God and the Will to Power: Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy; Human, All Too Human; Thus Spoke Zarathustra; and Beyond Good and Evil

 1. Do we need the mythic illusions of music and drama to conceal the meaningless chaos of the world? 

 2. Can a free-spirited science of Darwinian evolution give us “humble truths”? 

 3. Can human beings live without transcendent longings?  

 4. Is a free-spirited science compatible with modern liberal democracy? 

 5. Who is Zarathustra? 

   6.  Can life be explained as will to power and eternal return? 

   7.  Is Nietzsche too pious? 

 8.  Does going “beyond good and evil” lead us to a new nobility or a new barbarism? 

   9.  Is Nietzsche’s Darwinian aristocratic liberalism superior to his Dionysian aristocratic radicalism? 



1.  Is esoteric writing necessary to protect philosophy and politics from mutual harm?

2.  Can philosophers refute modern relativism and nihilism by proving the truth of natural right?

3.  Can modern biology support the natural teleology required for natural right? 

4.  Is the unnatural character of slavery an example of natural right that can be defended against historicist and positivist relativism?

5.  Is the philosophic life of the few naturally superior to the moral, religious, and political lives of the many?

6.  Does Lockean natural right teach hedonistic relativism, in which “life is the joyless quest for joy”?

7.  Was Strauss a Jewish Nazi?

8.  Does liberalism allow for human excellence and the philosophic life through liberal education?

15      the social justice of equal liberty: Rawls’s A Theory of Justice

 1. Are the principles of justice those we would choose under impartial conditions of fairness?

 2. Should we force the more fortunate people of our society to help those less fortunate?

 3.  Does justice require socialist equality?

 4. Does justice require capitalist liberty?

 5. Should we seek equality of opportunity but not equality of result, even when this allows a cognitive elite to become the ruling class? 

   6.  Is an instinctive moral grammar of justice part of our evolved human nature? 

 7.  Does a liberal conception of justice require the coercive enforcement of a liberal way of life as the best life for human beings?



   1. Were prehistoric human foragers ignoble savages with a naturally     evolved propensity for war?

   2.  Does history show declining violence?

   3.  Does religious ideology promote violence?

   4.  Is capitalist ideology more likely to promote violence than is communist ideology?

   5.  Does the liberal peace require a world of flat souls without manly virtues?

   6.  Can declining violence arise from a genetic evolution towards the bourgeois virtues through survival of the richest?

   7.  Are the more intelligent people classical liberals?


Appendix:  The Declaration of Independence




Mike said...

Looks like a genuine intellectual adventure. Congratulations.

I'm looking forward to reading it.

W. Bond said...

I'll pre-order.