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The reason for this is that most people do not have the kinds of talents that enable them to think well about the difficult issues that politics involves. But in order to win office or get a piece of legislation passed, politicians must appeal to these people's sense of what is right or not right. Hence, the state will be guided by very poorly worked out ideas that experts in manipulation and mass appeal use to help themselves win office.

Hobbes , chap. XIX argues that democracy is inferior to monarchy because democracy fosters destabilizing dissension among subjects. But his skepticism is not based in a conception that most people are not intellectually fit for politics. On his view, individual citizens and even politicians are apt not to have a sense of responsibility for the quality of legislation because no one makes a significant difference to the outcomes of decision making.

For Hobbes, then, democracy has deleterious effects on subjects and politicians and consequently on the quality of the outcomes of collective decision making. Many public choice theorists in contemporary economic thought expand on these Hobbesian criticisms. They argue that citizens are not informed about politics and that they are often apathetic, which makes room for special interests to control the behavior of politicians and use the state for their own limited purposes all the while spreading the costs to everyone else.

Some of them argue for giving over near complete control over society to the market, on the grounds that more extensive democracy tends to produce serious economic inefficiencies. More modest versions of these arguments have been used to justify modification of democratic institutions.

Instrumentalists argue that these instrumental arguments for and against the democratic process are the only bases on which to evaluate democracy or compare it with other forms of political decision making. There are a number of different kinds of argument for instrumentalism. One kind of argument proceeds from a certain kind of moral theory.

For example classical utilitarianism simply has no room in its fundamental value theory for the ideas of intrinsic fairness, liberty or the intrinsic importance of an egalitarian distribution of political power. Its sole concern with maximizing utility understood as pleasure or desire satisfaction guarantees that it can provide only instrumental arguments for and against democracy.

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And there are many moral theories of this sort. But one need not be a thoroughgoing consequentialist to argue for instrumentalism in democratic theory. There are arguments in favor of instrumentalism that pertain directly to the question of democracy and collective decision making generally.

One argument states that political power involves the exercise of power of some over others. And it argues that the exercise of power of one person over another can only be justified by reference to the protection of the interests or rights of the person over whom power is exercised. Thus no distribution of political power could ever be justified except by reference to the quality of outcomes of the decision making process Arneson , pp.

Other arguments question the coherence of the idea of intrinsically fair collective decision making processes. For instance, social choice theory questions the idea that there can be a fair decision making function that transforms a set of individual preferences into a rational collective preference.

No general rule satisfying reasonable constraints can be devised that can transform any set of individual preferences into a rational social preference. And this is taken to show that democratic procedures cannot be intrinsically fair Riker , p. Dworkin argues that the idea of equality, which is for him at the root of social justice, cannot be given a coherent and plausible interpretation when it comes to the distribution of political power among members of the society. The relation of politicians to citizens inevitably gives rise to inequality, so it cannot be intrinsically fair or just Dworkin , ch.

In later work, Dworkin has pulled back from this originally thoroughgoing instrumentalism Dworkin , ch. Few theorists deny that political institutions must be at least in part evaluated in terms of the outcomes of having those institutions. Some argue in addition, that some forms of decision making are morally desirable independent of the consequences of having them.

A variety of different approaches have been used to show that democracy has this kind of intrinsic value. The most common of these come broadly under the rubrics of liberty and equality. Some argue that the basic principles of democracy are founded in the idea that each individual has a right to liberty. Democracy, it is said, extends the idea that each ought to be master of his or her life to the domain of collective decision making.

First, each person's life is deeply affected by the larger social, legal and cultural environment in which he or she lives. Second, only when each person has an equal voice and vote in the process of collective decision-making will each have control over this larger environment. Thinkers such as Carol Gould , pp. Since individuals have a right of self-government, they have a right to democratic participation. This right is established at least partly independently of the worth of the outcomes of democratic decision making. The idea is that the right of self-government gives one a right, within limits, to do wrong.

Just as an individual has a right to make some bad decisions for himself or herself, so a group of individuals have a right to make bad or unjust decisions for themselves regarding those activities they share. Here we can see the makings of an argument against instrumentalism. To the extent that an instrumentalist wishes to diminish a person's power to contribute to the democratic process for the sake of enhancing the quality of decisions, he is committed to thinking that there is no moral loss in the fact that our power has been diminished.

But if the liberty argument is correct our right to control our lives is violated by this.

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One major difficulty with this line of argument is that it appears to require that the basic rule of decision making be consensus or unanimity. If each person must freely choose the outcomes that bind him or her then those who oppose the decision are not self-governing. They live in an environment imposed on them by others. So only when all agree to a decision are they freely adopting the decision.

The trouble is that there is rarely agreement on major issues in politics. Indeed, it appears that one of the main reasons for having political decision making procedures is that they can settle matters despite disagreement. And so it is hard to see how any political decision making method can respect everyone's liberty. One distant relative of the self-government approach is the account of democracy as a process of public justification defended by, among others, Joshua Cohen , p. The idea behind this approach is that laws and policies are legitimate to the extent that they are publicly justified to the citizens of the community.

Public justification is justification to each citizen as a result of free and reasoned debate among equals. Citizens justify laws and policies to each other on the basis of mutually acceptable reasons. Democracy, properly understood, is the context in which individuals freely engage in a process of reasoned discussion and deliberation on an equal footing.

The ideas of freedom and equality provide guidelines for structuring democratic institutions. The aim of democracy as public justification is reasoned consensus among citizens. But a serious problem arises when we ask about what happens when disagreement remains.

Two possible replies have been suggested to this kind of worry.


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It has been urged that forms of consensus weaker than full consensus are sufficient for public justification and that the weaker varieties are achievable in many societies. For instance, there may be consensus on the list of reasons that are acceptable publicly but disagreement on the weight of the different reasons.

Or there may be agreement on general reasons abstractly understood but disagreement about particular interpretations of those reasons.

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What would have to be shown here is that such weak consensus is achievable in many societies and that the disagreements that remain are not incompatible with the ideal of public justification. Another set of worries concerning this approach arises when we ask what reason there is for trying to ensure that political decisions are grounded in principles that everyone can reasonably accept.

What is the basis of this need for consensus? To be sure, the consensus that is aimed at is reasonable consensus among reasonable persons. Reasonable consensus does not imply actual consensus. The unreasonable persons in society need not agree with the terms of association arrived at by reasonable persons in order for those terms to be legitimate.

The basic principle seems to be the principle of reasonableness according to which reasonable persons will only offer principles for the regulation of their society that other reasonable persons can reasonably accept. The notion of the reasonable is meant to be fairly weak on this account.


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One can reasonably reject a doctrine to the extent that it is incompatible with one's own doctrine as long as one's doctrine does not imply imposition on others and it is a doctrine that has survived sustained critical reflection. So this principle is a kind of principle of reciprocity.

One only offers principles that others, who restrain themselves in the same way, can accept. Such a principle implies a kind of principle of restraint which requires that reasonable persons not propose laws and policies on the basis of controversial principles for the regulation of society. When individuals offer proposals for the regulation of their society, they ought not to appeal to the whole truth as they see it but only to that part of the whole truth that others can reasonably accept.


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To put the matter in the way Rawls puts it: political society must be regulated by principles on which there is an overlapping consensus Rawls, , Lecture IV. This is meant to obviate the need for a complete consensus on the principles that regulate society. What moral reasons can there be for restraining oneself from offering what one takes to be the best justified proposals for the terms of the society one lives in? One might consider a number of arguments for this principle of reasonableness.

One argument is an epistemological one. It is that there is no justification independent of what people or at least reasonable people believe.

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Political Theory: An Encyclopedia of Contemporary and Classic Terms

Hence, if one cannot provide a justification for principles that others can accept given their reasonable beliefs then those principles are not justified for those persons. Another argument is a moral argument. One fails to respect the reason of the other members of society if one imposes terms of association on them that they cannot accept given their reasonable views. This failure of respect for the reason of the other members of society defeats the value of the principles one is proposing for the society.