What Is Political Philosophy?

in Journal of Moral Philosophy
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What is political philosophy’s relation to moral philosophy? Does it simply form part of moral philosophy, focusing on the proper application of certain moral truths to political reality? Or must it instead form a more autonomous discipline, drawing its bearings from the specifically political problem of determining the bounds of legitimate coercion? In this essay I work out an answer to these questions by examining both some of the classical views on the nature of political philosophy and, more particularly, some recently published writings by Bernard Williams and G.A. Cohen.

What Is Political Philosophy?

in Journal of Moral Philosophy




G.A. CohenRescuing Justice and Equality (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press2009) pp. 148 and 291.


Bernard Williams“From Freedom to Liberty: The Construction of a Political Value,” in In the Beginning was the Deed (Princeton: Princeton University Press 2005) p. 77. In contrast to some of his other writings Williams did not appear in his later political essays such as this one to intend any distinction between the “moral” and the “ethical” and I take this occasion to point out that I myself will be using “moral” and “ethical” interchangeably.


Wilfrid SellarsScience Perception and Reality (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul1963) p.1.


Williams“Realism and Moralism in Political Theory,” op. cit. pp. 3-4. See also his “From Freedom to Liberty” op. cit. pp. 94-95.


 See RawlsA Theory of Justice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press1971) pp. 126-130 and Cohen op. cit. pp. 331-336. Rawls is his target throughout the book though I come in for glancing criticism at p. 148 (ftn. 65).


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