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Is Political Philosophy Impossible?
Thoughts and Behaviour in Normative Political Theory

Part of Contemporary Political Theory

  • Date Published: September 2017
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107450523

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  • Political philosophy seems both impossible to do and impossible to avoid. Impossible to do, because we cannot agree on a single set of political principles. Impossible to avoid, because we're always living with some kind of political system, and thus some set of principles. So, if we can't do the philosophy, but can't escape the politics, what are we to do? Jonathan Floyd argues that the answer lies in political philosophy's deepest methodological commitments. First, he shows how political philosophy is practiced as a kind of 'thinking about thinking'. Second, he unpicks the different types of thought we think about, such as considered judgements, or intuitive responses to moral dilemmas, and assesses whether any are fit for purpose. Third, he offers an alternative approach - 'normative behaviourism' - which holds that rather than studying our thinking, we should study our behaviour. Perhaps, just sometimes, actions speak louder than thoughts.

    • A new way of 'doing' political philosophy, moving the subject closer to both political science and real political practice
    • Includes a new understanding of the dominant method of doing political philosophy
    • Contains a new, methodologically informed overview of the subject and its arguments, providing a new definition of political philosophy itself
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'Can political philosophy ever reach conclusions or does it just go round and round interminably? Is it, simply, impossible? Jonathan Floyd argues that indeed it is impossible - with current methods. He has a solution: normative behaviourism. Erudite, well-argued and controversial, this book is a must-buy for anyone interested in political philosophy.' Keith Dowding, Australian National University, Canberra

    'This is a fresh, inventive and deeply reflective approach to what political philosophy is capable. and incapable, of delivering. Dr Floyd argues meticulously for the need to jettison the principled preconditions of a broad spectrum of philosophical arguments. Instead, he holds, we should excavate our behavioural responses in the real world from which to derive political guidelines as members of our societies. In bold and erudite fashion, this book carves out valuable new space in a field some believe to be overcrowded.' Michael Freeden, University of Oxford

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    Product details

    • Date Published: September 2017
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781107450523
    • length: 288 pages
    • dimensions: 228 x 152 x 17 mm
    • weight: 0.44kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Part I. Introduction:
    1. What is this book about?
    2. Synopsis of chapter one
    3. Synopsis of chapter two
    4. Synopsis of chapter three
    5. Who am I to say this?
    Part II. Symptom: Interminability:
    6. Overview
    7. Three questions: OQ, FQ, SQ
    8. Rawls and a few of his rivals
    9. A reassessment of the problem and a switch in literature
    10. Isaiah Berlin: from value-pluralism, to universal evils, to liberalism
    11. Rawls' second set of answers: from reasonableness to liberalism
    12. United by an ideal of democracy?
    13. United by an ideal of tolerance?
    14. Stuart Hampshire and a second argument from universal evils
    15. Joseph Raz: practical reason as a guide to political morality
    16. Alasdair Macintyre: competing traditions as a guide to morality
    17. Rorty's liberalism by redescription
    18. A variety of further responses: denial, judgement, deferral
    19. Interminability described
    the impossibility thesis introduced
    20. The impossibility thesis sustained
    21. Summary of arguments and a sketch of what follows
    Part III. Diagnosis: Mentalism:
    22. Introduction
    23. What mentalism is
    24. Mentalism's techniques
    25. Three types of mentalist evidence and a synopsis of why mentalism fails
    26.1. The evidence for failure: impartial choices
    26.2. The evidence for failure: considered judgements
    26.3. The evidence for failure: intuitive choices of abstract principle
    27. Normative dissonance in full view
    28. Objections and clarifications
    29. The problem restated
    Part IV. Cure: Normative Behaviourism:
    30. Introduction
    31. Normative behaviourism: a brief sketch
    32.1. Preliminaries: facts, principles, thoughts, and behavior
    32.2. Preliminaries: reasonable objections, causes/purposes, reliable tendencies, and the case for experimental optimism
    33. An explanatory theory of social-liberal-democracy's success
    34. The relationship between normative behaviourism, psychological behaviourism, political behaviouralism, and political science more generally
    35. Reasons to be convinced by social-liberal-democracy
    36. Normative behaviourism defended against five objections
    37. Conclusions
    Part V. Conclusion:
    38. Overview
    39. Reiteration: out of the cave and on the way to Denmark
    40. Clarification by way of a new set of comparisons
    41. Concessions and reflections.

  • Author

    Jonathan Floyd, University of Bristol
    Jonathan Floyd is a Lecturer in Political Theory at the University of Bristol. He has written widely on questions of method and justification in political philosophy and is co-editor of Political Philosophy versus History (Cambridge, 2011).

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